The American Interest
Analysis by Walter Russell Mead & Staff
Bin Laden Dead, War On Terror Alive

A key foreign policy objective of the Obama administration has been to dress up the war on terror as a police and intelligence operation backed by drone strikes. The rhetorical and tactical shift seeks to reassure Americans and shift their attention from the Conflict Formerly Known As the Global War on Terror to foreign policy priorities more in keeping with the administration’s vision. It also hopes to change attitudes among Muslims worldwide, who often see the “war on terror” as a synonym for “war on Islam.”

There’s only one problem: Americans aren’t buying it. According to a survey from Rasmussen Reports, only 11 percent of respondents think the war on terror is over. An overwhelming 79 percent said the war is not over.

Despite the best efforts of the White House to convince us otherwise, there is a war, it is global, and the enemy are renegade terrorists possessed by a fanatical version of Islam—a version that most orthodox Muslims reject as heretical, but a version nevertheless. There is a time for diplomatic niceties and mealy-mouthed platitudes, but war is not one of them.

Thankfully, the president’s bite is much worse than his bark — if I can use a dog metaphor here without being accused of a political agenda. He doesn’t call this a war but he is fighting it like one — unless hurling drones onto American citizens and others overseas without any judicial process is the White House’s idea of ordinary law enforcement.

And, to the surprise of some of his supporters as well as of some of his opponents, President Obama is no slouch in the global war on terror Olympics. As we will no doubt be incessantly reminded during the upcoming months, Barack Obama authorized the successful mission to kill Osama bin Laden. And while it has received far less attention than his order to send the Navy Seals after bin Laden, Obama’s decision last week to expand drone strikes into Yemen suggests that the commander-in-chief is very much aware of the magnitude of the struggle in which his country is engaged.

 

Published on April 30, 2012 5:05 pm
  • Mrs. Davis

    the enemy are renegade terrorists possessed by a fanatical version of Islam—a version that most orthodox Muslims reject as heretical

    Could you supply some evidence? I don’t see evidence that broad swaths of the ummah reject jihad against the west. They many not participate, they may mouth appropriate nothings, but at the end of the day they do nothing to stop jihad, and for all I know, may wish for its success.

    But I see Muslims killing their infidel neighbors everywhere they are in the majority.

    If, say, the Orthodox Christians decided to declare war on Muslims, other Christian nations would go to war to defend the Muslims. Wait, you say that happened? Only two decades ago? And we’re still in between keeping some semblance of peace?

  • Kris

    “He doesn’t call this a war but he is fighting it like one — unless hurling drones onto American citizens and others overseas without any judicial process is the White House’s idea of ordinary law enforcement.”

    Which is exactly one of the problems. There should be a glaringly obvious difference between war and law enforcement. Any blurring of the two, while perhaps politically expedient, endangers civil liberties.

  • thibaud

    Give Obama credit. A cynical and opportunistic 180-degree pivot away from his campaign rhetoric to be sure, but from a political standpoint he’s played this pretty well: speak softly (and bash his predecessor) and carry a big drone.

    He’s largely removed the issue of national security from the table. For the first time since 1992, the election will turn almost 100% on the economy. Not that he’s done terribly well on that front, but give him his due for a political masterstroke on the War on Terror.

  • Jacksonian Libertarian

    It disgusts me how Obama is bragging about killing Bin Laden, he acts like he was the one that pulled the trigger, instead of what he did do which was agonize for 24 hrs about a time sensitive operation before he could make a decision. And now he says that the supposedly war mongering myrmidon Republican Romney wouldn’t have ordered Bin Laden killed.

    Also, what about the whole “not spiking the football” thing, isn’t his continued bragging a violation of his own criteria? How many times is he going to spike this football?

    I guess looking back over his time in office the only thing that sticks out as a success is his continued following of the Bush policy of hunting for Bin Laden. The economy has been sucked dry by his $1.3 Trillion in borrowing every year, all the wasted time and corruption passing Obamacare was for nothing when the Supreme Court declares it unconstitutional, all the bowing and scraping to foreign potentates didn’t prevent the Arab spring from turning out poorly, the midterm 2010 election was a shellacking, the stimulus wasn’t stimulating or shovel ready and was only good for paying off political supporters, he didn’t close Gitmo, he didn’t have civilian trials of terrorists, Gunwalking, Solyndra, GSA in Las Vegas, Secret Service whoring, Dog eating, I could go on but all in all a truly miserable record of achievement.

  • http://facingzionwards.blogspot.com/ Luke Lea

    War seems too grand a term considering how pitiful the enemy. Why shouldn’t it be a police action? Oh, wait, I know. Because W dubbed it one after that 9/11 sucker punch. We’re still suckers if we think we can stamp out radical Islamism. Come on, WRM. Are you paid to take this position?

  • http://knownofold.blogspot.com J R Yankovic

    On the whole, great, exuberant fun. I’m also inclined to agree with VM that, on this one at least, the public knows what it’s talking about.

    As to whether the present conflict merits the title of “war,” why do I keep suspecting what we’re up against is something far less simple and far more insidious? For one thing, even if he could pull it off, a SMART jihadist (notice I didn’t say radical Islamist) would be a damfool to execute a second major terror attack on US soil. Why should he risk uniting all sorts of Americans at present so deliciously filled with mutual venom and contempt? Indeed, given our current levels of what I like to call “globally enlightened” political dividedness, we’re already doing half his work for him. And very commendably too. His REAL work is not to take over the world (even jihadists aren’t that deludedly mad, at least not in their day-to-day, month-to-month operations). The SMART jihadist’s real work is to keep democratic nation-states – or anything bearing the reasonable semblance thereof – FROM FUNCTIONING. At least not without great heaping gobs of corporately-serviceable mass surveillance. Along with, of course, the mounting divisions, rancor, ghettoization and mutual distrust that supposedly make them necessary. (BTW, help me here: Has there ever been a self-governing nation whose citizens had NOTHING in common – not even language – other than the frantic desire to make money and “better” themselves and [at most] their families, any @$#%in’ way they can?)

    Meanwhile his own “element” gets more radicalized, more Wahhabized, more locally insular, more globally business-minded, and, best of all, demographically stronger and more independent with respect to their host countries even as they increasingly despise the “decadent” societies surrounding them. That, at least, is his AIM, the best I can discern it. As for those in his diaspora community who oppose him – even if it’s a great majority – he can always try to shame them into silence and compliance. As to his chances of success, I’m sure there are lots of congregations where a little Muslimer-than-thou sanctimoniousness goes a long way towards shifting the burden of guilt onto the “lukewarm.”

    Again, if I were a SMART jihadist I would use a major terror attack against a Western nation only as a weapon of last resort – and even then primarily as threat (“Oh, you really DON’T want to see what we’re capable of, now do you? I’m just saying, it could get really ugly. Well then, let’s see how we can do business in future with more of an eye to our MUTUAL profit . . .”).

    In short, I believe our enemy is both much smaller and much bigger – if not smarter – than anything that could ever be conceptualized acc. to accepted notions of conventional warfare. Besides the stakes being far greater than they were during our final contest with those blundering, flailing, hardly-any-belief-left-in-themselves Soviets (“But migod you blithering idiot, don’t you understand? They were trying TO TAKE OVER THE WORLD!” Right; and, pray, which succeeded – the Russians or the Chinese?).

    At stake is how long we Western nations can remain decent, mutual-trust-based, territorially self-governable societies. Naturally I hope none of us are crazy enough to think we can “stamp out” radical Islamism. On the other hand, if we CAN’T de-legitimize a form of “dissent” as hideous as jihadism – an ideology far more anti-human (not to mention more oppressive of Muslims) than our worst forms of Western racism and sexism – then eventually we shall be able to legitimize anything. And in a world where any “dissent” is legitimate, and therefore (at least technically) no one can be trusted, what kinds of FURTHER policing and surveillance are we going to “have to” legitimize in order to keep the “peace”? suppose that you, and I, and eventually everybody are going to need?

  • Brendan Doran

    @ Kris – thank you for summing up the danger to Civil Liberties by blurring the line between war and criminal law.

    @WRM – Please examine the concept of Takfir and the use of the term Takfiri by Muslims who fight the mad Jihadi. It’s the most useful political way to approach it, war being politics. I learned it from the Iraqis who are using it.

  • Walter Grumpius

    You don’t sound to me like you’re very well read in the history, tenets, theory and practice of Islam. Have you even read the Koran? Do you know what’s in it?

  • Tom

    You can afford to lose a police action. You cannot afford to lose a war.

  • http://thepencilofnature.net Lorenz Gude

    I think it is foolish for Obama to take too much credit for killing bin Laden, because a lot of the work trying to find
    bin Laden was done during the Bush years. But I give him full marks for not messing it up – something any president might have done. And Obama has increased drone attacks which I have to conclude are a pretty effective way to redress the asymmetry insurgents have enjoyed in the latter half of the 20th century. I’d be happier if we were formerly at war and people like al Awlaki were tried and executed on the basis of something more substantial than a Presidential Finding. But that will do. I agree there still is a war on.

  • http://facingzionwards.blogspot.com/ Luke Lea

    Kudos to thibaud and J R Yankovic

  • http://knownofold.blogspot.com J R Yankovic

    @ Mr Lea (#11),

    Thank you (and everybody please disregard that last non-sentence; it was something I decided not to include and forgot to delete).

  • thibaud

    Iirc it was Robert Kaplan who suggested that, if it’s a war, then it’s a lot closer to the Indian wars we fought in the 19c than it is to any conventional war we’ve fought since.

    Most of this war is unreported. We have agents and soldiers on the ground in over a hundred countries around the world, and you never hear about their operations in Africa, Asia etc.

    Given what we’ve learned since 2001, I think the current, special ops + drones approach is the right one.