After Three Years, War on Terror Looks Like a Loser
after al-Qaeda-commandeered planes crashed into the World Trade
Center towers in New York and the Pentagon, the leaked ruminations
of Pentagon chief Donald Rumsfeld seem more pertinent than ever.
we lack metrics to know if we are winning or losing the global war
on terror," he wrote in a memo to his top staff 11 months ago.
"Are we capturing, killing or deterring and dissuading more
terrorists every day than the madrassas and the radical clerics
are recruiting, training and deploying against us?"
If that is
how success in the Bush administration's "war on terrorism"
is to be measured, then Rumsfeld would have to conclude that he
is failing badly.
70 percent of al-Qaeda's 9/11 leadership has been killed or captured,
as Bush and his top aides never cease to remind nervous voters,
terrorism experts have been amazed at how quickly the group appears
to have reconstituted itself, in part by associating with new "franchises"
that have grown like mushrooms, particularly since the U.S. invasion
of Iraq in March 2003.
leadership [of al-Qaeda] is still intact and over 18,000 potential
terrorists are at large with recruitment accelerating on account
of Iraq," the respected International Institute for Strategic
Studies (IISS) in London said last May in its latest assessment,
one that is widely accepted among counter-terrorist experts here.
forces and policies are completing the radicalization of the Islamic
world, something Osama bin Laden has been trying to do with substantial
but incomplete success since the early 1990s," wrote a top
counter-terrorist official at the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA),
who calls himself "Anonymous," in a new book entitled
Hubris: Why the West is Losing the War on Terror.
whose real name is Michael Scheuer, has argued like the top
counter-terrorism official under Bill Clinton and during the first
half of the Bush administration, Richard Clarke that the
administration's decision to invade Iraq, purportedly to disarm
a mortal threat and bring the blessings of Wilsonian democracy to
oppressed Arabs and Kurds, has produced precisely the result that
Rumsfeld was most concerned about.
is nothing bin Laden could have hoped for more than the American
invasion and occupation of Iraq," according to Anonymous. "All
Muslims would see each day on television that the United States
was occupying a Muslim country, insisting that man-made laws replace
God's revealed word, stealing Iraq's oil, and paving the way for
the creation of a 'Greater Israel.'"
is indeed what appears to have taken hold across the Arab and Islamic
worlds, according to a series of opinion polls taken over the past
year confirming that Washington's standing in those countries has
plunged into the cellar.
you have is a collapse of trust in U.S. intentions," according
to Shibley Telhami, the Anwar Sadat Chair for Peace and Development
at the University of Maryland (UMD), who published one survey in
July that tested opinions in six Arab countries whose governments
are among Washington's closest allies in the region.
Asked by interviewers
to identify Washington's motives in invading Iraq, the top four
explanations volunteered by majorities of some 3,000 respondents
ranging from well over 50 percent to as much as 75 percent overall
named "weakening" or "dominating" Muslims or
the Muslim world, "controlling oil," and "protecting
the percentage of respondents in the Arab world who say their overall
opinions of the U.S. are "favorable" has fallen into the
single digits in most countries, according to the UMD and other
recent surveys. The figures are much the same in Pakistan, a critical
U.S. ally in the fight against al-Qaeda, and barely more elsewhere
in predominantly Muslim countries in Eurasia, including even in
Turkey, a strategic stalwart of the U.S. for more than 50 years.
This has clearly
given bin Laden's potential followers a much larger sea in which
to swim. The result is that, despite the much greater counter-terrorist
cooperation provided to Washington during the past year by previously
more reticent governments, especially Saudi Arabia and Pakistan,
the gulf that divides those states from their publics may have grown
wider than ever, offering yet more fertile ground for al-Qaeda's
recruiters or others who wish the U.S. ill.
That, of course,
is particularly true for Iraq, which by now, 18 months after the
U.S. invasion, should have been well on the way to consolidating
a democratic government in a federal system, protected by only about
50,000 or 60,000 U.S. troops quietly garrisoned at various permanent
bases around the country with the support and gratitude of the surrounding
population and its pro-Western rulers.
The fact is
that Washington still has nearly three times that many troops bogged
down in Iraq, most of them surrounded by a resentful, if not actively
hostile, population that can be counted on not to inform on a growing,
albeit multifaceted, insurgency that mounts an average of more than
80 attacks on U.S. targets a day four times more than one
year ago. All of which suggests that it is not only "madrassas
and radical clerics" that are turning out "more terrorists,"
as Rumsfeld's question suggested, but the U.S. presence itself.
was raised by Friday's Financial Times, which, by way of
noting that more than 1,000 U.S. troops in Iraq have now been killed
since the 2003 invasion, asked a question that apparently has not
yet figured in Rumsfeld's strategic musings: "Is the continuing
presence of U.S. military forces part of the solution or part of
a stronger jihadi presence in Iraq today than in March 2003,"
noted Roger Cressey, the former director for Transnational Threats
in Bush's National Security Council at a briefing at the libertarian
Cato Institute earlier this week.
"Jihadists now see Iraq as a strategic opportunity."
hard to find a counter-terrorism specialist who thinks that the
Iraq War has reduced rather than increased the threat to the United
States," wrote James Fallows, a prominent national-security
journalist, in the current edition of Atlantic magazine.
Nor is it only
in Iraq that Washington has achieved much less traction than it
had hoped. In Afghanistan, most of the country remains under the
rule of fractious warlords, whose cultivation of opium has, in just
a few short years, reached historic levels, even as the ousted Taliban
continue to make inroads in the predominantly Pashtun south and
the latest surveys in Europe show that disenchantment with the administration's
conduct of the war on terror continues to grow, even in Rumsfeld's
"New Europe," where governments had generally lined up
behind Washington on Iraq.
growing support for European independence from a half century of
U.S. leadership and a growing risk for leaders, like former Spanish
Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar and even British Prime Minister
Tony Blair, who have ostentatiously attached themselves to the U.S.
"war on terror."
At a time when
the United States is unifying the Islamic world against it, the
Bush administration has demoralized and divided the West.
may be time for Rumsfeld to ruminate some more.
Lobe is Inter Press Service's correspondent in Washington, DC.
© 2004 Inter Press Service