Terrorism is back on everybody’s mind it seems, with the number Salafi terror groups and terrorist acts on a sharp upward trajectory and with the number of “Al-Qaeda affiliates” (an incredibly loose term that can mean anything from “we take direct orders from Ayman al-Zawahiri himself” to “we train with Al-Qaeda dudes every once in a while”) spreading all over the place. Plus there’s ISIS, which used to be Al-Qaeda in Iraq, but broke away and is now the Burger King to Al-Qaeda’s McDonald’s as far as terrorist organizations go. The fear that some of these affiliates, which are mostly local groups fighting local conflicts that have decided it was in their interest to align with Al-Qaeda’s brand for whatever reason, are going to start turning their attention from “the near enemy” (whichever government they’re trying to destabilize at home) to “the far enemy” (us, essentially), is heavy on the minds of DC foreign policy and national security folks. The phenomenon of Westerners going overseas to join some of these groups is contributing to the sense that the West is about to confront the threat of terrorism at home again in a big way.
My newest piece at LobeLog looks at the evidence and suggests that it’s time to declare the way we’ve approached the “War on Terror” (mostly as a military operation) a failure; maybe, horror of horrors, we need to start looking at the things we do that make people want to hurt America:
After 9/11, George W. Bush informed Americans that “they [the terrorists] hate our freedoms.” That notion, ridiculous when it was first uttered, appears all the more ridiculous today, after we’ve watched Arabs, Iranians, and Turks take to the streets to fight — and in some cases die — for their personal freedom over the past five years. It is accordingly past time for the US to reckon with how its own policies have legitimized Salafi/Al-Qaeda propaganda about “the far enemy.” Drones, detention, and torture may well have created more terrorists than they’ve killed or otherwise prevented, but there is more to it than that. A foreign policy that supports Israel regardless of what Israel does to Palestinians trapped in Gaza or forced into Bantustans in the West Bank creates anti-US sentiment. When US weaponry, whether wielded by American forces or by American clients, is killing civilians in places like eastern Libya, Gaza, and Sinai, anti-US sentiment will increase. American patronage of authoritarian Middle Eastern regimes absolutely creates anti-American sentiment. That sentiment is what will allow currently localized terror networks to shift their attention from the enemy at home to America, the enemy abroad.