In terrorism war, combat gets funds

Nonmilitary programs addressing underlying causes struggle for money

March 19, 2007|By Josh Meyer | Josh Meyer,LOS ANGELES TIMES

WASHINGTON -- President Bush, members of Congress and virtually all counterterrorism experts have acknowledged that defeating terrorists cannot be accomplished solely by dropping bombs on them. Ultimately, they say, ending terrorism will come only by addressing its underlying causes.

"Our long-term strategy to keep the peace is to help change the conditions that give rise to extremism and terror by spreading the universal principle of human liberty," Bush said in March 2005. But a close look at the United States' counterterrorism priorities shows a strategy going in the opposite direction.

In recent years, the Pentagon has received a larger share of the counterterrorism budget, while programs to win the campaign through diplomacy and other nonmilitary means have struggled for funding and attention, according to a review of budget documents and interviews with dozens of current and former U.S. officials.

Nonmilitary counterterror programs have budgets measured in millions instead of billions and in many cases their funding remains flat or faces cuts.

Within the Pentagon, many "soft power" programs, which don't include direct military action, appear to be getting squeezed out as more money goes to support combat operations.

Some top counterterrorism officials, seeing their noncombat programs languishing, are leaving the government, including three at the State Department who ran the highly regarded Regional Strategic Initiative.

And increasingly, even civilian anti-terror operations are being run by current or former military people.

The U.S. approach to counterterrorism is that "enemies simply need to be killed or imprisoned so that global terrorism or the Iraqi insurgency will end," Bruce Hoffman, a senior fellow at the Combating Terrorism Center at the U.S. Military Academy, told a House Armed Services subcommittee last month. "This is a monumental failing," Hoffman said, "not only because decapitation strategies have rarely worked in countering mass mobilization, terrorist or insurgent campaigns, but also because al-Qaida's ability to continue this struggle is ... predicated on its capacity to attract new recruits" by publicizing U.S. military actions.

Senior Pentagon officials said their campaign to kill or capture terrorists in Iraq, Afghanistan and smaller hot spots such as Somalia is a necessary step in stabilizing those countries before nonmilitary efforts can even be attempted.

The Pentagon is also moving to transform the military from one focused primarily on fighting wars to one that also combats terrorism by eliminating the underlying conditions that cause it, Ryan Henry, deputy undersecretary of defense for policy, said in an interview.

The cost of the U.S. war on terrorism has ballooned to at least $502 billion since the Sept. 11 attacks, with the administration requesting that Congress fund an additional $93 billion this year for the Pentagon's counterterrorism programs alone, and $142 billion for 2008.

Things are much different at the State Department, which is charged with coordinating the U.S. government's international role in the war on terrorism. This includes overseeing aid to foreign governments and making sure the overall campaign strikes a balance among military power, diplomacy, economic development, law enforcement and intelligence gathering.

The State Department's request for $157.5 million for its major counterterrorism programs this year was slashed in Congress by over $20 million.

The funding squeeze has meant that the State Department's Regional Strategic Initiative, a key counterterrorism program, nearly ceased operations last year for lack of funding just as it was getting off the ground. Its annual budget is about $1 million -- about what the Pentagon spends on counterterrorism in Iraq every five minutes.

"Most of the war on terrorism should have nothing to do with guys with guns," said Robert Richer, who retired as associate deputy CIA director for operations in 2005. "But we have walked away from the hearts-and-minds campaign."

The increasing militarization of the U.S. counterterrorism campaign also involves personnel decisions.

The Bush administration has appointed a current or former military commander to virtually every senior post in the U.S. counterterrorism campaign.

"When everyone out there representing us is a general or a retired general, we have a problem," said Richer, now the CEO of Total Intelligence Solutions. "The United States used to be an iron fist with a velvet glove over it. Now it is viewed by many abroad as just an iron fist."

Josh Meyer writes for the Los Angeles Times

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