Realistic course: The U.S. must rethink its approach to terrorism

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Listening to the rhetoric of the Obama administration, one could conclude that the war on terrorism has been won. The nation is also at a point where its focus should be on domestic issues, such as the government shutdown and the debt crisis.

Nonetheless, militant Islamist organizations have proliferated from Algeria to India and strengthened steadily since the 9/11 attacks and the U.S. response that followed. That riposte included the Afghanistan and Iraq wars, drone attacks on Islamist leaders and a vacuum-cleaner approach to surveillance, directed at not only terrorist groups, but also innocent Americans -- to no avail.

There are now organizations affiliated with or in sympathy with al-Qaida in at least 18 countries in North and West Africa, the Middle East and South Asia. At least 10 are considered to be a major threat, in their countries and elsewhere.

Even though drone strikes and the killing of Osama bin Laden have eliminated some of the Islamist groups' most prominent leaders, new figures have readily emerged to take their places. The truth about these radical leaders, from the U.S. point of view, is that they are probably here for the foreseeable future.

That being the case, the United States should probably not redouble its efforts and its expenditures 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 made sense after 12 years of trying.

It is also difficult to imagine, after having expressed an abhorrence of these Islamist groups and their actions, that the United States could establish even the beginnings of a reasonable dialogue with them.

At the same time, what two presidential administrations have been doing, at great cost in troops and dollars, does not appear to have worked. So the United States might consider tamping down the rhetoric and indicating privately that perhaps the foes of today are not destined always to be mortal enemies.

That would be a realistic course to pursue. Current U.S. policy appears to be neither realistic nor successful.



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