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Evidence US May Be Losing Global War on Terror

Evidence that the U.S. May Be Losing the Global War on Terror

By Ivan Eland*
April 25, 2005

The Bush administration is attempting to suppress key data showing that its Global War on Terrorism (or GWOT as government bureaucrats have dubbed it) likely has been counterproductive. According to Larry Johnson, a former CIA analyst and State Department terrorism expert who still has many sources within the intelligence community, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice’s office is suppressing data showing that the number of major terrorist attacks worldwide exploded from 175 in 2003 to 625 in 2004, the highest number since the Cold War began to wane in 1985. U.S. officials said that when analysts at the National Counterterrorism Center declined the office of the secretary’s invitation to use a methodology that would reduce the number of terrorist attacks, her office terminated publication of the State Department’s annual “Patterns of Global Terrorism” report.

No matter what else George W. Bush does in office, historians will define his presidency primarily by his GWOT, initiated after the terrorist attacks of September 11. Yet the Bush administration is trying to hide important data that might very well lead historians and the American public to conclude that the GWOT has been disastrous for U.S. and global security.

In the aftermath of 9/11, instead of focusing on a vigorous and effective covert war against the perpetrators of the attacks—al Qaeda—the administration manipulated public opinion to launch the much ballyhooed and excessive GWOT against every “terrorist” group on the planet, whether they had ever attacked the United States or not. (The definition of a “terrorist” group seemed to be any armed non-governmental entity that didn’t agree with U.S. policies.) For example, under the guise of fighting the group Abu Sayef, the U.S. government used the 9/11 attacks to renew its moribund security relationship with the Philippine government. The tiny group was not a threat to the Philippine government and certainly not to the U.S. superpower.

To make matters worse, as part of the GWOT, the administration then cynically manufactured an operational link between two unlikely allies—al Qaeda and Saddam Hussein—as an excuse to settle old scores with Saddam. Four years later, because of the administration’s distraction, the dangerous top leadership of al Qaeda remains at large. In fact, perhaps the invasion of Iraq was meant, in part, to distract the American public from the administration’s failure to neutralize the worst threat to the continental United States since the British invaded during the War of 1812.

In addition to distracting from the important task of quietly neutralizing al Qaeda, the Iraq invasion has needlessly killed between 26,000 and 108,000 U.S. and allied troops, U.S. contract forces, Iraqi soldiers, and Iraqi civilians and overstretched the U.S. military in a seemingly endless Vietnam-style quagmire.

Critics have claimed that invading and occupying Iraq—a Muslim country—would inflame a radical Islamic jihad against the United States similar to that which afflicted another “infidel” nation—the Soviet Union—when it invaded and occupied Islamic Afghanistan in 1979. Already evidence exists—in the form of signature suicide bombings—that foreign jihadists from all over the world have streamed into Iraq to fight the United States, much as they swarmed into Soviet-occupied Afghanistan during the 1980s.

The Bush administration has always maintained that drawing Islamic jihadists into Iraq is actually good because the United States would be better off fighting them there rather than in the American homeland. The president has called Iraq the “central front” in the GWOT. When fighting nation-states, the military’s usual approach of holding the adversary as far away from the homeland as possible makes sense. Unlike large enemy armies, however, small, agile terrorist groups can stealthily infiltrate all layers of defense and surface in the U.S. homeland. So we may very well have to fight them both in Iraq and at home. Also, the “fighting them there so that we don’t have to fight them here” logic assumes that the number of terrorists is constant. Critics have alleged that the invasion of Iraq has swelled the ranks of terrorists by converting many more fundamentalist Islamists into active warriors. The Bush administration is now suppressing government data that give credence to just that allegation.

Since the Iraq war went south, mainstream U.S. media feel safe in prominently displaying some of the unpleasant facts about that conflict—for example, allegations that the Bush administration pressured intelligence agencies to exaggerate Iraq’s efforts to acquire weapons of mass destruction. Yet the searing effect of 9/11 still makes the press leery of criticizing similar administration pressure on intelligence analysts to hide the apparent failure of the GWOT.

Such media skittishness is reminiscent of their behavior prior to the Iraq invasion, when it was impolitic to question the administration’s march to war. The media buried in its back pages a declassified CIA report indicating that Saddam Hussein was unlikely to use any weapons of mass destruction against the United States or give them to terrorists unless backed against the wall during a U.S. invasion. Apparently, the nation’s leading intelligence agency destroying the main rationale for its boss’s misguided and aggressive policy wasn’t headline news. Alas, the same is now occurring with data indicating that the administration’s grandiose GWOT may very well be counterproductive.

If the U.S. news media weren’t so timid about covering such explosive facts, perhaps the American public would just say “no” to government policies that endanger Americans and other people everywhere.


Ivan Eland is Senior Fellow and Director of the Center on Peace & Liberty at The Independent Institute in Oakland, California, and author of the books The Empire Has No Clothes, and Putting “Defense” Back into U.S. Defense Policy.

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