All right – so the Obama Administration no longer calls it the ‘War on Terror’ (For a very good analysis see Steve Miller’s chapter on the ‘War on Terror’ in Andy Cooper’s and my own, “Rising States; Rising Institutions…”). But the focus on fighting Muslim extremists is in Afghanistan and Pakistan – and it’s not going well. The WikiLeaks of secret war documents describes a grim and “kabuki-like” war. Pakistan receives US aid and aids the Taliban; NATO supports the current Afghan government; yet disdains it for its corruption and unpopularity.
Now most US stories begin with the conclusion that this is America’s longest war. But it is not. Most analysts will agree that the Bush Administration abandoned the war in Afghanistan for the war in Iraq. This was terribly under-resourced and forgotten war. And its only with the Obama Administration – with the war going quite badly – that the US and collectively NATO – has come back to examining the objectives, methods and resources of the war. But it is likely to late. Certainly it appears too late to adopt the current – anti-insurgency strategy. Collectively the countries in the war will not commit to the nation-building effort required to build support for the Afghan government and to isolate insurgents from the local population. We are left – and I suspect Vice President Biden was right – with an anti-terrorist effort that looks to disrupt Al Qaeda and some – but only some – Taliban extremists, mostly in Pakistan.
The difficult problem is that US policy remains too fixed on war making. A wider strategic and diplomatic initiative is always defined in terms that play “second fiddle” to military and war-making policy options and tactics. US policy remains dependent, even hostage to, military strategies and the military establishment. And this is also true for the NATO powers, the UK, Germany, the Dutch, Canada, etc. And their entanglement with these anti-insurgency initiatives has undermined and in the case of Canada, possibly others, broken their military systems, which will require years to rebuild.
The current ‘War on Terror’ requires anti-terrorist initiatives against extremists in not only AfPak, but also Yemen, Somalia, etc. The War cannot be fought in the manner alone suggested by the US military. And it surely requires a much more effective development and diplomacy initiatives than we have witnessed to date.
The US meanwhile has to wean itself off the “military force-only” approach. US leadership in global governance will have to be rethought here as in other aspects of global policy. Initially it appeared that the Obama Administration was prepared to do so. But this Administration – like others before it - appears to have been captured by the military.