June 6, 2011
Over the last decade it has been widely predicted that two political forces will hasten the demise of the West: China and/or Islamic terrorism. In my last column I discussed China, so let us turn now to terrorism.
The general assumption, repeatedly delivered by the media, policy makers, and the general public, was that former US President George W. Bush’s war on terror would breed more terrorists and put America at greater risk.
That same line of reasoning cropped up in a talk I had with friends the other night on the death of Osama bin Laden. America can’t conquer terrorism. Osama’s death will just make matters worse.
I get the logic. Islamic terrorism is high on dogmatic rage. And what could be more inciting than the death of a “defender” of the faith at the hands of an “irreligious” superpower?
But the war on terror* has defied the logic. There has been no major terrorist attack on US soil since 9/11. US intelligence and security forces have doggedly adapted to the times, coordinating departments at home and with counterparts abroad. Al Qaeda is weaker than any time since Bush announced his war on terror, and polls show that terrorism has lost considerable support in the Muslim world. The Whac-a-Mole theory about terrorism has failed to materialize.
In sum, lots of money and technology and brain power and sophisticated strategizing is outfoxing religious rage, and Bin Laden’s death along with that of al Qaeda Commander Ilyas Kashmiri by a US drone missile over the weekend is the latest proof.
So why is much of the world stubbornly ignoring reality?
It is a hard pill to swallow, seeing that “justice” has not been meted out to a “runaway” superpower. It can’t be that billions spent on a violent (seemingly simplistic**) strategy universally condemned might actually be working. This self-righteous mindset of resistance is typified in an article I found in doing research for this entry:
“We continue to create and re-create our own enemies through our addiction to war and force. It is indeed high time to ‘end the mindset which leads us to war.’ However, we as citizens in this ostensible democracy will have to work hard to push our leaders toward this end, for they appear unwilling and/or unable to even begin the process of moving toward such an objective.”(“Rand Corp – War on Terrorism a Failure, ” Huffington Post, 2008.)
Wishful thinking here trumps the facts, leading to an overstating of the war’s consequences and a refusal to acknowledge its successes.
In a world fatigued and traumatized by war, this ideological emotionalism crops up nearly any time governments choose to apply force to non-state actors. Here in Uganda last July, after the al-Shabaab bombed two night spots during the closing minutes of the World Cup, the media and regional experts were quick to characterize Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni’s call for additional troop deployment in Somalia as myopic warmongering that would strengthen al-Shabaab. Better to withdraw troops, was the conventional wisdom. Museveni defied his critics, and a year on al-Shabaab finds itself on the ropes in Somalia, with no further attacks to its name outside Somalia. And whatever happened to Abu Sayyaf? The Philippine government’s decision to ruthlessly pursue the terrorist/separatist group has helped reduce the groups numbers from around 1,000 to roughly 300 today.
None of this is to overlook the consequences of state-sponsored warfare. Nor is it an endorsement. (My record as a vocal critic of Washington’s war on terror speaks for itself.) Rather it is to call to task an intellectual dishonesty masquerading as astute analysis, one that arrogantly dismisses the power of powerful states to dictate the course of history – just because, well, it would be nice if they couldn’t; because a just, democratic world requires it to be otherwise.
Unfortunately, in seeking to distort reality through ideology, these voices are peddling their own brand of injustice.
* This term here refers broadly to America’s counterterrorism policies, which began under Bush and to a large extent have been preserved under President Barack Obama.
** History shows we should use “simplistic” with caution when describing US foreign policy. As former President Ronald Reagan said of America’s war with the Soviets: “Some people think I’m simplistic. But there’s a difference between being simplistic and being simple. My theory of the cold war is that we win and they lose. What do you think about that?” Reagan of course got the last laugh.