The title that this era has ushered in, that of the United States being in a “Global War on Terrorism” is misleading and generally incorrect. Yes, the United States should be involved in battling terrorism, both at home and abroad, but this is not a war that can be fought in the conventional tradition of wars, nor can it be resolved as so many wars have been in the past: with armies facing off and treaties being signed, with the terms determined by the victor. The days of conventional warfare are long gone. The enemy is now ever-changing: multiple terrorist organizations, controlled largely by a few individual masterminds, with vastly different motivations for their actions. The effect is equivalent to that of flies biting a giant as the United States tries to clumsily swat them away with military might.
This is a war that must be fought covertly, with the usage of intelligence groups, special operations forces, and even perhaps the morally ambiguous targeted killings and drone strikes. But it must be fought. It is no longer sufficient for the United States to defend only its direct interests. The world today is too global, too interdependent for the policy of isolationism that was deemed acceptable in previous centuries. Alliances have been made, billions of dollars in capital trade is being done constantly worldwide, and these interactions must be defended for the fragile stability of the international system to prevail. Interests no longer have a tangible border due to the global, technological world that exists today, and this must be addressed in security measures.
For the first time since 1964, over half of Americans believe that “the U.S. should mind its own business internationally and let other countries get along the best they can on their own (1).” The American people are tired of combat, especially after the drawn-out disaster that was the Iraq War. The title coined by Bush to rally the American people to the cause of war after the 9/11 attack, The Global War on Terrorism, is now a tired and unwelcome phrase to American ears. This was made clear by the enormous public and congressional outcry against Obama’s plans for limited military strikes against Syria in August of 2013, which ultimately resulted in no action taken by the United States’ military.
There is no precedent for the situation that the United States finds itself in today, with interests spread out in every corner of the globe, and smaller, mobile enemies fighting not for something tangible, but for ideology. It is nearly impossible to negotiate diplomatically with groups who fight for ideology. In an address to the nation during the panic surrounding terrorist attacks, George W. Bush firmly invoked the age-old American foreign policy line, “We do not negotiate with terrorists.” This is a phrase that has been parroted by government and law enforcement officials for decades, but the question that remains today is; we don’t negotiate with terrorists, or we can’t negotiate with terrorists? The moral frame indoctrinated into new recruits through the processes of moral engagement and cognitive reconstrual skews the individual values and beliefs and changes them to radical views that are irreconcilable with the values and beliefs of the rest of society (2). This ideological extremism makes negotiation and peaceful diplomacy a less viable option for dealing with terrorism. To a certain degree, it forces countries to display “vicious diplomacy” in defense (3).
The United States is not the only party that has interests spread abroad due to the global environment that exists today. Terrorist organizations exist in the very same fashion. They often receive financial support and weapons from other parts of the world. Some organizations train their operatives in various parts of the world and have operations that span across several continents. Domestic terrorism and terrorism abroad can no longer be easily separated. They have become intrinsically linked, and much as legitimate trade occurs all around the world, so does illegal aid to terrorism. Smaller organizations receive financial aid, weapons, and training from larger organizations and even certain nations who state sponsor terrorism to further their own political ends.
The lines have been blurred. Domestic terrorism no longer exists without the support of other terrorist organizations abroad, and the United States no longer has interests limited to one part of the world. Both terrorism and economics have been globalized, and they are too intertwined to ever be disengaged from each other. As a result, there is no option but to combat terrorism that occurs abroad as well as that which occurs within the United States. Combating terrorism abroad, with targeted killings, drone strikes, and special operations is a more constructive way to eradicate terrorism. In order to be effective against terrorist groups, in order to become more streamlined, less like the clumsy giant trying to swat flies, the United States must gather as much intelligence as possible in order to prevent attacks on its interests. It is a fine line, as exhibited by the public backlash that came from the Edward Snowden NSA leak, but the government must toe the line between respecting the rights of the individual, (one of these being the right to privacy), and gathering intelligence in order to ferret out potential terrorist actions to keep the many interests of the United States secure. Attending to domestic terrorism is no longer sufficient or effective; in order to prevent terrorism at home, the United States must also contribute to the prevention of terrorism abroad.
(1) Fisher, M. (2013, December 4) The Washington Post
(2) (Casserleigh & Merrick, 2013, pp.16-17)
(3) (Schelling, 1996)
Merrick, D., & Casserleigh, A. (2013). Terrorism: wtf weapons tactics and the future.. S.l.: Kendall Hunt.
Fisher, M. (2013, December 4). American isolationism just hit a 50-year high. Why that matters.. Washington Post. Retrieved June 19, 2014, from http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/worldviews/wp/2013/12/04/american-isolationism-just-hit-a-50-year-high-why-that-matters/
Masters, J. (2013, May 23). Targeted Killings. Council on Foreign Relations. Retrieved June 19, 2014, from http://www.cfr.org/counterterrorism/targeted-killings/p9627
National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism: Annex of Statistical Information. (2013, May 30). U.S. Department of State. Retrieved June 19, 2014, from http://www.state.gov/j/ct/rls/crt/2012/210017.htm