A scathing look at the war on terror

January 13th, 2004 – 7:00 pm
Tagged as: Uncategorized

A new report from the US Army War College describes the war on terror as a strategic error and says it is unsustainable in its current form.

In the wake of the September 11, 2001, al-Qaeda terrorist attacks on the United States, the U.S. Government declared a global war on terrorism (GWOT). The nature and parameters of that war, however, remain frustratingly unclear. The administration has postulated a multiplicity of enemies, including rogue states; weapons of mass destruction (WMD) proliferators; terrorist organizations of global, regional, and national scope; and terrorism itself. It also seems to have conflated them into a monolithic threat, and in so doing has subordinated strategic clarity to the moral clarity it strives for in foreign policy and may have set the United States on a course of open-ended and gratuitous conflict with states and nonstate entities that pose no serious threat to the United States.

Of particular concern has been the conflation of al-Qaeda and Saddam Hussein’s Iraq as a single, undifferentiated terrorist threat. This was a strategic error of the first order because it ignored critical differences between the two in character, threat level, and susceptibility to U.S. deterrence and military action. The result has been an unnecessary preventive war of choice against a deterred Iraq that has created a new front in the Middle East for Islamic terrorism and diverted attention and resources away from securing the American homeland against further assault by an undeterrable al-Qaeda. The war against Iraq was not integral to the GWOT, but rather a detour from it.

Additionally, most of the GWOT’s declared objectives, which include the destruction of al-Qaeda and other transnational terrorist organizations, the transformation of Iraq into a prosperous, stable democracy, the democratization of the rest of the autocratic Middle East, the eradication of terrorism as a means of irregular warfare, and the (forcible, if necessary) termination of WMD proliferation to real and potential enemies worldwide, are unrealistic and condemn the United States to a hopeless quest for absolute security. As such, the GWOT’s goals are also politically, fiscally, and militarily unsustainable.

The US Army War College is hardly a bastion of liberal thought, and the report is pretty damning in its analysis of the war on terror, especially the detour into Iraq. It’s also the most clear-eyed look at the many problems with the war on terror that I’ve seen yet, mainly because it manages to look at things in practical terms, rather than criticizing the war on terror on moral grounds. It’s an excellent piece of work.

3 Comments

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  1. 1

    “The views expressed in this report are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the Department of the Army, the Department of Defense, or the U.S. Government.”

    The journal’s editors invite differing views to be published, they do not endorse the content.

    Comment made by J.Scott Barnard on January 20, 2004 @ 3:47 pm

  2. 2

    The fact that the Army War College doesn’t “endorse” the paper doesn’t make it any less valid, and I will still contend that anyone invited to teach there is hardly someone who can be dismissed as an anti-war liberal.

    Comment made by Michael on January 20, 2004 @ 10:23 pm

  3. 3

    It’s refreshing that an institution like that is allowing differing points of view to be published.

    Comment made by J.Scott Barnard on January 21, 2004 @ 6:59 am


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