- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 15, 2008


Where do we stand almost seven years after the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon in what is often described as the global war on terrorism? Though the September 11, 2001, attacks were the deadliest acts of terrorism on U.S. soil, and that they were captured on videotape and seen by thousands of people, the war on terrorism dates much further back.

At the height of the airline hijacking epidemic of the mid-1970s, Time magazine ran a cover story on the hijacking of a Lufthansa airliner by members of the German Baader-Meinhof gang in which the pilot was killed and the plane was eventually stormed by West German special forces when it landed in the Somali capital, Mogadishu. The cover title was “War on Terrorism”; the date, October 1977.

Robert C. Martinage, a senior fellow with the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, an independent policy research institute that promotes innovative thinking about defense planning and investment strategies, has a newly released book titled, “The Global War on Terrorism: An Assessment.” He says the violent radicalism we’re witnessing today is in fact nothing new.

“Since the death of Muhammad in 632, Islamic history has been punctuated by many periods in which various heterodox sects have emerged and clashed violently with mainstream Muslims, as well as with the West.”

As history indicates, the problem of global terrorism has been cyclical, ebbing and flowing with the changes in the world’s geopolitical systems.

Throughout the 1960s and 1970s, the threat of terrorism came for the greater part from groups espousing Marxist ideologies. With the collapse of the Soviet Union, the vast majority of these groups withered and died, or were “suicided,” as was the case with some of the leaders of the Baader-Meinhof group.

But what replaced the threat from Marxist terrorist groups is proving far more difficult to eradicate. As the report from the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments emphasizes, after initial successes in fighting terrorism in 2003, the United States needs to reassess its strategy in fighting Islamist-backed terrorism.

Indeed, the initial results were encouraging: The Taliban had been ousted from Afghanistan and that in turn deprived al Qaeda of its safe haven; 10 members of bin Laden’s most senior leaders were captured or killed, and dozens of jihadis arrested and terrorist cells dismantled.

But as writes Mr. Martinage, “While the U.S. had many tactical victories since then, they have been offset by the metastasis of the al Qaeda organization into a global movement, the spread and intensification of Salafi-Jihadi ideology, the resurgence of Iranian influence, and the growth in the number and influence of radical Islamist political parties.” In essence, this seems to be a global game of cat and mouse.

The United States has largely had success addressing the threat from Islamist extremists in Iraq and Afghanistan, as Mr. Martinage notes, “albeit at a high cost in terms of lives and treasures.” However, as the threat in those two countries has been reduced, on balance it has increased throughout Southwest Asia, South Asia and Europe, according to the author of the report.

The threat posed by Islamist terrorism since September 11, 2001, has affected Britain, Spain, Turkey, Jordan, India, Pakistan and Indonesia, among others. This has proven to be a truly global war and needs to be addressed as such. “A 60-country problem cannot be addressed with what is essentially a two-country solution,” says Mr. Martinage.

He identifies seven strategic pillars essential for long-term success in the global war on terrorism:

(1) A global “smother campaign” against terrorism. This means hunting down terrorists, disrupting their operations, severing transnational links and impeding recruitment and training.

(2) Conducting conventional warfare and covert actions against state-sponsors of terrorism and terrorist groups.

(3) Bolstering critical states, such as Saudi Arabia and Pakistan.

(4) Maintaining a significant surge capability for large-scale irregular warfare contingencies.

(5) Creating and exploiting divisions within and among jihadist groups.

(6) Discrediting jihadist ideology and covertly promoting alternative Islamic voices.

(7) And isolating extremists from mainstream Muslims.

Mr. Martinage concludes that the United States is losing the long war in the madrassas (Islamic schools), on the airwaves, on jihadist Web sites, and on countless Internet chat rooms, as well as in the mosques during Friday prayers around the world.

Although the author faults the United States for reinforcing jihadist narratives through the continued occupation of Iraq, gross errors of judgment committed at Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib, and frequent missteps by Bush administration members in addressing the Muslim world, the report concludes somewhat positively.

“As illustrated by events in [Iraq’s province of] al-Anbar in 2007, however, the jihad movement’s inherently exclusionary ideology and ‘un-Islamic’ behavior may ultimately lead to its undoing.”

However, a little push along the lines Mr. Martinage suggested would go a long way.

Claude Salhani is editor of the Middle East Times.

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