US must regain moral ascendancy
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• Intelligence cooperation? "Here's what we've got, and more is on the way."Skip to next paragraph
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• Overflight permission? "No problem."
• Refueling stops? "Absolutely."
• Support to military operations? "Yes, but - due to the sensitivity - on the QT."
These are the simple, often mundane things that are nevertheless essential to conducting a global war against terrorists. Lose moral ascendancy, and such intergovernmental cooperation becomes problematic:
• Intelligence cooperation? "We'll let you know if we hear something."
• Overflight permission? "Perhaps our ministers can discuss this in Brussels next month."
• Refueling stops? "My government is under considerable pressure to terminate our support of your ongoing military operation."
• Support to military operations? "We regret to inform you that we will withdraw our contingent from Iraq in the coming weeks."
Few would deny that the US continues to have moral ascendancy over Al Qaeda. However, by its very nature, the fight against terrorism requires that a nation possess moral ascendancy in a global sense. "Old Europe," Abu Ghraib, Guantánamo, weapons of mass destruction - these issues have not only damaged US credibility, but have also eroded its moral ascendancy. Three years after 9/11, America has few friends and precious little sympathy in the world, even among traditional allies. This is an untenable position to be in when fighting a sophisticated, determined, well-financed, and ruthless enemy that has global reach.
Fighting terrorism is a team effort; one can't go it alone and win. Counterterrorism, counterproliferation, countertrafficking, travel documents security, and other such efforts are inherently cooperative. By mortgaging moral ascendancy in support of dubious policies that may yield some short-term gains, the US has severely fractured the basic foundation on which warfighting coalitions and international cooperation - key to antiterrorism - are based.
Those who are considering America's next steps in Iraq must recognize that its lack of moral ascendancy is an undeniable feature of the present strategic landscape, and something that will complicate planning and hinder efforts to detect and destroy terrorist networks. We are losing the war on terrorism not in the streets of Baghdad, but in the pubs in Ireland, in the cafes on the Continent, and at the dinner tables of moderate Arabs.
As much as the US needs a plan to take down Al Qaeda, as much as it needs to reassess its objectives and how to best achieve them in Iraq, the nation's leadership just as urgently needs a plan, a campaign, to regain moral ascendancy in the eyes of the world.
• Thomas Raleigh, a retired Army lieutenant colonel, is managing director of Real Textiles, LLC, a Russian-US joint venture. During his 22-year military career, he served with the infantry, at the US Embassy in Moscow, and at the US Mission to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe.