War Is Not the Answer

by Raza Rasheed '12 | 11/23/09 11:00pm

In his column last Friday, Chris Talamo '11 ("This War is the Answer," Nov. 20) made some interesting points about the worthiness of the War on Terrorism, concluding that "The world is much better off for America's actions no matter how belligerent." Ultimately, however, I couldn't possibly disagree more. The War on Terrorism has been a failure of both policy and spirit, giving the terrorists exactly what they wanted and significantly weakening our national security.

Terrorism is, fundamentally, a tool for the weak, as University of California, Los Angeles doctoral candidate Max Abrahms has argued. As a method of achieving specific policy concessions (for the sake of argument and sanity, we'll dispense with the absurd notion that terrorists are irrational, foaming-at-the-mouth lunatics who "hate us for our freedom" and assume that they are rational actors with a political agenda), it is spectacularly ineffective, dangerous and prone to backfiring. Terrorists only resort to terrorism because they lack the coercive military force to achieve their objectives through conventional means. Thus, at its very core, fighting a war to eliminate the use of a desperate tactic by weak and marginalized groups is doomed to both failure and the sort of meandering lack of focus that has plagued our foreign policy efforts since 2001. It would have been just and proper to fight a "War to depose the Taliban and disrupt terrorist activities in Northeastern Afghanistan," but we never could be bothered to pin ourselves down to such a clear and logical mission, and instead gallivanted into Iraq to continue to our crusade against "terror," which at some point mysteriously expanded to include tyrannical dictators with no ties to terrorist organizations. The result has been a veritable worst-case scenario for our national security. The situation in Afghanistan and Northern Pakistan has, if anything, worsened since our intervention, leaving President Obama with no good options in the region. Iraq was an unmitigated disaster with an enormous price tag that contributed to our shocking economic decline and soaring national debt. Perhaps worst of all, the Bush administration allowed its dogmatic anti-terror zeal to strain our precious alliances and relationships, leaving us more alone in the world to stew in our catastrophes than we've been since before the Second World War.

Looking back on this terrible sequence of events, I can't help but feel that Osama bin Laden baited us into giving him exactly what he wanted. The United States emerged from the Cold War as the most secure nation in the world's history. We were so dominant and so trusted by the world's other great powers that only a combination of prolonged economic decline, stagnation of Cold War alliances leading to foreign balances against us and irrational, fear-based policy could ever hope to undermine our national security, and with one attack, Al Qaeda achieved all three.

You see, herein lies the truly insidious side of what the 9/11 hijackers did to this country. We have elevated these weak, pathetic terrorists through our rhetoric and the politics of fear into omnipotent, shadowy, scheming bogeymen, capable of bringing us down at any moment without constant vigilance. We have elevated what is the quintessential David vs. Goliath (if David were deaf, dumb, blind and crippled and Goliath were on steroids) skirmish into an existential struggle for the future of American values.

This is absolutely ridiculous. We need to stop giving these people more power over our hearts, minds and policy than they deserve. Yes, 9/11 was an awful tragedy, a day that will truly live in infamy but six times as many people died in 2001 due to lack of health insurance. Roughly as many Americans have died from slipping in bathtubs this decade as have died from foreign terrorist attacks on U.S. soil. We are both safe and secure, and Al Qaeda can never in their wildest dreams hope to change that. The true way to win a war on terrorism is stop being afraid to stop our irrational fears from being baited and contributing to our decline as a great power.

Of course, Americans, having experienced so few attacks on our soil, are uniquely unqualified to deal with such tragedies. That's why it was always a mistake to try to make this a War on Terrorism. We can win a war against the Taliban and Al Qaeda in Afghanistan, but we can't win a war on the use of fear. The struggle is tearing us apart.