Colonel's Corner: The Good Ole' Days

August 10, 2006

Last week my op-ed piece started with this sentence: "Time is running out for Israel." As I write this piece, the lead sentence could well be "Time is running out for all of us." That’s a dire statement, but if the news as this is written is any indicator, there’s more than a little truth to my prediction. Of course, just to relieve everyone’s anxiety, I didn’t say anything about imminent.

To recap — the fighting between Hezbollah and Israel continues, despite earlier indications of a cease-fire. Concurrently, a major terrorist plot is foiled by British intelligence and security services, likely with the help of other countries, including ours. Third, despite the often overlooked good news in Iraq, the prospect of civil war there seems more likely than ever, and were it to happen it wouldn’t be without major ramifications for us. Fourth, despite some successes, it becomes more apparent each day that the Afghanistan saga is a long way from over. Of course, this all bypasses the looming specter of Iran’s nuclear weapons program and North Korea’s missile and nuclear weapons programs. The Cold War is looking more and more like "the good old days." Then, at least we knew exactly who our enemy was and where to find him.

Now, a U.S. Navy sailor has just been arrested on espionage charges, which begs the question — who was he selling secrets to? Add to that the fact that Islamic fundamentalists have just taken over Somalia, giving them a powerful strategic position on the horn of Africa. Similar fundamentalists are running training camps in remote regions of various North African countries, the Philippine island of Mindanao, some areas in Malaysia, parts of southern Thailand, western areas of Pakistan (close to where Usama is believed to be hiding), perhaps in South America, and likely in other places that we haven’t even been able to consider yet. Now, the Cold War is looking REALLY good!

The problem with this amorphous amalgamation of happenings is that it’s all intended to be used against us, the West, including our European allies — before, during, or after our adversaries’ tireless efforts to eliminate Israel. The bigger problem is that much of Europe is oblivious to it all, as are many in our own country. Most people are only aware of it when something jarring happens, and governments and politicians are often the same. Following 9/11, America was jolted into action. Following the murder of Theo Van Gogh in Amsterdam two years ago, the Dutch realized they had a problem. Following the London bombings last year, Britain was awakened to an internal problem.

Meanwhile, Germany and France have thus far been spared, and their governments have so far been lukewarm about their support for many of the initiatives which the U.S. and Britain have pursued. German and French intelligence services have worked closely with us and have certainly been instrumental in the successful conduct of counterterrorist operations, but intelligence services do not commit governments or politicians to do battle.

Even here in America, almost five years after 9/11, we see numerous signs of getting lax. The events of that day are history, and the fact that we’ve not seen another attack since then gives many the false impression that we don’t need to be totally committed to the game. Some believe we’re just plain winning, and they almost have a "What, me worry?" attitude.

The fact is that we’re only a few seconds into the first quarter of a game that will last a very long time. Although there are good reasons to believe we’ll win, we can only do so if we’re all playing — not just some of us. The other team’s offensive first string is diligently training and preparing. They’ve got Iranian boosters and North Korean leaders who, although not on the team, can influence the outcome. There is also Russia and China — two separate teams in their own right, who may not join the game but who certainly aren’t out there rooting for us.

The bottom line in all of this is that what’s happening between Israel and Hezbollah is important to us— very important. So too is what the Brits are doing — wrapping up cells intent on causing mass casualties — and so too is the arrest of a U.S. sailor, selling secrets to someone who almost certainly intends to use that information for less than peaceful purposes.

Lt. Col. Bill Cowan is a FOX News Channel contributor and internationally-acknowledged expert in the areas of terrorism, homeland security, intelligence and military special operations. He spent 11 years doing undercover operations in Lebanon against Hezbollah and Syria. Read his full bio here.