Term Paper: U.S. Approach to Terrorism

Pages: 10 (3011 words)  ·  Bibliography Sources: 4  ·  Level: College Senior  ·  Topic: Terrorism  ·  Buy This Paper

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[. . .] Even with President Barack Obama's desire to reduce troop strength in Afghanistan, there is little indication that the war against terrorism is ending.

Fewer troops do not mean the war is over. Now that Osama bin Laden is dead, who is the enemy in this war? Who does the United States hunt and where does it find them? According to Obama, after the death of Osama Bin Ladin, the world is a safer place.

To say that the world is safer may come as a startling revelation for those in the tornado ravaged South, those in Southeast Asia at constant risk of tsunami, and those who fear earthquakes, like the Haitian people, who have largely fallen out of U.S. consciousness President Obama rhetorically links the death of bin Laden with safety in a broad sense -- global safety (Chandler, 243). We must understand where the war on terror occurs. In today's war on terror there are no boundaries. Without a terrain upon which to engage this war, the laws of war become quite complicated. Geography does not constrain the flow of violence, so the law, which finds safe harbor in doctrines like personal jurisdiction and jurisdiction in rem, is precariously cast out upon a treacherous sea.

The selection of September 11, 2001 as the defining moment and the National Strategy for Combating Terrorism as the defining document helps focus this discussion. We need a place to start criticism even if other potential starting points exist. It also helps scholars and practitioners relate to the public because the public generally thinks about terrorism in the shadow of the September 11 attacks. While the Obama Administration has given lip service to changing direction, the all-too-recent troop surge in Afghanistan suggested otherwise. There is a continual need to investigate the progress of this war against terror because to sit back and watch any Administration without asking pointed questions is to do a disservice to critical inquiry.

Even as we may see relief from the jingoism of the Bush Administration, we must exercise caution in evaluating foreign policy, lest the wool be pulled over our eyes by an assertive executive branch. The "where" of terrorism is a confusing question that could be traced to a number of executive and legislative branch actions, secondary sources, military policies and actions, and likely many other conceivable sources. However, the discussion must begin somewhere and a reasonable place to start seems to be with President Bush, shortly after September 11 (Chandler, 244).

Bush's Presidential Military Order of November 13, 2001 contained no geographical limits for its campaign on terror. It defined, among other things, enemy combatant in a way that allowed the Administration to conduct the war on terror everywhere. The lack of bounds and the broad definition of combatant justified a war that had no fixed location. This is not because the war could not have a location, but because, as is evident in Presidential Military Order of November 13, 2001, the idea was to not locate the war, but instead to allow it to be waged everywhere and against anyone. The definition of a battlefield, a place where this war against terror occurs, is central to the fight against terror. If nothing else, a spatial understanding of this war ought to help the layperson better understand it. It is relatively easy to understand war in a country or against a country (Chandler, 243). Throughout history we have understood wars and battles as existing in battlefields, as evidenced by the practice of naming battles after their physical location: Iwo Jima, Bull Run, and Gettysburg.

This "floating war" against terror is incomprehensible in this respect because it fails to afford us a spatial orientation of U.S. power. Osama bin Laden's death has altered the characteristics of the response of the U.S.A. To terrorism (Rosenfeld, 815). Where his pursuit may have justified, or at least was argued by some to justify entrance into Afghanistan and a careless attitude toward sovereign Pakistan's border, that justification is now absent. Osama bin Laden was the personification of the U.S. quest against terrorism. Now he is but a specter of the Terrorist writ large. Now that he is no more, what is the justification for the war? The decentralized network of al-Qaida cells, which bin Laden arguably had less and less control over in the last few years now has no figurehead to justify U.S. intervention.

International law, not to mention U.S. ideals, seemed to be conveniently contravened during the Global War on Terror, but it seemed to be because the U.S. was going after an individual who operated a transnational organization designed to render violence upon much of the world. Now the question remains, what will the U.S. use to justify foreign intervention in other countries and contravention of International law? U.S. priorities and military action are seen to take place on a metaphorical landscape of political and social interactions. Bin Laden's death has changed this dramatically (Rosenfeld, 816).

The strategic landscape has lost it's predominate characteristic, the search for bin Laden as the personification of a mass injustice and unrepentant violence. But, the specter of bin Laden is bound up with the securitizing discourse of the war on terror (Rosenfeld, 816). Although there may be no corporeal terrorism, it now exists in the thoughts and nightmares of U.S. citizens in a way both different and profound. While the castle of their mind remains strong, the specter of bin Laden remains ever present on the castle's grounds.

He has racked up some notable successes, including significantly weakening al Qaeda, effectively managing relations with China, rebuilding the United States' international reputation, resetting the relationship with Russia and ratifying the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START), achieving a UN Security Council resolution imposing harsh sanctions on Iran, completing overdue but welcome free-trade accords, and withdrawing U.S. troops from Iraq. (Rosenfeld, 817).

There have also been some notable setbacks, including no progress on resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, very little to show on combating climate change, the United States' continued low standing in the Muslim world, deepening frictions in U.S.-Pakistani relations, an Iran still bent on acquiring the means to produce and deliver nuclear weapons, and a North Korea still developing its nuclear arsenal.

The Obama's approach has been relatively non-ideological in practice but informed by a realistic overarching sense of the United States' role in the world in the twenty-first century. The tone has been neither that of American triumphalism and exceptionalism nor one of American decline. On balance, this approach has been effective, conveying a degree of openness to the views of other leaders and the interests of other nations while still projecting confidence and leadership.

Conclusion

What I have attempted to argue for is a keener appreciation of language so that we do not let it stray into a violent theorization that forces us, with backs against the wall, to act out against the other. America's counterterrorism policy currently forces itself into just such a position, by refusing to define a battlefield. The global war on terror has been defined spatially in an ad hoc manner. The war is conducted in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and to a lesser extent Somalia and Yemen. These are places of geopolitical definition. This creates a sense of place, but only in so far as it describes where U.S. troops have acted as counterterrorism forces. The problem is that these places are not articulated in terms of a battlefield or of a strategy for the place war is to be conducted, but instead are identified after war has already begun.

The fight against terror is hollow, not solely because of, but certainly furthered by, the lack of geopolitical bounds. The global war on terror occurs in rhetorical space as well as in traditional notions of physical space in such a way that we are always fearful of the other, the Neighbor just over our shoulder. The need for a battlefield in U.S. counterterrorism policy is both practical and theoretical. It is a needed practice of the mind and of the practitioner. Through deconstruction, the global war on terror might be better understood and better practiced. Without critical thought and a desire to investigate the language that marks the realities of terror, there will be little hope for an end to the war.

Works Cited

Chandler, David War without End(s): Grounding the Discourse of 'Global War', 40 Security Dialogue, (2009): 243-244.

Hixson, W.L. The War in Iraq and American Freedom. Arab World Geographer 2003. 6 (1): 27-29.

Huntington, S.P. Who Are We? The Challenges to America's National Identity. New York: Simon & Schuster. (2004): 121-129.

Hastings, Michael. The Drone Wars. Rolling Stone, 0035791X, Issue 1155, (2012): 113-118.

McClellan, S. What Happened: Inside the Bush White House and Washington's Culture of Deception. New York: Public Affairs. (2008): 156-159.

Rosenfeld, Michel Derrida's Ethical Turn and America: Looking back from the Crossroads of Global Terrorism and… [END OF PREVIEW]

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