The war on terror: Groping for victory

Assessments of the war on terror

Seven years after Sept. 11, said Andrew Bacevich in, “the global war on terror is over, and we lost.” The responsibility for this defeat lies squarely with President Bush. Instead of focusing America’s response on eliminating al Qaida, Bush and his neoconservative cronies seized on 9/11 as an opportunity to transform the entire Middle East. We all are now familiar with their messianic theory: Topple an Islamic dictatorship or two. Threaten the rest. Trembling with fear, terrorist-harboring regimes will be forced to open themselves to democracy and liberal, Western values. The result, of course, has been disastrous. By extending the war to Iraq, which was not involved in 9/11, the U.S. has lost thousands of lives and gone hundreds of billions into debt. Muslim humiliation and rage has grown and metastasized. Tyrannies in Iran and Syria have been strengthened, not undermined. Bush’s grandiose foreign policy has failed, “massively and irrevocably. The sooner we face that, the sooner we can get about repairing the damage.”

Actually, that damage has been inflicted almost exclusively on our enemies, said Victor Davis Hanson in National Review Online. Following 9/11, most Americans feared another devastating attack. But rather than go into a defensive crouch, this country took its fight to Afghanistan and then Iraq. The result? “Here we are, still free from a major terrorist assault over 2,500 days later.” The governments we’ve helped build, while hardly perfect, are no longer enabling terrorists. Al Qaida is in desperate, even pathetic, straits, its leaders “mostly dead, captured, or in hiding.” Bush may be reviled now, but eventually “it may well be said that the president kept us safe for years when none thought he could.”

Nonetheless, said Trudy Rubin in The Philadelphia Inquirer, it is time to move past the simplistic goal of “military victory” over al Qaida. In Iraq, we drove terrorists out of Anbar province not with U.S. firepower, but through an effective counterterrorism strategy that exploited the Sunnis’ resentment of al Qaida’s slaughter of Muslim civilians. The Sunni uprising demonstrated that this ineptly named “war on terror” is no conventional conflict. The biggest terrorist threat, experts say, now comes from educated but alienated Muslims in Europe. Do we plan to bomb London or Hamburg? Obviously not. This “long slog” is primarily a war of ideas, to be fought through sophisticated intelligence, security, and public relations—all aimed at convincing Muslims that al Qaida is a band of murderous thugs who are doomed to failure and who shame their faith.

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