Magazine article Whole Earth

Can the US Counter the New Terrorism? Counterterrorism Leadership Must Shift from Dept. of Defense to State Dept., Says Defense Analyst. (Security)

Magazine article Whole Earth

Can the US Counter the New Terrorism? Counterterrorism Leadership Must Shift from Dept. of Defense to State Dept., Says Defense Analyst. (Security)

Article excerpt

There is nothing more difficult to take in hand, more perilous to conduct, or more uncertain in its success, than to take the lead in the introduction of a new order to things.

Niccolo Machiavelli

In recent speeches, President Bush has promised that America is taking every necessary step to win the war on terrorism. But is the war on terror more akin to America's "war on drugs"--unwinnable from the outset because of our failure to understand root causes and their appropriate treatments? A number of analysts would answer "yes" to that question, particularly given today's seemingly narrowly focused US and international strategy of defeating terrorism through military force, and other efforts to treat the symptoms rather than the cause of the disease.

The US policy community made a deliberate choice in the 1960s and 70s to focus on symptoms, because it could thereby avoid addressing the validity of terrorists' grievances. This was key to gaining cooperation among governments who jealously guarded their right to deal with internal political violence however they saw fit. At that time, terrorist events were mainly occurring abroad, and policymakers believed there was little they could do directly to affect root causes. Now that terrorist ire has focused on the United States, however, ignoring causes is a short-sighted and ultimately ineffective strategy.

The only way for America to achieve security in the long term is by implementing a systemic approach to the treatment of terrorism. This treatment program should have four goals: 1) address the causes of global economic, social, and political inequality; 2) resolve international conflicts; 3) address global perceptions of the US; and 4) protect ourselves from the symptoms of the disease. This program depends upon multiple changes in the way the US currently does business. They include shifting counterterrorism leadership from the Department of Defense (DoD) to the Department of State, with a corresponding funding increase for State; more active involvement in international institutions; less unilateral involvement in other countries; and preparation for combat tactics to eliminate existing threats.

There is a continuum from terrorists motivated by well-defined political goals to those based in pure extremism or millenarianism. However, the multicausal explanation that emphasizes political, social, and economic levels; and equality of opportunity; is gaining acceptance. A 1999 Library of Congress review of virtually all existing terrorism literature (available at noted that individuals who become terrorists are most often unemployed and socially alienated. The 2002 United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) Arab Human Development Report identifies just that powder keg combination in Arab countries throughout the Middle East, noting "The mismatch between aspirations and their fulfillment has in some cases led to alienation," and that unemployment rates in these countries are among the highest in the developing world.

The root causes of terrorism cannot be separated from the root causes of political violence on a larger scale. Ted Robert Gurr, an expert in comparative studies of violent conflict, is the author of a 1970 landmark work, Why Men Rebel. He posits that a necessary condition for the rise of political violence is the dissatisfaction which emerges through an individual's or a group's recognition of relative deprivation--gaps between rising expectations and need satisfaction. The issue of relative deprivation also concerns Dr. Mamoun Fandy, a scholar of Middle Eastern protest movements. He has suggested that political violence in Egypt, in particular the assassination of then-President Anwar Sadat, stemmed in large part from the unmet expectations--political participation and economic success--of the first Egyptian generation to come of age with no experience of colonial rule. …

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