It would be fruitless to search the contours of current international terrorism for a compelling explanation of why the United States is escalating a military campaign in Afghanistan. Clearly there is a disconnect between where war is being waged and where terrorism is rearing its ugly head. The appropriate response is not to run off, guns blazing, to find new battlefields, be they in Yemen or anywhere else. The U.S. military, pressing the limits of sustainability and winding up one war while slowly winding down another, does not have the resources to open a new front in every territory that may become associated with terrorism. There is no shortage of such places.Regardless of the available resources, it is a mistake to think of counterterrorism primarily, as Americans have become wont to do, as the application of military force to particular pieces of real estate. This pattern of thinking is rooted in a history in which the vanquishing of threats to U.S. security has consisted chiefly of armed expeditions to conquer or liberate foreign territory. The pattern has been exacerbated by the unfortunate “war on terror” terminology, which confuses and conflates the seriousness of, the nature of and the means used to counter the threat.The strength of a terrorist adversary, al-Qaeda or any other, does not correlate with control of a piece of territory in Afghanistan or elsewhere. If a terrorist group has a physical safe haven available, it will use it. But of all the assets that make a group a threat—including ideological appeal and a supply of already-radicalized recruits—occupation of acreage is one of the least important. Past terrorist attacks, including 9/11 (most of the preparations for which took place in scattered locations in the West), demonstrate this.
Tuesday, February 23, 2010
I never sat down and did it, and then it was December. By then I would've just looked like a bandwagoner, right? Oh well. Mine would have been an obnoxiously over-sourced 9,000-word jeremiad, totally lacking in the clarity and elegance of Pillar's piece. So go read his. Here's a taste:
Also, if you're interested, John Nagl disagrees. (Or as Josh Foust put it, Nagl says we're at war because the President says we're at war. Or something like that.)