Rethinking the post-9/11 strategy
Analysts debate the rhetoric of war as part of the fight against terrorism.
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"Measuring the total number of terrorist attacks globally from a US national security perspective is meaningless because most of those groups are not targeting the United States," says Jones.Skip to next paragraph
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He and other analysts also contend that Al Qaeda has been pushed back successfully in parts of Iraq specifically because the military has begun employing more law-enforcement type strategies there.
"To be effective against terrorism in many ways requires the same things that are needed to be effective against crime. It's knowing neighborhoods, good intelligence, and on the ground information – exactly the kind of information we lacked in Iraq the first three years of the operation," says Gary LaFree, director of the National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism (START) at the University of Maryland.
But Professor LaFree says criminology is not a perfect metaphor for dealing with terrorism, either.
"This is what's so difficult about terrorism: it's a blend of political and just plain old criminal justice stuff," he says.
That political element is one of the things that prompts Frank Cilluffo, the director of the Homeland Security Policy Institute at George Washington University to argue strongly against using the phrase "war on terror." Like Jones, he believes the phrase plays into Al Qaeda's own political narrative as holy warriors and thus gives them legitimacy.
"The adversary's real center of gravity is its narrative and we have to find ways to facilitate it falling on its own weight," says Professor Cilluffo. He agrees with the Heritage's Carafano that Al Qaeda is indeed losing some popular support in the Muslim world.
But Cilluffo believes Al Qaeda itself is responsible for that.
"Al Qaeda has made its colors very clear – people see it for what it is: a violent ideology that will kill anything and everything in its way to meet its so-called objective," he says. "It's unraveling. Even some of the intellectual thinkers [within the movement are] peeling away the justification and credibility of Al Qaeda's narrative."
Jones and others also note that most major Western countries have already abandoned the notion of a war on terror, including Great Britain.
"The British have long since dropped any reference to a war on terror, in part because of their long standing experience fighting the [Irish Republican Army]," says Jones. "Where they became increasingly successful is when they started using Special Branch – their counter terrorism police force - as well as MI-5, their domestic intelligence service. It's the use of those two actors together that really helped penetrate the IRA not the military."
The Heritage's Carafano believes the debate about "shifting the rhetoric" is already old and will have little impact on a war that he contends is already almost won.
But Carafano does agree with the other analysts on one other point: The threat posed by Al Qaeda is still present and the country cannot let down its guard.
"We could easily have another event. We don't want to blow it out of proportion – we want to keep things in perspective," says LaFree. "It's great we haven't had another attack, but we're still not out of the woods."