Despite reforms in national security and intelligence operations, partisan strife in Washington remains a roadblock to success in the U.S. war on terrorism, 9/11 Commission Chair Thomas Kean said Saturday, Feb. 26, in an address at Princeton University's Alumni Day ceremony.
Kean, the former two-term governor of New Jersey and current president of Drew University, was honored with Princeton's Woodrow Wilson Award, the highest award bestowed on an undergraduate alumnus in recognition of exemplary service to the nation. A member of Princeton's class of 1957, Kean was selected by President Bush to lead the bipartisan 9/11 Commission, which investigated intelligence breakdowns prior to the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and called for major government reforms in the effort to combat terrorism.
Kean noted in his address that the government has accepted key recommendations of the commission, including the appointment of a national intelligence director, but emphasized that legislators must work across party lines to pursue the long-term strategies needed to prevent future attacks against America.
"Our public debate as to how we might best confront this enemy has been too partisan, has been too shallow, has been too short-sighted," Kean said.
"We're safer today than we were a few years ago, but we're far from safe," he added. "Our intelligence agencies still don't have the technology that allows them to share and synthesize information ... and our human intelligence is still woefully inadequate."
Kean outlined a multilayered strategy for the war against terrorism, including: military action against terrorists and their enablers; continued enhancements in law enforcement, homeland security, intelligence and private sector preparedness for potential attacks; and greater understanding of the root causes of terrorism, such as poverty and lack of education.
"Over the long term, the gradual evolution of democracy will help more than anything else, in my opinion, to reduce terrorism," he said. "You can't force democracy on a people or a nation, nor should you, but we should help along the process where we can. We have to help nations to improve the living conditions of their people, particularly poor nations."
Evoking the vision promoted by former Princeton and U.S. President Woodrow Wilson, Kean said, "We now find it in our interests to move closer once again to the Wilsonian ideal -- it is critical and in our interests to see democracy on the rise and see poverty and despair in decline."
He noted that key elements to reversing the growth of anti-Americanism and hindering the recruiting power of terrorists in Arab countries include improving America's image, promoting educational exchange and fostering economic opportunities.
"The struggle against Islamic terrorism is about much more than military campaigns and installing metal detectors. The American image can no longer continue to be that of a man in a tank. It is not any more about just taking and holding territory," Kean said.
"We need a long-term strategy, using every instrument of national power, to protect our homeland, stop terrorists, stop the spread of (Osama) bin Laden's ideology and change the environment which allows it to thrive. We must engage at every single level."
In an introduction to Kean's address, Woodrow Wilson School Dean Anne-Marie Slaughter lauded his work as head of the 9/11 Commission and called its public report "extraordinary for its bipartisanship at a time of intense and damaging partisanship."
Slaughter added that by leading an effort to explain the causes of the Sept. 11 tragedy to the American public in an easily accessible way, Kean lived up to Wilson's ideal of "Princeton in the nation's service."
Kean said the Sept. 11 attacks affected him deeply -- he lost a number of close friends in the World Trade Center -- and that his work was inspired and aided by the families of the victims.
"Every person I met who lost a loved one on that day always said to me, 'It's up to you to ensure that other families never have to endure what we've had to endure,'" he said. "And anybody who tried to block or impede our work along the way had to deal with those families."