The GWOT and the Election
Since the withdrawal of Rudy Guiliani from the 2008 presidential sweepstakes, the global war on terror (GWOT) has all but disappeared from the rhetoric surrounding the 2008 presidential campaign. Certainly, both Obama and McCain have assured us that the war continues, that it must be pursued diligently (Obama by getting out of Iraq, McCain by staying in), and that each is the best person to assure diligence and “victory.” These pronouncements have certainly been neither central nor staple to the general appeals the candidates have made to justify their election.
All this has occurred amidst sporadic reports indicating that the principal terorist opponent of the United States, Al Qaeda, has fallen upon hard times. A large part of the leadership (at least below the very top of the organization) has been captured or killed, and there are even indications that the appeal of bin Laden and his merrt band of crazies may be decreasing. A recent newscast, for instance, featured interviews with several Islamic young men, once the prime recruiting ground of Al Qaeda, where they suggested they disapproved of Al Qaeda’s practice of murdering innocent women and children on Quranic grounds. Quite a revelation.
So what is happening here? What is the state of the GWOT? I offer four possible, if heretical, explanations. Choose one if you want!
1. The GWOT is essentially over, and the United States has won. There have, after all, been no post-9/11 attacks against American soil, most of Al Qaeda’s leaders are incarcerated or dead, their money is dwindling, and they are basically trapped in the caves along the Afghan-Pakistani border. At any rate, they no longer have the resources to pose a direct threat, and what’s left of the GWOT is a mopping up exercise.
2. The GWOT is essentially over, and Al Qaeda has won. Usama bin Laden could never have seriously believed he could bring the United States down, but he may have believed he could undercut American power by attacking and helping wreck the economy. The 9/11 attacks in New York caused something like $500 billion in losses by disrupting the global financial system, the belief in the war has caused the United States to expend countless billions on one of history’s true boondoggles–the Department of Homeland Security–and the war on Iraq, and the enormous rise in oil prices is adding to the misery. High fives all around in the caves!
3. The GWOT is real, it is a continuing menace for which great diligence is required, and what we are seeing is only a temporary lull in the action. Al Qaeda is alive, as are its global partners and spinoffs, and any relaxation will simply make easier the next offensive.
4. The GWOT has always been an overblown construct, a virtual mirage, and the illusion is being exposed for what it is and always has been. 9/11 was certainly a spectacular and horrible event, but it was also the opening gambit/high water mark/capability-exhausting event for the terrorists, and there never has been much danger it (or something worse) could be carried out again. Sensible policy should reflect this and move priorities to other, more real concerns.
Which one of these is closest to the truth? Even stating numbers 2 and 4 is heresy of the first order, number 1 is too self-congratulatory for the election campaign (for one thing, it would require giving George Bush credit for something–hardly likely), leaving number 3 as the rhetorical explanation of choice. But is that really so convincing anymore? Does the American public really wanted a “GWOT without end”? In the absence of an October Al Qaeda surprise, the GWOT will probably lay fallow as the economy hogs the spoltlight. Unless, of course, someone points out that throwing large amounts of money at the GWOT has contributed importantly to the economic mess we are in.