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Are we safer today?

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By Thomas H. Kean and Lee H. Hamilton
Sunday, September 9, 2007

Are we safer today?

Two years ago, we and our colleagues issued a report card assessing the U.S. government's progress on the bipartisan recommendations in the 9/11 commission report. We concluded that the nation was not safe enough. Our judgment remains the same today: We still lack a sense of urgency in the face of grave danger.

The U.S. homeland confronts a "persistent and evolving terrorist threat," especially from al-Qaeda, according to a National Intelligence Estimate issued in July. Six years after the attacks, following a series of ambitious reforms carried out by dedicated officials, how is it possible that the threat remains so dire?

The answer stems from a mixed record of reform, a lack of focus and a resilient foe. Progress at home -- in our ability to detect, prevent and respond to terrorist attacks -- has been difficult, incomplete and slow, but

it has been real. Outside our borders, however, the threat of failure looms. We face a rising tide of radicalization and rage in the Muslim world -- a trend to which our own actions have contributed. The enduring threat is not Osama bin Laden but young Muslims with no jobs and no hope, who are angry with their own governments and increasingly see the United States as an enemy of Islam.

Four years ago, then-Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld famously asked his advisers: "Are we capturing, killing or deterring and dissuading more terrorists every day than the madrassas and the radical clerics are recruiting, training and deploying against us?"

The answer is no.

U.S. foreign policy has not stemmed the rising tide of extremism in the Muslim world. In July 2004, the 9/11 commission recommended putting foreign policy at the center of our counterterrorism efforts. Instead, we have lost ground.

Our report warned that it was imperative to eliminate terrorist sanctuaries. But inside Pakistan, al-Qaeda "has protected or regenerated key elements of its homeland attack capability," according to the National Intelligence Estimate. The chief threat to Afghanistan's young democracy comes from across the Pakistani border, from the resurgent Taliban. Pakistan should take the lead in closing Taliban camps and rooting out al-Qaeda. But the United States must act if Pakistan will not.

We are also failing in the struggle of ideas. We have not been persuasive in enlisting the energy and sympathy of the world's 1.3 billion Muslims against the extremist threat. That is not because of who we are: Polling data consistently show strong support in the Muslim world for American values, including our political system and respect for human rights, liberty and equality. Rather, U.S. policy choices have undermined support.

No word is more poisonous to the reputation of the United States than Guantanamo. Fundamental justice requires a fair legal process before the U.S. government detains people for significant periods of time, and the president and Congress have not provided one. Guantanamo Bay should be closed now. The 9/11 commission recommended developing a "coalition approach" for the detention and treatment of terrorists -- a policy that would be legally sustainable, internationally viable and far better for U.S. credibility.

Moreover, no question inflames public opinion in the Muslim world more than the Arab-Israeli dispute. To empower Muslim moderates, we must take away the extremists' most potent grievance: the charge that the United States does not care about the Palestinians. A vigorous diplomatic effort, with the visible, active support of the president, would bolster America's prestige and influence -- and offer the best prospect for Israel's long-term security.


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