Wednesday, September 20, 2006

No more war on terror

I have only now got round to reading the cover article from the September Atlantic Monthly in which James Fallows tells us that it is time for the US to "declare victory" in the War on Terror. Not that he thinks that terrorism is done for. It is rather that he thinks that it can be better fought and at less loss for ourselves if we cease to look upon it as a war.

I have always thought that was the wrong word to use - it gave too much credit to the enemy. They are neither the Nazis with their military might nor the Soviets with similar muscle and a seemingly viable social alternative. The Jihadis are misfits, inadequates, carriers of a mentality that cannot adjust to modernity and so resort to crime. And that's how they should be treated, a social problem that requires every now and then (armed) 'police' action. However, the biggest push should be on other fronts: the intellectual, the political and the other 'soft' arts of domination. In the meantime, we could get off the train that is hurtling through our social space, accept that there will be further outrages, but not live our lives just to avert them.

In any case, I'll just reprint here Fallows' main points (given in an interview).

First, what we went to war to avenge—and prevent—was a large-scale, devastating, indiscriminate, civilian-slaughtering attack on our homeland. Al-Qaeda's errors and internal friction, along with the efforts of the U.S.—yes, the Bush Administration—and its allies, have made this kind of attack much less likely. (The exception, of course, is the risk of rogue nuclear weapons—but we can undertake an all-out effort to contain that specific risk.) Therefore, the U.S. could plausibly declare "mission accomplished" about the original cause of war.

Second, the real strategic threat from al-Qaeda is its ability to provoke us toward actions that hurt us in the long run. (See: war in Iraq.) This, by the way, was a point I had not focused on before doing the reporting, but which ran through many of the interviews.

Third, we are most likely to avoid overreaction—and to continue the long-term efforts to win the "war of ideas"—if we move off a wartime footing. For reasons I lay out in the piece, an open-ended war makes it harder to do a lot of things we should do, and makes it more likely that we'll make strategic mistakes.

While I'm not sure that the war in Iraq was entirely a mistake, I certainly do agree that al-Queda's (or the Islamists') only real weapon is what they can provoke us into doing. This is probably the maim point of Fallows' article.

One further point he makes.
The attack of 9/11 cost at most $500,000 to launch and provoked more than $500 billion in military and security spending by the United States; a million-to-one “payoff” [to al-Queda].

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