The Foreign Service Journal, September 2004

Excessive reliance on the military to fight terror, disdain for diplomacy, and assertive unilateralism have also provoked strong anti-American hos- tility worldwide. And the Bush administration’s unprecedented tilt toward the policies of the right-wing Sharon government in Israel has increased Arab and Muslim anger against the U.S. At home and abroad, the Bush administration has used the threat of terrorism to justify radical and unjus- tified departures from the rule of law. And, while our domestic defenses against renewed attacks in the U.S. have been strengthened, we remain highly vulnerable. These dangerous consequences are a result of the vic- tory of ideology over clear analysis and experience. A flood of commentary by policy experts, journalists, and former officials from across the political spectrum basically agrees that America’s war on terrorism has gone wrong and that it is time for a reappraisal. Toward that end, the next admin- istration, Republican or Democratic, should consider the following points in reshaping American policy. The Threat Is Growing The U.S. has so far avoided another major terrorist attack since 9/11, thanks to improved intelligence and security measures, although there are frequent warnings that new attacks remain a threat. But terrorism world- wide has grown over the past three years, with spectacu- lar, highly lethal terrorist events in Spain, North Africa, Turkey, the Middle East, and in South and Southeast Asia. Growing terrorism in Iraq, which was not previously a center of such activity, has become an unintended (although widely predicted) result of the American mili- tary presence. Measuring terrorism trends with statistics is admitted- ly difficult and not always reliable. The Department of State’s Patterns of Global Terrorism – 2003 , after mistak- enly reporting that terrorist attacks were at the lowest ebb in the last 34 years, now contains cor- rected data indicating that 625 peo- ple died from acts of international terrorism in 2003. This was more than in any year since 1998, except for 2001 when the 9/11 attacks occurred. The corrected Patterns also recorded the highest number of “significant terrorist incidents” in 2003 than in any year since data col- lection began 28 years ago. These numbers suggest that terrorists are increasingly on the offensive. Needed: A Clearer Understanding of Terrorism After 9/11, the Bush administration conflated the problems of terrorism by al-Qaida, hostile authoritarian regimes, and weapons of mass destruction thought to be possessed by these regimes into a lurid but intellectually incoherent “axis of evil.” They believed that for moral and strategic reasons, the U.S. had a mission to rid the world of terrorist-supporting authoritarian regimes and to replace them with pro-U.S. democracies. They assumed this could be done by using military power and de-empha- sizing traditional diplomacy and alliances. They believed that the Clinton administration’s reliance on law enforce- ment, intelligence and diplomacy to fight terrorism had weakened American deterrence and emboldened Osama bin Laden and other terrorists. A more robust use of mil- itary force to destroy terrorists and their state sponsors was their chosen remedy. The war in Afghanistan that overthrew the Taliban regime was the opening round. But the war to overthrow Saddam Hussein, launched at the expense of completing the job in Afghanistan and con- centrating on terrorism, worldwide, was the main event. The administration’s first mistake was to assume that terrorists are a discrete group of “evildoers,” who can be identified, tracked down and killed or arrested, thus eliminating terrorism and “winning the war.” Although al-Qaida was an organized group before 9/11, it was always part of a larger and diffuse network of extreme Islamists who share an ideology of hatred for the U.S. and the West as well as opposition to mainstream Islam. This ideology springs from and feeds on the experience of colonialism, and patholo- gies of weakness, humiliation, revenge, martyrdom, F O C U S S E P T E M B E R 2 0 0 4 / F O R E I G N S E R V I C E J O U R N A L 31 The key to successful counterterrorism is eliminating popular support for terrorists and their ideology wherever they operate. Ambassador Philip C. Wilcox Jr. was a Foreign Service officer from 1966 to 1997. Among his many assign- ments, he was ambassador-at-large for counterterror- ism from 1993 to 1997. He is currently president of the Foundation for Middle East Peace.