This War is the Answer

by Chris Talamo '11 | 11/19/09 11:00pm

It's not often in our country when transfers of power produce serious policy changes. The Obama honeymoon period significantly improved the nation's general foreign relations, but that was more of a product of our neighbors' thankfulness that they didn't have to put up with Bush, rather than a result of American pressure. So how is it that the War on Terrorism, the primary motivation of Bush's foreign policy and his greatest legacy, has come under intense scrutiny?

As our foreign policy seems to swing away from extreme belligerence, doubt about whether the war should have ever been waged is expanding in mainstream American political debate. While such doubts may seem the logical conclusion of growing American resentment of the War on Terrorism's failures, they are more dangerous than any harm the war may have had on our reputation or soldiers abroad.

Remember those days in the immediate post-Sept. 11 world when the United States was still in shock and the world didn't know how to console us? Those were the days when it was fashionable to vote for oppressive laws like the Patriot Act and confidence in our president skyrocketed because of something a few crazy terrorists did. Back then, no politician with an interest in maintaining his or her career would have ever said anything to contradict the War on Terror, because supporting the war was synonymous with being American. It might have well been part of the Pledge of Allegiance.

The story that is not often told is that many jihadists also opposed the Sept. 11 attacks even prominent figures like Sayyed Imam al-Sharif, who, according to the British newspaper The Telegraph, argued against the attacks in a book he wrote in prison this year. In most cases, it wasn't because they felt bad for us or wanted to engage with America in a non-violent manner; it was because they knew that such a deadly attack would lead the United States to go on a crusade against terrorists worldwide, which was obviously undesirable for them.

What happened to shape global opinion of the War on Terrorism? Well, a number of things including not finding weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, Abu Ghraib, detainee torture, illegal wiretapping, hiring mercenaries and everything else that has dominated the last eight years of political life, gradually eroding American support for the war.

Instead of simply criticzing elements of the War on Terrorism, American opinion is being driven to the extreme a desire to abandon the war altogether. This opinion is more dangerous to our security than even the worst-case projections of the damage the War on Terrorism. Conventionally, we judge the war based on whether or not it has reduced the number of deaths due to terrorism worldwide. This measurement seems to make sense if the goal of the war is to fight terrorism and improve security for Americans, then if it is successful, we should see increased security for Americans. Improvement! If we see that terrorism is only becoming more prominent and deaths are increasing worldwide, however, we are forced to conclude that the war is failing.

Such arguments ignore basic logic. To measure the success of the War on Terrorism, we can't measure the increase or decline of terrorism-related deaths during the war, but rather we have to consider the death rate had we never embarked on a War on Terrorism. Given that many jihadists expected a strong American response to the Sept. 11 attacks, the effects of not embarking on the war would have been nothing short of catastrophic.

Terrorist groups around the world would have been emboldened to attack the U.S. like never before without fear of retribution, and many more attacks like those of Sept. 11 would have taken place by now. In that light, the War on Terrorism, even if catastrophically managed, seems like a brilliant idea.

It is only natural for the American public to resent how the War on Terrorism has been handled. With a little foresight and understanding of these groups, it would have been a simple matter to correct our abuses and win the respect of the Muslim world. Questioning the motives of the War on Terrorism, however, is not the same as questioning the war in Iraq. The world is much better off for America's actions no matter how belligerent.