Global Terrorism after the Iraq War

Published: 
October 13, 2003
By: 
Daniel Benjamin, Martha Crenshaw, and Daniel Byman

This report is an expansion of presentations made at a U.S. Institute of Peace Current Issues Briefing on "Global Terrorism after the Iraq War" on June 25, 2003

Summary

  • Whether out of rejection of Western values, envy of American wealth and power, or objections to specific policies, terrorist attacks can be expected to continue in coming years. The elimination of global terrorism remains far off.
  • Many al Qaeda leaders have been captured, and there has been no repeat attack on U.S. territory. Yet terrorist attacks continue in the Middle East, South and Southeast Asia, Africa, and Russia, as very small numbers of terrorists are sufficient to inflict great destruction.
  • While the removal of the Taliban regime in Afghanistan has deprived al Qaeda of a state-based center of operations, the weak central government in Afghanistan has been unable to suppress warlordism and Taliban forces seem to be reemerging.
  • The U.S.-led coalition's defeat of Saddam Hussein rid the Middle East of a brutal regime and eliminated a potential source of state-sponsored terrorism and weapons of mass destruction, but continuing instability in Iraq may make the country a breeding ground for anti-U.S. terrorism.
  • States supporting terrorism, including Syria and Iran, remain threats, and options for military action against them are limited.
  • Regimes in the Muslim world that are friendly to the U.S. continue to be threatened by Islamist militants. At the same time, U.S. support for some authoritarian regimes in the Muslim world provokes resentment over the suppression of democracy and human rights, creating hostility that can be exploited by terrorist groups for recruitment.
  • To address these continuing problems, the next phase of a successful effort against global terrorism should differ in part from the approach of the two years following 9/11. It should augment intelligence and military means with a better strategy for countering militant Islamist ideology.
  • The focus must be on long-term and deep-seated issues, including democratization, economic growth, and educational reform in the Muslim world. The development of more open societies and increased prosperity are key goals.
  • To realize these goals, U.S. policy should concentrate on building consensus and enhancing international cooperation, strengthening law enforcement and the rule of law, applying cautious pressure for reform in Muslim states, encouraging moderate Islamic voices, and achieving political stability and economic reconstruction in Iraq and Afghanistan.
  • With effective policies, global terrorism may diminish over time, but at present public opinion has turned sharply against the United States in much of the Muslim world. Understanding that the problem is the hostile ideology of militant Islam, not just the actions of a conspiratorial group, or Islam as a whole, is the first step toward formulating an effective, long-term anti-terrorism strategy.

About the Report

This report is an expansion of presentations made at a U.S. Institute of Peace Current Issues Briefing on "Global Terrorism after the Iraq War" on June 25, 2003. Daniel Benjamin is senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, former director for counter-terrorism at the National Security Council, and former senior fellow, U.S. Institute of Peace. He has also served as Berlin bureau chief for the Wall Street Journal and Germany correspondent for Time. Martha Crenshaw is Colin and Nancy Campbell professor of global issues and democratic thought and professor of government at Wesleyan University and former grantee, U.S. Institute of Peace. She is also a member of the Brookings Institution Task Force on U.S. Policy Towards the Islamic World. Daniel Byman is assistant professor, Security Studies Program, Georgetown University, and non-resident senior fellow, Saban Center for Middle East Policy, Brookings Institution. He was a professional staff member with the Joint 9/11 Inquiry Staff of the House and Senate Intelligence Committees and is a consultant to the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks upon the United States.

The panel was chaired by Paul Stares, director of the Institute's Research and Studies Program. The meeting was organized by Joseph Klaits, director of the Institute's Jennings Randolph Fellowship Program, who compiled and edited this report.

The views expressed in this report do not necessarily reflect views of the United States Institute of Peace, which does not advocate specific policies.

October 13, 2003
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