View of World Trade Center towers burning on Sept. 11, 2001. (Photo: AP)

Nearly 15 years to the day after terrorists attacked the American homeland, the co-chairs of the 9/11 Commission called Wednesday for a new effort to combat the ideology behind those attacks. Tom Kean, the former New Jersey Republican governor and one of the chairs of that commission appointed by Congress and President Bush in 2002, said that in the years since the September 11, 2001, attacks, the U.S. has only accomplished “half the job.”

In a press conference sponsored by the Bipartisan Policy Center, Kean said that while the U.S. and its allies have accomplished much through its military actions, improved airline security and intelligence sharing—the shortfalls of which were criticized in the Commission’s 2004 report—“we have failed to address the ideology” behind the attacks. Just as “we defeated Communism, another ideology,” the country must use its broader powers–economic, diplomatic, and educational–to address why so many young people in particular join terrorist groups.

The task force announced by Kean and fellow Commission co-chair and former Democratic Congressman Lee Hamilton could be “constructive” as the nation moves to elect a new president and Congress, Kean suggested. “We’re not winning” the now 15-year-old war against terror, Kean proclaimed, “we simply have a stalemate.”

Kean and Hamilton are currently co-chairs of the Bipartisan Policy Center’s national security program. Kean was governor of New Jersey from 1982 to 1990 and then a university president; Hamilton served as Congressman from Indiana for 34 years, chairing House intelligence and foreign affairs committees during his time in office.

On Wednesday, Hamilton said “I don’t think our political leaders have served us in the best way, in their failure to address the totality of this threat, and their failure to pursue a broad and multi-faceted response.” While acknowledging that doing so is “no easy task, there’s no silver bullet,” he also said “there are many other elements of our strategy that need to be strengthened.” He said “we’re fundamentally dealing with a war of ideas; the end of the conflict will come when the terrorists’ ideology no longer attracts adherents.”

Hamilton called on the nation’s leaders to employ “all the elements of American power,” including economic levers to deny funding to terrorist groups, which he said was “important but difficult because of the complexity of the international finance system.” Since “we don’t want to go another 15 years before we get our strategy right,” the task force is meant to help construct that strategy.

In particular, Kean called for better Congressional oversight of the Homeland Security Administration, which he said is “much better than it was five years ago” but also must “get a lot better on cybersecurity. Congress has to get its act together.”

In July 2004, the 9/11 Commission published its report, which focused on the events leading up to September 11, 2001, noting many shortcomings exhibited before and during 9/11 by the U.S. intelligence community, particularly the FBI and the CIA, and the FAA’s passenger screening program. It also called on the United States to fight terrorism through the use of diplomacy and outreach to Muslim countries.  

In a statement, the Bipartisan Policy Center said the new task force will “reinvigorate attention to a theme discussed in the 9/11 Commission report but which still needs to be addressed.” 

— Please see ThinkAdvisor’s special coverage on the 15th Anniversary of Sept. 11 attacks.