Cliff May

The “fog of war” is a concept derived from the writings of Carl von Clausewitz, the great 19th century Prussian military theorist who recognized that those leading troops into battle often lack data, perspective and situational awareness. Enveloped within this “fog of uncertainty,” they may not know whether they are winning or losing, and they may take actions that weaken their position and strengthen their enemies.

Would Clausewitz not be fascinated by the war dominating the 21st century, a conflict so murky we can’t even agree on its name? It is the War on Terrorism or the Long War or the War Against al Qaeda or just Overseas Contingency Operations?

Over at Foggy Bottom -- an apt nickname if ever there was one – an unnamed “senior State Department official” told National Journal’s Michael Hirsh that “the War on Terror is over.” He (or she?) elaborated: “Now that we have killed most of al-Qaeda … people who once might have gone into al-Qaeda see an opportunity for a legitimate Islamism.” A White House spokesman later issued a “clarification”: “We absolutely have never said our war against al Qaeda is over. We are prosecuting that war at an unprecedented pace.”

Both statements miss – if not the elephant in the room -- the guerillas in the mist. Yes, Osama bin Laden sleeps with the fishes and many of his lieutenants have learned the hard way how accurate American-made unmanned aerial vehicles can be. But as Rand Corp. scholar Seth Jones recently noted, with “a handful of regimes teetering from the Arab Spring, al Qaeda is pushing into the vacuum and riding a resurgent wave as its affiliates engage in a violent campaign of attacks across the Middle East and North Africa. … al Qaeda is regrouping.”

Nor have we defeated al Qaeda’s many affiliates and allies. Among them: the Taliban, the Haqqani network, the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, al-Shabaab, Boko Haram, Lashkar-e-Taiba, Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan, Hezbollah and Hamas.

And, most significantly, there is Iran, which the State Department itself has for years designated as the world’s leading sponsor of terrorism. Iran’s rulers do not think their war against “the world of arrogance” is over. And they have standing on this issue.


Cliff May

Clifford D. May is the President of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies.