Is the war on terror a war that can be won?
‘Less than 12 hours after the 9/11 attacks, George W. Bush pro- claimed the start of a global war on terror. Ever since, there has been a vigorous debate about how to win it.’1 However more than 12 years on there is still no indication of how close it is to being won and whether it can actually be won. In fact, many such as Jonathan Steele (journalist and international affairs author) suggests it is ‘A war that can never be won.’2 However, before we look at whether it can be won, it is important to look at the war’s goal(s). By doing so we can determine whether there can be an end point.
For America under George Bush the goal was to ‘defeat this evil, wherever it is found.’3 But this creates a problem. Would the end be the defeat, eradication of Al Qaeda and the Taliban wherever they are? Or was Bush suggesting the eradication of all terrorism, i.e. stopping any group from using terrorist techniques? It seems more obvious to accept the former, due to the fact America invaded Iraq, Afghanistan and the stance of much of the countries media is that when bin Laden dies ‘so too dies the “global war on terrorism.”’4 In this case America’s war on terror should’ve been won with removal of bin Laden, and the end of the Iraq war in 2011 but still in 2013 with Obama entering his second term, much of his focus was still on counterterrorism5 and in ‘the year leading up to the inauguration, more people had been killed in US drone strikes across the globe than were imprisoned in Guantanamo.’6 With this in mind the war on terror still seems ongoing, especially now with the resurgence of Al Qaeda in Yemen. According to an analyst at Rand Corp “There are multiple indications that al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula is plotting attacks both within Yemen, against U.S. and Western structures and overseas.”7 Although, only threats with no real attacks yet, this will still be very worrying for the U.S particularly if they take into account the words of Lawrence Friedman who proposes that ‘terrorists do not expect to hold territory. They need time more than space, for it is their ability to endure while mounting regular attacks that enables them to grow while the enemy is drained of patience and credibility.’8 With this in mind, the effective ‘turning’ of Iraq over 10 years and killing of bin Laden may just be delaying al Qaeda rather than ridding the world of them. This does not mean though that al Qaeda will return as strong or the same. Though it would be wrong to solely focus on America’s war with al Qaeda, as much of their attention has also been focused on the Taliban and other terrorist groups such as Al-Shabaab and Lash at-e-Taliban. These groups do not receive the same media coverage as al Qaeda in recent times, as many of their attacks are focused on North African and Middle Eastern territories. However, they are still important. Most prominently because of the USA’s position in Afghanistan, which has come under much pressure in recent times due to the removal of troops this year. While this may seem like a positive step, suggesting the risk of the Taliban may be reduced, only a month ago President Karzai announced that America had planned to keep ‘some form of U.S. military presence in Afghanistan after the end of 2014.’9 And that he would not be signing it until the U.S. held peace talks with the Taliban. The fact that America feels the need to keep an active military presence in the area clearly shows that they do not feel the threat of terrorism has gone. In this particular instance it is hard to show Britain’s position as both Cameron and Blair gave their versions of ‘full support’10 to America in both the war in Iraq and Afghanistan, however Tony Blair suggested that Britain’s end goal was ‘ridding our world of this evil once and for all.’11 Which Steele argued ‘put the issue in terms of a finite goal.’12 Suggesting that there can be an end to such a war, but Realism rejects this....
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