Winning the War on Terrorism

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Winning the War on Terrorism

By Paul Ryan

Representing Wisconsin's 1st Congressional District

March 9, 2010

As readers of this posting know, I spend the bulk of my time working on and discussing domestic issues like health care, jobs, and our budget crisis. Washington's decisions on these issues affect Americans across the country in very intimate and personal ways. The same principle also applies to our nation's foreign policy, and I take very seriously my responsibility to represent Wisconsin's First Congressional District in those decisions.

With this responsibility in mind, I participated in Congressional Delegation trips to Afghanistan, as well as some countries in the Persian Gulf region(specifically Saudi Arabia, Oman, and the United Arab Emirates). Having already shared my experiences in Afghanistan with you, (Lessons from Afghanistan 3/1/2010), I hoped this week to share with you some of the lessons I learned during my trip to Saudi Arabia, Oman and the U.A.E.

The purpose of my visit to the Persian Gulf Region was to evaluate our coalition strategies aimed at combating terrorist financing and recruitment, as well as to discuss ways to more effectively discourage the Iranian regime from its pursuit of nuclear weapons. In addition to meeting with the leaders of Saudi Arabia, Oman, and the U.A.E., we also spent time with intelligence officers and diplomats from the State Department. These meetings and discussions helped highlight some of the important regional dynamics affecting both terrorism and the Iran nuclear issue that are often lost in the greater national security discussion.

Having studied the nature and extent of the Saudi contribution to combating the global terror network, my expectations were quite low. I must admit I was taken aback by how serious and committed Saudi Arabia's new leaders, specifically King Abdullah, are to human rights reforms, as well as shutting down terrorist financing and reducing terrorist recruitment. I've always read and believed that the key to winning the War on Terrorism lies in convincing moderate Muslims to rise up and denounce the use of Islam to justify the violence and intolerance of terrorists. King Abdullah laid out how his government has made significant progress in removing al-Qaeda from Saudi Arabia, as well as progress toward education reform and women's rights. We must do more to encourage similar behavior among reformist Muslim leaders throughout the Middle East.

The other topic that dominated our discussions with the leaders of Saudi Arabia, Oman, and the U.A.E. was Iran. As many readers of this column know, a nuclear-armed Iran poses a serious security threat to the U.S. and our allies in the region. However, it is less well-known that many of the Middle East's Sunni Arab majority states, regardless of their affiliation with the United States, are just as uncomfortable with the current Iranian regime. As was made clear during many of my meetings, Iran's history of belligerence in the region, its inflammatory Islamist rhetoric, and its support for terrorist and insurgent groups throughout the region are just as alarming for many governments in the Middle East.

Last month, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad declared that Iran had enriched uranium to 20% purity, thus becoming a "nuclear state." While Iranclaims its program is for peaceful purposes, the regime's aggressive rhetoric and the clandestine nature of the program severely undermine their credibility. We all know that a nuclear-armed Iran poses an existential threat to our ally Israel, as well as a huge proliferation risk. Another theme echoed repeatedly in my meetings with Gulf State leaders was the way nuclear weapons could destabilize the region. Iran acquiring a nuclear weapon would almost certainly spark a nuclear arms race in the Middle East, a scenario that is in no one's security interests. The international community must not allow Iran to continue its clandestine program to develop nuclear weapons.

Iran's missile technology is also of serious concern to the U.S. In addition to the conventional threat, Iran's missile development program shares a symbiotic relationship with the development of its nuclear program. With new medium range ballistic missile tests (barely disguised as "satellite launching operations"), Iran has demonstrated its intent to develop a delivery system for conventional and nuclear warheads to targets beyond just Israel and the Middle East. This clearly presents a concern to Gulf State leaders already suspicious of Iran's intentions.

I listened to these concerns intently, because they underscore common interests we share with any Gulf State leaders. We urged Oman and the U.A.E. to more thoroughly enforce sanctions that prevent missile and dual-use technology from entering and leaving Iran through Omani and Emirati ports. As the Iranian missile threat matures, the Obama Administration should reexamine its decision to scrap construction of missile defense interceptor sites in Eastern Europe. Missile defense must be layered to be successful, and the ship-based system, cobbled together to appease Russia, takes away an important layer of protection and ultimately reduces the system's chances of successful interception. Such actions leave our allies in the Middle East and Europe at risk of both conventional and nuclear attack from Iranian missiles. Furthermore, these actions discourage other states in the region from supporting efforts to prevent missile technology proliferation. 

Iran's support for terrorist and insurgent groups is another serious security concern we share with Gulf State leaders. As you may already know, Iran has topped the State Department's annual list of "Top State Sponsors of Terrorism" for several years running. This support generally includes funding, weapons, and training for Islamist terrorist groups like Hamas and Hezbollah, as well as any other group perceived to be acting in support of Iran's interests or the "Islamic Revolution's principles." 

Many of the terrorist groups Iran supports pose an insurgent threat to moderate Muslim rulers in the Middle East. All these groups have to do is declare these rulers "anti-Islamic" for supporting even minimal reform efforts to expand human rights and economic opportunity for their people. Speaking with these Gulf State leaders highlighted the fact that these reformist, moderate Muslim regimes are the real key to defeating the terrorist threat. We must work with these regional partners to cut off Iran's material and financial support for the terrorist and insurgent groups hindering moderate Muslim rulers from enacting serious human rights and economic reforms. 

There is no question that terrorism and the Iranian regime pose serious challenges to stability in the region and peace around the world. Of the knowledge I gained from this brief but intense visit to the Gulf, the greatest is this: I caught a glimpse of what victory in this struggle really looks like. We must consider all efforts to encourage moderate Muslim nations to focus their attention on reforming their societies with a focus on education, women's rights, economic development, and opportunity. We must also seek their increased cooperation with disrupting international terrorist networks, shutting down terrorist financing operations, reducing terrorist recruitment pools, and confronting regional threats like Iran. We share many common interests with our allies in the region, and we must find ways to build on these common interests to successfully confront the challenges we face in the Middle East.