Tuesday, September 13, 2011

America's "war on terrorism"

During the first presentation today, a classmate questioned whether only going after terrorist organizations, rather than overthrowing the established regimes in Afghanistan and Iraq, and then replacing them with more democratic ones, might have been more effective and less costly. Probably. But that would be assuming that our country was more concerned with eradicating terrorists than with implementing pro-democratic institutional change in Afghanistan and Iraq.

I didn't get a chance to ask this question in class, so I will ask it here: should America's war on terrorism really be a considered a "war?" Or, should it at least be considered a war on something other than terrorism? Clausewitz defines war as "an act of force to compel our enemy to do our will (75)." Military strategy in war, as Schelling states, is no longer the science of military victory, but "the art of coercion, of intimidation and deterrence." Look at the first two objectives of America's war on terrorism (1. defeat terrorists such as bin Ladin, etc., 2. identify, locate and destroy terrorists along with their organizations). There doesn't seem to be any room for coercing, intimidating or deterring the enemies. Our aim is not to compel them to do our will either. The objective is to completely eradicate them.

So let's look at the 3rd and 4th objectives of America's war on terrorism (3. deny sponsorship, support and sanctuary to terrorist groups, 4. diminish underlying conditions that terrorists seek to exploit). With these two points comes the coercion, intimidation and deterrence of our enemies. According to Clausewitz and Schelling, this war cannot truly be considered a war without these two objectives. Yet, in these two objectives, our enemy is someone different. Rather than the terrorist groups, who posed capable physical threats to our population, it was the authoritarian, non-democratic states that were believed to be providing shelter for these groups. Moreover, in the case of Iraq, the Iraqi state was made an enemy because it was "believed" to have weapons of mass destruction.

Looking back on America's war on terrorism, which started almost 10 years ago, the primary reasons for our involvement in Afghanistan and Iraq are certainly debatable now. The necessity of our military strategy, overthrowing the established regimes in those countries, and then replacing them with more democratic ones, is just as debatable, if not more so. If one looks at our primary objective of the war as the eradication of terrorist organizations, then it doesn't seem that our military strategy was the best, or most effective method, to achieving those political ends. However, if one sees the underlying reason for this war as the establishment of pro-democratic, America-friendly regimes in strategic positions in the Middle East and South Asia, then the military means which we used seem much more effective to achieving the political ends.

No comments: