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War on Terror Essay

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The current war on terrorism raises a unique, formative innovation of American principles. It has now integrated the world of civilized countries united together in a massive ideological, as well as military, war to battle the common enemy of terrorism. In fact, this position with such a global coalition is what might be expected from America, a country that specializes in cultural pluralism. The disaster of 9/11 awakened the slumbering, decadence of a country taking itself for granted, unprotected, and living in Disneyland.

There were warnings of terrorists’ threats in 1997 and 1998 (from China, Israel, and others). At that time, the U. S. government was too active developing a case against President Bill Clinton to pay attention to what was going on in the world beyond Washington, D. C. Had the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Central Intelligence Agency, and Congress been as possessed with detecting terrorism and threats to the United States (connecting the dots) as they were with connecting Clinton to Monica Lewinsky (they could connect one dot on a dress to the president), we all might feel safer today.

As the rest of the world has struggled with home-front terrorism (e. g. , England, France, the Middle East, Russia, and Japan), America has been egoistic in its own vast materialistic bubble oblivious to outer threats of terror. We have purely assumed somebody else will take care of the rest of the world terrorism as we are safely secluded on either side by two gigantic bodies of water. Yet, these thousands of miles of ocean are suitably called ponds as they can be traversed by sophisticated commercial jets in a matter of hours.

Though, some analysts differentiate between political terrorists with an identifiable goal and millenarian terrorists who are said to “have no political agenda and owe their allegiance … to a higher authority in heaven” (New York Times for July 23 and 24, 2002). The Palestine Liberation Organization is said to be an instance of the former and Al-Qaeda of the latter. The effectiveness of this distinction is open to question, however. Who can confidently be said to be a “millenarian terrorist”?

A reading of Al-Qaeda’s manifestos illustrates that it harbors goals short of a global Caliphate. At the same time, “political terrorists” are not inevitably candidates for negotiations. That a group has a restricted political goal does not mean that negotiation can be prolific. The PLO’s repeated rejection of opportunities for agreement on the concern of a Palestinian state may mean, as conceivably a majority of Israelis now believe, that anything short of a state “from the river to the sea” will be deplorable to it. If so, negotiations would not be fruitful or even worth pursuing.

And it does not matter if Al-Qaeda would be satisfied with just the barring of United States forces from the Middle East—a limited, identifiable goal—if Americans find that improper. In short, if peace agreements must always be reached with one’s enemy, it must matter less who that enemy is than what he is willing to trade. The war on terrorism possesses features that influence Washington to operate in direct conflict of accepted norms of international law, and to ignore the deficiencies and the crimes of its cobelligerents.

As portrayed by Washington, the new war is a messianic, apocalyptic struggle of irreproachable good against consummate evil. Its inspiration is not the real world with its shades of gray (and certainly, pertinent histories and grievances), but the type of struggles that used to play out in the cowboy movies. Little mention is made of the fact that the major enemy is religious, actually intensely so at times to the point of intolerance, racism, and terror, and not atheist as the previous enemy was.

There is no need to try to recognize that this new enemy regards Israel as a state that practices state terrorism and that by supplying military and economic aid, Washington is an accomplice. Or to try to understand that this enemy supposes that Washington should cut off this aid and declare war on state terrorists as well as private ones. Those on “our side” are seen as being good, or at least considerably better than the enemy (John Gray, 2002).

It is a war of no negotiations with the enemy, no summit meetings, no compromise, and surely no need to modify policies to accommodate the feelings and the strategies of the enemy, or examine any just grievances that the enemy might probably have. The enemy’s soldiers will not be given prisoner of war status and will be tried in special military courts. Similar to the enemies of the Cold War, the enemy in the new war is depicted as sinister, cunning and underhanded. This time—and it is no inconsequential difference—the enemy in fact struck mainland America on September 11 and before, and is expected to strike again.

The fear is that the enemy will grow and use weapons of mass destruction against us—nuclear weapons, or more probable, radiological dispersion devices, also called “dirty bombs” (conformist bombs to which radioactive material has been added). This war too, Washington advises us openly and in advance, is a war of global proportions. It is an open-ended war with the world as its battleground. The enemy assumes two general forms. One part is visible, above ground, represented by evil governments and reminiscent of the old Soviet bloc.

So far only four of the enemy governments in the new war have been recognized—the former governments in Afghanistan and Iraq, and two remain “axis of evil” governments in Iran and North Korea. The other enemy component is invisible, consisting, we are told, of cells in some 50 or 60 typically unnamed countries. These are not the cells of the communist party, but the underground organizations of what Washington chooses to call “terrorists”. Whatever its form, whether bearing the legality of government or existing underground, the enemy must be destroyed.

To do this, we should sometimes act alone, unilaterally. Other times we can act with our allies (Michael Scott Doran, 2001). A Homeland Security agency was set up to fight terrorism at home, with a political friend of the president acting as its head and numerous agencies put under its jurisdiction. There is evidence that homeland security—whose reason is truly defensive rather than offensive—is under funded. For instance, port security has received only one-tenth the amount that the Coast Guard says is desired (New York Times, June 17, 2003, p. 27).

I believe, a major weakness in home security is the distressed financial position of state and local governments. Impoverished by a slothful economy and the drying up of federal grants, they have been forced to lessen expenditures not only for education and welfare, but also for police and fire departments. The latter are the first line of defense against terrorism on mainland America, and their risky financial position is related to the federal tax cuts, preferred items in the domestic agenda of the Bush administration which favors tax breaks for the rich as a way of motivating the economy.

In his first State of the Union Address, President Bush said “I will not wait on events, as danger gathers” (New York Times, January 30, 2002, p. A1). Later, he directed his top security aids to originate a fundamentally new national security doctrine and strategy called “preemption” (New York Times, January 30, 2002, p. A1). The doctrine and the strategy were formed for use against those chosen as terrorist groups “of global reach” and such states as Iraq that were accused of aiding terrorists and attempting to build up nuclear weapons or other weapons of mass destruction.

As explained by Condoleezza Rice, the National Security Adviser, preemption “means forestalling certain destructive acts against you by an adversary. ” She added that there are times when you cannot wait to respond. What she evidently meant is that “you respond first, before your adversary strikes” (New York Times, January 30, 2002, p. A1). Put in more accurate English, you begin the violence, an act that traditionally has been called “aggression. ” The war against terrorism thus consist of the preemptive strike, in which Washington “responds” before an adversary, or even a suspected antagonist, initiates an aggressive act.

Ingenuously put, Washington seeks to express the notion that “the enemy” is so evil that aggression is an adequate strategy to be used against him. In the case of Iraq, the range of such strategies has run from attempts to assassinate Saddam Hussein to a full-scale incursion of Iraq. Preemption contrasts simply with the non-aggressive deterrence principle that served both Washington and the Soviet Union during the Cold War. Preemption contrasts basically with the non-aggressive deterrence principle that served both Washington and the Soviet Union throughout the Cold War.

Deterrence sought to avert an attack by an aggressor, particularly a nuclear attack, by threatening to retaliate. Washington built a mighty nuclear and conformist arsenal with the declared purpose of deterring the Soviets from striking the first blow. The arsenal was planned to be of such dimensions that a Soviet attack would not obliterate it and that Washington could retaliate with crushing nuclear force. The Soviets built what they judged to be a similar arsenal. The George W.

Bush administration also abandoned non-proliferation as the way of averting the spread of nuclear weapons, i. e. of preventing their spread by peaceful means only. It has reserved for itself the right to attack those nations that it blames of seeking to develop nuclear weapons or other weapons of mass obliteration. Washington did engage in preventative attacks during the Cold War, two examples being Panama and the Dominican Republic. The disparity in the George W. Bush era is that aggression is now Washington’s announced overt policy.

In both eras Washington sustained rightwing dictators who committed state terrorism. Popular support for military action in reaction to terrorism predates 9/11 but, contrary to common non-American perceptions of a belligerent, isolationist and nationalistic nation, mass responses sustained a multilateral approach to terrorism, international engagement, a stronger United Nations (UN) role and building goodwill towards America through humanitarian and development aid. The public also rejected the idea of a basic clash of cultures between Islam and the West.

In short, US opinion was considerably closer to that of Europeans than much media coverage on both sides of the Atlantic suggested. Ninety-five percent of Americans, for instance, agreed that it was important ‘for the war on terrorism to be seen by the world as an effort of numerous countries working together, not just a US effort. ‘ A Harris poll conducted over 19–24 September found 79 percent saying it was ‘very’ and 16 percent ‘somewhat important’ to ‘build a strong international combination of many countries to support us.

‘ Eighty-eight percent agreed it was very or somewhat significant to ‘get the support of as many Arab and Islamic countries as possible. ‘ Whilst 50 percent said military action must occur regardless, 45 percent held that America ‘should take military action against terrorist organizations in other countries only if the UN Security Council authorizes it. ‘ (William Schneider, 2002) Almost all Americans favored dealing with terrorism through multilateral action. The majority preferred including other nations’ forces in the Afghan war regardless of America being constrained by having to make joint decisions.

A strong majority supported using international legal bodies for terrorist trials with a plurality favoring trying bin Laden before an International Criminal Tribunal rather than a New York federal court. The public also showed at least as much support for non-military as military instruments (liquidating terrorist funds, enhancing intelligence, strengthening international law and building goodwill), holding non-military means to be more effective in preventing future terrorism.

The majority Americans nonetheless agreed that failure to respond militarily to 9/11 would increase the viewpoint of future terrorist attacks (Michael Scott Doran, 2001). In legitimating Bush and easing – though not assuring – passage of his legislative agenda and judicial appointments for the 108th Congress (2003–4), the results however reflected and reinforced both the priority and preferences of the administration on foreign policy.

The common UN Security Council vote in favor of a new resolution on Iraq passed on 8 November, subsequent the prior months’ terrorist attacks on Bali and Moscow, augmented not only the administration’s warnings on the significance, scale and multifaceted nature of the threat of international terror but as well reinforced the Bush administration’s faith in anticipatory actions against state as well as non-state actors – through coalitions if probable but unilaterally if necessary.

Ironically, almost thirty years after Arthur Schlesinger, Jr. had destined the development of an ‘imperial presidency’ under Johnson and Nixon, both the enhanced legal right of the president and the vast reach of American power abroad suggested that it had came out in an particularly potent form by 2003–4.

Implicit in many European responses to 9/11 was the idea that if Americans would only learn more of the Middle East, Islam and global politics, US foreign policy would change in ways congenial to Europeans and others (the debate here is ultimately less one about extreme or insufficient internationalism but more whether US policies are the ones others favor – a unilateralist America devoted to enforcing stronger environmental safeguards than Kyoto and dispensing foreign aid to Baghdad and Pyonyang would doubtless win plaudits in Brussels and Berlin).

But there is as much reason to deduce the opposite. 9/11 strongly reconfirmed the Bush team’s approach: military strength as an essential but insufficient condition of assuring the national security of a unique nation, political system and people. Simply when clear and present dangers from state and non-state actors alike appear determinedly more muddied and distant is America’s taking part in global affairs likely to be shaped by anything other than the primacy of its own security.

For the USA, after saving Europe twice and productively leading a worldwide anti-communist struggle, another global war is well in progress.


Jennifer S. Holmes, Terrorism and Democratic Stability (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2001). New York Times for July 23 and 24, 2002 Michael Scott Doran, ‘Somebody Else’s Civil War: Ideology, Rage and the Assault on America’, in James F. Hoge Jr. and Gideon Rose (eds. ), How Did This Happen? Terrorism and the New War (Oxford: Public Affairs Ltd, 2001), pp. 31–52.

Michael Scott Doran, ‘Somebody Else’s Civil War: Ideology, Rage and the Assault on America’, in James F. Hoge Jr. and Gideon Rose (eds. ), How Did This Happen? Terrorism and the New War (Oxford: Public Affairs Ltd, 2001), pp. 31–52. William Schneider, ‘Long on Character, Short on Details’, National Journal, 2 Feb. 2002, p. 350. New York Times, January 30, 2002, p. A1 New York Times, July 22, 2002, p. A1 New York Times, June 17, 2003, p. 27 John Gray, ‘Why Terrorism is Unbeatable’, New Statesman, 25 Feb. 2002, pp. 50–3.

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