In this paper I will evaluate the US’ so-called “War on Terror,” its world view since the beginning

of this war through the present, and critique along the way its action or inaction in various regards. I first establish the principle model of decision-making and then begin to evaluate the past two years in this context. More specifically than the war on terror, I look at the US’ interplay with Al Qaeda.

In general when trying to understand the motivation behind a decision of some logical entity, you can try to model their perception of the world such that any single decision can be motivated by the appropriate model. On a larger scale this looks like a single black box into which all decisions are sent into, and serially every decision is sent back out, so there’s this stream of decisions (for example, “Should we invade Iraq?”) that are processed one at a time.

It quickly becomes more complicated than this, however, since, for example, a decision to invade Iraq then prompts a new question, such as “Should we seek international support?” We also make other assumptions about this decision agent, for example we assume that its decisions are consistent over small periods of time (such as the assumption that the passing of the USA PATRIOT Act is consistent with other US domestic actions at that time).

Nevertheless there is still a world model which we can say motivates all decisions. In trying to discover the world model for some unknown agent our only choice is to look at the decisions it has made.

In the past two years the United States’ world model has undergone some changes. Even before the 2001 attacks there was some amount of attention to WMDs, religious movements, and rogue nations, but since that event the attention to these things has increased many times over; there was a sudden change in the US’ world model. Was it the world that changed suddenly, or just the US’ perception of it? The answer is probably both. Not only did the US realize that it was not taking these things seriously enough (otherwise the attacks should not have happened), but the attacks also caused major shifts in the world brought about by shifts in other peoples’ world-views. Al Qaeda’s attacks certainly motivated and inspired several future aggressors.

What was the old world? What was our old world model?

What is the new world? What is our new world model?

As mentioned, even outside of the US foreign-policy machinery, the world changed on September 11th. Although the death of five thousand people was a nice thing for Al Qaeda to achieve, most of the damage done by the attacks were not on the foundations of the World Trade Centers, but on the foundations of American public confidence. Just after the attacks the big looming question was: who would do something like this? The

US air transportation system was temporarily shut down, memorial videos were aired on TV, and consumer confidence plummeted. Washington acted quickly to try to re-assure the American public of their security, but no answers were known. It wasn’t long before the finger was then pointed at religious extremist, perhaps the meanest person on the lineup you could point the finger at. If it had been a cult movement from California, public (both domestically and overseas) sentiment would not have been nearly as impacted as it was. Freak tragedies are tolerable; periodic tragedies are not. The US citizenry became upset at Al Qaeda and everything they could liken to it, such as Islamic or even Middle Easterners. Al Jazeera aired public announcements from Bin Ladin asking for support in the war on the US and other “Zionist” entities. There was a polarization between these two communities, and everyone in the middle was pushed and pulled by competing views (Al Jazeera: the Jews hit the World Trade Center).

US foreign policy reflected the sentiment of the American public and began to look for ways to weaken its enemies. There were a few central resources which Al Qaeda and the Taliban needed for survival:

• •

Zealous members Time

There were also a few which aren’t absolutely necessary, but help, such as:

Lots of money

• • •

Expertise (bomb-making, etc.) A base of operations Wide-scale public support

Al Qaeda had lots of members. It recruited people from all around and trained them in large camps which, necessarily, attracted attention from other poteintial recruits and turned new recruits into zealots by means of group psychology and generally speaking, brain-washing techniques. The US’ best options for undermining the member base of these operations is not to try to convert current members, since that would prove to be very difficult. Instead the optimal strategy would significantly reduce the number of incoming members, perhaps by eliminating their camps or decreasing their attractiveness through weakening their public image. (Both are discussed below.)

These people also took, and continue to take, their time. They haven’t executed as many successful operations per unit of time as other extremist groups the US had previously seen, but they had, and continue to, survived longer. Ironically the reason they have survived longer might largely be because of their patient nature. The only thing the US can do to reduce the amount of time they have to make an impact is to pursue other avenues of “attack” in a timely manner. The observation here is that with every thing Al Qaeda does against the US it gains power. So ideally the US would starve this organization of power to the point at which it is too weak to do anything against the US.

Osama Bin Ladin also has a large amount of money. In the 1990s the US froze some of his money in international accounts, which demonstrates that the US has had this world model and these things in mind for some time. However Bin Ladin’s persistent bank account combined with the cheap nature of being involved in the terror business make this a hard pressure point to press. To put things in perspective, the US has spent over a billion dollars on a biological weapon vaccination program, while the airplane shoebomber probably spent more on his plane ticket than he did his weapon. Fortunately, for now, obtaining WMDs is relatively expensive for terrorist organizations, but this may soon change.

Since the domestic anthrax scare the scientific and government communities have been asking themselves very important questions about expertise and knowledge, more specifically the dissemination of such knowledge, as it pertains to the domain of weapons of terror. There are generally two means by which we can imagine terrorist organizations obtaining these weapons: direct purchase or in-house development. The two classes of WMDs at the forefront of our minds are nuclear and biological weapons. With these observations in mind we now evaluate the availability of these things and/or the availability of the knowledge to create these things.

The easier of the two, when discussing non-state terrorist organizations, is nuclear weapons; these devices are complicated and require a significant amount of expertise and hard-to-acquire equipment to build. Could terrorists buy or steal nuclear weapons?

Perhaps the biggest case to highlight here is that of Russia, since it is known that after the fall of the USSR nuclear stockpiles have remained very vulnerable to looting relative to American facility standards. The effects of a nuclear terrorist power could be catastrophic; if a few planes in the wrong hands could cause such a hiccup in the world order, how would the public react to a nuclear explosion leveling a downtown metropolitan area? The US has not made a significant effort to control nuclear weapons, probably because it considers them to be out of the reach of terrorists. The rational is that biological weapons are easier to develop or obtain and thus is the prime candidate for use by a terrorist. The major flaw in this world model is that it assumes that terrorists are “greedy,” i.e. that they will pursue the most payoff as soon as possible. As pointed out earlier, however, Al Qaeda has demonstrated a never seen before patience, and might have the foresight to endure the longer wait needed to obtain a nuclear warhead and thus reap the orders of magnitude larger panic in the American public that would result from a nuclear explosion.

In the case of biological weapons, we have seen some government concern over the release of knowledge which might make it easier for dangerous biological weapons to be developed. There seems to be two fronts that one can try to abate this problem: stop dissemination of the relevant information and agents, and also make an effort to develop and evolve antidotes to potential agents. Many people have talked about a forum through which biological researchers must register the potentially dangerous or dual-use items that they have and are using. Most, if not all, large journals have opted to self-regulate which papers they will publish, probably mostly in fear of forced regulation that might be

harsher. Biological weapons have a large potential for use by a terrorist organization because of its cheap and self-perpetuating nature. Consequently it has received proportional attention from the US government, or more specifically the newly-created Homeland Security Agency. It seems that the US is doing a fairly good job of taking both possible approaches (limiting spread and developing vaccines).

It should be understood, however, that knowledge about or acquiring nuclear and biological weapons is not the only thing that the US wants to limit. Chemical weapons are also classified as WMDs, and have been shown to be very lethal. Even outside the WMD domain, learning how to fly a plane (even, or perhaps especially, if not how to land one) or other seemingly harmless knowledge could be used by a creative thinker to inflict significant damage. This suggests that a more broad strategy is appropriate, that hunting all of these field mice all day isn’t the correct answer. Instead, public awareness about these security threats needs to increase, especially within the scientific community. There has not been a significant effort by the US government to pursue these strategies up to this point, but the press has done a good job of alarming (perhaps over-alarming) citizens to this threat. Unfortunately people often behave like children, in that they will forget something unless if you remind them periodically. Hopefully the government can keep this at the forefront of their minds before a terrorist can successfully remind them.

Just after the US government got a pretty good idea of the perpetrators of the September 11th attacks, its almost-immediate knee-jerk reaction (in the foreign policy dimension) was not to go after Al Qaeda’s recruitment pool, middle-eastern public relations, money,

or its scientists. It was, instead, to pursue the goal of ousting the Taliban from Afghanistan.

This was the country where Al Qaeda recruited and trained a large portion of its members, and from which it pulled most of its resources. The operation in Afghanistan was not very long-lived but had a significant impact, the desired impact, on Al Qaeda and the Taliban. Although the country is still in political flux, it is under occupation by US forces and thus cannot be used as the recruiting and training ground that it had been in the past. There is an overwhelming consensus that the US and international community as a whole did a good thing here. It made a positive impact in human rights in the region, usurped a lot of power from Al Qaeda, and gave the US government a lot of credibility in the eyes of its constituents. Looking back, however, we can deduce some information about the US policy makers’ world model when they made the decision to mobilize against the Taliban regime. The most significant observation is that they were motivated and willing to make fiscal, military, and political commitments as a response to the September 11th attacks. Secondly, it shows that they realize that just as the terrorists can manipulate psychological conceptions by making attacks, the US could (and did) change the mindset of terrorists, even outside of Al Qaeda. Effectively the move against the Taliban sent the message to terrorists around the world that the US was now motivated enough to dedicate very significant resources to killing them and their organizations.

Unfortunately it does not seem that the invasion of Iraq has had the same positive outcomes. However before evaluating the outcomes, we should take a look at the

motivations involved in the decision to invade Iraq. The primary argument against going to war with Iraq was the massive amounts of resources it would require. Secondly an allout invasion of Iraq would send shockwaves through the international community, saying that the US would act without international consensus and that it would strike preemptively. So whatever considerations for going to war must have outweighed these unavoidable costs and circumstances. The first of these considerations was probably that, since the Gulf War, Iraq had always been a problem country to the US. More recently, and perhaps more relevant, the US suspected that Iraq was developing stockpiles of WMDs. This was perhaps one of the largest motivations for going to war against Iraq, and there are a few things we can deduce from it. First, US policy-makers considered Saddam to be irrational and didn’t know if or who he might have used them on. There was even a concern during the invasion that Saddam would unleash massive amounts of these weapons against US forces and perhaps his own people. Furthermore, there was a fear that Iraq would export these weapons and/or the technology needed to develop them. Iraq would have most likely exported them to anti-western groups, probably ones that we would consider to be terrorists.

Perhaps the facet of Al Qaeda that can be significantly attacked but which hasn’t until recently is its public support. The Israeli and Palestinian conflict has been the largest issue that Al Qaeda has used to motivate new people to join its ranks, and the US did not put much effort into convincing middle easterners that it was unbiased up until recently. Even then, it’s not being very persuasive. The lack of US initiative to oversee the executing of its roadmap to peace highlights this issue, not only to scholars but to Arabs

as well. Why is the US not putting significant amounts of effort into this right now? There are a few possible explanations.

One is that the US state department has its hands full at the moment with the busy bee that the world arena has become. Developing Afghanistan and Iraq, as well as coordinating with North Korea over their nuclear weapons program is enough to keep any number of people busy. These are certainly not issues which can be ignored as easily as the Arab-Israeli crisis can. We already have a commitment to Afghanistan and Iraq as the principle invaders, and as history has taught us, nation-building is far from trivial. The North Korea crisis has more immediate (or at least a more overt) threat to US interests. American dislike of new nuclear powers, its desire to protect and preserve South Korea, and its desire to convince surrounding countries (for example, Japan) that developing its own nuclear weapons, make this a trip-wire situation.

Secondly, the US foreign policy decision-makers might not realize the importance of this issue. (Stated in an unbiased way, they might not think that this is an important issue.) In this case because one side of the crisis does not have any significant technology or standing force, it is really just an insurgency and counter-insurgency. This kind of a battle does not pose any immediate threat to US security, but the important observation here is that it does significantly threaten US image, which is definitely important. I’m sure this is in the world model of US foreign policy, but the question quickly becomes how significant is this? If the US could oversea peace in the Middle East would that be worth neglecting the North Korea situation for the next six months? It’s a tough call to

make, and the conclusion the US has come to is indicative of the weights of importance it assigns each of these situations. A possible argument against this is the following. The US is a powerful nation; it could hire a lot more state department interns and cover all four corners of the globe. This argument is perhaps premature, however, since it takes a lot more than man-hours to solve the difficult issues at hand. The US is between a rock and a tough spot on making this call, but I think it is making the correct one.

Finally, domestic politics might play a role. Since Clinton and previous world leaders have tried, and failed, to create peace, a quick look at the situation says that the current administration would also fail in the long run. However, a detailed study would reveal that the two sides have converged to a state in which they are both willing to make compromises in the name of long-lasting peace. This atmosphere is a break-through, and might not last forever. We cannot reliably tell, however, whether or not the administration’s public opinion numbers are coming into play at this point.

Aside from the Israeli-Palestinian issue, the US has not done a very good job of convincing middle easterners that it’s doing a good job in Iraq. The US gave Saddam Hussein twenty-four hours of notice before invading, and its military planners little more than the enemy. As early as the wide-spread looting of international historical treasures from Baghdad museums there has been significant criticizing of US preparation in and dedication to the situation in Iraq. Since then, the steady stream of insurgencies and attacks on the US military and temporary government officials has weakened the international community’s perception of US capabilities. Perhaps even worse the US

invaded Iraq unilaterally, or with little support. The US is making some progress, however. A recent allocation of billions of dollars to reconstruction in Iraq has demonstrated our dedication to the region and our overall commitment to turning the country around. This is now a war in public opinion, and the US is making significant moves to fight it.

Adding insult to injury, many governments in the cradle of civilization consider the US’ attacks on Iraq to be indicative of a more pervasive threat to Middle Eastern sovereignty. This has been exacerbated by US accusations that Iran has a nuclear bomb development program. These events are similar to the first domino that fell and led up to the US’ invasion of Iraq. In this arena the US has tried to remain friendly to some Islamic nations, like Saudi Arabia and Pakistan. Furthermore, from our world model I can deduce that the US wants to stay away from getting too involved in other conflicts which might occupy its resources and/or hurt its image in the minds of Middle Easterners. Therefore I expect that the US will not become too involved in these proceedings, but will probably be a leader in the UN’s (and generally the international community’s) efforts in this arena. This would allow the US to continue to pressure nations to not build nuclear weapons or have WMD programs, while decreasing tension specifically directed towards the US as a result of the pressure.

Thus far we have discussed Al Qaeda and the play between it and US that has led up to our present situation. An important point here is that the US is learning every day, but its world model may “lag” behind the actual world model since that learning process is not instantaneous. So if the world doesn’t change we expect the US to converge onto a correct world model, but if the world does change then we can probably expect to always be lagging behind. The existence of multiple terrorist organizations is good evidence that infers that the world is indeed chaotic. In the next five years a new terrorist organization could appear that does not have the monetary resources of Al Qaeda but has members with large amounts of expertise in WMDs, and we hope that US foreign policy-makers will be able to adapt quickly.