Terminating the war on terror — an idea whose time hasn’t come

Fareed Zakaria argues that it’s “time to terminate the war on terror.” Zakaria doesn’t make clear precisely what, as a practical matter, he has in mind. But it looks like he wants he wants the U.S. to deem our efforts at protection from terrorism something other than an armed conflict and to phase out of modify the government’s emergency powers.

Zakaria cites a recent speech in which outgoing Pentagon General Counsel Jeh Johnson said that “there will come a tipping point at which so many of the leaders and operatives of al-Qaeda and its affiliates have been killed or captured, and the group is no longer able to attempt or launch a strategic attack against the United States, such that al Qaeda as we know it, the organization that our Congress authorized the military to pursue in 2001, has been effectively destroyed.”

But Johnson didn’t say that this day has come; nor (despite his considerable ability to manipulate evidence) could Johnson make that claim. And Zakaria presents no evidence that al Qaeda “has been effectively destroyed.” One need only look at Syria, Libya, and points further south in Africa to understand that al Qaeda is alive and deadly.

Zakaria also contends that worldwide terrorism is down and that the part of the world with the fewest incidents is North America. But this is evidence that the war on terrorism has been reasonably successful, not that we should end it.

Zakaria acknowledges that it “could be” our vigilence that’s keeping the country relatively safe. And, tellingly, he offers no alternative explanation. We know that al Qaeda is still quite active in certain countries. Has it concluded that Islam is the religion of peace and become strictly a social services organization? Of course not. Has it lost its desire to attack America? No. Can we be confident that, absent a high level of vigilence, al Qaeda cannot reach the homeland? Zakaria provides no grounds for thinking so.

With no evidence to suggest that al Qaeda and like-minded anti-American terrorists have been destroyed or transformed, Zakaria must base has argument on the alleged harm of not terminating the war on terror. Here too, his case fails.

Zakaria cites James Madison, who warned that “war is the parent of armies [and] from these proceed debts. . .No nation could preserve its freedom in the midst of continual warfare.” But Madison wasn’t talking about the kind “war” the U.S. has conducted against terrorism. That war hasn’t destroyed our freedom and Zakaria doesn’t claim it has. In fact the only infringement he cites is TSA procedures. Those procedures (which are hardly a threat to our liberty) can be revisited without ending the war of terrorism.

As for debt, Zakaria cites the cost of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. But the former war is over and the latter is ending. Meanwhile, the military budget is being cut.

The world has changed some since 2001, to be sure. But our anti-terrorism policy has changed with it. Whatever one thinks of the specifics of this evolution, Zakaria is wrong to claim that the president has “blanket wartime authority.” At best, Zakaria hasn’t been paying attention. Those who have been understand that this is not time to terminate the war on terror, properly understood.

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