Listening to the Obama Administration’s rhetoric, Americans could conclude that the war on terrorism has been won. Yet militant Islamist organizations are proliferating from Algeria to India, and have strengthened steadily since the 9/11 attacks.
The U.S. response to those attacks included the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, a swarm of drone attacks on Islamist leaders, and a vacuum-cleaner approach to surveillance that is directed not only at terrorist organizations, but also at millions of innocent Americans.
There are groups affiliated with or in sympathy with al-Qaeda in at least 18 countries in North and West Africa, the Middle East, and South Asia. Ten or more of them are large enough to be considered major threats in their countries and, in some cases, regionally.
Drone strikes and the much-cited killing of al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden in Pakistan have eliminated some of the Islamist groups’ most prominent leaders. But new figures have emerged to replace them. Few have names that mean much to Americans, but they are active and protected by their relative anonymity.
Radical Islamist leaders are probably here for the foreseeable future. It seems at least arguable that American efforts to extirpate them have caused them to proliferate and spread their influence.
The United States continues to invest much effort and money to kill off these organizations and their leaders. Given such a widespread and nebulous adversary, America lacks the means to carry out such a task, even if it were decided that the mission still makes sense.
It is also hard to imagine, after having expressed abhorrence of these Islamist groups and their actions, that the United States could establish even the start of a reasonable dialogue with them. What two presidential administrations have done, at great cost in troops and dollars, does not appear to have worked.
So the United States might think of tamping down the rhetoric a bit, with the next presidential election three years off, and indicating privately that perhaps today’s foes are not destined to be mortal enemies forever.
That would be a realistic course to pursue. Current U.S. policy appears to be neither realistic nor successful.