News

Defining Victory in the War on Terror

Since President George W. Bush proclaimed a global war on terrorism more than six years ago, there has been a vigorous debate about how to win it. An important part of the discussion, many analysts note, is defining "victory".

Defeating an enemy on the battlefield and forcing it to accept political terms is the traditional way of winning a war. But as most analysts suggest, victory in the war on terrorism won't fit that description. They liken it to the Cold War between the United States and the Soviet Union, which lasted for several decades and was played out in various ways, including a military buildup, proxy wars, intensive espionage and propaganda campaigns.

Many experts predict Islamic extremists will lose, the way the U.S.S.R. did with its ideology and tactics discredited. This will occur, they contend, as a result of the Islamic world rejecting the militants' use of violence against other Muslims, the economic failure of extreme Islamic regimes and wariness in some Muslim nations that terrorist groups like al-Qaida could impose their rule.

Some security analysts, including former Associate Counsel to the White House Bradford Berenson, argue that the United States is fighting an even tougher opponent than Soviet communism.

"The ideology that we are struggling against is a form of religiously inspired fascism, extremely intolerant and extremely ambitious about gaining worldly power in the name of religion,” says Berenson adding that the United States, “cannot speak with any authority about the proper interpretation of the Muslim religion and so it makes it much more difficult for us to frontally engage in the debate the way we did during the Cold War, when we could try to discredit communism on its own terms."

Berenson says that the U.S. strategy will continue to be offensive against terrorists across the globe and that at times this struggle may erupt into "hot wars".

Discrediting Religious Extremism

But other analysts caution that the United States has put too much faith in the use of force. They say the war in Iraq has been a recruitment tool for al-Qaida. Others warn that use of interrogation methods widely considered to be torture, indefinite detention of prisoners at U.S. facilities at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and prison abuse at Abu Ghraib in Iraq have reinforced grievances that inspire people to become terrorists.

Philip Gordon is a foreign policy expert with The Brookings Institution and author of the book: Winning the Right War: The Path to Security for America and the World.

"It would be nice to believe that we can either defend ourselves against any possible terrorist attack or somehow use our military power to kill or capture every possible terrorist. But, I think, that leads us down the wrong path because we can't do either of those things,” says Gordon.

“What we can do is we can over a long period of time undermine and discredit the ideology so that people don't want to fight in that way," adds Gordon. "There is a whole mass [of people in the Muslim world that is] sitting on the fence deciding which side they want to go. I think those people can be influenced."

Gordon argues that the United States can succeed in its anti-terrorist efforts only by maintaining the values and appeal of the American society and with the same patience and resolve that helped it win the Cold War. Ervin Clark with the Aspen Institute, in Washington, agrees. He quotes George Kennan, "the father" of the U.S. policy of containing the Soviet Union.

"Kennan said the ultimate thing that we had to do was not to be like the enemy and that the way ultimately to prevail is by being true to our own civil rights and civil liberties and our own principles of freedom and tolerance. I think that was obviously true with regard to communism and I think it will be true with regard to Islamic fundamentalism as well," says Clark.

Warfare or Law and Order?

Some critics of the war on terrorism, Ohio State University's John Mueller among them, insist that terrorism does not pose an existential threat to the United States and that it is a law and order issue, which like crime will always exist. He adds that terrorism, a familiar phenomenon in history, is for the first time treated as warfare.

"It is a conflict against an incredibly small number of people who have decided to declare war against the United States. The amount of damage they do is pretty limited, even taking 9/11 [the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks] into consideration, according to Mueller. But if you look at what basically al-Qaida has done since 9/11 outside of war zones, the total number of attacks has resulted into deaths of maybe 200-to-300 people per year. That includes London and Bali and all those things. Unless they are massively able to increase their capacity to do damage, it is a limited problem."

But the Aspen Institute's Ervin Clark differs. "Three-thousand people died on 9/11,” he says and as a consequence of that, “there were billions of dollars in economic damage to the United States and probably billions more in collateral economic damage to the entire world economy. So, yes, the chances are small, but the consequences when any attacks occur are huge."

Ken Gude, a national security specialist at the Washington-based Center for American Progress points out that terrorist organizations like "al-Qaida would like to get a hold of nuclear weapon."

"And even though the potential for that actually occurring is very low," says Gude, "the consequences of an actual nuclear attack or radiological attack are very high. And risk is a measurement based on both probability and consequences. Because the consequences would be so severe, we need to take that threat and that risk seriously." 

Bringing down terrorism, most experts agree, is a long-term project. But many of them point out its success largely depends on the Muslim world dealing with radicalism in its midst. The United States and its allies could play a role, they add, in helping Islamic societies develop and strengthen so that violent extremism is discarded as a means of expressing dissent.

This story was first broadcast on the English news program, VOA News Now. For other Focus reports click here.

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Rolling Thunder Run Reveals Changed Attitudes Towards Vietnam Wari
X
Katherine Gypson
May 25, 2015 1:32 AM
For many US war veterans, the Memorial Day holiday is an opportunity to look back at a divisive conflict in the nation’s history and to remember those who did not make it home.
Video

Video Rolling Thunder Run Reveals Changed Attitudes Towards Vietnam War

For many US war veterans, the Memorial Day holiday is an opportunity to look back at a divisive conflict in the nation’s history and to remember those who did not make it home.
Video

Video Female American Soldiers: Healing Through Filmmaking

According to the United States Defense Department, there are more than 200-thousand women serving in the U.S. Armed Forces.  Like their male counterparts, females have experiences that can be very traumatic.  VOA's Bernard Shusman tells us about a program that is helping some American women in the military heal through filmmaking.
Video

Video Iowa Family's Sacrifice Shaped US Military Service for Generations

Few places in America have experienced war like Waterloo. This small town in the Midwest state of Iowa became famous during World War II not for what it accomplished, but what it lost. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, the legacy of one family’s sacrifice is still a reminder today of the real cost of war for all families on the homefront.
Video

Video On Film: How Dance Defies Iran's Political Oppression

'Desert Dancer' by filmmaker Richard Raymond is based on the true story of a group of young Iranians, who form an underground dance troupe in the Islamic Republic of Iran. This is the latest in a genre of films that focus on dance as a form of freedom of expression against political oppression and social injustice. VOA’s Penelope Poulou has more.
Video

Video Turkey's Ruling Party Trying to Lure Voters in Opposition Stronghold

Turkey’s AK (Justice and Development) Party is seeking a fourth successive general election victory, with the goal of securing two-thirds of the seats in Parliament to rewrite the constitution and change the country's parliamentary system into a presidential one. To achieve that, the party will need to win seats in opposition strongholds like the western city of Izmir. Dorian Jones reports.
Video

Video Millions Flock to Ethiopia Polls

Millions of Ethiopians cast their votes Sunday in the first national election since the 2012 death of longtime leader Meles Zenawi. Mr. Meles' party, the Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Democratic Front, is almost certain of victory again. VOA's Anita Powell reports from Addis Ababa.
Video

Video Scientists Testing Space Propulsion by Light

Can the sun - the heart of our solar system - power a spacecraft to the edge of our solar system? The answer may come from a just-launched small satellite designed to test the efficiency of solar sail propulsion. Once deployed, its large sail will catch the so-called solar wind and slowly reach what scientists hope to be substantial speed. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video FIFA Trains Somali Referees

As stability returns to the once lawless nation of Somalia, the world football governing body, FIFA, is helping to rebuild the country’s sport sector by training referees as well as its young footballers. Abdulaziz Billow has more from Mogadishu.
Video

Video With US Child Obesity Rates on the Rise, Program Promotes Health Eating

In its fifth year, FoodCorps puts more than 180 young Americans into 500 schools across the United States, where they focus on teaching students about nutrition, engaging them with hands-on activities, and improving their access to healthy foods whether in the cafeteria or the greater community. Aru Pande has more.
Video

Video Virginia Neighborhood Draws People to Nostalgic Main Street

In the U.S., people used to grow up in small towns with a main street lined by family-owned shops and restaurants. Today, however, many main streets are worn down and empty because shoppers have been lured away by shopping malls. But in the Del Ray neighborhood of Alexandria, Virginia, main street is thriving. VOA’s Deborah Block reports it has a nostalgic feel with its small restaurants and unique stores.

VOA Blogs