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Welcome to "Ask the White House" -- an online interactive forum where you can submit questions to Administration officials and friends of the White House. Visit the "Ask the White House" archives to read other discussions with White House officials.

Juan Zarate
Deputy National Security Advisor for Combating Terrorism

September 5, 2006

Juan Zarate
It's a pleasure to be on with you today. This is an important day. The President today laid out clearly the nature of the enemy we face in the War on Terror through the use of their own words. Today, we are battling a transnational terrorist movement of extremist organizations, networks, and individuals – and their state and non-state supporters – which have in common that they exploit Islam and use terrorism for ideological ends. This movement is not monolithic. But it is united by a common ideology of violence, hate, and oppression. You can see that in their words, intentions, and past actions. Al Qaida is the clearest manifestation of that enemy, but they represent the vanguard of the broader movement.

The President also released today our National Strategy for Combating Terrorism that lays out how we are going to fight this war in the short and long term. This updated strategy sets the course for winning the War on Terror. It builds on our February 2003 CT Strategy as well as the overarching National Security Strategy, released this March.

I'm happy to talk to you about this and other questions you have about the War on Terror and our counterterrorism efforts.

Rafael, from NC writes:
The updated National Strategy for Combating Terrorism document indicates and I quote: In the long run, winning the War on Terror means winning the battle of ideas. Ideas can transform the embittered and disillusioned either into murderers willing to kill innocents, or into free peoples living harmoniously in a diverse society. As I read the document I could not find information as to how the administration is planning to address the battle of ideas. One see more specifics of what is call Short terms but not on that subject. So the question is: Could you provide some details in regard to the plans to address the battle of ideas? Thanks and gods bless all of us.

Juan Zarate
The President has laid out clearly that this is war unlike others we have fought. This means we are engaged in a battle of arms and a battle of ideas. As you indicate, the long term solution to this problem is the advancement of freedom and human dignity through effective democracy -- not just elections, but functioning civil societies with responsible governments that are accountable to their people.

As part of the battle of ideas, we have to empower moderate Muslim voices to engage in the internal struggle within Islam. Right now, the violent extremists are attempting to gain control not just of territory but of the hearts and minds of the broader Muslim community. This empowerment takes many forms, but much of this battle must be undertaken by our friends and allies in the Muslim world. We are starting to see just this -- from Amman to Jakarta, moderate voices are confronting the violent extremists who are seeking to hijack one of the world's great religions. This is exactly what is happening as well in Iraq, where Prime Minister Maliki is creating and defending a new democracy against the forces of extremism and sectarianism.

Paul, from Bethlehem, PA writes:
Dear Mr. Zarate, President Bush delivered a great speech today to the Military Officers Association, but climaxed it at the end with a bizarre comment that this is a war between "moderation" and "extremism". I completely disagree. This is a war between Dark Ages militant Islam and the Enlightenment principles, particularly: exclusive reliance on reason and science, rule of law, inalienable individual rights, freedom, and capitalism. I recently applauded President Bush's correction of the enemy's identity from "terrorism" to "Islamo-fascism". Why did he backslide to the ridiculous abstractions of "moderation" vs. "extremism"?

Juan Zarate
Thanks, Paul. I agree this was a great speech in that the President clearly articulated what the enemy is about, using their own words to indict the violent Islamic extremists we now face. The President has been clear, as seen as well in the just released National Strategy for Combating Terrorism, that we are indeed facing violent Islamic radicals -- be they Shia or Sunni. But this is more than just a traditional fight against individuals, it is an ideological battle in which the violent extremists are attempting to dominate territory and the theological battle space. Thus, when the President talks about the fight between moderation and extremism, he is simply reiterating what we have said all along. This is a long term, ideological battle, with some similarities to the Cold War.

Pam, from California writes:
Does President Bush and his administration have a plan or think that there can be a plan for stopping the indoctrination of young Muslims into terrorists groups?

Juan Zarate
Great question. Part of the battle of ideas is countering the radicalization underway in many parts of the world, including in Western societies. Experts in the government, and in governments all around the world, are now grappling with the question of how best to counteract radicalization. Some efforts involve isolating/deporting/arresting where appropriate radical ideologues who are providing material support to al Qaida and like-minded terrorist groups. Other efforts, as in the UK, revolve around reforming institutions that have traditionally served as radicalizing platforms. In other countries, there are efforts to rehabilitate certain individuals who have been radicalized. At the end of the day, what we will need to see is the Muslim community writ large serving as the gatekeepers and guardians for their faith to ensure that radical elements are not taking advantage of Muslim youth. On our part, we need to empower and engage key constituents, in addition to taking appropriate enforcement efforts to inoculate ourselves from such radicalization.

Ed, from Fountain Valley, California writes:
I just listened to the Presidents war on terror strategy speech. It was excellent. The people need to hear and understand the strategy and be able to relate it to news events. That is why your speech is so important. Why doesn't the senior staff answer all questions from political and media sources in terms of one of the five components of the strategy that the President outlined? It seems to me the answers to all questions regarding the war on terror should start with for example "As relates to the war of terror strategy element 2 Prevent attacks by terrorist networks, ...then the rest of the answer. That is a way to educate the public and put a context to the news events. Respectfully, Ed

Juan Zarate
Great to see someone from Orange County on-line. Go Barons!! We think it was a great speech, too. The Strategy is certainly how we think about attacking the long and short term problems associated with terrorism, and it is certainly how the President has talked about the issue recently. I suggest folks take a look at the President's October 6, 2005 speech in which he laid out a similar vision regarding the enemy and our strategy. I will convey your thoughts to our communicators, and it may indeed be a good idea to keep reminding the American public and media about the elements of the Strategy at every opportunity.

Domenico, from Italy writes:
Dear Mr. Zarate, how do you think this latest terror alert about international flights will affect tourists flying from Europe to the U.S.? will there be a drop in the number of tourists visiting the U.S. by the winter holidays period as far as your opinion is concerned, since it looks like flying is becoming more stressful and dangerous because of terror threats? thank youin advance for any answer you will be willing to give.

Juan Zarate
Domenico, thank you for engaging on-line. We want tourists and visitors to feel comfortable and enthusiastic about coming to the United States. The security measures put in place around the world after the recently disrupted plot in the UK should give you some degree of comfort that the security services around the world are taking necessary steps to protect the traveling public. I will tell you that work with the Italian authorities, as well as other countries around the world, has been critical in keeping us all safe. We are facing a common enemy that knows no moral boundaries, which is why we need to stay in the fight together.

David, from Vienna, VA. writes:
In what ways does the strategy for combatting terrorism revealed today differ significantly from previous strategies? In what ways does it differ or set new directions from actions already being taken?

Juan Zarate
David, this Strategy is an articulation of how we have been engaging in the war on terror. It lays out the strategic foundation for the long war and clearly articulates the short and long term elements of our strategy. Correct, this has been part of our strategy, but it is constantly being refined. This Strategy also repeats the fundamental point that this is a war unlike others -- being waged in a battle of arms and a battle of ideas.

In addition, in this Strategy, we are explaining the nature of the enemy that has adapted to our pressure and which represents a clear ideological threat to the civilized world. As the Strategy indicates, we are facing "a transnational terrorist movement of extremist organizations, networks, and individuals – and their state and non-state supporters – which have in common that they exploit Islam and use terrorism for ideological ends."

We are more specific in this document about the weak points and vulnerabilities that we are attacking (re resources the terrorists need to survive; the nature of safe havens). We also delineate clearly what our 6-part strategy to prevent terrorists from acquiring and using WMD is. This is a priority for the President and a key part of the strategy that we have never articulated in this manner. Finally, this Strategy explains how we are institutionalizing our efforts -- as a government and people -- to succeed in the long battle.

Marilyn, from St. Charles, IL writes:
Why is it that when we find a "homegrown" terrorist who is giving aid and comfort to our terrorist enemies, he is not tried for treason? As an American citizen, born and raised here, and a registered voter, I want to see these terrorists convicted of treason and executed. Recently, the media informed us of a man in California who is shown in a video tape spouting jihad and trying to recruit new terrorists. Let's start with him and set a precedent.

Juan Zarate
Marilyn, we have seen very important work done by the FBI and Department of Justice, along with other key agencies, since 9/11 to help uncover emerging plots and cells that could have been used to attack us here in the Homeland. Prosecutions have been brought in various states around the country for terrorism violations. We've also seen instances of citizens and non-citizens providing material support to terrorist groups abroad. Many of these cases have been brought to trial or successful conclusions. We have very strong counter-terrorism laws on the books that allow us to bring those who are committing such heinous crimes to justice. Certainly those who are working with al Qaida, be they an American citizen or not, will be the focus of our attention, which is why the President has repeated his call for appropriate tools to uncover such individuals.

Elbert, from Las Vegas, NV writes:
Sir, Thanks for your service to our Great Country Can you help me understand, why more effort (my opinion) was not put into "bringing to justice" those responsible for the USS Cole Bombing? Secondly; are we now, better prepared to respond to similar attacks? From A Proud Vietnam Veteran

Juan Zarate
Thanks, Elbert. It's an honor to serve you, the American people, and the President. I was a prosecutor in the Terrorism and Violent Crime Section at the Department of Justice when the Cole bombing occurred. I worked on that case, and I can tell you that there was enormous effort by those involved in that investigation to bring the perpetrators to justice. The problem, however, was that we were still treating the problem of terrorism and al Qaida as a law enforcement issue. When 9/11 happened, the President called us to war -- a war that al Qaida and the terrorists had been waging against us since at least 1996. That has led to the capture of two of the masterminds of the Cole -- Nashiri and Khallad bin Attash -- who were senior lieutenants for al Qaida. As you know, we have captured or killed dozens of key al Qaida leaders and operatives around the world, as we have gone on the offensive using all elements of national power to affect this problem.

Barbara, from Baltimore, MD writes:
Why did President Bush refer to the War on Terrorism as against a "war against Islamic facism?" I thought the war was against people who desire to hurt or kill Americans and destroy our way of life irregardless of the faith tradition or beliefs. I think this labeling of terrorism as Islamic helps to increase the level of fear and/or hate of Muslims in the U.S. Please explain why Mr. Bush thinks that we should be opposed to Islam or any other religion. Thanks for your reply to my question.

Juan Zarate
The President has made clear that this is a battle against violent Islamic extremists. There is a healthy debate about how to label our enemies, but it is clear that the extremists we face are attempting to warp the tenets and teachings of Islam to justify their agenda. This is not a confrontation with Islam or Muslims. Islam is a proud religion that preaches compassion and tolerance. The threat we are facing is not that of Islam as a religion, it is that of violent extremists who carry out atrocities in the name of Islam and who exploit religion to serve radical and extremist political goals.

Those who have blown themselves up and killed countless civilians in New York, Washington, Amman, Sharm al Sheikh, London, Madrid, Bali, Jakarta and elsewhere have stated that they committed these acts in the name of Islam. They are exploiting Islam to serve a violent political and ideological vision.

Not only are you correct in stating that this isn't a war against Islam, but this battle is one we can only win with the support of others around the world, including Muslim communities themselves, who appreciate the importance of preventing the spread of al-Qaida's poisonous and self-destructive ideology. The grand irony of this all is that al-Qaida has targeted innocent Muslims around the world. If anything, they are the ones engaged in a war on Islam, not the United States.

Eric, from Hurst, Texas writes:
Dear Sir: This is not so much a question as a note of support for the President and the war on terrorism. I'm sure he and the administration are doing everything possible to beat this scourge. I support the President and am willing to give up a few of my constitutional freedoms in order to find these individuals who are responsible for the terrorist attacks against the United States since 1979. Please let the President and his staff know there are people, regular people, who support the war on terrrorism and not to be disuaded by the media. Speaking of the media, why do they not put on the U. S. news the attrocities that still happen to Muslims in their own countries, as well as other countries, by Muslims? It would be nice to have a more balanced view of what is going on. Keep on Keeping on. Thank you.

Juan Zarate
Thanks, Eric. We appreciate your support. The great untold story -- especially in the Arab and Muslim worlds -- is how much chaos, division, and murder al Qaida and like-minded violent extremists are inflicting on Muslim people around the world. One need only look at the attacks in Baghdad or in Amman, Jordan to see that these terrorists do not care who they kill and that they are defending no interests but their own.

John, from Toronto writes:
Do you think that some of the suspicious activities recently on the transportation systems were dry runs designed to see how the security officials would react in a real attack?

Juan Zarate
Thanks, John. This is a question that we have to ask ourselves every time we see suspicious activities. We are always watching, along with our Canadian colleagues and others, for activities that will give us clues to broader plotting or attacks.

Bob, from Pasadena CA writes:
I notice the new White House Document on fighting terrorism says we must deny safe haven to terrorists. Since we know both Al Qaeda and Taliban forces are training and operating in Pakistan how do you explain the continuing refusal to use our special forces to go after these people once and for all. Isn't this a form of appeasement when we let Pakistan do the same thing Afghanistan was doing before 911? Since Afghanistan did not have any nuclear weapons and Pakistan does haven't we just rearranged the deck chairs on the terrorism Titanic and moved them much closer to their goal?

Juan Zarate
Bob, this is a good question. One of the successes post-9/11 was garnering strong Pakistani support in the War on Terror. This has led to key captures of some of the most important al Qaida figures, like Khalid Sheikh Mohammed. No doubt, we have more to do with Pakistan, as well as other key partners, to capture or kill key al Qaida operatives. We are working directly with President Musharraf's government and the Karzai government in neighboring Afghanistan to strengthen governance and patrols in previously ungoverned areas. We are also supporting President Musharraf in his "Enlightened Moderation" campaign, which is critical in diminishing the long term radicalization of Pakistani youth.

We are also working with the entire international community to secure nuclear material from those who would provide it to al Qaida or their sympathizers. This is why the dismantling of the AQ Khan network was so critical and why the President just launched with Russia the Global Initiative to Combat Nuclear Terrorism.

Stuart, from River Vale, NJ writes:
The President and his Cabinet has said many times that the War in Iraq is one part of the War on Terrorism. Yet, from what I read, a minority of the violence in Iraq is Terriost lead, and the bulk of the violence is sectarian. Can you explain how the Iraq war is part of the war on terriorism?

Juan Zarate
Al Qaida understands that Iraq is their central front in their war against humanity and have said so explicitly. They are committed to murder and chaos in Iraq to ensure that a stable democracy does not rise in the heart of the Arab and Muslim world -- the complete antithesis of their envisioned endstate. In Iraq, we are supporting a democratic government against a terrorist enemy that seeks to establish a wealthy haven from which to launch attacks throughout the region, and eventually here at home. As the President explained in great detail today, the terrorists do not hide their aims in this regard, and we need to take them seriously – and ensure that they don’t succeed.

In terms of the sectarian violence, it is important to remember who is stoking it. Al Qaida in Iraq has long hoped to spark a sectarian war, which would lead to the withdrawal of Coalition forces, the collapse of the Iraqi government, and the rise of a terrorist haven in Iraq. The violence you are seeing is from al Qaida's playbook, and we are working with the Iraqis to overcome it – by going after terrorist elements, and ensuring they have no sanctuary anywhere in Iraq; and working to demobilize the illegal armed groups that have sprung up partially in response to al Qaida's provocations. The National Strategy for Victory in Iraq described the three main elements of the insurgency in Iraq. While members of al Qaida in Iraq (AQI) might represent the smallest number of insurgents, there is no question that AQI represents the greatest short and long term threat to Iraq’s stability.

Bin Laden knows his movement is losing in Iraq. And that is why he calls on his followers to travel there, to fight, and die, for his perverted cause.

Kim, from Kentucky writes:
Hi Mr. Zarate, Sometimes I worry about the safety of my loved ones when they travel on public transportation, but I really feel that there are a lot of precautions in place--especially after 911. In the future, how are designers of trains, planes and buses attempting to make their products safer, and perhaps, more terrorism-proof? Thank You.

Juan Zarate
Thanks, Kim. You are correct in that we have made many improvements in the technical security precautions surrounding our transportation systems. Some of these improvements are technological upgrades to equipment, but many focus more on preventing attacks from happening aboard transportation conveyances in the first place.

These upgrades include everything from developing and deploying detection equipment and techniques in the transit systems of major metropolitan areas, to new surveillance software designed to detect anomalous behavior and imaging technologies. Some of these possible advances will be adopted for wider use throughout the country, while others may not.

The effort to make our transportation systems more secure against terrorist attack is not being made only on the technical front. In fact, under the guidance of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), it is under way on many fronts. In addition to the passenger, baggage and cargo screening performed at airports every day, DHS and TSA are working constantly to secure the rest of the country's transportation systems through cooperative efforts with state and local governments and private industry partners nationwide.

Debra, from Cameron, Texas writes:
Can you please clarify the present role of Al-Quida in the war on terror? Are the groups we see active in terrorism a group of Al-Quida operatives are they simply inspired by Al-Quida's ideology? Where do we see funds originating for the terrorist activities? Thank you for your time to address this important matter, Debra

Juan Zarate
Debra, this is a great question. As the President described today in his speech and in the National Strategy for Combating Terrorism, the enemy we face is evolving. We are facing violent Islamic extremists who are intent on inflicting catastrophic damage on the American people and our interests. Al Qaida has served as the vanguard for this movement -- both ideologically and operationally. We have done much to degrade al Qaida, but they still are a direct threat and continue to plot against us. They are taking full advantage of cells and groups throughout the world who are loosely tied to them or inspired by their ideology to attack innocents. We saw this in Madrid in 2004, and in Toronto, where the Canadians stopped a "homegrown" driven plot. These cells were not necessarily directly tied to al Qaida, but they were certainly inspired by the ideology. At the end of the day, we need to finish al Qaida, undercut and delegitimize their ideology, and provide a hopeful vision and reality for those who would fall prey to their dark, violent, and sinister agenda.

Regarding terrorist funding, we have done quite a bit to uncover and cut off terrorists' sources of funding. Al Qaida has traditionally used deep-pocket donors and charities to raise money and have relied on banks, wire transfers, couriers, and informal transfer mechanisms called "hawalas" to move the money. One of the great successes since 9/11 has been the international campaign led by the President to deter, disrupt, and dismantle terrorist financing. Without a doubt, al Qaida finds it harder, costlier, and riskier to raise and move money around the world.

Shir, from Israel writes:
Mr. Zarate, Do you believe UNIFIL and the Lebanese Army will be able to disable, or at least minimize the terrorist activities of Hezbollah? Will they be able to keep the borders safe (with Syria and Israel)?

Juan Zarate
Hizballah's "state within a state" status needs to be affected, and they need to be disarmed -- as called for by relevant international obligations. The solution of the Lebanon crisis lies in full implementation of UN Security Council Resolution 1701, a package of measures that includes the deployment of the Lebanese army to the South, accompanied by an enhanced UNIFIL force. Resolution 1701 also calls on the Lebanese government to secure its borders from illegal arms shipments, and authorizes UNIFIL to assist the Lebanese government in doing so.

This will ensure that we don't wind up exactly where we were two months ago, in a situation where a militia and a terrorist group can launch an unprovoked attack on Israel.

With the establishment, between the Blue Line and the Litani River, of an area free of armed personnel -- other that those of the Lebanese army and UNIFIL -- it will no longer be possible for Hizballah fighters to maintain a presence along the Blue Line, threatening Israel immediately on its northern border. Hizballah won't have the ability to fortify themselves as they have over the past six years. This will be a strategic setback for Hizballah, as well as for its patrons in Tehran and Damascus.

We do not envision the UNIFIL disarming Hizballah immediately, by force, although UNIFIL needs to have a concept of operations and a set of rules of engagement that allow it to be effective in its mission. Certainly we want to see an enhanced UNIFIL that has the confidence of both the Lebanese and Israeli governments, in order for it to be able to fulfill its mandate.

We need to keep in mind that before 9/11, Hizballah had killed more Americans than any other terrorist group. As the President said today, Hizballah and the violent Shia extremism it represents are also a threat to the United States and our allies.

James, from Coldwater, Michigan writes:
Do you believe that we can win the war on terror, and do you believe it has an end. Will we one day look back on this and speak of it in the past tense? Or will it be just something we deal with for the rest of the near future.

Juan Zarate
James, not only do I believe we can win the war on terror, but I know we will. Just like the Cold War, this will be a long, protracted battle of arms and ideas that will require real commitment from the American public and our friends and allies around the world. I think we will indeed look back some day and see that these were the formative years in the battle, which is why the President has forced important institutional changes, like the creation of the Department of Homeland Security, the Director of National Intelligence, and the National Counter Terrorism Center, to allow us to fight this war for the long term. No doubt, the current spread of democracy, which I call the "fourth wave of democracy," will overtake the ideology of hatred and murder that our enemies espouse. As President Bush said in his address to Congress on September 20, 2001, our enemies and their murderous ideology will "follow in the path of fascism, and Nazism, and totalitarianism. And they will follow the path all the way to where it ends: in history's unmarked grave of discarded lies."

Chris, from South Bend, IN writes:
Mr Zarate; Since September 11th, there has been much discussion of why Islamic extremists "hate us." The broader Arab community has emerged as an important target audience of both extremists and the US-led coalition, but there has been very little discussion of how the broader Arab community understands U.S. policies. What do you feel is most important for American citizens to understand about how Arabs perceive us and our policies? How can we understand the diversity of their perceptions?

Juan Zarate
Chris, this is a good and complicated question. No doubt, the Arab world -- comprised of people of all faiths -- is a key target audience for the broader war of ideas. We are prioritizing efforts to communicate clearly our policy of freedom and democracy, our respect for human rights and dignity and our promotion of prosperity. One of the things we are trying to do is explain how our policies are benefiting the Arab and Muslim communities around the world. Our relief efforts after the tsunami in East and South Asia and earthquake relief in Pakistan are great examples of American charity and our faithfulness to philanthropy. We are doing this now with relief and reconstruction aid to Lebanon. Our actions have resonated in these instances, and we need to find ways to ensure the Muslim and Arab worlds understand our policies, see the benefits of our actions, and begin to reject outright the vision of hatred and oppression espoused by al Qaida and other violent extremists. At the end of the day, I believe the vast majority of the Arab and Muslim communities share our goals of freedom and individual human dignity, which run counter to the terrorists' ideology.

Juan Zarate
Thank you all for your questions. I'm sorry I wasn't able to get to all of them, but I hope you found my answers helpful. It is an honor and privilege to work for this President and the American people, and I thank you all for this opportunity. You need to know that the brave and dedicated men and women of your government -- in the military, law enforcement, intelligence, financial regulatory, and diplomatic communities -- are fighting this war day and night all over the world. Whether it's using our soft power to influence hearts and minds or military might to track and capture terrorists abroad, we are taking the fight to the enemy. Though there may be challenges ahead, I have no doubt we will win this war.

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