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Bin Laden's Legacy: Why We're Still Losing the War on Terror Hardcover – August 1, 2011
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""Gartenstein-Ross' evaluation of al-Qaeda's strategy, means, and intentions is without equal, as is his analysis of America's missteps during the War on Terror.) (Small Wars Journal)
""Urgent without being alarmist and eminently readable, Bin Laden's Legacy is a testament to Gartenstein-Ross's deep knowledge of his field and his capacity to cut through feeble arguments to lay out only the most salient evidence. His legal training combines neatly with his moderate, academic approach to produce arguments so logical that they seem obvious at first glance; only later does the reader realize this is a fresh read on the past 10 years of counterterrorism efforts. (NDU Press Blog)
From the Inside Flap
Despite the death of Osama bin Laden, al Qaeda remains a significant threat because bin Laden's strategy for combating the United Statessapping its economic and military strength while expanding the battlefield on which America has to fightlives on. In fact, this strategy has evolved over the past decade, it's working, and because U.S. planners never took the time to understand it, many of our responses have actually helped al Qaeda achieve its goals while undermining our own.
In Bin Laden's Legacy, counterterrorism expert Daveed Gartenstein-Ross explains why al Qaeda's "death by a thousand cuts" strategy has been effective. He shows how such well-publicized plots as the "underwear bomber" and printer cartridge bombs achieved their primary goals, despite being foiled. He notes how we have played into al Qaeda's hands with two costly, unpopular wars and by setting up an expensive homeland security bureaucracy that has difficulty dealing with a nimble, adaptive foe. He explains how many of our antiterrorism efforts are inefficient by design, suffer from a lack of coordination between the government and an array of contractors, and lack any obvious means to evaluate the return on our enormous investment in them. He explores how domestic politicization of the terrorist threat has skewed U.S. priorities, led to the misallocation of counterterrorism resources, and created flawed counterterrorism paradigms and bad policies. Meanwhile, public morale has been weakened by measures ranging from color-coded terror alerts to invasive, full-body searches in airports.
If bin Laden's death is to truly represent a turning point in the war on terror, it won't be due just to his importance to al Qaeda. It will be because his death allowed the United States to reevaluate its paradigms for protecting itself from and defeating this adversary. But to do so, it is first necessary to understand the key errors that the country has made along the way and why these mistakes occurred. Gartenstein-Ross shows what we've done wrong, then proposes a practical plan to start doing right.
For if we mistakenly believe that bin Laden's death signifies the end of al Qaeda's threat, or that it vindicates our previous policies, bin Laden may well experience even greater success in death than he ever did while among us.
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Given all this, is it possible that America is actually losing the war on terror? In Bin Laden's Legacy: Why We're Still Losing the War on Terror, Daveed Gartenstein-Ross, director of the Center for the Study of Terrorist Radicalization at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, argues not only that we are losing, but that we as a nation still fail to understand what kind of a war we are fighting, and what our enemies' actual goals are. This is a powerful indictment, and Gartenstein-Ross painstakingly lays it out in a book that is both sharply analytical and accessible to any audience.
A KEY PROBLEM with America's attempt to wage a War on Terror while safeguarding itself from future attack, Gartenstein-Ross writes, is that our ignorance of the enemy we are facing has allowed us to pursue both goals in a profligate fashion that plays right into the hands of an enemy that sees America's economy as the long-term target. To understand the reasoning behind this, we must look to the Soviet Union. Though myriad factors contributed to the dissolution of the U.S.S.R., its collapse so shortly after its withdrawal from a decade-long quagmire in Afghanistan helped convince Osama bin Laden and other former mujahedeen that they had been the cause of its ultimate defeat.
Now, al Qaeda has taken this strategy of embroiling a much larger and wealthier enemy in a long and costly war of economic attrition and has aimed it at the United States, with no small measure of success gained over the last decade. "Even though it has lost Osama bin Laden and its safe haven in Afghanistan," the author writes, al Qaeda's "fight against America is broader, and al Qaeda and its affiliates are key players in more regions than they were engaged in a decade ago...Meanwhile, the U.S. economy is shattered, it faces an almost unthinkable debt burden, and its policy makers have largely been consigned to arguing with each other on the sidelines while the country's traditional allies...are overthrown or see their power erode" (p. 200).
IN BIN LADEN'S Legacy, Gartenstein-Ross frequently employs an Ali-Foreman "Rumble in the Jungle" analogy, suggesting that America's post-9/11 counterterrorism strategy, such as it is, has taken on the character of a superpower exhausting its expansive but finite resources in a fight against an enemy that is largely resting against the ropes and waiting for the opportune time to strike. One area in particular in which this strategy can be seen is airline and airport security, an area in which the U.S. has made massive expenditures over the last decade.
"After the 9/11 attacks, the United States poured enormous sums of money into bolstering aviation security," Gartenstein-Ross writes. "Yet time and again, terrorists affiliated with al Qaeda have shown how just a bit of technical ingenuity can thwart these expensive defenses" (p. 4). Examples of this span the post-9/11 period, from the 2001 `shoe bomber,' Richard Reid, to the 2007 sports drink suicide plot in the U.K., to `underwear bomber' Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab's 2009 attempt to bring down a Northwest Airlines flight bound for Detroit. This ability of "al Qaeda's operatives...to find vulnerabilities in aviation security, which has been hardened far more than any other set of targets," speaks to the impotence of America's current strategy of throwing money and technology at our problems (p. 203).
THAT THIS PLAYS right into our enemies' hands can be seen, for example, in the aftermath of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula's (AQAP) successful attempt to slip bombs disguised as printer cartridges past airport security and onto FedEx and UPS cargo planes bound for the U.S. Though the bombs were found before reaching their destination and being detonated, Gartenstein-Ross writes, AQAP still considered the effort a success, as their mere $4,200 investment (a number that was splashed across the cover of a special issue of the group's English language magazine Inspire) would likely cause Europe and America billions in additional security technology and manpower to ensure such an attempt did not succeed again. As AQAP itself acknowledged, their current strategy against the West is the "strategy of a thousand cuts," each of which costs them very little to produce, but provokes a massive and costly response. In sum, the author writes, "al Qaeda's strategy is...to make the United States collapse under the weight of its own defenses" (p. 203).
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Al-Qaeda believes its prior efforts against the Soviets in Afghanistan helped bankrupt the USSR; author Gartenstein-Ross, however, contends that the Soviets were already in deep economic trouble without the Afghanistan 'misadventure' - it had been having difficulty feeding its population for years already, and the final blow was the fall in the price of oil, courtesy of Saudi Arabia's ramping up production in the late 1980s.
The U.S., however, has played into al-Qaeda's strategy by over-reacting - expanding the 'War on Terror' into Iraq and other locations, inefficiently managing TSA screening efforts, and politicizing anti-terrorism to the point where efficiency/effectiveness discussions are impossible. Thus, massive waste, taken advantage by countless private companies and local governments to obtain funding for marginal anti-terrorism programs - eg. a Washington Post investigation found 1,271 government organizations and 1,931 private contractors were involved in national security alone._ (Gartenstein-Ross defends the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan - however, none of the terrorists came from or received significant training in Afghanistan.)
The author's recommendations center around reducing our dependency on oil, emphasized unsuccessfully by every president since Nixon, and easing partisan tensions (good luck on that!). My suggestion - simply stop our obviously biased support of Israel, and withdraw American forces from most overseas locations - especially Muslim lands.
Bottom-Line: The author's point is important, and its publication is welcomed. However, it could and should have been condensed into a magazine article.