Assessing the War on Terror

September 11, 2016 marked the 15th anniversary of the most lethal terrorism attack in American history. But although most Americans and virtually all global media appropriately “remembered” the tragic day fifteen years earlier, few paused to analyze the reasons for the attacks and the “effectiveness” of the world war that has ensued. Even fewer performed a dispassionate “cost/benefit” analysis of the “Global War on Terrorism” (GWOT), both from strategic and ethical standpoints.

The US-led counterterrorist strategy initiated by the Bush administration and largely preserved by Obama’s should be reexamined--and significantly modified if not abandoned-- because it has been shown to be largely ineffective in reducing the global incidence and lethality of acts of political violence Western leaders brand “terrorist,” notwithstanding the widely publicized assassinations of Osama bin Laden and other high-ranking leaders of terrorist groups, and the absence to date of another successful major terrorist attack on U.S. soil since 9/11. This realpolitik strategy of negative peacemaking, put into effect in September 2001--about a decade and a half decade ago--has not defeated radical Islamism or any other violent ideology, has resulted in many thousands of casualties, has led to a global clash between extreme elements of Western and Islamic civilizations, and threatens to escalate to a war of the world in which non-state terrorists and state counter terrorists may both employ weapons of mass destruction.

A principal aim of this book is to examine official mainstream constructions of “terrorists,” “terrorism” and “counterterrorism” as powerful rhetorical frames used to sell the GWOT and the justifications for initiating and continuing it. These frames also underlie numerous ethical assumptions--attempts to justify the morality of killing in “war”--which we also call into question.

We suggest an alternative construction for understanding the roots of terrorism and for devising “antiterrorism” strategies to replace the largely ineffective “counterterrorism” policies being used to deal with terrifying acts of political violence. This framework is based both on an empirical analysis of how groups labeled “terrorist” end, as well as on a normative assessment of the utility and morality of “fighting terror with terror.”

During the approximately fifteen years of “the war on terrorism,” numerous books have been published that consider the political, psychosocial, and economic impacts of terrorism. However, there has been little systematic effort to examine the “effectiveness” of the GWOT in achieving its goals in making the world in general, and the United States, the United Kingdom, and the rest of the West in particular, more secure by reducing the number and lethality of officially-designated terrorist attacks. And there is virtually nothing that presents comparative analyses of the GWOT by the people most directly affected by it—citizens and refugees from conflict zones in the Middle East and the West.

As a result, in this book we include in-depth analyses of the strategies, tactics, and outcomes of the Global War on Terror, and we present facts and ideas that are missing or underrepresented in the dominant narratives found in public discourse. Furthermore, we also document the concrete effects of terrifying political violence on its victims. Consequently, we include first-person narratives by survivors of the 9/11 and the 2016 Brussels attacks, as well as on-site accounts by witnesses and survivors of the direct and long-term violence perpetrated by terrorists and counter-terrorists in Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, and Syria.

Assessing the War on Terror: Western and Middle Eastern Perspectives presents readers with provocative articles that critically examine the efficacy, ethics, and impact of the war on terror as it has evolved over the past fifteen years. These contributions were included because they effectively address specific aspects of the war—from Western and Middle-Eastern perspectives on terrorism-- that are missing or underrepresented in political discourse since 9/11.

The book includes a mix of article types: theory, lecture, research, and participant observation. It includes contributions written at different times since 9/11 and the present, thus reflecting the immediacy of the times when they were written and providing a necessary socio-historical context for understanding these complex events and historical processes. There would be no way to do justice to such a broad area of topics and events taking place over the past fifteen years without sampling political discourses at discrete points in time and without including different, and sometimes controversial and conflicting, voices and narratives.

Among the key questions addressed in the book are:

· How is terrorism defined and what are the implications of these definitions?

· Do decision-makers’ and terrorized citizens desires for retribution mean that nations must engage in wars around the world, or are there more effective alternatives?

· How can effective counterterrorism and antiterrorism strategies be developed and implemented?

· What does it mean to “win,” “lose,” or be “frozen” in a “Global War on Terror?”

· How should we weigh the risks, costs, and benefits of conducting a war on terror?

· What have been the human and financial costs of the GWOT, and who bears the responsibility for civilian casualties, a.k.a., “collateral damage?”

· What is ISIS (or the Islamic State) and what might be done to deal with it?

· How do a representative of the Syrian government, a prominent Iraqi intellectual and political analyst, and a Pukhtun physician from the borderlands of Afghanistan and Pakistan view the civil wars racking their countries?

· What moral and strategic issues are involved in modern air warfare, including drones?

· Is it possible, and desirable, to negotiate with such “terrorist” groups as the Taliban, al-Qaeda, and ISIS?

· Have the strategies and tactics the West and Russia are using to confront terrorism been effective, or should they be changed?

· How do terrorist groups end?

· How and why are people, including young Westerners, “radicalized?”

· What do people on the ground in such current and past conflict zones as New York City on 9/11, Pakistan/Afghanistan, Iraq, Brussels, and Syria think and feel about acts of terror, who perpetrated them, and what should be done to cope with and possibly to end them?

From our perspective, while all acts of terrorism are unethical and must be confronted, current rationales for the War on Terror fail to meet universalistic normative standards, and the military means deployed on behalf of this effort have been both unethical and ineffective. Accordingly, in this book we propose a counter-strategy, called anti-terrorism, which may be both more ethical and more efficacious than the failed Global War on Terrorism in addressing the roots of and rationales for terrifying political violence.

Click here for chapter abstracts