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August 3, 2004

36 Ways the US Is Losing the War on Terror


by Jon Basil Utley

Three years and half a trillion dollars later America is losing the war on terrorism. The 9/11 Commission has warned that more and worse acts of terrorism are to be expected. Bin Laden's planning always assumed that we, in reacting to him, would help him carry out his objectives. Well, we did. In his dreams he could not have imagined the damage done to America. So how are we losing the war?

1) Of course, turning most of the world against us is bin Laden's greatest achievement. From Africa to Latin America, from Europe to Asia, the swift collapse of confidence in America's moral leadership, and hatred for our government, is unparalleled in history. According to the July 26 issue of Time, "Bush and America are so unpopular overseas, polls show, that many foreign leaders can't agree to anything the president asks for without taking a hit in their own ratings." See also America Alone by Jonathan Clarke and Stefan Halper.

2) Al-Qaeda has now metastasized into new semi-autonomous groups in many nations, all motivated by hate for the U.S. and any nation or government that helps it. America's relations with the Muslim world, nearly a quarter of the planet's population, are subject to new hatred and fear as never before.

3) A threatening breakdown in globalization is occurring. The State Department has urged American civilians to flee from Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, and even the Philippines, nations where Americans have lived for generations. The long-term consequences mean loss of business contacts and investments with a chain reaction all over the world.As Fortune Magazinewarned in 2001, "A Fortress America mentality in security matters could spill into economic ones ... a short hop from nationalism to protectionism ... all sorts of parochial interests in the U.S. are much more likely to get the upper hand. The effect on the economy will result in real declines in American living standards." There are growing threats to American interests in any nation with substantial Muslim populations, even now in the Far East.

4) America's government is slowly being bankrupted – President Bush's cave-in on domestic spending to gain support for foreign wars follows his father's footsteps. Bush Sr. also caved in to Democratic demands for taxes and spending in return for their support for war against Iraq in 1990. Niall Ferguson, author of Empire, argued in Newsweek that the American Empire was rare in being so dependent upon foreigners lending it money, and that the coming Social Security/Medicare financial crisis alone would eventually force America to pull back from most of its foreign ventures.

5) Al-Qaeda's strength is growing in oil vital Saudi Arabia. Even Turkey, since 1945 America's great ally and a secular nation, has cooled its relations with America. Pro-American Muslim regimes in Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Pakistan are more at risk of being overthrown.

6) America's power is declining in Asia because of its preoccupation with the Muslim world and deficits, making the U.S. less competitive. Washington, focused on war, is unable to reform health care expenses, strengthen basic education or deal with other structural problems.

7) Washington's broad brush in declaring all terrorist organizations as enemies (except for Irish terrorists), even if they never targeted America, is causing them all to become real enemies. The Washington Post has reported that Hezbollah and al-Qaeda are now training together for the first time. As Zbigniew Brzezinski wrote in The American Prospect in August, America simply does not have the resources to "become a protagonist in every part of the world in which terrorism is directed against others." As he put it, Cheney is "senseless to claim that terrorists hate all nations and all peoples."

8) Eliminating Saddam was a victory for bin Laden, who considered Ba'athist secularism as a competitor. He hated the social permissiveness of Iraq, its modernity, its general equality for women, allowing music, etc.

9) The Iraq war caused Washington to neglect efforts to isolate, protect and destroy fissionable materials to keep them away from terrorists.

10) Plans for "usable" nukes, approved because of 9/11, undermine non-proliferation agreements, curtail collaboration with Russia, and make nuclear war permissible, plausible, and more possible. Proliferation makes more nuke material available for possible theft by terrorists. Russian and U.S. nukes are still close to hair trigger alert and subject to "mistakes." Bin Laden would gladly try to cause war between Russia and the U.S. or trade Arab cities for blowing up New York or Washington. He doesn't like cities anyway.

11) America faces a growing risk of non-Arab Muslims taking up suicidal terrorism against American interests here and overseas. The English "sneaker bomber" was not an Arab, so ethnic profiling didn't help catch him.

12) Our prisons are full of bitter young converts. The alleged "Dirty Bomber" Jose Padilla, a Hispanic-American, was such a prison convert.

13) Afghanistan is a becoming a quagmire. Our "victory" is looking ever more tenuous. Al-Qaeda is regrouping, Pakistan is becoming less secure, 20,000 U.S. soldiers are there and war looks interminable.

14) The American military is stretched thin. It is designed for conquest, not occupation. It is designed to fight nations, not guerrillas and terrorists. See Rumsfeld memo.

15) Bin Laden is winning the propaganda war in the world. Washington can spend billions on weapons that are irrelevant to the war on terrorism, but has little constituency for explaining America to the outside world. The 9/11 Commission also urged Washington to reexamine its Middle East policies (see page 376), but there is no sign of either party doing that.

15) America is being equated with Israel. Nothing inflames Muslims even more against America than news reports that Israelis have been training American soldiers in suppression and torture techniques. They confirm accusations that the U.S. And Israel are in joint league against the Muslim world – exactly what Bin Laden claims. Such reports are rife on Arab TV, juxtaposing American soldiers bombing or raiding Iraqi homes with Israelis doing the same to Palestinians. America simply can't get away with using Israeli techniques; they further inflame the world against Washington.

16) American religious fundamentalists are now playing a key role in foreign policy. Their support for Israeli settlers and other hardliners works to cut off U.S. communication with Muslims – a main bin Laden objective. Many even want chaos in the Middle East to help fulfill their version of biblical prophecy. See The Armageddon Lobby.

17) American intelligence is discredited for the foreseeable future. As Arnaud de Borchgrave wrote, "The war on Iraq and ongoing occupation by coalition forces has dealt body blows to the world's two most important intelligence services – the CIA and MI6."

18) "The souring of America on intervention abroad has major strategic implications for the United States and for the world. … Intelligence on weapons of mass destruction and the intentions of dictators or terrorist gangs that seem to possess them are unlikely to be sufficiently clear to meet the standards for action demanded by the post-facto doubts and recriminations on Iraq. Intelligence analysis will become even more cautious and ambiguously stated to policymakers. Vulnerability to surprise attack could grow again," columnist Jim Hoagland.

19) The invasion and incompetent occupation of Iraq (including the humiliation and torture of captives) has terribly discredited America far beyond Iraq's borders.

20) Al-Qaeda and Ariel Sharon are both trying to promote civil war and chaos in Iraq for their own ends. Washington's threats against Syria and Iran give both an incentive to help keep U.S. troops tied down in Iraq.

21) Religious extremism is sweeping Iraq and the Muslim world – even among traditionally secular Sunnis.

22) Sunnis and Shi'ites are now cooperating against America; U.S. intelligence used to think that mutual animosities would prevent them from working together.

24) The damage to holy Shi'ite shrines well serves propaganda that America is sacrilegious and anti-Muslim. Even if the actual damage is done by Muslim guerrillas themselves, America gets the blame and more hatred.

25) Foreign students in American universities have dropped by the hundreds of thousands, thus weakening future pro-American influence abroad. Foreigners also pay full tuition and provide most of the students for Ph.D. programs in the hard sciences. Many have led American technological discoveries as inventors and entrepreneurs. New registrations of foreign Muslim students have almost disappeared, thus further separating America from the Muslim world.

26) Foreign tourism is way down because of difficulties and delays in getting visas.

27) Small charities have stopped giving overseasbecause of new "anti-terror" government regulations. Such "people to people" programs were among the strongest pro-American building institutions in the Third World.

28) Disputes with Europe have fractured NATO. No longer will it do Washington's bidding.

29) Russian good will and trust toward America has dropped precipitously. Russians are nervous about the new American air bases in Central Asia close to their border. Mutual missile reduction is on ice. Russia is again becoming a major weapons exporter to the Third World. Discredited U.S. foreign policies help undermine pro-American democracy forces inside Russia.

30) Russia and China have a tacit alliance in high-tech weaponry. China is rushing to build more submarines, intercontinental missiles and air defenses against U.S. air attack capabilities. They haven't forgotten that the neoconservatives first threatened China before 9/11.

31) American war ships are able to visit fewer foreign ports, thus effecting recruitment and retention of sailors. They now have "steel beach parties" aboard ship for fear of danger to sailors if they go ashore.

32) Reflecting all these developments, the U.S. stock market is showing less confidence in the future. Value Line, usually pretty accurate in long-term forecasting, expects little price increase for the next four years. Columnist Jim Glassman has written that investors now see Asia replacing America for foreign investors.

33) Scores of billions of Arab money have been withdrawn from American banks. Owners fear that at any moment they could be accused of funding a group that supported a group that supported "terrorism" (even if only against Israeli settlers taking their land) and have all their funds confiscated. These withdrawals are also thought to be a reason for the dollar's decline in value.

34) Washington is doing nothing to diffuse the threat by facing up to the real reasons American was attacked. This is helping bin Laden recruit new money and resources.

35) We have lost freedoms under the PATRIOT Act and endless time and money from more and more security costs, e.g., government guards who will retire after 20 years with pensions and full medical care. With more terrorist attacks, we may eventually look back on the Nineties as the "Golden Age" of American freedom and prosperity.

36) America's loss of "soft power" is the most significant effect of these failed policies. Its costs will be with us for a long time; indeed, America may never recover its image in much of the world as the shining city on the hill. As Anatol Lieven of the Carnegie Institute told a Cato Institute audience, "America, which benefits most from the rule of law in the world, has gone about destroying it."


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  • Jon Basil Utley is associate publisher of The American Conservative and Robert A. Taft Fellow at the Ludwig von Mises Institute. A former correspondent for Knight Ridder in South America, Utley has written for the Harvard Business Review on foreign nationalism and was for 17 years a commentator on the Voice of America. He is director of Americans Against World Empire.

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