The Next War

America’s crusade against Terror failed. What now?

Reading Time: 3 minutes

On the 20th anniversary of the beginning of the War on Terror, it is clear that our latest war on nouns has failed. The poor exist despite the War on Poverty, and the War on Drugs backfired long ago. Besides linguistic similarities, these wars all lacked clear goals and boundaries. We can kill the terrorists, but the conditions which created them still remain. We invade countries to repair those conditions and build nations upon democracy and human rights, only to later realize that these nations are illusions. The real impact of terrorist attacks came in the responses they provoked. Far more Americans died in the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars than in the 9/11 attacks. Unfortunately, we have not learned from the mistakes of the past.

The recent ISIS terrorist attack in Kabul proved that Jihadist terrorism is still a major threat. While simply locking the cockpit doors would have prevented 9/11, America developed a massive anti-terrorism apparatus, spanning the entire U.S. military, the FBI, Homeland Security, and the NSA. Despite this scale, rogue shooters, bombers, or drivers can and have still slipped through the cracks in the security state.

The best response is no response. We should not blame Muslim immigrants, limit personal rights, and drone-strike countries in the Middle East like we did last time. Thirty years passed to forget the lessons of Vietnam, and it will take at least 30 more to forget Afghanistan. But in many ways, the America of today is not that different from the America of 20 years ago. Our previous president wanted to ban Muslim immigrants. Terrorism is still the fourth most important political issue for Americans, ahead of climate change, health care, and education. All it takes is a little push, a well placed bomb or airplane, for us to escalate the War on Terror.

The next threat might not be from a foreign country. Experts view the top terrorist threat to America as domestic extremism. One can look back at the January 6 insurrection to be reminded of homegrown terrorism. Just like with Jihadist terrorism, the greatest damage comes from the public’s response. Instead of hating outsiders, which occurred after 9/11, domestic extremism causes us to turn hatred inward, pulling at the already taut string of our partisan system. The guns of the security state turn inward as well. Already, the Biden Administration is pursuing the beginning of a “Domestic War on Terror,” pressing for greater authority for three- letter agencies and more domestic anti-terrorism laws. This action is unnecessary. The FBI and Capitol Police failed on January 6. They defied common sense by supplying less police presence for the Trump march than the average Black Lives Matter rally. They should not be rewarded with more funding and authority. Additionally, no extra laws are required to make domestic terrorism illegal. The expanded terrorist designation only serves to revoke civil liberties, making it easier for the government to seize assets and make arrests without due process.

This is not a new story. Many pundits compared the year 2020 to 1968: both featured immense social change, mass protests, and riots. Most forget what followed 1968. In an 18-month period between 1971 and 1972, America experienced 2,500 bombings, mostly from leftist extremists. Future domestic attacks are likely to be aligned with the right and more partisan aligned than the movements in the 1970s.

The real threat to democracy on January 6 was not the 700+ hooligans who stormed the Capitol, but the president, representatives, and senators who tried to overturn the election. We cannot control what the terrorists do, only what we do. The 9/11 attacks united the country. Yet today, Americans cannot even fight a pandemic together. Another terrorist attack is bound to come. When it does, resist the temptation to blame each other.