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Stop the 'war' on terror

Calling it a 'war' is a boon to terrorist recruiters.

(Page 2 of 2)

What we are engaged in, more aptly, is "counterterrorism."

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Rather than a military focus, policing and intelligence should form the backbone of US and allied counterterrorism efforts. Tracking down Al Qaeda's network of members worldwide will require more work abroad from the CIA and FBI, as well as cooperation with foreign police and intelligence agencies.

Such a strategic shift will demand a change in spending. Of the $609 billion in counterterrorism funding authorized by Congress between 2001 and 2007, 90 percent went to military operations. Much of that money would be better spent on law enforcement and intelligence agencies working overseas.

To be sure, when Al Qaeda is involved in an insurgency it may be necessary to use military force particularly special operations forces. But US successes against Al Qaeda in Iraq and the capture of several of its top terrorists in Pakistan suggest that the military and intelligence agencies should increasingly play a background role whenever possible.

Local military, police, and intelligence forces typically have more legitimacy to operate than do US forces, and have a better feel for the lay of the land.

The US military should generally resist being drawn into combat operations in Muslim societies, especially in large numbers, where its presence is likely to increase terrorist recruitment.

There are good reasons to be hopeful. Al Qaeda's probability of success in actually overthrowing any government is close to zero. Its objectives are virtually unachievable. And no religious terrorist group that has folded since 1968 has achieved victory.

While Osama bin Laden enjoys some popular support in the Muslim world, he has made enemies of virtually every government across the globe.

By alienating most of the world and declaring unachievable objectives, Al Qaeda has set a losing strategy. Let's not make countering it more difficult than it has to be.

Seth G. Jones is a political scientist and Martin C. Libicki is a policy researcher at the RAND Corporation. They are authors of the study, "How Terrorist Groups End: Lessons for Countering Al Qaida."