Winning the Right War

Philip H. Gordon
Philip H. Gordon Former Brookings Expert, Mary and David Boies Senior Fellow in U.S. Foreign Policy - Council on Foreign Relations

December 1, 2007


More than six years after the start of the ‘war on terror’, America and its allies are less safe, their enemies stronger and more numerous, and the war’s key geographic battleground, the greater Middle East, dangerously unstable. In Iraq, thousands of American soldiers, and tens of thousands of Iraqi soldiers and civilians, have been killed or wounded while more than 150,000 US troops fight to contain an insurgency and a civil war at a cost of over $300 million per day. In Iran, an Islamic fundamentalist regime remains firmly in power and is defiantly pursuing a nuclear-weapons programme, undermining American efforts in Iraq and subsidising increasingly brazen terrorist groups in the Middle East. The Gaza Strip is now led by one terrorist group, Hamas, while another, Hizbullah, is increasingly influential in Lebanon and increasingly popular on the streets of the Middle East. Syria remains under an anti-American dictatorship allied to Iran, and no real peace process between Israel and any of its neighbours exists.

More broadly, according to repeated public opinion polls, the popularity and credibility of the United States is at an all-time low. Hizbullah leader Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah is far more popular in the Muslim world than President George W. Bush; most Muslims would prefer to see China, Russia or France replace America as the dominant outside power; and majorities even among America’s traditional allies now have a highly unfavourable view of the United States. While the US homeland has not been attacked since 2001, Osama bin Laden remains at large, and there have been far more Islamist terrorist attacks around the world since 2001 than in the six years before the ‘war on terror’ was launched. Far from being ‘on the march’, democracy in the Middle East is in trouble, and where it has advanced, in most cases – including Palestine, Iraq, Egypt and Lebanon – it has produced unintended and often unwanted consequences. For a war that has now been going on longer than the Second World War, the balance sheet is dismal.