Tuesday, May 3, 2011

The future of the war on terror

This topic has been getting some discussion now that bin Laden is dead. Oddly enough I think G.W. Bush had it right in the video some are bringing up when he said that he didn't really think about bin Laden that much. Of course this was after Bush had initiated two wars. So its certainly more important to keep his attention focused on that rather than the whereabouts of one person. But even in the larger context of the war on terror I don't think it would be very constructive to focus too much attention on one person.

Granted, that one person is a big symbol for the movement we are trying to defeat. But in the end he was just a symbol. And given the nature of terrorism, its not necessary that he played a big role in carrying out terrorist attacks. The very reason terrorism is so devastating is that it can be done by a very small number of people at a very low cost. Perhaps bin Laden was important more on the cost front than he was in the symbolic front. But even if that were the case I doubt that because he is gone we are much less vulnerable to an attack than before.

As for those two wars that were started in the name of the war of terror, I have to agree with Glenn Greenwald (linked to in the blogs I follow) that the death of bin Laden won't change much. Iraq has been scaled down a bit. But there is still a fair amount of resources being used on it. Afghanistan hasn't changed a whole lot, yet not long ago Obama decided to escalate things there. Iraq was a ridiculous side track that had practically nothing to do with terrorism. So there isn't any reason to be there aside from keeping order for the civilians. Afghanistan was started because it was a safe haven for the Taliban and al Qaeda. But bin Laden was hiding in Pakistan, our ally that we give a lot of money in foreign aid.

So what are the reasons for staying in Iraq and Afghanistan? It seems to be that its just to keep the order for civilians. While that is noble, its not really part of fighting terrorism. Its possible that if we were to leave Afghanistan could again become a safe haven for terrorists. But the situation with bin Laden shows that there are safe havens to be had in other places, even those places considered to be the home of our allies. And as for the Bush goal of spreading democracy, I think its better to play a very indirect role in doing that, like in Egypt for example. So there just doesn't seem to be many reasons to keep fighting wars and keeping large numbers of troops in hostile countries.

What all of this shows is that the concept of a war on terror was a faulty premise to begin with. You can't fight a war against a tactic. And that is what terrorism is, a political tactic used by people who don't have the resources to fight a country. That doesn't mean you can't protect yourself from terrorism and fight the people who wish to use it. The situation with bin Laden also shows this. We didn't have to start a war with Pakistan in order to succeed. We just had to do some good police-style work. And as for the protection part, its extremely difficult to do and I think we spend too many resources on it. But I think if we diverted our military away from Iraq and Afghanistan I think we could do a sufficient job.

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