Declare victory, says James Fallows in this month’s Atlantic magazine, on the war on terror. Why not? Unlike at World War II’s conclusion, when Americans saw pictures of German and Japanese leaders signing surrender documents, it’s highly unlikely we’ll ever see Osama bin Laden or his henchmen capitulate to the United States or its allies in a formal surrender ceremony.
We’re fighting a rogue enemy that doesn’t play by the rules, which gives the Bush administration freedom to declare victory. And maybe with good reason: Al-Qaida hasn’t struck the United States in more than five years and their organization has been severely damaged.
Still, it’s not quite down and out. Bin Laden, although likely isolated in some remote hideout in either Afghanistan or Pakistan, remains at large. The worst thing the West has to contend with isn’t so much bin Laden’s Al-Qaida but, rather, his licensees in Asia, the Middle East and Europe or those who claim some sort of affiliation, Fallows writes.
While there’s always a possibility of an attack from terrorists, writes Fallows, we’ve achieved a number of victories against Al-Qaida since 9/11, harshly reducing their capabilities. We have killed or captured Al-Qaida’s leaders, wiped out their training camps in Afghanistan, and become smarter about what to look for when they communicate among themselves, travel or attempt to transfer money.
The biggest disturbance lately from Al-Qaida affiliates was in the United Kingdom a month ago, when the government announced that it had foiled a terrorist plan to blow up 10 jet liners headed to the United States. Like the London attacks during the summer of ’05, this one was presumed to have been carried out by Muslims born in the United Kingdom or who had, at the very least, been living in the UK for quite some time, which, needless to say, comes as quite a shock to British citizens.
Unlike their UK counterparts, Fallows writes, Arab and Muslim immigrants to the United States are far different than the “estranged Muslim underclass of much of Europe.” Arabs and Muslims living here are like any “well-assimilated ethnic group” in the United States; in addition, they own businesses and hold college degrees. Finally, second generation American Muslims “are culturally and economically Americanized” while “many European Muslims often develop a sharper sense of alienation.”
And, say what you will about George W. Bush, one of his first actions, shortly after 9/11, was to extend the proverbial hand to American Muslims. He visited mosques and made it a point of telling the country that the war against terror was not a war against Islam. This action alone likely gave American Muslims assurances that they were not about to be jailed like their Japanese-American counterparts during the Second World War.
So, yes, given that we’ll never likely hear or see much from bin Laden, President Bush might as well declare victory against Al-Qaida. Other than issuing a video tape, announcing that they’re not about to give up the fight, there’s not much the terrorist group’s leaders can do to dispute our claim.
And if we’ve truly won a military and intelligence victory over Al-Qaida, then it’s time to initiate the political and economic victory. We need some sort of Marshall Plan for Afghanistan. In addition, American, European and Asian companies need to invest in Afghanistan so it’s no longer a breeding ground for terrorists.