Thursday, March 23, 2006

Where have the terrorists gone?

Since September 11th, 2001 there have been no succesful foreign terrorist attacks within the United States. Al Qaeda has claimed no attacks within the continental United States. The two best known terror campaigns following chronologically after 9/11 were the anthrax attacks, and the Beltway Sniper attacks of autumn 2002. These seem to be examples of domestic terrorism, and unaffiliated with Jihadist terror campaigns.

Certainly, there were windows of opportunity for terrorist strikes from jihadi sleeper cells within the US. The blackouts in summer 2004 and the hurricane Katrina disaster of 2005 tied up police and military resources across the US. A single car bomb or a sniper in a major city, along with a communique from Al Qaeda would have done terrific damage to citizens moral, the american economy and the administration's reputation. The islamic terrorists currently opposing the US are not stupid- they must have recognised the opportunity. Yet they did nothing.

Where did they go?

Suicide bombing and sniper campaigns are the tactics of smaller, economically weaker opponents.

"The war is hugely expensive. "The cost-benefit ratio is against us! Our cost is billions against the terrorists' cost of millions."- Donald rumsfeld, qouted in USA today

The US makes rifles easily available- a sniper terror campaign would be easy to fund and support. A car bomb campaign is only marginally more difficult. And the losses to a terrorist organisation are well within acceptable limits, for a terrorist- 1 attack, 1 man. So if small scale terror attacks are so easy and jihadis so determined, why have terror attacks occured in Spain, Indonesia, The UK and Iraq, but not in the US?

The simplest answer is there are no more jihadis in the US. A trio of Iraqis were apprehended trying to enter the south western US from Mexico early last fall, and the US administration claims to have thwarted a dozen attacks. As the Bush administration frequently pointed out, the terrorists "only have to get it right once". Yet they haven't even tried- a blessing for american citizens at home.

I'm not comfortable in admitting this, but perhaps Donald Rumsfeld's strategy of drawing terrorists to Iraq has worked, at least in the short term. The problem is, that Iraq is virtually a college for terrorists and insurgents- and the US is effectively paying their tuition. Trained and practiced against US forces, these jihadis will not disappear when the US leaves Iraq. And when the US leaves Iraq, those terrorists will turn their sights on the US itself. Instead of focussing on Afghanistan, which is now seeing a growing Taliban insurgency, Mr. Bush invaded Iraq. The war there is likely, according to Mr. Bush himself, to last beyond his presidency. That of course is the problem- few in his administration have to worry about the future. Most of the senior players are either approaching retirement, or needn't face the electorate.

Mr. Bush said this week, that the resolution of the Iraq war and the end of the war on terror would occur under a future president. Of course, he can't be elected again, and so any debacle will occur under someone else's watch. Should there still be jihadis alive( and who seriously doubts that for every terrorist killed, two are recruited?) I hope the american people remember who bequethed them the mess in Iraq, the resurgent Taliban in Afghanistan and the reinforced enemy knocking at their door in the near future. Certainly, the outgoing Bush administration will shed few tears for a Hillary Clinton or John McCain presidency coping with a 9 trillion dollar debt and commensurate deficit, and a growing insurgent threat.

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"If I had to choose between betraying my country and betraying my friend, I hope I should have the guts to betray my country."
-E.M. Forster