Terrorism and Counterterrorism
Is the United States "winning" the war on terrorism? Are we losing? How do you define winning? (300-400 words) to the following questions and post it to the discussion forum, "Winning." In your response, please cite examples from current events that support your answer.
As early as 2008, the Council on Foreign Relations noted that there was increasing evidence that the U.S. was 'winning' the war on terror: "al Qaeda has not managed to mount any major attacks on an American target, much less on the American homeland, since 9/11. Those attacks that have succeeded have been fairly minor compared with past al-Qaeda atrocities: a 2004 assault on the U.S. consulate in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, killed five local employees and no Americans" (Blake 2008). Since then, attacks on U.S. soil, such as the Boston Marathon bombings, while absolutely devastating to the individuals personally affected, have been relatively self-contained and no terrorist attacks have attained the scope and ambition of the 9/11 bombings.
The U.S. has made major inroads into depleting the resources of organized terrorist infrastructures like al-Qaida and has improved information and resource coordination domestically to more effectively respond to terrorist attacks. However, the evidence suggests that "even with the killings of bin Laden and nearly all senior al-Qaeda leaders, the generally optimistic and nationalistic American people still seem to see the war on terrorism as something of a stalemate. Such is the problem when you are fighting against a somewhat abstract concept and ideology rather than a defined nation. Progress is harder to measure when you can't quantify (or even see) the enemy" (Boot 2013). Fighting terrorism can feel like a game of 'whac-a-mole' whereby once one terrorist group is contained, another pops up somewhere else. Unlike a rogue state which can finally be overtaken and a new leadership installed, terrorism (even radical Islamic terrorism) is more of a diffuse philosophy and set of techniques -- radicalism can be justified by an ever-shifting ideology in the minds of America's enemies and even while the U.S. strives to fight terrorism, new techniques and approaches can pop up that can be hard to screen for or contain.
Blake, A. (2013). The Washington Post. Retrieved from: The unwinnable war against terrorism.
Boot, M. (2008). Are we winning the war on terror? Council on Foreign Relations
Retrieved from: http://www.cfr.org/terrorism/we-winning-war-terror/p16838
Where is the next geographic terrorism "hot spot" likely to be?
Will global levels of terrorist activity and violence rise or fall in the next two decades?
What will be the flashpoint issue of the next two decades? (300-400 words)
The Sinai Peninsula has seen a recent upsurge in terrorist attacks given the instability in the area: "Egyptian authorities have lost control of large swathes of Sinai since the overthrow of former president Hosni Mubarak in February 2011. A security vacuum has allowed for increased organizational and operational capacity of terrorist groups in the area. Additionally, extremism has been on the rise since Mohamed Morsi's ouster in July 2013 and the subsequent crackdown on political Islam and Islamist parties" (A history of terrorism in Egypt's Sinai, 2014, MEI). One sad but true fact is that political instability, even political instability with a positive trajectory in favor of democracy, frequently creates fertile grounds for terrorism. Egypt is likely to be a 'hot spot' in the near future as a result as are all Arab nations that experienced the 'Arab Spring.' In response to heightened security concerns in the Sinai, Egypt launched a new military campaign specifically designed to combat terrorism. "Operating with Israel's approval, it is the largest military campaign in Sinai since the 1973 Arab-Israeli War" (A history of terrorism in Egypt's Sinai, 2014, MEI). Given the regional instability in the Middle East, which seems unlikely to abate, combined with the lack of meaningful progress in the Israeli-Palestinian talks, the prospect of terrorism increasing worldwide in the next 20 years seems likely.
In the long-term future, there is widespread speculation that terrorist training camps may begin to proliferate in African 'hot spot' areas. "In a recent case, the FBI investigated what had become of a group of young Somali-American men who lived in the Minneapolis area and disappeared. Relatives said they had abruptly left the country to join a suspected terrorist organization in Somalia" (Picarelli 2009). Although traditionally large cities have been the targets of the most serious terrorist threats, the threat seems to have become more widespread in the U.S., fanning out to smaller metropolitan centers and is likely to do so within the next 20-30 years, particularly as security grows tighter in more traditional locations such as New York and L.A.
A history of terrorism in Egypt's Sinai. (2014). Middle East Institute. Retrieved from:
Picarelli, J. (2009). The future of terrorism. NIJ, 264. Retrieved from:
BRANDON CASTEEL M8D1
I have often had similar thoughts about the 'war on terrorism.' The use of the term seems to cheapen the real meaning of the word 'war' and does not fully describe the struggle in which...
There is also the difficulty of defining a terrorist as you note (some states are not perpetrators of terrorism, strictly speaking, but turn a blind eye to terrorists within their borders to such an extent they could be called terroristic). And, as the recent crisis in Ukraine clearly illustrates, one person's terrorist is another person's freedom fighter. This type of ambiguity results when a war is not officially declared on a state. Finally, as you point out, the war on terror can never be won, even if Al-Qaida was destroyed tomorrow, there will always be new groups with new causes that surface (not necessarily Islamic in character). It will be interesting to see how 'terrorism' evolves in the Ukraine if an official war is not declared against Russia.
TERENCE PRIEST M8D1
Fighting terrorism often feels like fighting a hydra -- a head is cut off in one place, only to be replaced by several other fire-breathing heads in another. Also, it is important to remember that terrorism is not just Islamic in character but exists in a number of incarnations, including homegrown terrorism (such as in the form of right and left-wing extremist groups). Terrorism has been used as a tactic since time immemorial and at best we can seek ways to make it less effective, not eradicate it entirely. Even if Al-Qaida were wiped off the face of the earth, the threat of terrorism would still exist.
NATHAN AMERSON M8D1
Since the war on terror had no clear beginning, it can have no end: there will always be terrorism, just like there will always be drugs and poverty, the other substances the U.S. has declared war upon in the past. This is sobering because it means that unlike other wars where there is demilitarization afterward and a cutback of the resources that must be devoted to the conflict, we can never really afford to relax in our efforts fighting terrorism. The monetary resources and manpower which are required to keep the homeland safe will always be acting as a drain upon our current reserves.
TERENCE PRIEST M8D1 Reply to your original post
I definitely think that certain changes in the law were necessary, even though the Patriot Act as a whole has some problematic elements. Although most important reasons that our fight against terrorism has improved is better information-sharing amongst different levels of law enforcement agencies and more awareness of the 'creative' ways in which terrorists can operate.
VALERIE HETTIE M8D1
Because law enforcement efforts against terrorism requires certain unique features such as infiltration, understanding the culture of terrorist groups, and other specific approaches I agree that having a specific agency devoted to homeland security has been helpful. It is also very hard to stay ahead of the terrorists when technology and techniques are constantly changing. Our technology must change too -- for example, learning how to detect liquid explosives more effectively -- and our approaches must change, including recruiting more law enforcement personnel with a background in the language and culture of high profile terrorist groups.
JOHN RHODES M8D2
The relationship between the U.S. And Pakistan is likely to be problematic well into the future. The U.S. naturally wants Pakistan's support in combating terrorism. However, any Pakistani government will be worried that an overly close relationship with the U.S. will result in the leadership being perceived as a U.S. puppet. The legacy of imperialism in East Asia means that full and enthusiastic participation in anti-terrorist efforts is unlikely. Even nations which are irritated by the presence of terrorist enclaves do not want to seem too enthusiastically to embrace the U.S.
NATHAN AMERSON M8D2
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