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Redirecting the War on Terror

Vivek Rao

Let’s not mince words; as far as American security and foreign policy is concerned, the proverbial shit has hit the fan.

Insurgency in Iraq is reaching potentially catastrophic levels, and the recent release of a crucial pre-Sept. 11 memo has given former chief counterterrorism aide Richard Clark renewed credence in his sweeping denouncement of government policies toward Al-Qaeda and Saddam Hussein. Yet in this election year, with both Republicans and Democrats eager to prove that they acted logically and appropriately over the last few years, the nation runs the risk of remaining polarized, with a good number of people relentlessly bashing the president’s policies and just as many offering him their unwavering support. Neither mindset is healthy, since for the most part, American foreign policy has transcended party lines in recent years, with most prominent politicians supporting an irrational, short-sighted, and largely jingoistic method of dealing with the rest of the world. Now is the time for our leaders to show that they truly understand the complex new dynamic in foreign relations by admitting their past failures and proposing more realistic and palatable solutions for the future.

The complex sphere of security and counterterrorism can be broken down into a number of key issues. Currently, the highly publicized proceedings in Washington continue to deal primarily with intelligence gathering by various government agencies, along with the consolidation of and response to such intelligence. Certainly, this is an important issue. Allegations that National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice and other members of the Bush administration should have better anticipated the attacks of Sept. 11 deserve foremost attention.

Another crucial discussion should center around the military campaign in Afghanistan, which was designed to punish the perpetrators of Sept. 11, including but not limited to Osama bin Laden, and to rip out the heart of Al-Qaeda. Massachusetts Senator Ted Kennedy is among those critical of the Bush administration’s shift in focus from the Afghanistan initiative to the war in Iraq, saying “This misguided war in Iraq has distracted us from the real war we must win and made that war harder to win, because even as we combat terror, it has left America more and more isolated in the world.”

Further attention, of course, should be given to the current strife in Iraq. Clearly, large contingents of Iraqis are highly discontent with American administration in the post-Saddam Hussein era, and the mayhem that has erupted recently threatens to claim many more lives on both sides in the days, months, and maybe even years to come. The White House faces a critical decision of whether or not to pull out of Iraq.

Yet as important as these issues are, they all fail to address what will ultimately define the success or failure of the counterterrorism campaign: the need to lessen the anti-American sentiment fundamentally responsible for the security threats facing our country. There is one unmistakable truth about the current situation; lots of people around the world are disenchanted, to put it mildly, with the United States and specifically, American foreign policy. Put your personal political beliefs aside for a moment and realize that justified or not, it is that disenchantment that produced the tragedies of Sept. 11 and is responsible for the threats that exist today. Many of the terrorist organization minions that act on orders from above may indeed be lunatics with little humanity, but the fact is that the Osama bin Ladens and Muqtada al-Sadrs of the world have specific political agendas that draw their lifeblood from masses that fervently object to American policies.

The cold, harsh truth remains that even a vaunted combination of improved intelligence gathering, more technologically advanced airport security measures, and intensified efforts to capture bin Laden cannot and will not solve the problem of anti-Americanism, and as a result, the threat of terror will linger, largely unchecked. The security of the United States is in danger these days not because of a few individuals or a few organizations but because of a firm mindset that permeates significant portions of the world population. This mindset can be altered by a number of methods (a change in the American policy of heavy involvement in international affairs, rampaging military campaigns, state-of-the-art mind control, whatever), but the bottom line is it needs to be altered for any real alleviation of threat. Only when politicians and policymakers realize that they need to attack the source of the problem rather than its various late-stage manifestations will America have a fighting chance of winning the war on terror.