America Must Not Return to a Pre-9/11 Mentality

The United States must take the fight to the enemy.

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Glenn Sulmasy is a professor of law and Chairman, Department of Humanities at the U. S. Coast Guard Academy. He is the author of sulmaseyThe National Security Court System: A Natural Evolution of Justice in an Age of Terror. The views expressed herein are his own.

Ten years later and the threat remains. It is a diminished threat for sure—but one that is relentless, vicious and places no value on human life. Victory is not yet in sight. The struggle against al Qaeda and international terror continues into the second decade of the 21st century.

Both the Bush and Obama administrations have embraced, either openly or functionally, the concept of "taking the fight to the enemy." It is essential that our policy makers and military remain in this mindset for the next decade. To do otherwise ensures the next Afghanistan/Taliban/al Qaeda stronghold will appear in Yemen, Libya, Somalia, or worse yet—Egypt. As the threat continues to morph, adapt and change like a chameleon, the United States must not permit itself to slip back into a pre-9/11 mentality. Such a relaxed, law enforcement oriented, defensive posture mode will have disastrous results. The 9/11 Commission was very clear—policy makers must not return to the 9/10 mentality.

[See photos marking the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks.]

The 9/10 mentality was one trapped in the Cold War mindset and viewed asymmetric threats such as al Qaeda as simply criminals who should be treated as if they are analogous to bank robbers, arsonists, or drug dealers. Essentially they were afforded all rights and the struggle against terror was really a law enforcement operation. One that included heavy reliance upon the FBI as well as state and local police forces. CIA and FBI were not sharing information even and most policy makers—regardless of political affiliation—thought this "wall" between the two agencies was good and effective. The events 10 years ago demonstrated employing a law enforcement mindset to this threat would have disastrous results. We need to use the might of our military and send a signal around the world that al Qaeda and like minded groups would not be able to mount an attack such as the one on 9/11 to anyone, anywhere again. Thus, the Bush administration decided to change the mindset and attack, disrupt and keep al Qaeda on the run. Without question, the financial networks, and nations that housed such extremists have received the message. The fight against al Qaeda is a war—and a war the West must remain determined to win. [See a slide show of 6 vulnerable potential terrorist targets.]

Over the past decade, the United States has adjusted itself strategically and tactically to meet this new threat. Strategically we have created the Director of National Intelligence, created the Department of Homeland Security, which houses the new Transportation Security Administration, and broken the wall between the CIA and FBI to ensure better sharing of intelligence. Congress enacted the Authorization for the Use of Military Force in late September of 2001 and it remains intact as law today for the Obama administration. Further, the Congress enacted the USA PATRIOT ACT and it, mostly, remains intact today.

Tactically, the model used for counter-insurgency has been updated. The use of overwhelming force to achieve victory (the so called Powell-Weinberger Doctrine) has been shelved for this fight. The new model, authored by the PhD General David Petraeus looks to fuse the talents of human rights professionals, academics and warriors. This concept, used as part of the surge, has had tremendous success in Iraq and still is working well in Afghanistan. [See editorial cartoons about Afghanistan.]

Thus, the United States has learned a great deal over the past decade and has matured many systems. Policy makers on the Federal and state levels must continue to do so during this long war—if we are serious about attaining victory over al Qaeda and like minded affiliates. As the Arab Spring has signified there is a thirst in many Middle Eastern nations for liberty. As part of our taking the fight to the enemy, we must employ a diplomatic model now that helps move many of these newly liberated nations on a path toward freedom and human rights. To do otherwise will allow the extremists of the al Qaeda network to take root in one of these nations. A 9/10 mentality would not see the need for strong engagement in these nations. One can only hope post-9/11 lawmakers will embrace this new phase of taking the fight to the enemy—the effective employment of diplomacy.