Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Who Killed the War on Terror?

The U.S. government's most controversial post-9/11 policies died years before Osama Bin Laden did -- and for good reason

Aug 29 2011 - The death of Osama bin Laden at the hands of Navy Seals last May marked a turning point in the fight against al Qaeda. But one thing it did not mark was an end to the War on Terror. That's because the War on Terror was already dead, abandoned by the very agencies responsible for implementing it after 9/11.

There are, of course, still terrorists plotting to kill Americans, and the U.S. continues to take aggressive measures to stop them. But it would be a mistake to confuse all counterterrorism strategies with the War on Terror. The War on Terror was based on the notion that Islamic terrorism represented a unified, ideologically coherent, and operationally centralized threat, demanding a singular and predominately military response. This notion was rejected by U.S. security officials long before the killing of Bin Laden. Indeed, it was abandoned well before the election of President Obama.

By the latter years of the Bush administration, the exceptional tactics that defined the War on Terror -- preventative detentions, pain-based interrogation, ethnic and religious profiling, and widely expanded domestic surveillance powers -- were either abandoned or dramatically scaled back based on overwhelming evidence that they were ineffective. Meanwhile, the actual wars initiated in the name of the War on Terror, in Afghanistan and Iraq, rapidly evolved into counter-insurgency and then counterterrorism campaigns as military leaders recognized that the U.S. was unable to replace theocrats and autocrats with stable, western-style democracies.

The War on Terror lives on today only as political theater. Policymakers, from President Obama to Members of Congress, continue to fear the accusation of being "soft on terror," and hence continue to describe contemporary counterterrorism efforts in martial terms. Congress continues to legislate War on Terror approaches that the security establishment, for the most part, hasn't asked for and, in some cases, has even explicitly rejected.

But while the political class remains stuck in the past, the security establishment has moved on. Virtually all of the progress that U.S. authorities have made in dismantling al Qaeda and countering terrorism has been accomplished in spite of, not because of the War on Terror. As we consider the future of U.S. counterterrorism after Bin Laden, we would do well to consider what we have learned from the evolving security response to the 9/11 attacks, and how those lessons might keep us safer in a world where the War on Terror may be over but the threat of terrorism still remains. read more>>>

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