Fighting Terror with Law and Dignity

Fighting terrorism through massive military attacks is like pouring gasoline on a fire—it plays right into the hands of militants. Here’s a proven strategy for taking down terrorism.

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Read this article in Spanish. Lea este artículo en español


Tom Andrews speaks with Congressman Sam Farr during his weekly Anti-War Room.
Tom Andrews speaks with Congressman Sam Farr during his weekly Anti-War Room.

The Bush administration policies of militarism, unilateralism, and the violation of international law have imperiled our nation and the planet. The number of terrorist attacks throughout the world has increased steadily since 2003. There were over 14,000 terrorist attacks resulting in nearly 20,000 deaths in 2006, according to the State Department. That’s 25 percent more attacks and 40 percent more deaths than the previous year.

How did this come to be? In 2005, Porter Goss, then director of the CIA, testified before the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence. The front page of The Washington Post told the story of his testimony: “War Helps Recruit Terrorists, Hill Told.”

The National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) concluded that the war in Iraq has become “a cause célèbre” for jihadists steadily filling the ranks with fresh recruits. Al Qaeda is fully reconstituted with its command structure restored, the NIE said, and it is raising considerable funds as it trains a new generation of terrorists and plans more attacks.

At the heart of the so-called “war on terror” is the failure to understand the root of terror. Terrorism is not an enemy, it is a tactic—a deadly and severely misguided tactic of radicals who view it as the only means to take on a great superpower. The “war on terror” has played directly into their hands by transforming these criminals into warriors.

Counterterrorism experts Steve Simon and Dan Benjamin advise us to approach the challenge of al Qaeda and radical militants in terms of two concentric circles: a large outer ring of potential sympathizers and a small inner core of hardcore militants.

Success in dealing with the inner core of radicals depends directly on what the Bush administration has undermined—international cooperation and coordination. Success in tracking down and capturing al Qaeda operatives has come from international law enforcement, tapping intelligence from cooperating local sources, and world-wide coordination to shut down the financial support that flows to terrorists.

For the outer circle of potential supporters, the focus should be on peeling away support from bin Laden’s agenda. This will require a commitment to diplomacy for resolving conflicts and an investment in economic development that creates opportunities for marginalized populations. It will also mean ending the military occupation of Iraq, closing down Guantanamo Bay, and ending the odious practice of torture.

A go-it-alone, international-law-be-damned approach both alienates those from the outer circle whom bin Laden is trying to recruit and it undermines the international cooperation that is so vital to apprehending and stopping the hardcore militants in the inner circle.

The way to stop the growth of international terrorism is to end the “war on terror,” bury the “Bush Doctrine,” and restore our nation’s moral standing in the world.

Tom Andrews wrote this article as part of A Just Foreign Policy, the Summer 2008 issue of YES! Magazine. Tom Andrews is a former member of Congress and the House Armed Services Committee (D-ME) and currently serves as national director of the Win Without War coalition.

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