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Tom Ridge on War & Peace

Secretary of Homeland Defense; Former Republican Governor (PA)


Iraq invasion made us less safe in the short run

I was often asked whether invading Iraq has made us safer or more vulnerable as a nation. DHS was never involved in any of the decision leading up to the invasion of Iraq. Iraq, for us, was an inevitability to be reckoned with, for we would likely become more susceptible to attack, not less, at least in the short run. I had seen no intelligence that contradicted what Powell had presented to the UN, where he made a strong case that Saddam Hussein harbored weapons of mass destruction in secret locations.
Source: The Test of our Times, by Tom Ridge, p.149-151 , Sep 1, 2009

Bin Laden is a master of disguises who moves almost daily

On September 12, a 12-year-old boy asked:

Q: Where in Afghanistan is this guy?

Gov. Ridge: The guy you referred to is bin Laden. Bin Laden is a master of disguises. We know that the Taliban government in Afghanistan has been harboring him and supporting him. It is reported that he may move his location almost on a daily basis. A lot of the free world has been asking for several years: Where is this guy? We'll find him, one of these days.

Q: Are we going to retaliate, then?

Gov Ridge: This is a different kind of war that is being fought against America. In WWII, we knew who our enemies were. These people, they consider themselves martyrs. They are combatants but they don't fight our soldiers. They don't have the courage or the guts to fight our soldiers. That's not their mission. They fight our civilians. I think the president will respond in a military way. I think it will be forceful. I think it will be appropriate. We will all be united as Americans behind him.

Source: The Test of our Times, by Tom Ridge, p. 14-15 , Sep 1, 2009

Who knew there are 1.3 billion Muslims in 50 countries?

I had to become an expert on nearly 1,400 years of Islamic history, to learn how the split came to be between the Shia and Sunnis, and to understand, too, the nature and idea of the caliphate, the direct opposite of our belief in the separation of church and state.

The ignorance of all of this was widespread. Who knew there are 1.3 billion Muslims in the world living in over 50 countries. Most Americans believed that they majority of Muslims live in the Middle East. Wrong. Indonesia & Pakistan have far more. Although Muslims, they speak many languages and have different religions, economic, and political perspectives. It's unlikely that most Americans understand that Muslims embrace five basic tenets of faith. There is no God but God (Allah) and Muhammad is his messenger.

The two weeks I was focused on state business and learning what I could about our enemies was the most restless period of my life. I was often awake at 3:00 a.m., studying everything from Sufism to the exploits of Saladin.

Source: The Test of our Times, by Tom Ridge, p. 29-30 , Sep 1, 2009

Woefully deficient in human intelligence in war on terror

When we faced the "traditional" enemy--as in the world wars, in Korea, even in Vietnam--the spy business was much more straightforward. It relied on human intelligence, electronics, and satellites. If you saw troop movements or shipments of supplies, you could reasonably predict the enemy's intention. If a submarine was no longer in harbor, you asked, "Where is it?"

This new war is much harder. We are woefully deficient in human intelligence. We have not pivoted from the cold war to the new war. We don't have anybody cozying up to bin Laden. There aren't ship or troop movements to track by satellite. Determining what's actionable is a tough job. We now rely on interrogations, electronic intercepts, and, on rare occasions, human intelligence. Satellite photos won't show terrorists or their assets. It's a whole different game of intelligence gathering. There are no more double agents, and there is no such thing as infiltrating Al Qaeda--we did not know how to break into this crowd.

Source: The Test of our Times, by Tom Ridge, p. 77 , Sep 1, 2009

Traditional hardware of war obsolete against terrorists

In the 1980's, Iran's revolution slowly changed the equation and led, eventually, to US support of Saddam's regime, at least for a few years.

The new government had a destabilizing effect on Lebanon. Lebanon had been friendly to America, but had fallen into a devastating civil war, with one side fueled by Syrian and Iranian support and influence. In response, Pres. Reagan ordered an American armed force into that country--a move intended to protect our interests in the Middle East. A year later, however, with the deadly attack on the marine headquarters in Beirut, we would get our first deadly lesson in the determination and abilities of anti-American crusaders.

Lebanon should have taught us that the traditional hardware of war was becoming obsolete in a world in which enemies increasingly utilized deception, guile, misdirection, and other guerilla tactics--not as an adjunct of traditional forces, but as a replacement for them. In the end, Reagan ordered all military forces out of Lebanon.

Source: The Test of our Times, by Tom Ridge, p. 35-36 , Sep 1, 2009

Saddam did have WMDs, but no relationship with al Qaeda

The gassing of the Kurds was prima facie evidence that Saddam possessed weapons of mass destruction, at least he had in 1988. Most of our key intelligence agencies maintained that he still had them.

It has been alleged that the Bush administration cherry-picked the intelligence in order to go to war. I find the suggestion contemptible, particularly in light of the fact that Pres. Clinton's intelligence community thought it, and so did Prime Minister Blair's. I gave the president the benefit of the doubt on the wisdom of invading Iraq. Privately, I had my doubts about both the target & the tactics.

Has the invasion and occupation of Iraq made us safer at home? Can the hundreds of billions of dollars and the loss of thousands of lives be justified in terms of protecting America? Admittedly, the relationship between the Saddam regime, Al Qaeda, and 9/11 was tenuous, if at all. My public support was tempered by my private concern about troop levels. I never believed we started with the right number.

Source: The Test of our Times, by Tom Ridge, p.150-152 , Sep 1, 2009

Iraqi invasion justified to overthrow a despot

The question remains, "Are we safer because of the Iraq invasion?" In May 2004, my response provides the context for my answer to this question several years later:

"I think in time [a self-governing Iraq] will occur. I don't think we should expect an immediate transition to a government that looks like ours, to a value system that necessarily reflects ours--there are unique cultural differences, historical differences, religious differences--but I think that even around those differences--the one centerpiece that is not different is the notion in the heart of all human beings to be free--and to determine their own future, their own fate."

If a Muslim country previously subjugated by a despot can, by the intervention of "the infidel Americans," be free to establish a legitimate form of self-government that offers a better life for its citizens, then we will be safer. In the battle for the hearts and minds of over a billion Muslims, we will have won a significant victory.

Source: The Test of our Times, by Tom Ridge, p.152-154 , Sep 1, 2009

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