By Dr. Walid Phares
As soon as our national leaders elevated the Terror Alert to High, America was entering a new era in the History of its national security. American national leaders announced an unprecedented Terror threat against Americans both overseas and at home. The Attorney General, the Secretary for Homeland Security and the FBI director informed the public of an al-Qaida plan to strike within the United States with unconventional weapons, including ones of mass destruction. The warning was based on "specific information" obtained from different "credible" sources and from a continuous watch of Terrorist sympathizers around the world. Not only we where dealing with facts including transfer of money and movement of persons of interest, but a time of strike was also provided. According to our officials, the sources spoke of a period around the Hajj season (Muslim pilgrimage to Mecca). The most dramatic component of the warning though is the potential use by the Jihadists of a dirty bomb and aiming at soft targets on American soil. With this new situation, many questions are raised: One, what was the basis for an "Orange level" alert? Two, what would the warning do and what is expected from Americans? And three, how can we fight al-Qaida's new threat at home?
The basis for "Orange level"
Behind "color Orange" we can see two parameters. One is based on "information and analysis," the other on evolving context. First, US authorities, in conjunction with allied agencies have collected significant information about bio-chemical capabilities of al-Qaida on three continents, particularly in the UK. Second, chatters have revealed intentions to use these capabilities, including within the US. And third particular dates were advanced, including -but not exclusively- the period around the Muslim Hajj. The second parameter for heightening the alert system was in fact the regional and international evolving context. With Secretary Powel's speech at the United Nations, a benchmark was created. Since the address, radicals in the Middle East realize how real is the "danger" of regime change. Both Baathists and Islamic Fundamentalists reacted harshly. The latter hates Saddam, but would be horrified by a post Saddam democratic institution. Many Jihadist voices vowed Terrorism against Americans. Some specifically promised strikes within the US. Hence, if you marry the two parameters you'd rationally conclude that the Terror-intention is serious, and therefore would order a higher level of alert. Reminder of the cold war, the escalation is rationalized by mounting intentions and deterrence. Before the Powel's UN speech, al-Qaida was on its own color Yellow. After that day, the latter moved its own readiness to Orange. Washington, that was on Yellow as well, had no alternative then to fly to the higher color. Both sides are now one step before the devastating red. It will be about mere perception. Will al-Qaida strike the US first, as a way to pre-empt an American intervention in Iraq? Or, would the US move first and break the current status quo?
The effects of Level Orange
In an American-like Democracy, alerting the public to an upcoming collective threat is not a privilege but a state duty. Not alerting the people would be a betrayal of public trust. But this Orange alert has three additional dimensions. One, it sends a direct message to al-Qaida and its allies. We know you're coming seems to say the declaration. Hence, in the minds of all Terrorists this is a partial defeat, even though their actions will resume. Stripped from surprise, the Jihadists will hesitate even for a second. That second of rethinking is very important. It allows a breach. In this tight game, any move is crucial. Two, moving the alert up in the national scale, will simply allow Government to execute its pre-planned measures of anti-Terrorism and reactive steps when and if acts will occur. We all know that had we been under an Orange state of security on September 11, many lives would have been saved. Finally, and more importantly, the third dimension of the alert is to mobilize the masses, or at least trigger their motivation. Indeed, the most uncomfortable situation for the Jihadists operating in infidel lands is to feel the growing pressure around them. Remember how relax they were while preparing for 9/11. Therefore imagine how important it is to shrink that space of maneuverability. But it is not enough to prepare the people for what may happen, better, to prepare them to abort what is planned to happen.
How to fight the new threat at home?
Let's think clearly. What's behind al-Qaida's intention to hit the American hinterland? Well, outside its general and ideological hatred of the unbelievers and the United States in particular, it has a particular rationalization: Striking the enemy in its heart, would slow or even paralyze its moves on the fronts. Nothing so new from about 4,000 years of known world history. Then what should America's response to the Terrorist threat be? Striking Terrorism in its heart, so that it would slow and perhaps paralyze its moves on all fronts; just a mere balance of power. The question remains always the same. Where is that center? That is another story. For now Jihad has gone Orange against the United States. And that's where Americans should respond. Orange for Orange till we find the center.
***Dr. Walid Phares is a Terrorism expert and a Professor of Comparative Politics at Florida Atlantic University. He is a senior fellow with the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies and a frequent commentator on MSNBC and Fox news.