I have been arguing since November 2001 that it is a mistake to label counter-terrorism efforts a "war on terrorism," that doing so serves political rather than strategic ends, and that the rhetoric of war unwisely elevates the status--especially in the Muslim world--of those whom we label our enemies. Others have made similar arguments.
But let us suppose, for a moment, that "war" is the proper frame through which to consider our efforts to deal with terrorism. Where are we winning in this "war"?
Iraq is a disaster. The United States is trying, without success, to secure Baghdad by abandoning military missions in other parts of the country. According to the Pentagon, three thousands Iraqis are being killed or wounded each month. President Bush and others continue to argue that the United States must not withdraw from Iraq, but, significantly, administration officials are no longer trying to convince Americans that there is good news from Iraq that, inexplicably, is just not being reported.
But there's Afghanistan, right? While the Taliban was ousted from power almost five years ago, there are disturbing signs that Afghanistan is not the success story we were told it was. The New York Times reports that Afghanistan's opium harvest has reached record levels, in part because of the Taliban's resurgence in the southern part of the country. The Taliban is encouraging local farmers to grow more poppies, and they are. They're growing so many more poppies, in fact, that Afghanistan's production is now 30 percent higher than necessary to support worldwide consumption of heroin, which is the primary derivative of the crop.
Al Qaeda has, of course, been displaced from its former base in Afghanistan, but it's still possible (if not popular with the administration) to ask, "Where's Osama?" Two years ago, some experts were beginning to wonder if the threat Al Qaeda represented was beginning to metastasize as copycat organizations appeared all over the world and carried out attacks with direction or support from the original Al Qaeda. Now there is no doubt that that is what has happened.
The news on the counter-terrorism front is not all bad. Some plots have been foiled and some who were planning terrorist acts have been arrested. But these successes rarely seem to bear any relationship to the wars we are fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan or to the one some seem to be contemplating in Iran.
If we're really in a war, then we may need to begin asking some difficult questions about how it's going.