Stop the 'war' on terror
Calling it a 'war' is a boon to terrorist recruiters.
Military might against Al Qaeda and other terrorist groups isn't working – and no wonder. After studying the record of 648 terrorist groups between 1968 and 2006, we've found that military force has rarely been effective in defeating this enemy.Skip to next paragraph
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Indeed, the US reliance on military force – especially conventional military forces – has often been counterproductive.
Take Al Qaeda: Despite suffering a setback in Iraq and several senior operatives killed or captured, it has carried out more terrorist attacks after Sept. 11 than it did before, and these attacks have spanned a wider geographic area across Europe, Asia, the Middle East, and Africa.
The group's methods – from improvised explosive devices to increased suicide attacks – have grown more sophisticated. Its organizational structure has evolved as well, including encouraging a grass-roots approach by members while maintaining strategy and operations from a central location in Pakistan.
This resurgence is reason enough to trigger an overhaul of US counterterrorism strategy.
History offers some critical guidance.
Since 1968, more than three-quarters of terrorist groups have ended because of a political settlement or joint policing and intelligence efforts. But a political solution is not in the cards with Al Qaeda. Its goal – to take down multiple state regimes to create a pan-Islamic caliphate – is too radical to lead to any sort of negotiated settlement with Middle Eastern governments.
A good start toward peace, though, would be for Washington to stop thinking of this as a "war" with a battlefield solution.
Most US allies, such as Britain and Australia, already have. In Britain, for example, the government shuns the phrase "war on terror" despite a long history of dealing with such terrorist groups as the IRA.
And rightly so. Military force often has the opposite effect from what is intended. It is often overused, alienates the local population by its heavy-handed nature, and is a boon to terrorist recruiters.
The term "war" also has a symbolic cost. It feeds into the jihad or "holy war" concept that attracts the attention of potential terrorists by elevating them to "holy warrior" status. Terrorists should be perceived and described as criminals, not holy warriors.