Fighting terrorism a long-term battle

December 30, 2009


— Since 9/11, Americans have been rightly concerned about how the numbers stack up in the struggle against terrorism. Whether one calls it a war or something else, a sense of direction is not just necessary but vital.

Along those lines, a new report — “Are We Winning?” — by the bipartisan American Security Project (www.americansecurityproject.org), presented at a recent Capitol Hill briefing, raises provocative questions and contributes to the discussion in several ways.

First, it helps us understand the threat; indeed, this is where the report provides its best advice. The following points reveal volumes about the terrorism challenge:

• “The threat is very real and likely to endure.”

• “Any progress is likely to be incremental and will require years of prudence and consistency to institutionalize.”

• “Our adversaries are strategically savvy and will continually adapt to our actions to achieve their goals. Complacency can quickly turn into catastrophe.”

I would describe the situation even more bluntly. The terrorist threat is open-ended and will never entirely disappear. In other words, we can talk about winning in a relative sense, but there will be no final victory. America’s best efforts will diminish terrorism, not eradicate it.

Second, “Are We Winning?” examines terrorism in the context of 10 criteria. In four of its categories, color-coded green, the study determines we are making gains against al-Qaida and associated movements. In four additional categories, color-coded yellow, it finds the data uncertain. And in two other categories, color-coded red, it indicates a lack of progress.

Let us consider them one at a time, starting with the most positive, the green category. Although the report acknowledges that prominent figures such as Osama bin Laden in al-Qaida and related groups remain free, it cheers the fact that many of those organizations’ leaders are on the run. It also notes international cooperation is improving; active state sponsorship of terrorism is at a low; and economic and political improvements are shaping environments that offer alternatives to violence.

Well and good, but it is worth emphasizing that “on the run” does not mean al-Qaida’s leaders lack resolve or the potential to reorganize and rebound. Further, international cooperation still falls far short of what is required. Too many governments wink at terrorist behavior within their borders. And the lingering global recession allows a slower pace of reform.

The report’s yellow category then indicates that in areas such as terrorist financing, the status of al-Qaida associated movements, and public attitudes in the Muslim world and the United States, it is hard to determine whether progress has occurred. That finding speaks for itself, while suggesting opportunities for Washington to take innovative, proactive steps.

Next, we come to the red category, which bemoans the rise of “Islamist terrorism around the world,” along with increases in violence in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Somalia. As if that were not enough, the report also points out the danger of ungoverned spaces in Africa, Asia and elsewhere, in which a lack of government capacity allows terrorist organizations to find sanctuary, gain influence and even establish legitimacy.

Again, opportunity beckons. It is especially important to deal with the virtually limitless danger of ungoverned spaces. We know from past experience in Afghanistan, for example, that failed or failing states provide a breeding ground for violent movements.

Finally, the study makes several recommendations that deserve a place in the U.S. counter-terrorism conversation: that the most effective way to discredit al-Qaida and its cohorts is to challenge their claim to be defenders of the Muslim world; that America must more measurably transform its foreign policy; and that selective use of direct military action is necessary to pressure the leadership of al-Qaida and associated groups.

Beyond that, we must maintain a long-term view and insist on perpetual vigilance, for the adversary is persistent and creative. America’s sense of direction in the struggle against terrorism should never ignore those realities.


Richard Heckler 8 years, 4 months ago

It is NOT Islamist terrorism. It is political terrorism against the USA government. Islam is a religion not a terrorist organization. Implying Islam a terror organization reveals the ignorance of the USA.

It may well be not only political terrorism but economic terrorism. After all the USA and British governments are wanting to regain control of mideast oil fields instead of just buying the oil.

After all one of the primary reasons for 9/11/01 attacks is because of the hefty USA military presence in the mideast. So why don't we pull out and leave those mideast countries alone?




Remember once Saddam was captured the USA was going to pull out of Iraq.

Saddam and bin Laden were never friends much less collaborators. They simply did not trust each other.

My father in law recently returned from traveling Turkey with my sister in law. My sister in law has lived in Turkey for more than 30 years...Istanbul. The killing of thousands upon thousands upon thousands of innocent people will never be looked upon as a movement towards peace.

It would be best if WE the USA allow the Turkish president and others within the region broker peace negotiations while WE the USA stand aside.

Bring the troops home to their families. Not only is this NOT necessary occupation killing our troops it is breaking up a lot of military families as husbands and wives grow apart.

Plus: http://nationalpriorities.org/index.php?option=com_wrapper&Itemid=182

Brent Garner 8 years, 4 months ago

So, Merrill, when the Qur'an tells them and their clerics tell them that they must wage war against the unbeliever, which is us, it has nothing to do with Islam??? Right??

Flap Doodle 8 years, 4 months ago

It's not Islamic terrorism. It's man-caused disasters done by non-Methodists.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 8 years, 4 months ago

Cause and Effect in the 'Terror War' by Glenn Greenwald



"For all the endless, exciting talk about the latest Terrorist attack, one issue is, as usual, conspicuously absent: motive. Why would a young Nigerian from a wealthy, well-connected family want to blow himself on one of our airplanes along with 300 innocent people, and why would Saudi and Yemeni extremists want to enable him to do so? When it comes to Terrorism, discussions of motive have been declared more or less taboo from the start because of the dishonest equation of motive discussions with justification -- as though understanding the reasons why X happens is to posit that X is legitimate and justifiable. Causation simply is; it has nothing to do with issues of morality, blame, or justification. Yet all that is generally permitted to be said in such situations is that Terrorists try to harm us because they're Evil, and we (of course) are not, and that's generally the end of the discussion.

Despite that taboo, evidence always ends up emerging on this question. As numerous reports have indicated, the Al Qaeda group in the Arabian Peninsula has said that this attempted attack is in "retaliation" for the multiple, recent missile attacks on Yemen in which numerous innocent Muslim civilians were killed, as well as for the U.S.'s multi-faceted support for the not-exactly-democratic Yemeni government. That is similar to reports that Nidal Hasan was motivated to attack Fort Hood because "he was upset at the killing of Muslims in Iraq and Afghanistan." And one finds this quote from an anonymous Yemeni official tacked on to the end of this week's NYT article announcing the "widening terror war" in Yemen -- as though it's just an afterthought:

"The problem is that the involvement of the United States creates sympathy for Al Qaeda. The cooperation is necessary -- but there is no doubt that it has an effect for the common man. He sympathizes with Al Qaeda.""


just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 8 years, 4 months ago


"As always, the most confounding aspect of the reaction to the latest attempted terrorist episode is the professed confusion and self-righteous innocence that is universally expressed. Whether justified or not, we are constantly delivering death to the Muslim world. We do not see it very much, but they certainly do. Again, independent of justification, what do we think is going to happen if we continuously invade, occupy and bomb Muslim countries and arm and enable others to do so? Isn't it obvious that our five-front actions are going to cause at least some Muslims -- subjected to constant images of American troops in their world and dead Muslim civilians at our hands, even if unintended -- to want to return the violence? Just look at the bloodthirsty sentiments unleashed among Americans even from a failed Terrorist attempt. What sentiments do we think we're unleashing from a decade-long (and counting and increasing) multi-front "war" in the Muslim war?

There very well may be some small number of individuals who are so blinded by religious extremism that they will be devoted to random violence against civilians no matter what we do, but we are constantly maximizing the pool of recruits and sympathy among the population on which they depend. In other words, what we do constantly bolsters their efforts, and when we do, we always seem to move more in the direction of helping them even further. Ultimately, we should ask ourselves: if we drop more bombs on more Muslim countries, will there be fewer or more Muslims who want to blow up our airplanes and are willing to end their lives to do so? That question really answers itself."


Kirk Larson 8 years, 4 months ago

It was a big mistake to declare a "war" on terror. This made the terrorists into "warriors" which makes them more appealing to those who might be stumbling toward radicalism. Terrorism should be treated as a crime thus making its' perpetrators criminals, cowardly ores at that.

georgiahawk 8 years, 4 months ago

Bozo, are you asking America to look into the mirror? You left-wingnut, terrorist loven, out to destroy America and all that Christians hold dear, radical. How dare you? Why do you hate God and Christ and America?

yourworstnightmare 8 years, 4 months ago

To call the religion of islam a terrorist organization is certainly wrong. Having said that, it is foolish to ignore the role that radical islam plays in modern terrorism.

Islam is a religion. As such, it is used to justify and support behavior that is driven by other factors. If you want peace and justice, it can be found in islam. If you want terror and war, it can be found in islam.

The same is true of christianity, which has been used as both a justification for peace and for war.

The problem here, folks, is religion of any sort. Until people cast off the fairy-tale thinking and willful ignorance that religion breeds, we will be plagued by things like terrorism.

Western civilization languished for 1000 years under the yoke of christian theocracy, after the christianization and fall of Rome until the Renaissance. This period is often referred to as the dark ages.

yourworstnightmare 8 years, 4 months ago

Shewmon cryptically stated: "The further away from our grand success in WWII, the more the apologists put us in peril. You know who you are. Don't forget how bad things can get."

No truer words were ever spoken, Tom. Do not forget.

feeble 8 years, 4 months ago

Before bin Lauden, there was Baader-Meinhof. Terrorism will persist, but not all terrorists will necessarily be Muslim.

temperance 8 years, 4 months ago

"Ultimately, we should ask ourselves: if we drop more bombs on more Muslim countries, will there be fewer or more Muslims who want to blow up our airplanes and are willing to end their lives to do so?" ~ GG via bozo

This seems like such a basic and fundamental question, especially as Obama orders more drone attacks in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Jacob123: You might be amused by this clip.
The commentators seem amazed that two Republicans are disagreeing on anti-terror strategy (because there's always the "Republican side" and the "Democrat side," and to suggest other wisemakes their heads explode). Ron Paul makes so much sense that Ben Stein is reduced to pulling out a cheap anti-Semitism charge.

jafs 8 years, 4 months ago

Anybody who thinks we can continue to extend our military force around the world, overtly and covertly, supporting brutal dictators and engaging in warfare without creating enemies is criminally delusional.

jafs 8 years, 4 months ago

What on earth does that mean?

How about choosing to create fewer enemies?

And, I wonder if that's true that we will always have enemies. Is that true for you on a personal level? I have no enemies.

It seems to me that we should operate on an international level in the same way that an individual operating from common sense would operate - protect your borders, be ready to defend yourself if necessary, and don't go out of your way to make trouble.

What's wrong with that idea?

jafs 8 years, 4 months ago

That's exactly my point.

I have no need to do that, and therefore I don't put myself in a dangerous situation. If the US used better judgement about our actions, we'd have fewer problems as well.

And, one of the main reasons for crime in our society is the vastly unequal distribution of wealth. I don't consider someone without resources who attempts to get some a personal "enemy". They are simply trying to get by.

In the same way, with America's vastly greater share/use/abuse of the world's resources, the situation is bound to create trouble.

To continue to use so much, and use military force in a variety of misguided ways is guaranteed to create animosity around the world.

That's the point - we're creating our enemies to a large degree, and failing to understand that point.

Will there still be crazy folks who hate us no matter what? Probably, but far fewer - and they'd have a much smaller chance of recruiting enough people to do much damage.

jafs 8 years, 4 months ago

The situation now is equivalent to a rich obnoxious white guy who walks into a bar in a black ghetto and mouths off about racial inequality - how whites are superior.

Are we surprised when he gets in trouble?

And, to simply take from that scenario something like black people hate white people is to completely miss the point.

jafs 8 years, 4 months ago

I assume that your falling back on quotes from a popular movie means that you have nothing of your own to contribute to the conversation anymore.


jafs 8 years, 4 months ago

What a brilliant, insightful comment, Pilgrim.

I'll have to reconsider your entire argument in the light of your last comment - you're clearly a superior intellect with much to offer.

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