Paris Attacks Show the War on Terror Isn’t Working | Commentary
The recent attacks that took place in Paris were tragedies that deserve a thoughtful, reasoned response. Instead, many have used this opportunity to advocate for enhanced militarization and ramped-up reactionary tactics, from House Armed Services Committee Chairman Mac Thornberry, R-Texas, to Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C. Certainly it is tempting to react with fear when such horrific events happen. But the real lesson to be learned from the Paris attacks is that endless, global war is not the solution to violent extremism. Here’s why.
First, the “global war on terror” approach simply hasn’t worked. Immediately after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, Congress passed the 2001 Authorization for the Use of Military Force. This sweeping resolution authorized the president to wage war against nearly anyone, at any place and at any time. The AUMF’s passage turned the globe into a battlefield and launched a new era of boundless, endless war that has included targeted lethal drone strikes, unchecked surveillance, torture and indefinite detention. Yet despite 13 years of relentless U.S. militarism, extremist networks have splintered and continue to flourish all over the world. From the Paris attacks to the gains of the Islamic State to Boko Haram’s massacre, acts of terror have clearly not been defeated.
Second, these policies have in fact only exacerbated the threat of terror. Years of incessant drone strikes — which often seem to operate arbitrarily and indiscriminately — have created a fierce backlash of resentment and radicalism. These tensions easily open the way for increased recruitment to terror groups. This is apparent in Iraq and Syria, where recruits for the Islamic State have skyrocketed since the start of the U.S. bombing campaign. Similarly, the lawless “forever prison” at Guantánamo Bay plays directly into extremist propaganda and aids recruitment. Look no further than Iraq for a case study on the compounding effects of the militarized approach: The U.S. invasion created instabilities, and the vulnerable country moved forward without an inclusive political structure, which allowed for tensions and vulnerabilities that helped the Islamic State make advances. At some point, we must realize that many of these problems are our own creations.
Lastly, this approach can never be truly successful. The breadth of the 2001 AUMF should have been a clear warning – it does not clearly specify an enemy, outline where the war is to take place, or what victory might look like. How, then, could the war the AUMF initiated ever be successfully concluded? If the idea is that the war will be won when there is no longer anyone who desires to harm the United States, then it will indeed be an endless war. The threat of violence and extremism cannot be eradicated, and doubling down on the military-first approach will only prolong and enhance that threat.
A better approach would be to funnel resources into proper law enforcement, cut off the extremist groups’ funding sources, and cooperate with regional partners to foster diplomatic, political solutions to conflict. After more than 13 years, the evidence is in: It is not practical or effective to maintain a constant global war. This new wave of violence should signal to Congress that it is time to repeal the AUMF, erase the slate, and try something else.
Elizabeth R. Beavers is a legislative associate at the Friends Committee on National Legislation.