The war on the War on Terror

In this presidential election season, if there is anything at all that can be counted on, it is that each candidate will mention what our country has come to label its “War on Terror” and the September day that launched that war.

They disparage administrative policies in Iraq, in Afghanistan, and across the world; if you elect them, so the message goes, they would be the ones to defeat terror, to find Osama Bin Laden, and to keep America safe from the terrorist threat. Though the phrasing may differ from candidate to candidate, the message is the same: If the terrorists are not defeated, our country cannot be safe.

There are, to be sure, times when one prospective president or another will mention the importance of combating the roots of terrorism through increased aid or educational programs, but the thrust of the arguments is that our safety is contingent on our military success against the terrorists. that we have identified.

When they are vanquished, so the thinking goes, America can turn the full weight of its resources against poverty and hopelessness, eliminate those, and finally become safe. It all sounds quite logical and certainly makes for great campaign rhetoric. The only problem, and the reason why the logic for the so-called “War on Terror” itself is flawed, is the insistence on chasing and eliminating the terrorists before or even while tackling the reasons for their existence.

The U.S. has devoted billions of dollars to, for instance, Iraq (including a pledge of $18.4 billion at the initial reconstruction conference in Madrid in 2003, according to USAID) yet acts of terrorism continue to occur. The search for bin Laden has gone on for five years-yet he remains at large. Case after case has shown that, as the British government said after the July 2005 London bombings, “the real difficulties for law enforcement agencies and local communities [are] in identifying potential terrorists.” If we resign ourselves to a fruitless hunt for one man, and if our policy as a nation is to hunt down terrorists after they have engaged in acts of terror, the problem will be neither solved nor mitigated.

The only way to stop terror is to attack its roots. Resources would be used in a far more productive capacity if they were diverted to education, aid, or activities that stand the chance of changing the culture of fear and desperation that breeds hatred. If the U.S. is willing to declare not a war on terror but a war on hopelessness, then the near abolition of terror will come as a byproduct of the larger struggle. Likewise, if the current presidential candidates will declare that instead of searching for a few select terrorists they will instead work to alleviate the conditions that breed them, the country may finally be able to declare a victory in the War on Terror.

Andrew Hamner is a freshman majoring in journalism and can be contacted at