January 12, 2008

Issues Of Strategy In The War On Terror

Issues of strategy can be found in the proliferation of national strategies, of which there are no fewer than twenty addressing various aspects of the War on Terror. These strategies deal with the problems of homeland security, homeland defense, and the War on Terror in piecemeal fashion, resulting in an approach that thus far is fragmented in its organization and disjointed in its application. A reading of the various national strategies does not render a clear understanding of overall United States policy, objectives, or strategy. History, in the form of the lessons learned in Vietnam, dictates that a failure of national strategy has the potential to lead to an overall failure in the War on Terror. Strategic issues are illustrated in the two national strategies that come closest to offering a grand strategy that creates an overarching umbrella for the other national strategies: the National Security Strategy of the United States of America and the National Strategy for Homeland Security.

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December 22, 2007

Issues Of Doctrine In The War On Terror

The war metaphor invoked by the United States in prosecuting the War on Terror renders its efforts subject to analysis by the doctrinal rules of war. Contemporary United States doctrine for fighting wars derives its foundation – its “rules of grammar” – from the writings of nineteenth-century Prussian General Carl Philipp Gotlieb von Clausewitz, particularly his seminal thesis, On War. (1) Despite being published posthumously after Clausewitz’s death in 1831, On War continues to shape current American military thinking and remains the most modern authority available on the essence of war. Simply put, no one has produced a better description of the essence of war and the immutable principles for its conduct in nearly two centuries. It is considered by many to be the greatest work on war and strategy ever produced by Western civilization, and its key concepts can be used to put current efforts in the War on Terror in perspective.

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November 2, 2007

Issues Of Policy In The War On Terror

In the realm of policy, first and foremost, the question must be asked: Is the United States truly at war in the war on terror? The determinations of the 9/11 Commission Report indicate that the United States is in popular deed, if not in legal fact, a nation at war, and lead to the Commission’s recommendations for establishing national objectives and a national strategy for conducting the war on terror. (1) The findings of the 9/11 Commission meet two of the three critical elements in Clausewitz’s military-political definition of war. First, that the effort is directed toward an identified opponent and, second, that it involves violence or use of force to compel our opponent to fulfill our will. According to the 9/11 Commission the United States’ opponent in the war on terror consists of the terrorist groups and their allies, particularly the global al Qaeda network, that form the threat of Islamist terrorism, thereby satisfying the first element of war: an effort directed at an identified opponent. (2) Although there are problems with this definition, particularly that it falls short of defining the full scope of the threat to the United States, it represents a start in developing a national objective and strategy. The use of American and allied forces to find and destroy terrorist groups, most notably in Afghanistan and Iraq, partially fulfills the second element of war: the use of violence or force to compel our opponent to meet our will. (3) The issue to be resolved is whether the insurgent groups in Afghanistan and Iraq are the right enemy, at the right time, and in the right place.

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October 8, 2007

Issues Of Definition In The War On Terror

The lack of definition in the war on terror is problematic. While it allows national leaders the flexibility to define and redefine success in ways that suit political purposes, it also has potential drawbacks. From an operational perspective, it potentially leads to lack of clarity and understanding, and thus lack of focused national effort along with its attendant risk of failure. The very phrase “war on terror” lacks definition, and therefore presents the United States with a strategic issue that inhibits its efforts to prosecute the war effectively. As multiple sources have indicated, “terror” is not the enemy. In the “war” on terror, neither terror nor terrorism can be defeated since terror is a method and terrorism is a tactic. From this perspective, neither terror nor terrorism takes on the characteristics of entities that can be defeated in the traditional sense.

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October 7, 2007

Are We Winning The War On Terror?

As the United States enters its seventh year in the War on Terror its spending in the total effort is approaching a trillion dollars and its military and civilian casualties combined are approaching 40,000 people. These sacrifices, and more, may be the price for the post-9/11 security of the nation. However, they are significant and they do justify an accounting by American leaders. Three questions can be raised:

• Are we winning the War on Terror?
• Is the War in Iraq making us safer?
• Do our elected leaders understand the strategic situation the nation faces?

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