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    The U.S. Naval Institute 130th Annual Meeting and Annapolis Naval History Symposium (2004)

    Address by Former Secretary of the Navy John Lehman,
    U.S. Naval Reserve
    Proceedings, May 2004

    'Our Enemy Is Not Terrorism'

    The former Secretary of the Navy and current member of the Kean Commission investigating the 11 September 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States (center) addressed the U.S. Naval Institute 130th Annual Meeting and Annapolis Naval History Symposium on 31 March. Following is an edited version of his remarks. Kean Commission members pictured include, from left, James R. Thompson, Bob Kerrey, Richard Ben-Veniste, and, with pen, Vice Chair Lee Hamilton.

    The subject here is naval history and the naval history to come. This is particularly relevant, given the subjects I've been immersed in over the last year—the so-called war on terrorism and the attacks of 9/11, what went wrong, and what we should do to fix it. I have learned that what these two institutions—the U.S. Naval Institute and the U.S. Naval Academy—stand for are at the center of what we face as a nation going forward.

    The Naval Institute is one of the great intellectual institutions in this country. I first joined when I was an undergraduate in college, and I have been a fan of it for my entire career, with the exception of six short years when I was Secretary of the Navy. Somehow, the institution got off track in those six years. While I was Secretary and a reserve lieutenant commander, I began to read articles by mere lieutenants who disagreed with me. I began to read articles in Proceedings and hear about speeches that I hadn't approved, ideas that had not been cleared—heresies from the 600-ship Navy. It was truly shocking. But after I left the government, somehow I seemed to find that the institution returned to its grand tradition of truth and wisdom.


    ©2004 GREG E. MATHIESON/MAI

    We are at a juncture today that really is more of a threshold, even more of a watershed, than the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor was in 1941. We are currently in a war, but it is not a war on terrorism. In fact, that has been a great confusion, and the sooner we drop that term, the better. This would be like President Franklin Roosevelt saying in World War II, "We are engaged in a war against kamikazes and blitzkrieg." Like them, terrorism is a method, a tool, a weapon that has been used against us. And part of the reason we suffered such a horrific attack is that we were not prepared. Let's not kid ourselves. Some very smart people defeated every single defense this country had, and defeated them easily, with confidence and arrogance. There are many lessons we must learn from this.

    We were not prepared intellectually. Those of us in the national security field still carried the baggage of the Cold War. We thought in concepts of coalition warfare and the Warsaw Pact. When we thought of terrorism, we thought only of state-sponsored terrorism, which is why the immediate reaction of many in our government agencies after 9/11 was: Which state did it? Saddam, it must have been Saddam. We had failed to grasp, for a variety of reasons, the new phenomenon that had emerged in the world. This was not state-sponsored terrorism. This was religious war.

    This was the emergence of a transnational enemy driven by religious fervor and fanaticism. Our enemy is not terrorism. Our enemy is violent, Islamic fundamentalism. None of our government institutions was set up with receptors, or even vocabulary, to deal with this. So we left ourselves completely vulnerable to a concerted attack.

    Where are we today? I'd like to say we have fixed these problems, but we haven't. We have very real vulnerabilities. We have not diminished in any way the fervor and ideology of our enemy. We are fighting them in many areas of the world, and I must say with much better awareness of the issues and their nature. We're fighting with better tools. But I cannot say we are now safe from the kind of attack we saw on 9/11. I think we are much safer than we were on 9/11; the ability of our enemies to launch a concerted, sophisticated attack is much less than it was then. Still, we're totally vulnerable to the kinds of attacks we've seen in Madrid, for instance. We face a very sophisticated and intelligent enemy who has been trained, in many cases, in our universities and gone to school on our methods, learned from their mistakes, and continued to use the very nature of our free society and its aversion to intrusion in privacy and discrimination to their benefit.

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    © 2004 U.S. Naval Institute. All rights reserved.




     



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