Observing from beyond the solar system, a cultural outsider looks in.

Saturday, September 08, 2007

John Edwards: A Tough New Strategy Against Terrorism

Yesterday, in a major policy speech at Pace University in New York, John Edwards laid out a tough new strategy against terrorism that is winning rave reviews in the press and the blogosphere. Matthew Yglesias of the Atlantic blog calls it "brilliant."

CNN gave a fair review of the speech, even if their report did fit the mold of typically shallow mainstream media reporting:

Edwards shows that he is using creative thinking to come up with smart new ideas on how to not only combat existing terrorists, but prevent new terrorists from being recruited. He rightly points out that the Bush administration has used outmoded thinking and that their approach has made us less safe, not safer.

There is now only one key question we must ask ourselves: are we any closer to getting rid of terrorism than we were six years ago? And the terrible answer is no, we're further away. Today, terrorism is worse in Iraq, and it's worse around the world. So what does all this mean? It means the results are in on George Bush's so-called "global war on terror" and it's not just a failure, it's a double-edged failure.

The Bush approach hasn't only made the terror problem worse. The Administration has rigidly stuck to outdated approaches that are ineffective against the modern terrorist threat. We need a counterterrorism policy that will actually counter terrorism. That matches 21st century threats with 21st century tactics. That replaces Cold War thinking designed to defeat a single, implacable enemy with new world thinking that can defeat a multi-national, diverse, and often hidden foe—not just now, but for the long-term. That's strong, fast, and hard enough to stop terrorists cold, but also smart, honest, and prescient enough to draw people away from terrorism in the first place.

The strategy that Edwards proposes is groundbreaking and comprehensive, and he went into it in good detail in his speech. But the Bush administration has become an irresistible target to just about everyone, so it's kind of fun to listen to Edwards smack Bush hard a few times.

President Bush, like the Republicans following him today and even some Democrats, was stuck in the past, and he still is. He had no grasp of the new threats we faced, so he failed to offer a vision to keep us safe in a world that had changed. Saddam Hussein was the threat he knew, so Iraq was the war he waged.

We needed new thinking and a bold vision to protect the world for our children; instead, George Bush literally gave us his father's war—but without his father's allies or his father's sense of decency. What's more and what's worse, the so-called "war on terror" he used as his excuse for war in Iraq became his excuse for trampling our Constitution and, most perversely, for ignoring the demands of the actual struggle against terrorism. Because in George Bush's reality, disagreement is called weak, challenge is suspect, and opposition downright unpatriotic.

Six years later, the devastating consequences of the Bush "war on terror" doctrine are so clear that his own Administration has had to admit them.

A recent National Intelligence Estimate found that Al Qaeda is now as strong as it was before 9/11. In a recent survey of America's most respected foreign policy experts, the vast majority said the world is becoming more dangerous for Americans and the United States. The State Department recently released a study showing that terrorism has increased worldwide 25 percent in 2006, including a 40 percent surge in civilian fatalities.

And as everyone here knows, Osama bin Laden is still at large. Six years ago, President Bush declared that he wanted bin Laden "dead or alive." This is his starkest failure. Apparently, bin Laden plans to address America on the anniversary of 9/11. But I don't need to wait and hear what this murderer has to say. My position is clear. I can make you this solemn promise: as president, I will never rest until we have hunted bin Laden down and served him justice.

Well, all that was a lot of fun, but let's get to the meat of Edwards's proposal. Edwards believes in multilateralism, so at the heart of his new proposal is an international Counterterrorism and Intelligence Treaty Organization (CITO).

As president, I will launch a comprehensive new counterterrorism policy that will be defined by two principles—strength and cooperation.

The centerpiece of this policy will be a new multilateral organization called the Counterterrorism and Intelligence Treaty Organization (CITO).

Every nation has an interest in shutting down terrorism. CITO will create connections between a wide range of nations on terrorism and intelligence, including countries on all continents, including Asia, Africa, Latin America, and Europe. New connections between previously separate nations will be forged, creating new possibilities.

CITO will allow members to voluntarily share financial, police, customs and immigration intelligence. Together, nations will be able to track the way terrorists travel, communicate, recruit, train, and finance their operations. And they will be able to take action, through international teams of intelligence and national security professionals who will launch targeted missions to root out and shut down terrorist cells.

The new organization will also create a historic new coalition. Those nations who join will, by working together, show the world the power of cooperation. Those nations who join will also be required to commit to tough criteria about the steps they will take to root out extremists, particularly those who cross borders. Those nations who refuse to join will be called out before the world.

It's important to note that CITO is not a panacea, nor will it be perfect. But it would represent the first step in a new direction. As President John F. Kennedy observed when he signed the treaty that first limited the testing of nuclear weapons, we must begin with the common recognition of a common danger. President Kennedy said then, "A journey of a thousand miles must begin with a single step." Today, this new anti-terrorism organization would be such a first step.

A major emphasis of this new international effort would be improved human intelligence, and Edwards would work to recruit counterterrorism experts who can relate to local cultures and speak local languages. As part of this effort, scholarships would be provided for students willing to enter the appropriate fields.

Edwards would also emphasize protecting the world from nuclear and chemical weapons, discouraging extremist ideologies at home and abroad, and freeing America from our dependence on oil.

As president, I will create a Global Nuclear Compact to strengthen the Non-Proliferation Treaty, which would support peaceful nuclear programs, improve security for existing stocks of nuclear materials, and ensure more frequent verification that materials are not being diverted and facilities are not being misused. And I will lead an international effort to rid the world of nuclear weapons.

Our chemical plants are also targets for terrorists. A successful attack on any of these targets would be devastating. Because of industry pressure, new watered-down security rules imposed by the Bush Administration may actually weaken security at many chemical plants. I support implementing tough new safety standards at plants vulnerable to terrorist attacks.

We must also work hard here at home to ensure that extremist ideologies do not take hold in our own Muslim communities—and we must do so in a way that respects diversity and civil liberties and avoids practices like racial profiling against both Arabs and Muslims. We must encourage American Muslim participation in public life. I will put new resources toward engaging American Muslims, empowering local mosques to counter extremist ideas, and working hand-in-hand with Muslim communities to identify and isolate threats.

Finally, we must achieve energy independence. If we reduce our reliance on oil from instable parts of the world, Middle Eastern regimes will finally diversify their economies and modernize their societies. And fighting global climate change will reduce global disruptions that could lead to tends of millions of refugees and create massive new breeding grounds for desperation and radicalism.

I like the fact that Edwards is clearly willing to work with other countries that we share interests with, but that he's not going to give them something for nothing. In particular, I was happy to see him clearly state that we have been giving Saudi Arabia too much for too little for too long.

And Saudi Arabia is a country we have given too much in return for too little. We must require the Saudis to do more to stop the flow of terrorists to Iraq. As president, I will condition future arms packages on Saudi Arabia's actions against terrorists.

John Edwards continues to prove that he is the inspirational leader for a new generation, so it is fitting that he closes with a Kennedy-like call to service.

We have a choice today, and it rests in your hands. You are the generation who will help decide whether America will stick with the failed policies of the past, or whether we will aim for the horizon.

Every generation of Americans has faced grave challenges. We have overcome great foes in the past, and we will do so again—in the last century, we closed the chapters on Nazism, Fascism, and Communism through courage, bold new ideas, and strength.

Today, we stand on the shoulders of the generations who faced those challenges in their own time, and who rose to meet them.

Just as they rose to meet the enemies they faced, we must rise to meet ours.

And just as they did, we rise to meet them as Americans.

So challenge your leaders—hold them accountable for creating a safer world. And challenge yourselves—hold yourself accountable for creating a better nation. That is what it means to be American. To reach, to keep on reaching, to never, ever stop reaching for the best that any nation can ever be.

You can watch the entire speech, including the introduction by 9/11 widow Kristen Breitweiser, below:

After the speech, Edwards was interviewed by Talking Points Memo on the Petraeus report and the situation in Iraq.

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