One More Lost Peace?: Rethinking the Cold War After Twenty Years

Lawrence Gray
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A careful reading of the lessons from the past 15 years indicates that the United States should abandon the existing strategy in the Middle East for three reasons. First, military intervention and nation building efforts, even at current "light footprint" levels, cause more problems than they solve, including spawning more anti-American sentiment and creating, rather than diminishing, the conditions that lead to terrorism. Finally, given the first two arguments, the costs of a forward-deployed strategy to fight terrorism are simply too high.

U.S. Objectives and Strategy in the War on Terror

Our analysis proceeds in four parts. In the first section we review the main objectives of the War on Terror and the key components of U. In section three we explain why War on Terror policies may have yielded the results they did, producing a set of important lessons learned to inform future policy. We conclude by arguing that the United States should ramp down its War on Terror, and we outline the principles of a "step back" strategy regarding ISIS and Islamist-inspired terrorism. In the National Strategy to Combat Terrorism, the Bush administration declared its central objectives in the War on Terror: "The intent of our national strategy is to stop terrorist attacks against the United States, its citizens, its interests, and our friends and allies around the world and ultimately, to create an international environment inhospitable to terrorists and all those who support them.

Accordingly, American foreign policy focused very little on the issue of terrorism. When the United States did occasionally conduct foreign policy to retaliate for terrorism, such as the attacks on the Berlin disco or the U. The 4-D strategy to prevent terrorist attacks on the United States comprised four primary missions: to defeat terrorist organizations with global reach, to deny such organizations sanctuaries from which to operate and launch attacks, to diminish the conditions that give rise to the use of terrorism, and to defend the United States through "proactive" defense of the homeland.

The logic of the Bush strategy was straightforward. In order to prevent attacks against the United States in the short term, al Qaeda and similar terrorist organizations had to be disrupted and their capabilities degraded. In the medium term, aggressive action against terrorist groups would help deter other groups from attacking and make potential state sponsors of terrorism think twice. In the longer term, security would best be achieved by eradicating the underlying conditions that the Bush administration and later the Obama administration believed had given rise to terrorism in the first place.

Among these conditions were ethnic and religious conflict, corruption, poverty and lack of economic opportunity, and social and political oppression. Since the most important component of the international War on Terror has been direct military intervention. This decision to confront terrorism with military force, rather than through the more traditional law enforcement framework, has significantly shaped the War on Terror and helped determine its outcomes.

At this point it is useful to be clear about terminology. The Department of Defense defines military intervention as "The deliberate act of a nation or a group of nations to introduce its military forces into the course of an existing controversy. Direct military intervention involves sending American troops to fight, occupy, or defend territory in other nations or conducting air strikes whether via drones or manned airplanes or missile strikes.

Examples of direct military intervention include the invasion and subsequent occupation of Afghanistan and Iraq, the far-flung American drone campaign, U. Indirect military intervention, on the other hand, involves providing various kinds of support intelligence, military equipment, advising, money, and training to facilitate the use of military force by a third party. The effort to arm and train Syrian rebel groups to fight the Islamic State is one example of indirect military intervention. Both forms of military intervention, in turn, are distinct from the wide variety of nonmilitary tools available to the United States.

Others, however, such as nation building and democracy promotion, are certainly forms of intervention in the sense that they either require American military involvement such as in Afghanistan and Iraq or they feature a steady dose of American political pressure and financial assistance aimed at shaping outcomes in another nation. Although it has taken several forms, the central purposes of American military intervention — direct and indirect — have remained consistent since First and most simply, of course, the goal of military intervention has been to kill terrorists, destroy their organizations, and eliminate their ability to conduct terrorist operations.

A critical foundation of this strategy was the belief that the United States could no longer wait until the threat was fully formed. Instead, the United States needed to begin preemptively striking with military force. Beginning with the National Security Strategy, the Bush administration put forth a doctrine of preventive action against terror threats, even if those threats were not yet imminent.

Second, U. Beyond the effort to destroy al Qaeda, the invasion of Afghanistan also served as punishment for the Taliban for harboring the terrorist group and a warning to other state sponsors of terrorism. Similarly, despite the fact that Iraq was not an al Qaeda sponsor, the Bush administration clearly viewed the invasion of Iraq as an important opportunity to show resolve in the "central front in the war on terror. Third, officials have viewed military intervention as a critical tool to prop up weak governments and to prevent terrorist groups from taking territory and staking out safe harbors in weak states.

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And in Yemen, the United States has conducted drone strikes against al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula since but more recently has provided military and intelligence assistance to Saudi Arabia as it intervenes in support of the embattled Yemeni government. It is important to note that the election of Barack Obama provoked little change at the strategic level. But this was not inconsistent with the Bush approach. In the Status of Forces agreement that he signed with Iraq in , Bush committed to withdraw all U. The United States has also invested heavily in efforts to remake and reshape the Middle East in pursuit of longer-run and more fundamental solutions to the root causes of terrorism.

Both the Bush and Obama administrations argued that terrorism springs from unhealthy political and economic systems and that terrorist groups will flourish where states are too weak to exert effective control over their own territory. Buoyed by perceived early success in promoting democracy in Afghanistan, President Bush frequently articulated his conviction that America had a responsibility to liberate people. Beyond regime change and democratization, the United States has also used nation building as a key tool for remaking the region.

After disbanding them in , for example, the United States helped rebuild and retrain the Iraqi security forces, although clearly with mixed results. Those teams infused money and expertise into both countries, with projects ranging in scale from single, manually operated water pumps to hydroelectric dams. Additionally, the teams conducted training for Afghan and Iraqi government officials.

By any measure, the war on terrorism has been far-reaching. But despite the scale of this campaign the question remains: What does the United States have to show for all this effort? Measuring the effectiveness of the War on Terror is a tricky business; citizens and experts alike can reasonably argue about the most important determinants of success and failure.

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Assessments may vary based on the level of analysis being conducted and which outcomes are emphasized e. Any assessment should also address whether or not the government has met the goals it set for itself and has pursued consistently for the past 15 years. Even by a conservative accounting, the War on Terror has been a failure. Second, the United States has not destroyed or defeated al Qaeda, the Islamic State, or any other terror groups of global reach, regardless of how well or poorly the description applies to groups comprised of a few hundred or a few thousand people.

Nor, finally, has the United States made a dent in diminishing the underlying conditions supposed to give rise to terrorism. Moreover, the number of terror attacks worldwide has skyrocketed, indicating that the conditions driving the use of terrorism are very likely worse than ever.

In the next several sections we present more detailed discussion of American progress toward each of these key objectives. The United States has fortunately not suffered a second major attack on its soil since September 11, Historically speaking, a major attack is an outlier.

Between and there were four Islamist-inspired terrorist attacks in the United States, which killed 10 Americans. What is unclear from the figures alone, however, is what role the international War on Terror has played in shaping that trend.

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Now, we start learning that it is all about flows. The Internet also allows me to be bolder. First, despite unprecedented counterterrorism efforts across the Middle East and Northern Africa, the United States has clearly not managed to eliminate the terrorists or destroy their organizations. I can use image search to look up hope or success or play. Happily the Internet provides us with access to many of these earlier forms of the written word as well as to electronic communications. The world I took for granted as a child, and that my childhood books beautifully represented, jerks with the brand new world of artificial glare and electrically created realities, faster, louder, unrelated to nature, self-contained. Maintaining the Center's spirit, I check my email only once a day, and keep my cell phone switched off unless I make a call.

Broadly speaking, the data are consistent with three possible interpretations. The first is that the War on Terror has had little or no effect on Islamist-inspired terrorism against Americans. The second possibility is that the numbers would look far worse in the absence of the War on Terror. The "no effect" possibility comes in two versions. Although the attacks certainly helped establish the al Qaeda "brand" globally, the attacks failed to convince the United States to leave the Middle East as al Qaeda had hoped.

Meanwhile, regional al Qaeda affiliates are even more devoted to local and regional priorities, as is the Islamic State, which has its hands full fighting on multiple fronts to seize and defend territory in Syria, Iraq, and elsewhere. The second possibility is that improved homeland defense, as opposed to international action, has helped prevent additional attacks.

Step Back: Lessons for U.S. Foreign Policy from the Failed War on Terror

But even here one has to question whether the United States has been lucky, as opposed to good. Many scholars have offered sharp criticisms of the American homeland security project, suggesting that, despite some improvements, the United States remains essentially as vulnerable as before to terrorists.

As former Central Intelligence Agency CIA Director George Tenet wondered in his autobiography, "it would be easy for al-Qaeda or another terrorist group to send suicide bombers to cause chaos in a half-dozen American shopping malls on any given day. To those who might argue that the United States has, in fact, disrupted many undisclosed plots, Mueller and Stewart argue: "if undisclosed plotters have been so able and so determined to commit violence, and if there are so many of them, why have they committed so little of it before being waylaid? On the contrary, the government goes out of its way to take credit for non-plots, such as their sting operations.

Contrary to concerns that al Qaeda and ISIS remain a major threat to the United States, historically major terrorist attacks outside of a war zone are quite rare. That attack occurred in Rwanda during the genocide of , when 1, Tutsis seeking refuge in a church were targeted.

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The second interpretation of the data, touted by both the Bush and Obama administrations, is that the international war on terrorism — not simply improved homeland security efforts — has prevented acts of terrorism on U. The argument here was twofold. First, by killing terrorists and disrupting or destroying their organizations, the United States made it impossible for those groups to strike the United States. Second, by demonstrating American resolve, the War on Terror served as a deterrent since terrorist groups realized the futility of conducting attacks against the United States.

History has revealed serious gaps in the strategic logic of the War on Terror. First, despite unprecedented counterterrorism efforts across the Middle East and Northern Africa, the United States has clearly not managed to eliminate the terrorists or destroy their organizations.

Militaries are very good at destroying large groups of buildings and people and for taking and holding territory, but they are not designed to eradicate groups of loosely connected individuals who may, at any moment, melt into the civilian population. Even with drones and Special Forces, the ability of the United States to dismantle al Qaeda and its affiliates has proven quite limited. Moreover, the chaos sown by the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan inadvertently helped spawn the birth and rapid growth of new jihadist groups, including the Islamic State.

Second, the argument that U. It is difficult to imagine the United States having provided a more powerful statement of resolve than the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, complemented by a steady stream of drone strikes across at least seven different nations. Nonetheless, in the wake of the concerted U. During the attacks in Paris, for example, one of the attackers was heard blaming French President Hollande for intervening in Syria.


Finally, the third possible interpretation of the data is that the War on Terror inadvertently fueled more anti-American terrorism. Without an ongoing American presence and an active military campaign helping to further radicalize and motivate potential jihadists, observers point out, it is reasonable to expect that there would have been far less incentive for al Qaeda and related groups to attack the United States.

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This is not to argue that al Qaeda and ISIS would not still have some desire to strike at American targets even if the United States were not active in the Middle East, but as noted above, it is clear that the Islamic State, at least, is using the American presence in the Middle East as a justification for anti-American terrorism. If nothing else, continued American military action in the Middle East ensures that ISIS will remain highly visible in the news and in the minds of Americans, providing potential lone wolves in the United States inspiration to carry out future attacks.

Although the level of terrorism aimed at Americans has increased only slightly since , the number of Islamist-inspired terrorist groups and terror attacks in the Middle East and elsewhere has skyrocketed. By this measure, the United States has failed to achieve its stated objective. Although American military intervention in Afghanistan and Pakistan effectively put the central al Qaeda organization out of business for some time, al Qaeda affiliates have proliferated around the world, one of which — al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula — is routinely identified as the most dangerous group operating today.

The growth of the jihadist terrorist enterprise since has been stunning. When the War on Terror began, there were roughly 32, fighters comprising 13 Islamist-inspired terror organizations. By , as Table 1 shows, the estimate had ballooned to more than , fighters spread across 44 Islamist-inspired terror groups. This growth has led to an even more explosive rise in violence — most of which has occurred in the Middle East and Africa.

As Figure 2 indicates, there were 1, terror attacks worldwide in when the U.

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Were there any missed chances to build a more peaceful world than the present one after the Cold War? Were there any attempts at working out a more comprehensive and more cooperative way to overcome it? What was precisely at stake during the Cold. Editorial Reviews. Review. Raffaele D'Agata is one of Italy's best known historians of the Cold One More 'Lost Peace'?: Rethinking the Cold War After Twenty Years Kindle Edition. by Raffaele D'Agata (Author), Lawrence Gray (​Author).

In the number was 14, Fatalities caused by terror attacks have also increased.