Not Good For War on Terror

Ivo H. Daalder
Ivo H. Daalder, President, Chicago Council on Global Affairs
Ivo H. Daalder Former Brookings Expert, President - Chicago Council on Global Affairs, Former U.S. Ambassador to NATO

August 10, 2006

The following opinion was originally posted at the America Abroad weblog on TPM Café. All past posts may be found at America Abroad – A Blog on Current Affairs on this website, or at TPM Café.

Although the details of the UK plot to take down 10 U.S.-bound jumbo jets are still sketchy, the administration and its supporters are sure to point to it as more proof that America and the world need to stay the course in their global war on terror. But, of course, it proves no such thing.

At the core of the administrations’ war on terror are two strategies, neither of which appear to be particularly relevant in this particular case. One is the notion that we can best win the war on the offense – that should “fight them over there so we don’t need to fight them over here.” That’s what the Iraq War, and Bush’s support for Israel’s fight against Hizbollah, are all about.

But as far as we know, the plotters in the UK were homegrown – all were British citizens. Taking the offense in this war – by which the administration means using military force – is worse then useless. For who are you going to bomb? Safe houses in High Wycombe or Birmingham?

What appears to have cracked this case is not a war strategy or military offensive, but good intelligence, skilled detective work, and months of careful surveillance – the kind of traditional law enforcement strategies and defensive measures that Bush and his administration have always shunned.

This apparent success also undermines the second core element of the administration’s war on terror – the notion that effective counter-terrorism action requires ignoring established procedures and the rule of law. As the Brits have shown, there is no need to subvert the law, or civic liberties, to conduct effective counter-terrorism operations. And when the UK government found that some laws (e.g., on the duration of detention) might interfere with effective investigations and actions, it has sought to change the law through established parliamentary procedures rather than to ignore it as Bush has been wont to do.

We still live in a very dangerous world, where evil men concoct evil plots aiming to inflict “mass murder on an unimaginable scale.” But that reality should not be mistaken for justifying the ill-conceived strategies Bush has touted to deal with this danger over the past 5 years.

Posted at TPM Café on August 10, 2006 — 10:52 AM Eastern Time

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