War on Terrorism


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War on Terrorism

Terrorist acts and the threat of Terrorism have occupied the various law enforcement agencies in the U.S. government for many years. The Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996, as amended by the usa patriot act and codified at 18 U.S.C. section 2339B, makes it a crime punishable to up to 15 years in prison to provide material support or resources to any organization designated by the Secretary of State as a foreign terrorist organization. Individuals suspected of acts of terrorism are arrested and tried under existing federal or state criminal laws. On September 11, 2001, 19 men hijacked four commercial airplanes. Two were deliberately crashed into the twin towers of the World Trade Center in New York City, one was deliberately crashed into the Pentagon in Washington, D.C., and the fourth crashed into a field in rural Pennsylvania, presumably on its way to a fourth symbolic target: the White House or the U.S. Capitol Building. Strong evidence suggested that a Saudi Arabian citizen living in Afghanistan, Osama bin Laden, was behind the attacks. As of 2003 bin Laden was the head of a terrorist organization known as al Qaeda (Arabic for "the base").

It would be difficult to overstate the magnitude of the simultaneous attacks and their psychological impact on the collective psyche of U.S. citizens. The September 11th Attacks instantly vaulted international terrorism and national security concerns to the top of the U.S. governmental agenda and propelled the United States headlong into a war against terrorism. According to the Federal Bureau of Investigation's "FBI Policy and Guidelines" (February 16, 1999) international terrorism is "the unlawful use of force or violence committed by a group or individual, who has some connection to a foreign power or whose activities transcend national boundaries, against persons or property to intimidate or coerce a government, the civilian population, or any segment thereof, in furtherance of political or social objectives." But international terrorism and the country's turn-of-the-century responses to it predated September 11, 2001. Four major incidents of international terrorism against U.S. interests since the mid-1990s involved bombings: the Khobar Tower in Dharan, Saudi Arabia; the U.S. embassy in Nairobi, Kenya; the U.S. embassy in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania; and the USS Cole in the port of Aden, Yemen. These attacks abroad made headlines around the world and commanded massive investigative efforts by the U.S. government.

On the evening of June 25, 1996, a couple of individuals parked a tanker truck in a parking lot adjacent to the Khobar Tower apartment buildings. These apartments housed U.S. military and civilian personnel. Sentries on duty saw the truck and realized the threat of a bomb and began evacuating the building. Unfortunately, the bomb was detonated before the building could be completely evacuated. As a consequence, 19 servicemen died and hundreds of others were wounded.

On August 7, 1998, a truck bomb detonated in the rear parking entrance to the U.S. embassy in Nairobi, Kenya. Twelve American diplomats and nearly 200 Kenyan citizens were killed. Ten Americans and 12 foreign service nationals were seriously injured, and 4,000 Kenyans were injured. Almost simultaneously, at the U.S. embassy at Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, a suicide bomber detonated another truck bomb located 35 feet from the embassy complex's outer wall. Eleven Tanzanians were killed and 85 people were injured, including two Americans. The terrorists who committed these acts were believed to be part of an international group headed by Osama bin Laden.

On October 12, 2000, a small boat exploded alongside the USS Cole while the Cole was preparing to refuel at an island in the port of Aden, Yemen. Seventeen American sailors were killed and nearly 40 were wounded in the attack; the ship sustained extensive damage.

These four separate acts of terrorism occurred during the two administrations of President bill clinton. The Clinton administration defined its enemy narrowly: Osama bin Laden and his aides. Bin Laden was known to be living under the protection of the repressive Muslim regime known as the Taliban in Afghanistan. Although the Clinton administration adopted a hostile attitude toward the Taliban, it did not make Afghanistan or the Taliban government a target of its efforts to combat the bin Laden terrorism threat.

From 1998 to 2000, President Clinton pursued a policy of economic sanctions against the Taliban and sent numerous messages to the de facto government of Afghanistan demanding that it deliver bin Laden for trial in the United States. The Clinton administration quickly became frustrated by the Taliban's lack of cooperation. Although the administration deliberately raised the specter of military confrontation, ultimately it chose to step back for a variety of reasons, not the least of which was the delicate negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians.

george w. bush was elected president and took office in January 2001. Just eight short months later came the devastating September 11th attacks. Bush's reaction was swift and decisive. When it became clear that bin Laden was the probable instigator of the attacks, Bush delivered an ultimatum to the Taliban to turn over bin Laden or face the might of the U.S. military. The Taliban again refused and Bush ordered the invasion of Afghanistan on October 7, 2001, phase one of his War on Terrorism.

Every U.S. president must produce a National Security Strategy document. President George W. Bush's policy has been called the "Bush Doctrine." This document is influenced by the thinking of its principal author, Bush's national security advisor, Condoleezza Rice. It resembles in some respects the Monroe Doctrine outlined in 1823 by President James Monroe, which warned European powers against attempting to reestablish colonial authority in the Americas.

The Bush Doctrine contains six principles:

  1. The fight against terrorism must continue until it is won.
  2. Major responsibility for combating terrorism rests with those countries where terrorist organizations actually operate.
  3. When intervention is required, the Bush Doctrine emphasizes action by coalitions of the willing and able.
  4. It reaffirms the importance of deterrence as the best way to guarantee peace and respect for international rules of good behavior.
  5. Military intervention is not the first choice for dissuading countries from backing terrorism with weapons of mass destruction, including chemical, biological, and nuclear weapons.
  6. As a last resort, the Bush Doctrine reserves a first strike option.

The Bush Doctrine permits pre-emptive action against "hostile states" and terrorist groups alleged to be developing weapons of mass destruction. Furthermore, the Bush Doctrine asserts that the United States will never allow its military supremacy to be challenged in the way it was during the Cold War. The Bush Doctrine for conducting the war against terrorism was received with shock and dismay by many in Europe. The negative change in relations between the United States and its allies, particularly in Europe, marked this aspect of the war on terrorism.

During his 2003 State of the Union Address, the President Bush described advances in the war on terrorism and announced new initiatives. According to the president, the United States had disrupted terrorist networks, removed key leaders, and arrested more than 3,000 terrorist suspects around the world. The Bush administration had also created the Homeland Security Department, intensified security at U.S. borders and ports of entry, and hired and deployed more than 50,000 federal screeners in airports. New initiatives included improving intelligence through the Terrorist Threat Integration Center and disarming Saddam Hussein.

Subsequent to the defeat of the Taliban in Afghanistan, the Bush administration focused its attention on what it perceived as grave threats coming from Iraq, which was ruled by the secretive dictator Saddam Hussein. The Clinton and Bush administrations both strongly suspected that Iraq, under the direction of Hussein, was producing and stockpiling weapons of mass destruction in violation of United Nations Security Council resolutions, as well as the treaty Iraq signed in the wake of its defeat by U.S.-led coalition forces in the 1991 Gulf War. The Gulf War had expelled Iraq from its forcible invasion and occupation of neighboring Kuwait. The Bush administration increased its pressure on Iraq to disarm and reveal its outlawed weapons programs. Hussein met this pressure with a mixture of belligerence and shrewd diplomatic moves that garnered the Iraqi regime some international support.

The policies embedded in the Bush Doctrine helped set a course for U.S. conflict with Iraq. Bush's deep concern about Iraq's weapons of mass destruction possibly making their way into the hands of terrorist organizations such as bin Laden's al Qaeda prompted his increasingly bellicose posture toward Iraq. Bush ultimately offered an ultimatum to the Iraqi government to relinquish power and go into exile or face U.S. military action. Despite massive opposition at home and around the globe to the U.S. policy toward Iraq, the United States invaded Iraq on March 20, 2003. In about three weeks, Saddam Hussein and his government were thrown out of power and Iraq was defeated. After Iraq's defeat and as of mid-2003, the U.S.-led search for weapons of mass destruction in Iraq had failed to reveal large caches of chemical or biological weapons.

Further readings

Addicot, Jeffrey F. 2003. Winning the War on Terror: Legal and Policy Lessons from the Past. Tucson, Ariz.: Lawyers & Judges.

Elshtain, Jean Bethke. 2003. Just War Against Terror: The Burden of American Power in a Violent World. New York: Basic Books.

Falk, Richard A. 2003. The Great Terror War. New York: Olive Branch Press.

Ledeen, Michael Arthur. 2003. The War Against the Terror Masters: Why It Happened, Where We Are Now, How We'll Win. New York: St. Martin's Griffin.

Satloff, Robert B. 2002. War on Terror: The Middle East Dimension. Washington, D.C.: Washington Institute for Near East Policy.

Wilcox, Philip C., Robert B. Silvers, and Barbara Epstein. 2002. Striking Terror: America's New War. New York: New York Review Books.

Cross-references

September 11th Attacks; Terrorism; USA PATRIOT Act of 2001.

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