The Global War on Terrorism Is a Hoax

On the 21st of August, American president Donald Trump extended the 16-year war that the United States has been waging in Afghanistan, vowing to increase the American military presence there while pressuring other local forces in the region to help “fight to win”. However, according to the New York Times[1], “the only thing distinguishing his speech from past presidents’ remarks on the war in Afghanistan was his egregious use of the sacrifice of American service members to justify expanding the United States’ military commitment.” The rest of his speech fully conformed with what has become the standard operating procedure in the White House. For the past 16 years, both Republican and Democratic parties have followed the same costly, ethically questionable and counterproductive strategy known as the « global war on terrorism » (GWOT).

Trump’s ambition to « demolish and destroy ISIS » and « extinguish this vile enemy from our planet »[2] is ignorant at best and is even potentially dangerous. Unachievable promises of absolute victory tend to lead presidents to seize any opportunity to prematurely declare it. For instance, the Bush administration declared the downfall of the Taliban seven times from 2002 through 2005[3]. Moreover, the language used by Trump in his address to Congress frames terrorism in a way that apparently justifies the means with which he plans to combat it. Charles Webel and Mark Tomass[4], warn against the use of this type of narrative, which is currently dominant in the West. Defining radical Islamists as « lawless savages » and a « vile enemy »[5], and the fight against terrorism as a clash of civilizations, one of which is a threat to the « civilized » world, shapes and focuses the range of possible solutions so that the measures used are « on the scale of a global war against evil »[6]. The United Nations disclosed that in Afghanistan, civilian casualties from American airstrikes increased by 70 percent in the first half of 2017 more than it was at the same time the previous year. In Iraq and Syria, more than 55 percent of civilians that were killed by airstrikes since the beginning of the war in August 2014 died under Trump’s mandate.[7] Not only is this fact ethically alarming, it is also extremely counter-productive. In her book How Terrorism is Wrong: Morality and Political Violence, Virginia Held stated that “if the massive violence of war can be justified, which is dubious, terrorist acts can also be, if they have certain characteristics.”[8] In fact, violence only serves to push extremist ideologies further, especially in the case of radical Islamism, whose main rhetoric revolves around widening the gap between the West—which is deeply associated with colonialism and sympathy with Israel and considered a threat to Arab prosperity—and the MENA region. Thus, civilian casualties aid terrorist recruitment, and radicalize young potential terrorists residing in the West.

In his Op-Ed « The ‘war on terror’ isn’t working », Andrew Bacevich, author of the new book « America’s War for the Greater Middle East: A Military History », claims in that « Islamic State is merely an expression of a much larger and more complex phenomenon. »[9] In this sense, it cannot simply be « extinguished » from the face of the planet. Even if every single ISIS jihadist and potential jihadist were killed – which is impossible in and of itself – the larger problem remains. Calling ISIS a problem of « terrorism » is undermining a whole set of political, economic, social and historical problems that the Middle East has been facing for several decades. Bacevich defines what we call terrorism as « a violent outgrowth of chronic political dysfunction and economic underdevelopment affecting large parts of the Islamic world, exacerbated by deep-seated sectarian divisions and the pernicious legacy of European colonialism and further complicated by the presence of Israel, all together finding expression in antipathy towards the West and especially the United States. »[10] In other words, for terrorism to stop, the reasons that have given rise to it must be addressed first.

Many authors have offered other less violent solutions that are more effective in combating terrorism. In 2008, the RAND Corporation realized a comprehensive study at the request of the US House Armed Services Committee titled How Terrorist Groups End[11]. After examining 648 US-designated terrorist groups between 1968 and 2006, RAND researchers found that “Terrorist groups end for two major reasons: Members decide to adopt nonviolent tactics and join the political process (43 percent), or local law-enforcement agencies arrest or kill key members of the group (40 percent). Military force has rarely been the primary reason for the end of terrorist groups (7 percent), and few [terrorist] groups since 1968 have achieved victory (10 percent).” These results have been reproduced in figure 1 below for clarity.

Capture d’écran 2017-10-22 à 4.24.23 PM.png

Figure 1: How terrorist groups end: The RAND findings. Based on figures from RAND document MG-741-1-RC, How Terrorist Groups End.

Similarly, Charles Webel and John Arnaldi, in The Ethics and Efficacy of the Global War on Terrorism: Fighting Terror with Terror, have also proposed an eight-step strategy for ending the global clash of terrorisms[12].

Theories and researches abound that discredit the military strategy recently renewed by the United States in particular. However, the world chooses to present terrorism as a problem that inevitably requires the use of military force. This rhetoric, as we have shown, dismisses alternatives only to fill the pockets of those benefiting from the status quo—from a situation of perpetual war.

Cindy Salamé

Étudiante en deuxième année de droit

 

 

[1] Zenko, Micah. “Bush and Obama Fought a Failed ‘War on Terror.’ It’s Trump’s Turn.” http://www.nytimes.com, The New York Times, 25 Aug. 2017, http://www.nytimes.com/2017/08/25/opinion/trump-afghanistan-war-on-terror.html?mcubz=0.

[2] See Trump’s address to joint session of Congress on the 28th of February

[3] Resnick, Gideon. “Seven Times the Taliban Was Supposedly Defeated.” http://www.thedailybeast.com, The Daily Beast, 29 Sept. 2015, http://www.thedailybeast.com/seven-times-the-taliban-was-supposedly-defeated.

[4] Webel, Charles, and Mark Tomass. Assessing the War on Terror: Western and Middle Eastern Perspectives. Routledge, 2017.

[5] See note 2

[6] See note 4

[7] United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan, Human Rights, Protection of civilians in armed conflict: midyear report 2017, (July 2017), available from https://unama.unmissions.org/sites/default/files/protection_of_civilians_in_armed_conflict_midyear_report_2017_july_2017.pdf

[8] Held, Virginia. How Terrorism Is Wrong: Morality and Political Violence. Oxford University Press, 2008.

[9] Bacevich, Andrew. “The ‘War on Terror’ Isn’t Working.” http://Www.latimes.com, 15 Mar. 2016, www.latimes.com/opinion/op-ed/la-oe-0315-bacevich-countering-islamism-20160315-story.html.

[10] See note 9

[11] Jones, Seth G., and Martin C. Libicki. “How Terrorist Groups End.” Www.defense.org.cn, RAND Corporation, 2008, http://www.defence.org.cn/aspnet/vip-usa/uploadfiles/2008-10/200810132335458593.pdf. Accessed 26 Sept. 2017.

[12] Webel P., Charles, and John A. Arnaldi. The Ethics and Efficacy of the Global War on Terrorism: Fighting Terror with Terror. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2011.

Featured image: Munch, Edvard. The Scream. 1893. Painting – oil on cardboard. Nasjonalmuseet: Oslo (Norway). The Athenaeum. Google. Web. 26 Sep. 2017

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