Although the Bush administration regularly boasts that its war on terror has been effective because no large terrorist attacks on U.S. soil have occurred since 9/11, such terrorism in North America has historically been a rare event.
Its like bragging that efforts to prevent lightning strikes have succeeded because a dwelling has not been struck or burned. In fact, 9/11 was shocking to Americans not only because of the magnitude of the casualties, but because North America had seen very little terrorism coming from abroad.
The last major international terrorist attack on U.S. soil was eight years before, in 1993 (also on the World Trade Center). Predictions of terrorist attacks are hard to make, but the dramatic surge in suicide bombings overseas since the Bush administrations war on terror began should increase our worries that another major attack could occur in the American homeland.
According to data from U.S. government terrorism experts (reported in the Washington Post), in 2000, the year before the war on terror began, 37 suicide attacks occurred worldwide. Since 9/11, the total climbed steadily to several hundred attacks in each of 2005 and 2006, and then exploded to a whopping 658 attacks in 2007. Whats more, the attacks have occurred in dozens of countries on five continents. Yet according to U.S. intelligence officials, two-thirds of all suicide attacks since 1983 have targeted U.S. policy goals.
In other words, the war has been disastrously counterproductive.
Although the American homeland has been fairly safe since 9/11, suicide attacks against U.S. facilities overseas, such as embassies and military assets, and allies have skyrocketed. So the Bush administrations bragging that its war on terror has made Americans safer is ludicrous.
In fact, the administrations war on terror has played right into Osama bin Ladens hands.
A common strategy of terrorists is to strike the stronger aggressor, hope for an overreaction, and thus gain zealous recruits and funding for the terrorists cause. Instead of using intelligence, law enforcement and limited military and covert action in the shadows to capture or kill terrorists in a low-key way after 9/11, the administrations highly publicized cowboy invasions and occupations of Afghanistan and Iraq were overreactions that must have put a smile on bin Ladens face.
With a tin ear for why bin Laden was attacking the United States in the first place (the superpowers military presence and policy of political meddling in Muslim lands), the Bush administration has further inflamed Islamist radicals worldwide with more of the same. That two-thirds of suicide attacks since 1983 have targeted U.S. policy goals is a euphemistic way of saying that the U.S. government is largely responsible for the problem of anti-U.S. terrorism.
The Bush administration has vehemently and publicly denied what the empirical data point to, by blaming anti-U.S. terrorist attacks on hatred of American freedoms. Polls taken in Islamic countries counter this viewpoint. The American people, as if supporting their local sports team against a rival, would prefer to buy into this administrations Tarzan-like foreign policy (America good; others bad). Instead, we should be engaging in the more difficult, soul-searching task of discovering the root causes of anti-U.S. terrorism.
Americans could continue to give the benefit of the doubt to their governments aggressive foreign policies in the Middle East, during both Democratic and Republican administrations, but that would be a delusional and dangerous choice.
Ivan Eland is Senior Fellow and Director of the Center on Peace & Liberty at The Independent Institute. Dr. Eland is a graduate of Iowa State University and received an M.B.A. in applied economics and Ph.D. in national security policy from George Washington University. He has been Director of Defense Policy Studies at the Cato Institute, and he spent 15 years working for Congress on national security issues, including stints as an investigator for the House Foreign Affairs Committee and Principal Defense Analyst at the Congressional Budget Office. He is author of the books Partitioning for Peace: An Exit Strategy for Iraq, and Recarving Rushmore.
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