This editorial by Prof. Bowen was published in the News Leader (Staunton VA: September 11, 2007): A9.
by Gordon L. Bowen, Ph.D.
(Professor, Dept. of Political Science, Mary Baldwin College, Staunton VA 24401)
Since it sometimes is difficult to read every word of a scanned article (as above), here is a clear copy of the original version of this editorial for readers' reference:
Six years after 9/11, has the Global War on Terrorism (or GWOT) outworn its value as a means to prevent future attacks and improve U.S. security? Many –in my view too many– seem to think so.
Locally, columnists recently have suggested in these pages that the original sin began immediately after 9/11, when our Congress and President chose to authorize the use of military force, rather than to pursue a strictly law enforcement response to the attacks. On the national scene, others have faulted more the course the GWOT has taken than its origins. U.S. Senator John Edwards voted not once but twice to authorize a military response to terror, initially in September 2001 and then a year later regarding the War in Iraq (October 2002). But Presidential candidate Edwards has refused this year even to utter the words “global war on terror,” insisting that to do so would be to embrace “a Bush-created political phrase.” Nor is it just Americans who shy away from the now inconvenient diction. Across the Atlantic, the government of our closest ally, the United Kingdom, now led by Prime Minister Gordon Brown, also has discontinued referring to its policies with the phrase “global war on terrorism.”
All this shifting of terms reflects a less obvious shifting of wills, first among pundits, and now among politicians. Twelve months ago, James Fallows, the editor of the venerable Atlantic Monthly in all seriousness penned an implausible plan that we should simply “declare victory,” and bring our troops home. Now, in Presidential debates among Democratic and some Republican candidates, the fig leaf of even a rhetorical “victory” gets less emphasis amid a veritable bidding contest to see who can offer voters the fastest timetable for retreat into a Fortress America.
Yet, as arrests earlier this year in New Jersey and this month in Germany attest, well organized cells of Muslim terrorists continue to acquire explosives for their expressed purpose of killing American soldiers and civilians anywhere in the world. Much like the liquid explosives plot against U.S.-bound aircraft in 2006 –a conspiracy that was thwarted the same month Fallows would have had us declare victory– reality again has intruded on these sunny scenarios. Militant Islamist warriors haven’t disappeared, nor has their will undergone an erosion parallel to that experienced by some Americans. The same determination that brought down the Twin Towers lives on.
It is na´ve to contend that arrest warrants better can protect us than can our Special Forces, soldiers, sailors and flyers. After Osama bin Laden’s 1998 Declaration of War against all Americans, including civilians, the Clinton Administration followed a criminal justice approach. It issued “reward for arrest” posters and sent emissaries to plead with foreign governments to detain and hand the bad guys over for trial. One of today’s Democratic Party hopefuls, Bill Richardson (Governor of New Mexico) carried just such a request to Kabul when Osama’s friends, the Taliban, still ran Afghanistan. The “indict and try” method of responding to Islamists’ terrorism did not work then, and will not work any better today. It is not that Osama, Ayman al-Zawahiri, and the rest of Al Qaeda are not criminals; they are. But their acts are also more than crimes, and the jailing of these top leaders would no more stop their followers’ violence than has driving Al Qaeda’s leadership into caves in Pakistan stopped them. Their followers continue to plot, and they continue to kill, as the grisly body count from bombings in Algeria this last week has revealed.
Six years after 9/11 a coordinated national response remains our best route to security. That certainly includes better law enforcement within the U.S. as part of the war effort. Operators of internet servers in the U.S. that still host militant Islamists’ “how to make a bomb” instructions and forums that advocate Al Qaeda’s war need to be shut down, and their owners need to be prosecuted for aiding terrorism. Nearly two dozen such hate-America hubs were identified publicly to Congress earlier this year by the Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI), yet at least some still were operating when I checked this week.
But stopping the war against America on the web must not be confused with stopping the war against America. It is not George Bush that militant Islamist terrorists attacked on 9/11; it was America. The sooner the next set of leaders grasps the genuine nature of the continuing threat, the better.
Gordon L. Bowen, Sept. 10, 2007
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