U.S. legislators and members of the September 11 Commission say American diplomacy will have a major role in preventing future terrorist attacks on the United States.
Speaking before the House International Relations Committee, the Assistant Secretary of State for Consular Affairs, Maura Hardy, said much has been done to reform a visa screening and processing system that allowed 19 hijackers from the September 11 attacks to enter the United States with little or no scrutiny.
"In visa processing, we have established a new worldwide policy for interviewing, added additional security clearance checks for counter-terrorism purposes for certain groups of applicants. We have strengthened procedures following revocation of visas to ensure timely notification to the Department of Homeland Security and the FBI," she said.
But the State Department does much more than issue visas, and Thursday's congressional hearing focused on the larger subject of American diplomacy and the war on terrorism.
"It is abundantly clear that the credibility and reputation of the United States is at an all-time low internationally and, particularly in the Muslim world," said Democratic New Jersey Representative Bob Menendez. "To lead in the fight against terrorism, we must regain our credibility and our reputation. To win that fight, we must also win a tough battle for the hearts and minds of the Muslim world."
To that end, the committee heard a plethora of recommendations from members of the September 11 Commission who argued that the United States must focus attention on the dreams and aspirations of countless Muslims who may be wary or even disdainful of the United States, but who are not hardened terrorists. Commission members recommended expanding foreign assistance programs that have an impact on education, infrastructure and economic opportunity as well as boosting U.S.-funded television broadcasts to Muslim nations.
On the subject of government-to-government contacts, September 11 Commission's Deputy Executive Director Christopher Kojm advocated creating a forum for regular consultation between Western and Muslim governments. He also gave an impassioned plea for a renewed U.S. commitment to improving relations with allies and international partners.
"Whether it is military cooperation, law enforcement, aviation security - we are going to have to work with other governments. It all takes place in the context of the overall relationship that we have with governments. And if we do not have a relationship of trust and cooperation with key international partners, these other forms of cooperation in sector-specific areas will not happen," he said.
For cooperation to succeed, however, Mr. Kojm said that U.S. policies must not alienate partners and allies, nor should they alienate potential future partners and allies. He noted that the September 11 Commission was not tasked with judging the efficacy of current U.S. foreign policy. But he said that success in Iraq along with progress in resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict would greatly aid overall anti-terror efforts.