Anti-Terror Strategy in Doubt on 9/11 Anniversary
by Jim Lobe
U.S. President George W. Bush was counting on Sunday's "Freedom
Walk" and country music festival at the Pentagon to revive
the patriotic spirit (and rally his sagging approval ratings) that
followed the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on their fourth anniversary,
he is likely to be very disappointed.
it won't be just because of his administration's fatal bungling
of the Hurricane Katrina disaster, which will certainly overshadow
the Pentagon's commemoration; nor even due to the growing popular
discontent over the way things have been going in Iraq.
both developments pose potentially lethal threats to Bush's continued
effectiveness, the president's management of his "global war
on terrorism," which he declared in the immediate aftermath
of the 9/11 attacks, is increasingly under siege.
approval of his handling of that war, which, in contrast to steadily
declining confidence in Iraq policy, had remained remarkably solid
over most of the past four years, has fallen sharply in recent months
to a razor-thin majority. Recent polls have also shown that U.S.
citizens see themselves as increasingly vulnerable to terrorist
attack as a result of the administration's actions.
now appears that much of the national security elite has made a
similar assessment and, in an indication of the shifting political
winds, is now more willing to speak out about it.
growing number of policy experts are arguing that Bush's strategy
for conducting the war on terrorism particularly his preferences
for military action over "soft power" and for working
with compliant "coalitions of the willing" over independent
allies and multilateral mechanisms is in urgent need of redirection.
was made abundantly clear by the appearance of a who's who of national
security and foreign policy experts at a well-attended conference
here this week that appeared designed chiefly to assert the existence
of alternative frameworks for conducting the war on terrorism on
the eve of its fourth anniversary.
is an emerging consensus that while a military response to 9/11
was necessary, it was certainly not sufficient for dealing with
terrorism over the long term," said Steven Clemons, director
of the American Strategy Program at the New America Foundation (NAF)
and the main convener of "Terrorism, Security, and America's
Purpose: Towards a More Comprehensive Strategy."
diplomacy must be combined with a robust commitment to compete vigorously
for 'hearts and minds,'" he said.
the conference, which was addressed by former Secretary of State
Madeleine Albright, former NATO commander Wesley Clark, and Nebraska
Republican Sen. Chuck Hagel, among other political heavyweights,
was the publication of a statement by the new Partnership for a
Secure America (PSA), a bipartisan group of former veteran lawmakers
and top national-security officials, including half a dozen secretaries
of state and national security advisers, that implicitly criticized
Bush's conduct of the war.
that "terrorism is a tactic, not an enemy," the statement
stressed that success in the war will require "strong partnerships
with allies based on mutual respect"; living up to traditional
U.S. principles, such as the rule of law, in conducting the war,
at home as well as overseas; and "breaking our overdependence
contrast to Bush's rhetoric about "evil" and "evildoers"
as the source of Islamist terrorism, the statement also stressed
that "terrorism is a political act requiring a political response,"
which, in addition to promoting democratic institutions in the Muslim
world, should also include "addressing legitimate grievances,"
the existence of which the administration has been loathe to concede
over the past four years.
the statement did not define what those "legitimate grievances"
were, a number of speakers some of whom are rarely heard
in Washington's more exalted and politically sensitive policy circles
made clear that U.S. policies in the Greater Middle East
should be included.
do not hate us for what we are, but for what we do," declared
NAF fellow Nir Rosen, whose writings in The New Yorker about
his experience in insurgent-controlled Fallujah, Iraq last year
won wide notice. "The American empire will cease to be a target
when it ceases directly or indirectly to oppress weaker people or
to support those who oppress them."
motives for Muslim terrorists directed against America are no secret.
They are clearly stated over and over again by the most reliable
sources, the perpetrators themselves," he said. "Israel,
Iraq, Afghanistan, Chechnya, Guantanamo, America's presence on holy
Muslim land in the Arabian peninsula, and American support for dictatorial
or corrupt regimes."
American withdrawal from Iraq and an Israeli withdrawal from the
Occupied Territories to the 1967 lines would do more to fight terrorism
than any military action ever could. So would American empathy,"
Robert Pape, a political scientist at the University of Chicago
whose recent book, Dying
to Win: The Strategic Logic of Suicide Terrorism, is the
most comprehensive profile of successful suicide bombers, asserted
that "the war on terrorism is heading south" and will
likely continue doing so until Washington recognized that its military
presence in the Gulf region is al-Qaeda's "best recruitment
Pape and Harvard University expert Stephen Walt called for Washington
to return to an older regional strategy of "offshore balancing"
in the Gulf region, in which the U.S. would intervene directly only
when the local balance of power breaks down, and even then as a
Bush administration's policy of "going on the offensive"
against perceived foes since 9/11, according to Walt, whose own
new book, Taming
American Power: The Global Response to U.S. Primacy, has
won strong reviews in mainstream publications, has "made us
look trigger-happy [and]
made [Osama] bin Laden's accusations
that we wanted to dominate the world look correct."
views were backed up by the findings of task forces, each made up
of a dozen or more experts with a wide range of political views,
that have worked on recommendations on the war of terror since last
group, chaired by Louise Richardson, dean of the Radcliffe Institute
for Advanced Studies at Harvard, reached unanimity on the necessity
for Washington to be more sensitive to the causes of terrorism.
"[Members] also reject the view that to address grievances
exploited by terrorist leaders is to reward terrorism; quite the
contrary, we agree that addressing these grievances is essential
to diminishing support for terrorism."
force members, according to Richardson, also called "for undermining
radicals and strengthening moderates [in the Islamic world] by reevaluating
our policies [and] addressing their grievances
to mobilize resentment," including resolving the Israeli/Palestinian
issue that "would not satisfy the absolutists but
undermine their support by reducing the reservoir of bitterness
among their potential recruits."
second task force on grand strategy, headed by Charles Kupchan of
the Council on Foreign Relations, agreed that Bush administration
"had overreacted" to the 9/11 attacks by "turning
its back" on many of Washington's traditional foreign policy
objectives, including the strengthening of international institutions
and alliances built up during the Cold War and making the struggle
against terrorism the defining mission of U.S. grand strategy.
challenge is to get our priorities back in sync," he said.
Lobe [send him mail]
is Inter Press Service's correspondent in Washington, DC.
© 2005 Inter Press Service