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President Bush adopted a new eponymous doctrine after 9/11,

laid out in a speech to West Point graduates in June, 2002. In it, he
said, "Homeland defense and missile defense are part of stronger
security, and they're essential priorities for America. Yet the war on
terror [GWoT] will not be won on the defensive. We must take the
battle to the enemy, disrupt his plans, and confront the worst threats
before they emerge."1 This speech was a foreign policy shift from what
had previously in Bush's Administration been a realist, conservative,
defensive outlook to an offensive, pro-active viewpoint.
Yet over four years later with little success to show for the policy,
Bush would fire Donald Rumsfeld for Robert Gates as Secretary of
Defense, and George Casey for David Petraeus as commander of
Multinational Forces - Iraq. These moves were a specific admission not
that defense and offense were unnecessary in the long war of GWoT,
but that cutting deals, negotiation, and diplomacy were severely
lacking in the equation and that his two new employees would help to
change that.2
To understand how to strike the enemy's heart, one must
understand what he cares about most. What is it that Al-Qaeda, the
organization particularly targeted by GWoT, wants? Osama bin Laden,
White House, “President Bush Delivers Graduation Speech at West Point”, (accessed December 9, 2007).
2, “Tomgram: Klare, Bush Goes Over to Imperial Defense,” (accessed
December 9, 2007).
in laying out his vision for Al-Qaeda, desires to lash out at American
interests to shrink its hegemonic footprint in Muslim territories.
Another key component is the jihadist desire for an independent
caliphate, perhaps to be implemented in Afghanistan, Iraq, or Somalia.
But again, primarily Al-Qaeda as an umbrella group for a diverse crowd
of angstful terrorist groups seeks mainly to eject external imperial
influence from Muslim territories. This would qualify Al-Qaeda as more
of an insurgent entity that employs terrorist methods to achieve its
political goals, than as a straight terrorist group.
According to the Department of Defense, terrorists use "the
calculated use of violence or the threat of violence to inculcate fear;
intended to coerce or to intimidate governments or societies in the
pursuit of goals that are generally political, religious, or ideological."
The US Army Field Manual 100-20 elaborates: "Acts such as bombing
public places of assembly and shooting into crowded restaurants
heighten public anxiety. This is the terrorists' immediate objective. ...
The terrorist needs to publicize his attack. If no one knows about it, it
will not produce fear. The need for publicity often drives target
selection; the greater the symbolic value of the target, the more
publicity the attack brings to the terrorists and the more fear it
generates."3 It is more important to terrorists to hit symbolic, public
targets than to attack strategic targets, since it is impossible for
terrorists to win a pitched battle against a state's military. It is also
arguably more important to hit targets in highly-networked democratic
societies that are more sensitive to external shocks.4
What goals do terrorists hope to achieve? Goals vary a lot but
they are almost always political and rarely random. The Irish
Republican Army's terrorist campaigns were born out of extreme
Terrorism Research Center, “The Basics: Combatting Terrorism,”
(accessed December 9, 2007).
F. Gregory Gause III, “Can Democracy Stop Terrorism?” Foreign Affairs, Vol. 84, No. 5
(September/October 2005), pp. 62-76.
dissatisfaction with the British presence in Ireland. Lashkar-e-Toiba in
Pakistan states its goals as challenging the Indian influence in Kashmir
but also it seeks restoration of Islamic rule in its associated areas.
Timothy McVeigh, in executing the largest home-grown terrorist attack
on US soil, sought revenge for what he saw as illegal totalitarian
governmental acts carried out at both Waco and Ruby Ridge against
free American citizens. Political goals would almost imply directly that
they must be dealt with politically in response.
Offensive strategies have not panned out as well as was hoped
by an Administration brimming with confidence in its military to solve
all ills. Al-Qaeda loyalists safely re-locate themselves to pockets of the
world where the US, for one reason or another, won't go into, such as
the western provinces of Pakistan, or the remote regions of Iraq.
Dozens of Al-Qaeda emirs have been captured or killed in many
different countries, temporarily slowing down the movement's physical
operations, but the underlying dissatisfaction and alienation within
Salafism, Wahhabism, and anti-imperialism are more powerful,
influential, and widespread than ever before.
The United States cannot employ a solely defensive mode of
attack either, because modern terrorism is diffuse. The US also cannot
control movement of people worldwide (as it has at home with the
Transportation Safety Agency's lockdown at airports), examine every
shipping container, and maintain worldwide standards for security both
because of the stress it puts on a system and because other sovereign
governments won't stand for it. The United States and the
international community have made great gains in securing some
systematic vulnerabilities but there exist huge gaps: countries like
Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, the chief breeding grounds for jihadism, are
controlled by corrupt governments with many internal enemies. Al-
Qaeda in particular has expanded its operations and spheres of
influence to many more countries since 9/11. The US is having trouble
securing even its own physical borders.
What the US can do in fighting terrorism is tailor a strategy to its
historical strengths. The US has been known as the ultimate deal-
maker, or at the very least, the deal-facilitator. With a promise of
economic and political success upon negotiating a deal, countries
stand to gain a lot by hitching their carriage to the US horse. The
leverage the US has traditionally held in negotiations has allowed it the
ability to get what it wants. Another strength of the US has been its
appeal as a role model. By defending protection of individual freedom,
habeas corpus rights for the accused, and the promise of a better
tomorrow, the US has traditionally been an inspiration to the rational
and oppressed worldwide.
But the US has lost much of its moral and inspirational credibility
as a result of post-9/11 policies undertaken by the Bush
administration. Al-Qaeda, which suffers from being in a peculiar
position of having some sympathy of people worldwide but not their
loyalty, is only helped by events like Abu Ghraib and massacres of the
populace, as it justifies their very public suspicions of American
intentions. To a mujahed living in a small encampment in the cold
mountains of the federally-administered provinces of Pakistan, it
warms his heart to pursue extremism when he sees another innocent
Muslim fall prey to American kafiruun. It reinforces his will when he
sees American citizens complaining about being spied on by their own
government in an effort to catch him, their own government
consuming itself.
American moral standard can be recovered quickly, however,
through a revised, humble (yet realpolitik) GWoT policy. Apology is not
likely to be felt by the international community if it comes from Bush --
his charisma is less successful abroad than it is at home. But the next
president can apologize very publicly for the human rights violations
that occurred and state that they are not representative of the
American moral compass. The US can pursue open talks with many
different parties linked to the GWoT, like Al-Qaeda, Iran, Syria, Sunni
insurgent groups in Iraq, and so on.
What the US can gain from offering to communicate, even if it
ultimately gives nothing up, is the support of Muslim people, those who
determine the degree of intermingling of insurgents with their
communities, as they pick the strongest horse to follow. The Muslim
community wants what anyone else wants -- security and prosperity
and family -- but the US has not been showing itself to be supportive of
those lately.
Another spillover benefit from negotiation is public scrutiny.
Modern-day terrorism has no qualms about killing innocent civilians to
achieve a goal, and it can maintain deniability if the attack fails. Yet
this is only an advantage in the short-run, in selecting targets and
initially shocking a society. What has happened to Al-Qaeda however
was that it overstretched in its indiscriminate killing of civilians. After a
long series of dramatic bombings of markets involving many children,
funerals, mosques, and popular sheiks, an otherwise politically
indifferent population began to see Al-Qaeda in Iraq less as mere
interlopers and more as destructive outsiders, and General Petraeus
took this opportunity to cut a deal with them for security.
As the US communicates with different parties, it can exert
pressure on them to change their behaviors publicly, as murder of
innocents and acts of violence are universally abhorred. Sadly, the US
has not seized on its media savvy to expose the fallacies and poor
moral standing of terrorist groups to its advantage. As a recent
example of what could have been done, one of the benefits of the
Hamas movement being elected into power in the Palestine, despite
the US's undermining of its legitimacy, was Hamas would then be
accountable to the will of the people.
Terrorists' ultimate goals are usually not in anyone's wildest
dreams attainable. For Al-Qaeda, its ultimate goal is to establish a
caliphate, whether in Afghanistan or Iraq, where it can enforce strict
Muslim law without external influences. It would be hard to galvanize
support, even among the Muslim population, for a region where this
existed. Most Muslims do not want to live under strict laws, certainly
not under a terrorist group's. Plus, Muslims enjoy many of the benefits
of being networked with the rest of the world.
Therefore, publicly speaking with Al-Qaeda, publicizing them as
much as possible, knowing its long-term goals are unattainable,
counter-intuitively will show them to be ineffective and inert to
potential recruits.5 This is essentially a counter-insurgency strategy
What feeds insurgencies and terrorist groups ultimately is their
ability to deliver their goals.6 Recruiting is easy because one is
guaranteed to receive training and have a chance to kill sitting-duck
coalition forces in Iraq and Afghanistan. But were the American
presence to be removed from the Middle East in favor of Muslim
security interests, short-term terrorist recruitment would plummet.
What's left then is the ability to terrorize Iraqi and Afghani civilians,
already catatonic from violence, into granting them their caliphate, and
this is extremely unlikely to happen. Long-term recruitment and
excitement for jihadist ideas will suffer then also.
These benefits spring from a basis of negotiation and diplomacy
and openness, the core strengths of American values. If the core
assumption is that we must talk to our enemies, allies, and those
standing on the side, that we have "expectations of peace"7, then our

Peter R. Neumann, “Negotiating with Terrorists”, Foreign Affairs, Vol. 86, No. 1 (January/February
terrorists.html (accessed December 9, 2007).
Philip H. Gordon, “Can the War on Terror Be Won?” Foreign Affairs, Vol. 86, No. 6
(November/December 2007),
the-war-on-terror-be-won.html (accessed December 9, 2007).
Robert Jervis, “The Era of Leading Power Peace”, American Political Science Review, Vol. 96, No. 1
(March 2002), pp. 1-14.
options are more numerous, and our ability to play to our advantages
of propaganda, human rights promotion, economic success, and
international security will be exploited. From that basis, the benefits of
tactics on offense or defense can be argued as the kindling for the fire
of terrorism is extinguished. Otherwise the GWoT only addresses
symptoms of increased terrorism and not its causes.
In talking to Iran, the US can hope to reconnect with a historical
ally and can achieve some guarantees for cooperation on how to
handle Iraq, once the US pulls out. Iran is key to the security of Iraq
and it has an actual interest to do so that it's actively pursued since
the US invaded Iraq.
What jihadists respond most to is dedication to one's ideals.
They are radicals and they are idealists. They are often not stupid.
They consider us, their enemy, to be weak morally. But the US has the
moral high ground in promoting openness, universal human rights, and
a better tomorrow. Jihadists and terrorists only gain when the US and
other countries hypocritically betray their own value systems by
violating international standards of law or by not being as righteous in
their values as the jihadists are in theirs. Should America strengthen
its links with other nations, encourage interpenetration of cultures so
that the world's citizens see that they're all alike, and re-commit to
ensuring the success of all individuals, all as a role model and not as
an imperialist, then the fires of terrorist ideology will be extinguished,
not for good, but reduced substantially.