14 April 2004
DoD Official Outlines U.S. Strategy for War on Terrorism
Feith likens terrorism to slave trade, piracy,
Liberating Iraq from the regime of Saddam Hussein and helping
the Iraqis to achieve freedom and democracy is an important part
of the broader strategy for winning the global war against terrorism,
says a top Department of Defense official.
The terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, compelled the United
States to think differently about terrorism, explained Douglas
Feith, under secretary of defense for policy, as he outlined the
thinking behind the U.S. counter-terror strategy in remarks to
the Political Union of the University of Chicago April 14.
"The terrorists who killed 3,000 ordinary people at the World
Trade Center, where ten times that number worked on a daily basis,
would have been pleased to have killed them all -- or many times
more than that, if they had had the means to do so," he said, and
that led President Bush to decide that this was an act of war requiring
a response of "armed forces and every instrument of U.S. national
These acts occurred, Feith noted, "not to extract some political
concession from us but to defeat us completely. Such a goal may
seem to us fantastic or preposterous -- but may seem achievable
to those who credit the Soviet Union's collapse to their own resistance
in Afghanistan, not to mention as a manifestation of divine favor
Because eliminating all terrorism is an unrealistic goal, he said,
defeating terrorism "as a threat to our way of life as a free and
open society" is the aim of the overall Bush anti-terrorism strategy. "The
most basic national security responsibility of U.S. officials is
to protect not just the lives but the liberty of the American people.
If terrorism causes Americans not to fly, not to open our letters
and packages, to shut our borders and to abandon wholesale our
civil liberties, then the United States will have been defeated
in this war."
"We concluded that, in dealing with terrorists, we had either
to change the way we live, or change the way they live," he said.
Going on the offensive -- eliminating the terrorists' access to
safe havens, financing, and weapons, as well as capturing their
leaders and limiting their ability to get near potential targets
-- the U.S. organized an international counterterrorism effort,
However, Feith acknowledged, beyond attacking terrorist networks, "our
strategy must aim to stem the flow of people into [their] ranks" by
focusing on the ideology supporting terrorism.
"Changing the way millions of people think about something is
a difficult task," he said, but he noted that fascism, Nazism and
communist totalitarianism, each having many followers at one time,
had all been since discredited.
Feith reiterated a statement by President Bush that "the world
should view terrorism as it views the slave trade, piracy on the
high seas and genocide -- activities that no respectable person
condones, much less supports."
To defeat the ideology of terrorism, the United States must support
those in the Islamic world "who do not want to be dominated by
the kind of extremists who follow Osama bin Laden," he said. "Democratic
reform and the success of democratic institutions in the Arab world
and the Moslem world generally are essential parts of the strategy
to defeat terrorism as a threat to our own freedom."
Operation Iraqi Freedom ended Saddam Hussein's financial support
for suicide bombers, removed Iraq as a safe haven for terrorists
like Abu Nidal, Abu Abbas, and Abu Mus'ab Al-Zarqawi, and "eliminated
a possible source of chemical, biological or nuclear weapons technology,
materiel or training for terrorists," he said.
Following is the text of Feith's remarks:
U.S. Strategy for the War on Terrorism
By Under Secretary of Defense for Policy Douglas J. Feith
Political Union University of Chicago
Wednesday, April 14, 2004
I'm glad to have been invited to speak here at one of America's
great universities. I've been asked to talk about the war on terrorism
and some of the ideas underlying our strategy for the war.
The September 11 attack
The 9/11 attack was an event so terrible and significant - so
damaging and threatening - that it required us to reexamine a long
list of national security concerns.
Officials had for years been thinking about:
terrorism, defense policy in the post-Cold-War world, the spread
of weapons of mass destruction and problem states such as Iraq,
Iran, Libya and North Korea.
9/11 compelled U.S. officials to reexamine all such matters in
light of the terrorists' audacity, ambition and hatred - and in
light of our own vulnerabilities and our responsibility to protect
the lives and freedom of the American people. 9/11 showed that
threats hitherto belittled as wild speculations or hypothetical
dangers of the remotest possibility are realistic, indeed actual.
Before 9/11, terrorism was commonly viewed as political - an action
intended to influence or persuade. Many discussed terrorism as
a form of "political theater," a way that terrorist groups used
shocking actions to call attention - sympathetic attention - to
a cause. According to that view, the terrorists, adhering to Machiavelli's
dictum that it's better to be feared than loved, nonetheless still
wished to avoid being hated.
But that view could hardly explain 9/11. The terrorists who killed
3000 ordinary people at the World Trade Center, where ten times
that number worked on a daily basis, would have been pleased to
have killed them all - or many times more than that, if they had
had the means to do so.
Al Qaida and other terrorists targeting the United States are
engaged in more than "political theater." What are their goals
and calculations? There are various possibilities - for example:
The calculation of gain and loss by the suicide bombers is not
limited to this world; they act to obtain benefits in the next
Some of the terrorists appear to be nihilists, driven by a desire
for destruction and death for their own sakes.
And some seem to believe that they can achieve victory over us,
not by gaining political support, but by pulverizing their enemy
- demoralizing us, destroying our unity and sense of purpose, ultimately
collapsing our political order - to the point that we could no
longer resist them.
In short, we must deal with the idea that we are at war with terrorists
who think that they can use terrorism not to extract some political
concession from us, but to defeat us completely. Such a goal may
seem to us fantastic or preposterous - but it may seem achievable
to those who credit the Soviet Union's collapse to their own resistance
in Afghanistan, not to mention as a manifestation of divine favor
Window into administration thinking
I'd like to give you something of a window into the Administration's
thinking in the days just after 9/11. The first thought of top
policy makers was what can be done to prevent the next attack?
As you recall, steps were taken immediately to shut down air traffic
and to tighten border control. You will recall also that soon after
9/11 came the anthrax attacks on some news media offices and U.S.
Senate offices. Steps were taken immediately to quarantine and
inspect mail and to hold up delivery of packages. To this day,
we do not know who made those attacks or who provided the anthrax.
Terrorism as crime, terrorism as war
The President's most basic decision after 9/11 was how to think
about the attack.
Keep in mind that for years Americans were hit by terrorists.
There were hijackings, murders and bombings. In the 1990s, Americans
died and were injured in the: first World Trade Center bombing,
bombing of Khobar Towers in Saudi Arabia, destruction of our East
Africa embassies and bombing of the USS Cole in Yemen.
The U.S. government's response in those cases was to use the FBI
to investigate. Our government was looking for individuals to arrest,
extradite and prosecute in criminal courts.
President Bush broke with that practice - and with that frame
of mind - when he decided that 9/11 meant that we are at war. He
decided that the US would respond not with the FBI and U.S. attorneys,
but with our armed forces and every instrument of U.S. national
That was a momentous decision. I believed it showed a proper comprehension
of the problem. It looks obvious in retrospect, but that's often
the case with grand insights. At the time the President decided
to respond to 9/11 by going to war, he was departing radically
and boldly from many years of a different policy.
What does it mean to be at war?
Once the President announced that the United States is at war,
the key questions for policy makers were:
How do we define the enemy?
What is our war aim?
What should be our strategy?
First, who is the enemy?
The enemy is not a state or group of states; it's not a traditional
type of enemy we have faced in war. The enemy is not a discrete,
hierarchical organization either. Rather, the enemy is a far-flung
network of terrorist organizations and their state and non-state
Terrorist organizations rely on state sponsors for safe haven,
funds, weapons and other types of support. We cannot win the war
on terrorism if we do not cut off state support for terrorist organizations.
What is our war aim?
Which brings us to our second question: What does it mean to "win" the
war on terrorism? How do we define our war aim?
Setting a war aim is an important task. We recalled that in 1990,
when Iraq invaded Kuwait, the United States set its war aim as
the liberation of Kuwait. We built our coalition on that formulation.
In the Spring of 1991, after Iraqi forces were expelled from Kuwait,
that war aim proved a decisive constraint on further action.
In September 2001, after 9/11, the President and his team devoted
a great deal of brainpower to getting the war aim right. We didn't
want to set an unrealistic, unachievable aim, such as "eliminate
terrorism." We couldn't honestly promise the American people that
our government can prevent all future terrorist attacks.
The most basic national security responsibility of U.S. officials
is to protect not just the lives but the liberty of the American
people. If terrorism causes Americans not to fly, not to open our
letters and packages, to shut our borders and to abandon wholesale
our civil liberties, then the United States will have been defeated
in this war.
So, after all the deliberation, President Bush set our war aim
as: Defeat terrorism as a threat to our way of life as a free and
open society. This sounds simple enough, but it is a weighty and
A strategy of offense
Aiming to defeat terrorism as a threat to our freedom - to our
way of life as a free and open society - means that we cannot rely
solely or even primarily on a defensive strategy. If we tried to
do so, we would have to clamp down drastically across America,
intruding grossly on the privacy rights and other civil liberties
of Americans. As terrorist attacks occurred, US officials would
continually be under pressure to move toward police state tactics
- to sacrifice our freedom and change our way of life.
The alternative to that bad option is a strategy not of trying
to defeat terrorists on American soil, but striking them abroad
where they do so much of their recruiting, training, equipping
and planning. Given that our aim is to preserve our society's liberties,
we have no alternative to a strategy of offense.
In other words, we concluded that, in dealing with the terrorists,
we had either to change the way we live, or change the way they
The WMD/ terrorism/state support nexus
Another essential part of our thinking about a proper strategy
for the war on terrorism is the danger of chemical, biological
or nuclear weapons in terrorist hands. As I've noted, officials
and defense analysts for years before 9/11 were attuned to the
risks of proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. But 9/11
gave the problem greatly intensified urgency.
The terrorists who destroyed the World Trade Center would gleefully
have killed ten, a hundred or a thousand times the number of victims
on 9/11 if they could have - if they had had access, for example,
to biological or nuclear weapons. It's a significant coincidence
that the list of key state sponsors of terrorism overlaps so extensively
with the list of problem states that are pursuing WMD capabilities.
This is why President Bush, Secretary Rumsfeld and others in our
government have, since 9/11, been explaining that the main strategic
threat in the war on terrorism is the nexus among:
-- Terrorist organizations;
-- Their state sponsors; and
-- Weapons of mass destruction.
U.S. strategy in the war on terrorism
The U.S. strategy in the war on terrorism is to organize and help
lead international efforts to deny terrorist groups systematically
what they need to operate and survive, including:
-- safe havens,
-- weapons (especially WMD),
-- ideological support and
-- access to targets.
We think of our actions in the war on terrorism as falling into
three categories (which are useful though not entirely distinct):
1. Disrupting and attacking terrorist networks;
2. Protecting the homeland; and
3. Countering ideological support for terrorism. (Battle of Ideas)
Countering ideological support for terrorism
Let me say a word about this third category of actions - which
is sometimes referred to as the battle of ideas.
The war on terrorism will never end if all we do is disrupt and
attack terrorist networks, because while we are doing so, new terrorists
are being recruited and indoctrinated - probably faster than anyone
on our side can capture or kill them. If we're going to avoid placing
ourselves on an ever-accelerating treadmill, our strategy must
aim to stem the flow of people into the ranks of the terrorists.
Doing this requires a focus on the widespread ideological support
Changing the way millions of people think about something is a
difficult task, but history knows examples of successful campaigns
to do so.
In the 20th century, fascism and Nazism were discredited with
the defeat of the Axis powers.
And, in a fifty year struggle culminating in the collapse of the
Soviet empire, communist totalitarianism lost much of its following.
In the 19th century, another 50-years campaign, led by Britain
and the Royal Navy, changed the way the world thinks about the
As President Bush has said, the world should view terrorism as
it views the slave trade, piracy on the high seas and genocide
- activities that no respectable person condones, much less supports.
To succeed in this crucial third element - the ideological element
- of our strategy in the war on terrorism, we are working to:
De-legitimate terrorism; and
Support the success of models of moderation, especially in the
The ideological struggle within the war on terrorism is in large
part a civil war between extremists and their opponents in the
Moslem world. In the war on terrorism, the US is not fighting the
world of Islam. On the contrary, we are allied with the many millions
of Moslems who do not want to be dominated by the kind of extremists
who follow Osama bin Laden. Democratic reform and the success of
democratic institutions in the Arab world and the Moslem world
generally are essential parts of the strategy to defeat terrorism
as a threat to our own freedom.
Implementing the strategy
The United States and its coalition partners have been implementing
this war on terrorism strategy for two and a half years.
We've done so by ousting the Taliban regime in Afghanistan and
supporting the new Afghan government.
We've done so by training local forces around the world to do
counter-terrorist operations - in the Philippines, Yemen, Colombia,
the former Soviet republic of Georgia and elsewhere.
We've done so through international cooperation on law enforcement,
intelligence, interdiction of terrorist finances and maritime interdiction
operations in the Mediterranean, off the Horn of Africa, in the
Pacific and elsewhere.
We've done so by capturing or killing terrorist leaders and key
operatives, including two-thirds of the known leadership of al
We've done so by liberating Iraq from the Saddam Hussein regime
and working to launch the Iraqis on the path to freedom.
And we've done so by inducing the Libyan government to declare,
dismantle and abandon its WMD programs and stockpiles.
I hope this review of the War on Terrorism strategy helps you
see how our difficult tasks in Iraq fit with that strategy.
Operation Iraqi Freedom
As President Bush explained in his April 13 press conference,
our stakes in success in Iraq are large. Operation Iraqi Freedom
has so far:
Eliminated a safe haven for terrorists like Abu Nidal, Abu Abbas,
Zarqawi and others.
Eliminated a source of financial and other types of support for
terrorists - recall that Saddam encouraged Palestinian suicide
bombings by offering to pay $25,000 to the murderers' families.
Eliminated a possible source of chemical, biological or nuclear
weapons technology, materiel or training for terrorists. (By the
way, this point is not negated by our not yet having found Iraqi
stockpiles of WMD or the possibility that Saddam secretly destroyed
all the stockpiles before the war.)
Much work remains to be done to extend basic security throughout
Iraq and lay the foundation for stability, freedom and prosperity.
As President Bush remarked, we've had a rough week or two in Iraq.
Our losses weigh heavily. But there is no cost-free option for
America in Iraq.
The mission there is as important as it is complex and dangerous.
The Coalition force and the CPA have the steady leadership required
to make the transition to Iraqi sovereign authority this summer
and to help the new Iraqi government implement the admirable interim
constitution developed by the Iraqi Governing Council. But we don't
underestimate the difficulty of the work to be done in Iraq.
Likewise, much work remains to be done in the war on terrorism
outside Iraq. In this war, there are continual accomplishments,
but also setbacks. There is great determination among the United
States and its coalition partners, but the enemy is also intensely
determined and capable of exploiting the vulnerabilities that inhere
in the free and open nature of our societies.
I want to pay tribute to the tenacity, creativity, courage and
willingness to sacrifice of the Coalition forces fighting in Iraq,
Afghanistan and elsewhere in the war on terrorism - and especially
to the US forces, who are responsible for so much of the effort.
Among our forces, there's a phrase that has become common as a
byword: "Failure is not an option." Those forces give us protection,
insight and inspiration. Failure is not an option.