Seven Years After the Start of the So-Called "War on Terror," Terror Attacks Are Up

Human Rights

It is seven years since that terrible day of September 11, 2001 when terrorists killed 3,000 Americans, triggering a massive global response by the United States. As President Bush's term comes to an end, it is time to assess the prudence of his policies.

According to the State Department and the National Counterterrorism Center, in 2001 there were 531 total terrorist attacks resulting in 3,295 deaths. Three years later in 2004, the number jumped 651 incidents or terrorism, killing 1,907 people. Last year, in 2007, the number of terrorist attacks more than doubled to 14,499 incidents and 22,666 deaths.

President Bush's "Global War on Terrorism" neither eliminated nor reduced global terrorism. Instead it caused an exponential rise in the number of incidences and number of victims. This surge in terrorism is a direct response to the U.S. invasion of Iraq.

The two strategies of the Bush administration -- pre-emptive warfare and the treatment of terrorism as an act of war rather than as a crime -- have both been discredited. A survey of a bipartisan panel of terrorism experts conducted by Foreign Policy magazine found that 70 percent believed the United States was losing the so-called "War on Terror".

The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have caused 35,000 American casualties, 4,700 dead and 30,000 wounded.

Deaths by terrorism in Europe, Middle East and Asia have risen dramatically since 9/11. Civilian deaths in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan, at the hands of terrorists, insurgents, U.S. and NATO forces, are approaching nearly a million by some estimates and the refugees generated by these conflicts exceed over 3 million.

A recent Rand Corporation study of 648 former terrorist groups has concluded that over 43 percent ended any terrorist activity after they were included in the political process, only 7 percent were destroyed by use of military force and 40 percent were eliminated through policing and criminal prosecution. This report shows how the very idea of "war" in the "war on terror" is fundamentally wrong.

The dominant discourse on terrorism has sought to blame terrorism, especially suicide bombings, on Islam to detract from scrutiny of political realities. University of Chicago Professor Robert Pape, the author of Dying to Kill: The Strategic Logic of Suicide Terrorism, studied over 462 cases of suicide terrorism between 1980 and 2003 and concluded that there was no connection between Islam and suicide terrorism. The overwhelming cause, he found, was occupation by foreign military forces: another fundamental fact that the Bush strategy has systematically ignored.

Take Iraq, for example. Islam has existed there for 1,400 years and in spite of Saddam Hussein's oppressive regime it spawned no suicide terrorism. It started only after U.S. occupation and the attacks are receding now as occupation is replaced by self-governance.

A majority of victims of terrorism according to the National Counterterrorism Center are Muslims (50-70 percent). This fact alone undermines a fundamental assumption of the "War on Terror," that the current crisis is a clash of civilizations between Islam and the West.

The Bush administration's response has also led to some disastrous consequences for America. Here are some hard truths:

America's war in Iraq has made anti-Americanism a dominant feature of the global culture. Things have improved since 2004, but still in a 2007 BBC global survey, the United States was given the third most negative standing in the world (after Israel and Iran).

The "War on Terror" has alienated allies, nearly broken the U.S. military, and undermined the U.S. capacity to deal with international crises, as evidenced from our meek responses to a resurgent Russia. The United States is simply not able to assert its will overseas anymore.

The economy has reached its limit. The excessive cost of the Iraq War has handicapped our ability to effectively address the infrastructural, health, housing, educational and energy crises that confront us.

Under the Bush administration, America has become a nation that preaches human rights and practices torture. Guantanamo, Abu Ghraib and the Patriot Act have become our milestones of shame.

But there is some good news:

Courts in the United States are fighting back, restoring civil rights and rejecting the abuse of executive privilege by the current administration.

The U.S. homeland, thank God, remains safe from terrorist attacks. Terrorists have caused death and destruction but have not achieved any enduring or transformative success anywhere.

The tide is turning against extremism across the Muslim World as evidenced by Pakistan's return to democracy, the proliferation of fatwas, or religious legal opinions, against terrorism and Iraqi Sunnis' abandonment of support for Al Qaeda and other insurgents.

Relentless failure of policy is awakening Americans to the need for a change in policy.

Even the Republicans, who stood by President Bush in the past, have seen the light. They nominated a Republican, whose campaign platform has at times criticized the current administration, as their candidate for president.

This article is a self-critical reflection from an American perspective. My critique of the catastrophic policies of the Bush administration should not be misconstrued as support for extremism in the Muslim world. I have nothing but contempt and loathing for those who kill innocent people for political gains in the name of God or Islam.

And, in spite of all the damage that George W. Bush's misguided policies have caused the United States, it still remains the best place on earth to live a life of intellectual, spiritual and material pursuits. Nevertheless, we cannot afford many more years like the last seven.

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