Thursday, February 26, 2009

Memo to New Secretary of State: Declare The War on Terror Over

The newly appointed Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, can have an immediate and dramatic impact with no fiscal impact. She can declare that the war on terror is over. A simple declaration that the war is over does not imply victory or defeat. It does not imply we do not face serious threats to our national security. It does mean that we can strike out on a new, more effective course.

In the immediate aftermath of 9/11 President Bush declared a ‘war on terror’ at a joint session of Congress on September 20, 2001, and for a crucial time in the lead up to the invasion of Iraq, the mainstream media effectively became Administration mouthpieces rather than watchdogs of the public interest. During the conflict, an almost total policy reliance on military hard power contributed, ultimately, to the shame of Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo Bay. The fiasco of Iraq has turned many nations against the US.

Even the Rand research center, which counsels the Pentagon, came to the conclusion in a study released last year that military force on its own was not a useful strategy against global terrorism. Their study of 648 terrorist groups strongly urges the U.S. to change course and rely less on military and more on policing and intelligence to successfully combat terrorism.

The ‘war’ not all that effective. The Taliban are making a comeback in Afghanistan and while the surge is working in Iraq, it has little to do with the ‘war’ on the terrorists that continue to threaten our national interests. The very war on terror acts as recruiting agency, according to the National Intelligence Estimate produced by our own intelligence agencies. Since the invasion of Iraq jihadi attacks across the world have increased sevenfold. Recent events in Mumbai bring home the message that the terrorist threat is ever present all around the globe.

Of course we need an effective strategy to deal with terrorist threats. But to frame the struggle as a war is to see the solution primarily in military terms. To describe us as a nation ‘at war’ stifles criticism, prioritizes military solutions, halts questioning of policy alternatives, concentrates power in the Executive, links us with repressive regimes, enlarges the military-industrial-security complex, and dissuades allies around the world from joining the cause.

We have created a giant military hammer that will always find a nail somewhere in the world. Since their will always be terrorist threats, a war on terror is an open-ended commitment with no end strategy or exit date. It is a policy that will of course be promoted by elements in the military who want their budgets increased, military contractors who want lucrative deals and security interests who benefit from this government policy.

Let’s face it: Democracy rarely comes in the tracks of military humvees, particularly when we are engaged in a struggle against nihilistic criminal forces. These forces require civilian as well as military responses, soft as well as hard power, ongoing alliances rather than a lone cowboy approach, continuing vigilance and a more flexible set of policies. Extremism results from economic stagnation in countries that give its population little sense of hope or progress. These problems require shaping appropriate global economic policies and forging international cultural connections more than military maneuvers. We also need a new name. The ‘war’ thing is not working. We are engaged in a very long global struggle against terrorists. Calling it a war is a powerful piece of rhetoric that distorts our policy alternatives and is ineffective over the long haul. The war is over and it’s time now for the new Secretary of State to work with other nations and convince them to join us in the continual struggle for freedom, security, democracy and tolerance.