On the demise of Osama bin Laden, Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta has announced that victory over al-Qaeda is now within reach. But Gartenstein-Ross of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies argues that the U.S. government is in a far weaker position relative to al-Qaeda now than prior to 9/11 due to its failure to grasp al-Qaeda's grand strategy.
One of the foundational beliefs of al-Qaeda is that the cost of prosecuting the Soviet-Afghan war contributed to the collapse of the Soviet economy. Gartenstein-Ross contends that al-Qaeda's current strategy toward the United States is of a piece with that approach: Escalating the conflict with the United States in as many arenas as possible will drive up the costs of defense measures, bleeding the U.S. economy.
Gartenstein-Ross finds that U.S. policymakers have not adapted well to al-Qaeda's strategy. Duplication of efforts and the politicization of the issue have both driven up budgets and soured the citizenry on the task at hand. By broadening the focus on the war on terrorism through the invasion of Iraq, the Bush administration diverted critical resources from Afghanistan, allowing the Taliban and al-Qaeda to rebuild their organizations, and simultaneously presented Islamists with a stage from which they could mobilize Muslims around the world for a "defensive" jihad. With U.S. attention focused elsewhere, al-Qaeda expanded its operations into more theaters, including Yemen and the Horn of Africa. Nor have the Arab upheavals of 2011 been a major setback for al-Qaeda; the author argues that the terrorist group is well positioned to take advantage of the turmoil. If the new governments cannot fulfill the rising expectations of the Arab people, then extremist ideologies offering simple solutions could flourish.
In order to defeat al-Qaeda and the jihadist threat, Gartenstein-Ross calls for depoliticizing the war on terror. To be sustainable over the long haul, the expense of national security must be reduced, and to that end, he offers a series of policy recommendations and reforms in intelligence and similar areas. To help Americans survive terrorist attacks, efforts should be made to build community resilience. Finally, he calls for lessening U.S. dependence on foreign oil.
Cogently argued and well-written, Gartenstein-Ross' study will be of great interest to those who want a better understanding of the strategic dimensions of the global war on terror as well as those seeking solid policy recommendations for U.S. national security.