Merchant of Death
Money, Guns, Planes, and the Man Who Makes War Possible

Blood from Stones

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A Waning Interest in Terror Finance
It seems, from my recent converstations with some senior folks in government, that there is a growing sense of dismay -- across party lines -- at the waning interest in serously combatting terror finance, a coherent public diplomacy strategy, cohesive intelligence reform and many other vital issues.

My friends say there is no follow-up on terror finance issues and no comprehensive strategy because the NSC coordinating group on the issue is now a shadow of what it was when it was so actively led by David Aufhauser. Entrenched cultural and analytical habits have made thinking or acting in new ways difficult. What was once a serious attack mode on the issue now appears to be largely paper-shuffling and a holding pattern, and there is no one at the the top driving against the bureaucratic inertia.

Another common theme is that communication across departmental lines is reportedly at least as bad as it was before 9-11, which each agency clinging to scraps of information and engaging in bloody turf wars rather than facing a common enemy. People with expertise in specific matters are routinely pulled off their primary job and thrown into others for weeks or months at a time, cutting down on sustained focus on important issues. In a crisis mode this is necessary, but this seems to be part of a larger pattern of personnel management and priority setting.

On public diplomacy, the Karen Hughes-led effort to reinvigorate the vital portfolio has foundered, with few new initiatives and a crowding out of those with actual field experience in favor of old friends whose primary concern seems to be to make sure the administration does not look bad. This is a far cry from the mission of promoting U.S. values and ideas in a war that everyone, at least publicly, acknowledges is as important as the shooting war. Without an active, vigorous debate and engagement with the Islamic world, in multiple forums and on multiple levels -- not to attack but to dialogue -- the shooting war will be irrelevant. Instead, it seems that, in the war of ideas the U.S. is barely on the playing field.

One senior official, who is a strong Republican told me that "all of us in government are really scared, because it will take another attack to shift the Bush administration's focus back to terrorism. That is the sad truth."

Sad indeed.
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