The following is a summary of a May 12, 2003, speech delivered at the annual conference of the Brookings Institution’s Center on the United States and France in Washington, D.C.
Recent reports have implied that, as a result of the U.S. and international response to September 11 and the destruction of Saddam Hussein’s regime in Iraq, the terrorist threat has receded. Unfortunately, while much progress has been made, the terrorist threat from Al-Qa’eda and similar radical Islamist groups remains grave. Claiming otherwise may itself create a security risk. The war in Iraq did not reduce the terrorist threat, and in fact, has increased the risk of attacks in the United States and Europe by increasing the level of Islamist and anti-American rhetoric, by diverting the attention of political leaders from the central issue of the war on terrorism, and by encouraging the view among the public that the war on terrorism is nearly won.
Far from being defeated, the various radical Islamist networks have largely re-located from Afghanistan and Pakistan to Central Asia and the Caucasus, especially Chechnya. Simultaneously, they have increased their ability to recruit new types of members, to make alliances with like-minded organizations, to use new technologies and financing techniques, and to strike globally, including within Europe and North America. Recent French investigations have revealed that these groups possess the capability to carry out attacks using chemical and biological weapons. Although U.S-French cooperation on terrorism remains excellent, a great deal remains to be done to ensure the degree of effective international cooperation necessary to win the war on terrorism.
The objective of this kind of [safe zones] project may be described as fundamentally humanitarian, but the reality is that any number of parties, starting with the Assad regime and the Islamic State, are going to see it as a threat, and that’s going to make it a target instead of a safe place.