'Can't Defeat Them Unless We Understand Them'

Pam in Massachusetts asks: How can we ever 'defeat' the terrorists if we do not understand them, their agenda, their motivation in all its complexities and address all of the above with a multifaceted strategy? What do you think motivates them? Do they have an agenda that can be addressed through a political process?

Answer: Pam, you are right that we can't defeat them unless we understand them. The "them" is not, however, monolithic. Some hardcore jihadists want to punish the West for various perceived slights going back centuries. Others want to form a new Caliphate, or theocracy. In many cases, they have regional specific concerns. In general, we need to capture or kill the hardcore and reduce political support for the hardcore by appealing to the Islamic world generally on ideological grounds and to the populations in regions by specific approaches. See "Defeating the Jihadists" at www.tcf.org for more on my thoughts about how we do this.

Noel in Vermont asks: There was recent talk about a large number of 'sleeper cells' in the U.S. and yet not too long ago we were told differently. It seems to me that these things get leaked whenever the administration is in trouble i.e. Rove or as the Patriot Act comes for a re-vote. Should we even believe the administration when "timing" seems to be a ploy for diversion?

Answer: Sleeper cells are by definition groups that we do not know about. Therefore, when people say that they know such groups exist here or do not exist here ... be dubious, Noel. It is interesting to note that the administration's warnings about pending attacks in the U.S. were numerous last year, but seemed to have become less frequent after the election. Draw your own conclusion.

Lola in Texas writes: Dear Mr. Clarke, Thank you for participating in this Q&A. It's wonderful to be able to ask you questions. My question is this: I view the CIA as our front-line soldiers against the war on terror. As a former Bush administration official, do you find that Bush's assertions that he's doing "everything" to combat terrorism hypocritical when a top official in his administration can admit to burning a CIA operative without immediate condemnation from the president?

Thank you,

Answer: I assume you are referring to the Joe Wilson-Karl Rove Affair. While some things are beginning to be clear, we still do not yet know the full story. Stay tuned, Lola.

Lorenzo in Maryland asks: Why is it that those Muslims that are peace loving and do not believe in violence don't speak out on national TV in America and in other countries to denounce Islamic extremists? It seems to me that the Muslim community is too quiet and needs to speak out to try to get through to those that could be swayed into becoming a terrorist. Do you think this should be a larger aspect of U.S. efforts to combat terrorism?

Answer: The leaders of the Islamic community in the U.K. did speak out recently against terrorism, as have Imams and other religious leaders elsewhere, but we certainly should press for more, Lorenzo. Many such leaders do have to contend with followers who also want equal condemnation for what they see as injustices in Palestine, Iraq, Kashmir and elsewhere ... but they must make clear that nothing justifies killing innocent people.

CWS in Philadelphia asks: Do you think al Qaeda has suitcase nuclear weapons already in the U.S.?

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