Whether or not he intended it, John Kerry's much commented upon statement -- that terrorism should be reduced to a nuisance like prostitution or gambling -- has engaged the central issue of this presidential campaign. His statement was neither an accident nor as easily dismissed as many people have asserted. Rather, it reflects the institutional policy of the CIA, and is at the heart of the almost open warfare between the Bush White House and the CIA.
To give Mr. Kerry his due, let me quote his entire statement: "We have to get back to the place we were, where terrorists are not the focus of our lives, but they're a nuisance. As a former law-enforcement person, I know we're never going to end prostitution. We're never going to end illegal gambling. But we're going to reduce it, organized crime, to a level where it isn't on the rise. It isn't threatening people's lives every day, and fundamentally it's something that you continue to fight, but it's not threatening the fabric of your life."
Since the rise of modern terrorism in the 1960s-70s, the CIA has viewed terrorism as essentially a permanent fever to be managed. Sometimes it spikes, sometimes it subsides. It should not be moralized into a fight to the death, as with Hitler's Germany. This view was well expressed by the CIA's Paul Piller, currently on the CIA's National Intelligence Council and the author of the recent pessimistic National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq that was leaked to the New York Times last month.
Mr. Piller's prior writings on this topic were quoted by Mr. John B. Roberts II in a recent Washington Times article (Oct. 1, 2004):
"Mr. Piller criticizes as "simplistic" those who "think of terrorism simply as an evil to be eradicated." He writes that "overheated rhetoric" about weapons of mass destruction results in a "tendency to treat the whole subject of terrorism in terms of body counts and to focus not just mainly but exclusively on the number of people (and more specifically the number of Americans) whom terrorism kills or might kill." Mr. Pillar warns that this leads to a "tendency toward absolute solutions and a rejection of accommodation and finesse."
"If counter-terrorism is conceived as a war, " Mr. Piller writes, "it is a small step to conclude that in a war there is no substitute for victory, and thus no room to compromise." Mr. Pillar's prescription for counter-terrorism is "more finesses and, if not less fight, then fighting in a carefully calculated and selective way."
Blankley, who had been suffering from stomach cancer, died Saturday night at Sibley Memorial Hospital in Washington, his wife, Lynda Davis, said Sunday.
In his long career as a political operative and pundit, his most visible role was as a spokesman for and adviser to Gingrich from 1990 to 1997. Gingrich became House Speaker when Republicans took control of the U.S. House of Representatives following the 1994 midterm elections.