9/11 panel seeking broader strategy

Report looks beyond Iraq to other Islamic regions

July 26, 2004|By Mark Matthews | Mark Matthews,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

WASHINGTON - The Sept. 11 commission has proposed a broad U.S. strategy that pinpoints Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia and Pakistan as high danger zones and demands more effort to counter a radical Islamist ideology that could menace Americans long after Osama bin Laden and his cohorts are killed or captured.

Though the United States has "rightly" used force to topple the Taliban and pursue al-Qaida, ultimate success will require "all elements of national power," the panel says in its report, released last week. It recommends using economic policy, foreign aid and diplomacy and enlisting Muslim nations as partners.

The panel's recommendations avoid direct criticism of the Bush administration. But they suggest a clear shift in emphasis away from President Bush's foreign policy priorities.

Calling himself a "war president," Bush has stressed the military dimensions of the campaign against terror. He has made Iraq the "central front" in that effort and has assigned a lower priority to the deep-rooted social and political problems in the Islamic world.

The commission quotes Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage as saying that Americans have been "exporting our fears and our anger," rather than a vision of opportunity.

Yesterday, commission members spotlighted the report's foreign-policy recommendations while keeping up pressure on Congress and the White House to adopt other changes in intelligence and homeland security that they call urgent.

Bush, who has put his chief of staff, Andrew H. Card Jr., in charge of reviewing the findings, could act as early as "several days" from now to implement some of the recommendations, while "others may take longer," a White House official said.

The official did not specify which recommendations could be adopted soon. Some could be achieved through executive order; others require legislation.

The panel's report warns that if post-war Iraq "becomes a failed state, it will go to the top of the list of places that are breeding grounds for attacks against Americans at home."

Thomas H. Kean, the commission's chairman, warned yesterday that other countries pose a danger, too.

"There are three countries you've got to worry about: Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia and Pakistan," Kean said on NBC's Meet the Press. "Those are the three most volatile countries that, if they were to go the wrong way, could create another haven for terrorists and some real problems for the United States of America."

Afghanistan

On Afghanistan, where U.S.-led forces toppled the Islamist Taliban regime that provided sanctuary for al-Qaida, the report warns that the same threat could return if the United States fails to pay sufficient attention.

"One Afghan regional official plaintively told us the country finally has a good government. He begged the United States to keep its promise and not abandon Afghanistan again, as it had in the 1990s" after the Soviet Union pulled out, the commission stated in its report.

Implicitly faulting the administration, the panel says "the United States has largely stayed out of the central government's struggles with dissident warlords and has largely avoided confronting the related problem of narco-trafficking." It also says NATO's commitment has been weak and that the State Department presence in Afghanistan is "woefully understaffed."

Saudi Arabia

The commission calls Saudi Arabia, the leading source of Western oil, a "problematic ally." The Saudi leadership cooperated with the United States against the Taliban but failed to prevent al-Qaida from raising money from Saudis. The report calls the relationship between the two nations too secretive.

Leaders on both sides, the panel says, should build ties based on "more than oil" that include "a shared commitment to political and economic reform" and a Saudi effort to "make common cause with the outside world."

Pakistan

The commission names Pakistan's leader, Gen. Pervez Musharraf, as a hero in combating Islamist extremism. But it says Pakistan faces such poverty, corruption and ineffective government that it still offers opportunities for Islamist radicals to recruit. Because of poor public education, families turn to religious schools, and Pakistan's vast unpoliced regions make it attractive to extremists, the commission says.

The panel says that if Musharraf stands for "enlightened moderation," then the United States must commit to the future of Pakistan with a "comprehensive effort that extends from military aid to support for education."

Beyond these three countries, the report points to nations and regions that could be potential terrorist havens, from West Africa to Southeast Asia, as well as cities in central and Eastern Europe with Muslim populations.

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