This is the html version of the file
G o o g l e automatically generates html versions of documents as we crawl the web.

Google is neither affiliated with the authors of this page nor responsible for its content.
These search terms have been highlighted: gerecht cowering superpower 
It’s time to fight back against terrorism.
26 / T
30, 2001
n December 1999, the Clinton administration
issued a worldwide terrorist alert to Americans
overseas advising them to avoid crowded millennial
celebrations. Bomb-toting Islamic militants under
the banner of the Saudi terrorist Usama bin Laden
had declared war, so Americans were to stay discreetly
indoors while other Westerners partied. In Israel and Jor-
dan, American Christians were strongly advised to avoid
any public manifestation of their faith. Vexed by the grow-
ing number, geographical range, and fearfulness of Wash-
ington’s warnings, one senior Foreign Service officer
declared the millennial alarm “the chicken-little PR finale
of America’s cover-your-ass foreign policy.”
Unfortunately, this hard-nosed diplomat was wrong.
The policy he deplored was not about to end. The Bush
administration has continued and actually surpassed its
predecessor’s display of timidity in the Middle East. The
possibility of terrorist attacks recently prompted the Penta-
gon to withdraw U.S. Marines from military exercises in
Jordan and hastily move ships anchored in Bahrain, the
home base of the U.S. Navy in the Persian Gulf. Likewise,
pistol-packing FBI officials investigating the October 2000
attack on the USS Cole in Aden, Yemen, decided to scoot—
against the counsel of the State Department and the U.S.
embassy in San’a—when they thought a terrorist attack
might be imminent.
Which prompts the question: Are we a great power or
not? If we are, then what in the world are we doing run-
ning from men whose mission in life it is to make us flee?
If Marines and men-of-war cannot hold their own against
the specter of a Saudi terrorist, how will our friends, let
alone our enemies, in the macho Middle East measure us
against real heavyweights like Saddam Hussein or the cler-
ics of Iran?
Usama bin Laden and his terrorist organization, Al
Qaeda, scored an impressive victory by nearly sinking the
Cole, yet Washington still has not responded. Our fear is
pure oxygen to Islamic militants. Every alert, particularly
when it panics U.S. military and diplomatic personnel,
sends an adrenaline rush into the central nervous system of
men truly convinced that with God’s help and the right
explosives they can crack the will of the infidels who are, in
their eyes, destroying the one true faith.
Secretary of defense Donald Rumsfeld’s decision to
yank the Marines out of Jordan is, when viewed from the
mud-brick and cinder-block ghettos of the Middle East, an
extraordinary triumph, further proof that the martyrs of
the Cole attack died gloriously. America’s military leaders
may think that they’re being prudent with our soldiers; the
average man in the streets of Amman certainly knows bet-
ter. Terrorism is war by unconventional means. Its ultimate
objective is the psychological debilitation of the enemy
through fear. In the fight against terrorism, the U.S. mili-
tary’s ever-more exclusive focus on “force protection”
diminishes the awe in which America is held abroad, the
ultimate guarantor of the safety of U.S. civilians and sol-
diers, especially in lands where hostility to the West rests
near the surface.
Martyrdom has a long and complex history in the Mus-
lim world. It began with God’s promise of paradise to the
seventh-century warriors who died expanding the first
Islamic state. Over the centuries, rules and understandings
evolved about the pivotal difference between combatants
and civilians, but these have evaporated in the fundamen-
talists’ radical modernity, which divides the world cleanly
and brutally between good and evil. If we want to play
hardball with Islamic militants—and the Bush administra-
tion isn’t spending billions of dollars on counterterrorism
to be nice—we need to pay more attention to the history
and metaphysics of Islamic extremism. In other words, we
need to take bin Laden’s men apart psychologically. Cut-
ting off the flow of oxygen to the Muslim world’s anti-
American radicals isn’t an impossible task, so long as we
patiently hold our ground.
sama bin Laden and his men are, or at least
aspire to be, contemporary “Assassins,” the
medieval founding fathers of modern political
terrorism, who from their mountain redoubts in Iran and
Syria first showed the possibilities of purposeful, disci-
A Cowering Superpower
Reuel Marc Gerecht, a former Middle East specialist in the Central
Intelligence Agency, directs the Middle East Initiative at the Project for
the New American Century. He is the author, under the pseudonym
Edward Shirley, of Know Thine Enemy: A Spy’s Journey into
Revolutionary Iran.
Iss43/Jul30 well 7/23/01 5:31 PM Page 8
/ 27
30, 2001
plined terrorism. For a time, great sultanates and king-
doms lived in profound fear of men who gladly sacrificed
themselves to kill their enemies. The word “assassin”
entered Western languages because the originality and
shock of the Assassins’ assaults were sufficient to embed
the word permanently into the consciousness of the
region’s Muslims and Christians. The allure of the Assas-
sins’ propaganda, which depicted acts of violence as acts of
divine love and anger, tapped into strong currents within
Islam that see God’s justice continuously betrayed by the
‘ulu al-amr, “the men who hold the reins.” Bin Laden
might not like being paired religiously with the “Old Man
of the Mountain,” the mysterious Shi’ite overlord of
the Assassins, but the Sunni Arab militant
wouldn’t mind at all the geopolitical
comparison, which, given his own
mountain hideaway and his faith-
ful kamikazes, has no doubt
already occurred to him.
Though there have been
times when large numbers of
young Muslim men felt the
thrill of a charismatic calling—
the early years of Iran’s Islamic
revolution is the most recent
case—the contemporary Sun-
ni Arab world, where bin
Laden draws most of his
strength, hasn’t experienced
a similarly infectious wave.
One can find many angry
young men in Yemen, Egypt,
Saudi Arabia, Algeria, or Gaza;
few want to vent their emotions
against the age-old Western ene-
my by vaporizing themselves in a
truck or skiff. Jihad, the moral and spiritual obligation of
a Muslim to wage war to protect (and, in Islam’s ascendant
days, expand) the faith, is no longer understood by most
Muslims as denoting anything more than an individual’s
duty to survey his soul.
Drawing in good new recruits to Al Qaeda’s cause thus
isn’t, as many Westerners might assume, an easy task. In
Afghanistan, a broken, barren country far from the cross-
roads of the Muslim world, it probably seems daunting,
which is one reason why so many of bin Laden’s foot sol-
diers are hapless, ill-educated misfits who get themselves
arrested when they stray too far from their native stamping
grounds in the disorganized, listless Third World.
Islamic militants, like everybody else, must have hope.
They, like everybody else, believe in winning. Israel’s most
determined enemies—Lebanon’s Hezbollah, Iran’s mol-
lahs, the Palestinian fundamentalists in Hamas and Islam-
ic Jihad, and Yasser Arafat’s protégés in his security and
intelligence services—constantly underscore Israel’s deci-
sion to withdraw unilaterally from southern Lebanon in
their clarion calls for more martyrs. This Israeli action,
widely applauded in the West as strategically astute and
morally estimable, was seen (correctly) in the Middle East
as an astonishing retreat by a once seemingly unbeatable
Western power. Israeli weakness, not Israeli “intransi-
gence,” is what heats the militant’s death-wish dreams red-
We need to remember that Al Qaeda, like its allied fun-
damentalist organizations, has to survive on little reg-
ular positive feedback. For Hamas, killing
Israelis is easy since the Arab and Jew-
ish communities are geographically
and economically intertwined. The
body count on the nightly news
keeps the spirits up. For anti-Amer-
ican holy warriors based in
Afghanistan and the northwest
frontier of Pakistan, daily life in
comparison is tough. Radios and
satellite phones are the only con-
stant links with the outside
world. Time passes very slowly.
The two years between the
bombings of the U.S.
embassies in Africa in
August 1998 and the Cole
attack could seem like an eter-
nity to young men who burn to
die. When failures supervene—for
example, the botched suicide attack on
the USS The Sullivans in Aden in Janu-
ary 2000—it becomes that much harder to sus-
tain spirit and momentum.
America is, as Muslim militants quite frankly admit, an
awesome foe. The allure and mystique of America in the
Middle East are nearly impossible to overstate: It’s
Goliath, Thomas Jefferson, Wall Street, and Madonna
rolled together in a cacophony of sound and color that
relentlessly fascinates and repels. In the eyes of Islamic
fundamentalists, we are worse than the Mongols, who laid
low the Muslim heartland and nearly annihilated the faith.
As fundamentalists regularly complain, most Muslims are
easygoing backsliders, willing victims of Western ways.
Even the Saudi royal family—perhaps the folks bin Laden
detests the most—who are supposed to maintain the rigor-
ous, funless, Hanbali school of Sunni Islam, have become
woefully dependent on the West, in particular the United
Illustration by K
evin Chadwick
bin Laden
Iss43/Jul30 well 7/23/01 5:31 PM Page 9
28 / T
30, 2001
The Afghan civil war also probably complicates bin
Laden’s life. His disparate collection of holy warriors fight
alongside the fundamentalist Taliban, against Ahmad
Shah Massoud’s Northern Alliance. This gives Al Qaeda’s
guerrillas some combat experience and esprit de corps.
Though the main tie between bin Laden and Taliban
leader Mullah Omar is spiritual, the war allows the Saudi
militant to further secure his exile home by contributing
men and materiel to the Taliban campaigns and the Pak-
istani-approved camps where Kashmiri separatists are
sometimes trained.
However, this war really isn’t fun: ambushes, mine-
fields, artillery barrages, and trench warfare through
mountainous countryside increasingly define Afghan-
istan’s strife. The offer of “terrorist training” in
Afghanistan, a country where “good” Muslim peasants are
fighting “bad” Muslim peasants, isn’t a recruitment pitch
with lasting appeal for young Arab men who really just
want to kill Americans.
For bin Laden’s “sleepers”—agents already outside of
Afghanistan awaiting the right moment to strike an Amer-
ican target—the situation is probably little better. While
terrorists who’ve implanted themselves into the local envi-
ronment can obviously be lethally effective (both the
embassy attacks in Africa and the operations against The
Sullivans and the Cole in Yemen relied on such people), few
men in bin Laden’s network are likely to have the forti-
tude, talent, and discretion to hold themselves in position
long, their death-wish intact. Like isolated foreign espi-
onage agents in dangerous areas, they probably need regu-
lar spiritual reinforcement and monitoring, perhaps more
than their more numerous brethren in Afghanistan, who
can counter isolation and ennui through open fraternity.
f these are the terrorists we’re up against, what would a
successful American counterterrorist policy look like?
Obviously, it should play up our strengths and relent-
lessly play upon our enemy’s anxieties and fears.
Bloodied, the crew of the wounded Cole did better.
When their ship limped out of Aden’s mountain-ringed
harbor, the sailors played over the loudspeakers hard rock
graphically describing what they wanted to do to the ter-
rorists, if not the denizens of Aden. Would that the Clin-
ton White House and the Navy’s senior brass had matched
the crew’s insight into the Middle East’s power politics
and immediately dispatched other warships to Yemen to
demonstrate symbolically the indefatigability of American
Once upon a time, the U.S. Navy reacted more astutely
to tragedy. After the kamikaze truck-bomb assault on the
U.S. Marine barracks in Beirut in 1983, the Navy’s plan-
ners correctly anticipated kamikaze boat-bombers. The
Navy experimented with weaponry and discovered that a
.50 caliber round fired into the engine block of a small boat
will stop forward momentum quite quickly. Such weapon-
ry on the Cole, combined with the shoot-to-kill orders that
are standard operating procedure for U.S. diplomatic secu-
rity officers who determine that a lethal threat exists,
would have likely saved the ship.
It’s hard to believe that the Navy, which enjoys a rela-
tively isolated and protected preserve for its vessels in
Bahrain, couldn’t have adopted similar tactics to protect its
ships and men. We ought not make our enemies larger
than they are: Bin Laden’s holy warriors aren’t remotely in
a class with our SEAL teams, the elite commando strike
units of the U.S. Navy which tirelessly train to disable war-
ships in protected harbors. If bin Laden wants to triumph
over us again, we should at least make his men do some-
thing more stressful than converse menacingly over inter-
cepted telephones—which apparently was enough to pro-
voke the Pentagon’s flight from Jordan and Bahrain.
Most American diplomats and intelligence officers
unquestionably know there is no efficacy in a bull-horned
terrorist warning: It’s quiet, bare-knuckled, local police
work, not worldwide bulletins on CNN, that saves lives.
Yet as another senior Foreign Service officer remarked,
“There is no percentage in standing against the tide.”
Informing American citizens discreetly that a specific and
credible threat exists in a certain time and place may have
some value (informing terrorists that we are privy to their
plans may well incline them to switch targets). But advis-
ing Americans that a country the size of Turkey, which
always seems to be in some state of alert, may have an anti-
American terrorist plotting within its borders is just silly.
In this risk-averse quagmire, America’s martial virtues and
pride inevitably get lost.
Going in the opposite direction, other foreign-affairs
circles pooh-pooh the terrorist threat from the Middle
East, pointing out that more Americans kill themselves
each year flying kites than die at the hands of holy war-
riors. Compared with those of the 1970s and 80s—the hal-
cyon days of the Palestine Liberation Organization,
Hezbollah, and the intelligence ministries of Syria, Libya,
and clerical Iran—today’s death tolls and sense of siege
really aren’t so bad. The issue of terrorism has been
hijacked, so these circles often assert, by the 24-hour
media maw and intelligence and security bureaucracies
eager to encourage Congress’s multi-billion-dollar coun-
terterrorist budgets.
This critique is statistically correct and bureaucratical-
ly astute, but otherwise wrong. Today’s radical Islamic ter-
rorism matters because it helps define the way the United
States is perceived in the Middle East and beyond. Only 17
sailors died on the Cole, but symbolically it was a stunning
Iss43/Jul30 well 7/23/01 5:31 PM Page 10

/ 29
30, 2001
achievement for a jihadist fraternity that proved it could
strike a warship, the historic instrument of Western power.
Anyone who has been in the coffeehouses and bazaars of
the Middle East since the Cole attack knows how ordinary
Muslims, who generally don’t countenance bin Laden’s
killing, nevertheless are in awe of him. A good tactician
when it comes to Muslim emotions, bin Laden has played
well the clash of civilizations.
hese are bad days for America in the Middle East.
Ali Khamenei, Iran’s clerical overlord, isn’t alone
in seeing the United States on the defensive
throughout the region. American policy toward the Israeli-
Arab confrontation—keep trading Israeli-held land for the
promise of Arab peace—is naive. Yet the the Israeli Left
adopted this policy and kicked it into overdrive, and now
the inevitable dénouement is at hand: a real war between
the Israelis and Palestinians. Seemingly endless Israeli
concessions, always applauded by the Clinton administra-
tion, have undermined America’s standing in the Middle
The Bush administration, led by an obviously and
understandably exasperated Colin Powell, has compound-
ed the problem by endorsing the Mitchell Report, which
puts forth the odd, very secular notion that Israeli settle-
ments in the West Bank and Gaza, comprising less than
2 percent of the land, have provoked Palestinian young
men to blow themselves to bits. The White House and
Foggy Bottom are desperate to “stop the cycle of violence.”
But only violence—Israeli violence, if prime minister
Ariel Sharon still has the stamina and insight at last to
unleash it—may recoup the damage that the Labor party,
Bill Clinton, and the Near East Bureau of the State
Department have done to America’s standing in the
Farther east, the situation is even worse. From the
spring of 1996, the Clinton administration’s Iraq policy
was in meltdown; under the Bush administration, it has
completely liquefied. The administration’s retargeted
“smart sanctions” are clearly a huge retreat, which the
Russians, we can only pray, have turned into a permanent
defeat with their threatened veto in the Security Council.
All we need is to have two of our principal allies in the
region, Turkey and Jordan, further enmeshed in an Ameri-
ca-ordained, U.N.-“enforced” sanctions regime that pivots,
when all the diplomatic varnish is off, on bribery. Face to
face in the Middle East, rishwa is often the only expedi-
tious route for virtue to triumph over villainy. But bribery
mediated by the United Nations would be a strategic
cross-cultural mess. With “smart sanctions” in place, not
only would Saddam continue his “illegal” cross-border
weapons-related commerce—the allure of Iraqi oil money
is just too great—but we would have Turkey and Jordan
adamantly seeking financial redress for their efforts to
staunch the unstoppable trade. We would again be asking
others—in the case of Jordan, a weak kingdom always
inclined to appease Saddam Hussein—to bear the burden
and responsibility for our failure to confront directly the
Iraqi dictator.
Does anyone in the Bush administration remember
Madeleine Albright, Sandy Berger, and their minions
spinning themselves dizzy trying to deny that Saddam
Hussein had outwaited and outplayed Washington? It
would be better to see the administration start explaining
how we will live with Saddam and his nuclear weapons
than to see senior Bush officials, in the manner of the Clin-
tonites, fib to themselves and the public. In any case, in
Middle Eastern eyes, the Butcher of Baghdad has checked,
if not checkmated, the United States.
Only against this backdrop can we properly assess the
threat bin Laden poses. The Saudi militant is unquestion-
ably going to come at us again. If he can find a weak spot,
which he probably can, he will target us most likely in the
Third World, where his men can maneuver. Then the
Bush administration will have to make a defining decision.
Will President Bush continue the Clinton administration’s
preference for putting terrorist strikes into the FBI’s
investigative hands and, forensic evidence willing, into the
courts, thereby avoiding the diplomatically messy ques-
tion of retaliation? Will the administration forcefully com-
plement the above with another barrage of cruise missiles
aimed at rock huts on the thin hope of catching bin Laden
and his lieutenants unawares?
Deputy secretary of state Richard Armitage recently
warned that the United States would hold the Taliban
responsible for future attacks by Al Qaeda. We can only
hope that this doesn’t mean filing some future court case
in New York City or bouncing the rubble in makeshift
camps in Afghanistan. The Taliban chieftain Mullah
Omar ought to discover that dead Americans mean cruise
missiles coming through his bedroom window and cluster
bombs all over his frontline troops.
The Pentagon’s alarms in the Middle East and the
fecklessness of the administration’s policy toward Saddam
Hussein and Yasser Arafat, however, suggest a different
chain of events. Odds are, America’s position in the Mid-
dle East is going to get much worse. In the not too distant
future, bin Laden may well rightfully proclaim that he, as
much as Saddam Hussein, exposed America’s writ and
most terrifying principles—liberal, secular democracy—as
finished in the Arab world. This would be an amazing
accomplishment for a Saudi holy warrior, considering the
forces arrayed against him. The Assassins achieved far less
and were immortalized by friend and foe alike.
Iss43/Jul30 well 7/23/01 5:31 PM Page 11