Manning a forgotten front in the war on terrorism

Posted: Jan 12, 2007 9:35 AM
Manning a forgotten front in the war on terrorism

Conservatives are often accused of being anti-government. It’s an unfair rap -- coming, ironically, from liberals whose blind faith in government causes plenty of social ills -- but the myth persists. In fact, conservatives favor a limited government that carries out its express duties (and no more) as efficiently and effectively as possible. And yes, you can find examples of government performing well -- and contributing to the general welfare.

Consider the case of John Taylor. His work as the head of the Treasury Department’s international finance division might not sound like it would make interesting reading. Yet his new book, Global Financial Warriors -- which details his strenuous efforts to help fight the War on Terrorism on the financial front -- proves otherwise. And with the major media serving almost nothing but round-the-clock pessimism, it’s refreshing to read a success story for a change.

It’s easy to overlook the financial aspect of the war -- after all, it doesn’t offer anything as snappy as battlefield footage and frontline reporting. But as President Bush pointed out shortly after 9/11: “The War on Terrorism will be fought on a variety of fronts … The front lines will look different from the wars of the past … It is a war that will require the United States to use our influence in a variety of areas in order to win it. And one area is financial.”The reason is obvious: Terrorists can’t operate without funds. Taylor’s task in the days that followed 9/11 was to freeze terrorist assets and to track them. In short, while our troops hit the terrorists hard in the front, Taylor’s team of “financial warriors” would hit them in the rear -- specifically, in the wallet, hampering their ability to fight back.

That sounds relatively simple on paper, but in practice, it’s another story. Take “hawalas.” A hawala, Taylor notes, is a place (say, a storefront) that provides what are essentially paperless transactions -- which are practically impossible to trace. “Suppose a Pakistani cab driver in San Francisco wants to send $1,000 to his mother, who lives in Karachi,” he writes. “The cab driver gives the money to the person working at the hawala. The hawala calls or e-mails a contact in Karachi, tells the contact to deliver the $1,000 to the cab driver’s mother, and the money is delivered within hours.”

Taylor’s solution: Compel all hawalas to register with the United States. The resulting spotlight did much to scare away terrorist transactions.

Much more had to be done, of course. Taylor had to plan the financial reconstruction of Afghanistan, for one thing. He also had to oversee the creation of a new Iraqi central bank and a new currency -- a huge printing effort that required the shipment of enough currency to fill 27 747s. Other tasks included reforming the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund and keeping Argentina’s debt default from sending the global economy into a tailspin.

To hear a capable and intelligent leader such as John Taylor tell it, though, it’s all in a day’s work. And maybe, for him, it was. His team, as he reminds us, was highly motivated: A poster that hung in the Treasury Department’s north lobby shows the famous image of Uncle Sam pointing and says: “We’re at war. Are YOU doing all you can?”

Global Financial Warriors also shows, contrary to liberal myth, just how engaged President Bush has been throughout this war. Taylor, who attended hundreds of meetings in the White House Situation Room, writes:

“I was never at an NSC meeting where President Bush did not run it in an intelligent, businesslike way, starting and ending on time, encouraging discussion, keeping people at ease, using humor when appropriate, listening carefully, asking penetrating questions, getting to the heart of the matter, making the decisions, and giving the commands.”

There’s a good reason that Taylor’s efforts met with success -- a reason that offers a way to improve government at all levels and in all departments: Taylor (like his boss, President Bush) demanded accountability. “What gets measured gets done,” he notes. This doesn’t mean micro-managing; indeed, he writes, “I always advocated a management philosophy in which people should tell their subordinates what needs to be done and not how to do it.”

As John Taylor put it as he launched his book tour at The Heritage Foundation, “We need a cadre of financial warriors.” And, I would add, a man of Taylor’s caliber to lead them. Then we’ll truly be doing “all we can” to win the war -- and spread the benefits and blessings of liberty far and wide.

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