Victor Davis Hanson

Do we still need to fight a war on terror?

The answer seems to be no for an increasing number in the West who are weary over Afghanistan and Iraq or complacent from the absence of a major attack on the scale of 9/11.

The British Foreign Office has scrapped the phrase "war on terror" as inexact, inflammatory and counterproductive. U.S. Central Command has just dropped the term "long war" to describe the fight against radical Islam.

An influential book making the rounds - "Overblown: How Politicians and the Terrorism Industry Inflate National Security Threats, and Why We Believe Them" - argues that the threat from al-Qaida is vastly exaggerated.

Zbigniew Brzezinski, Jimmy Carter's national security adviser, goes further, assuring us that we are terrorized mostly by the false idea of a war on terror - not the jihadists themselves.

Even onetime neo-conservative Francis Fukuyama, who in 1998 called for the preemptive removal of Saddam Hussein, believes "war" is the "wrong metaphor" for our struggle against the terrorists.

Others point out that motley Islamic terrorists lack the resources of the Nazi Wehrmacht or the Soviet Union.

This thinking may seem understandable given the ineffectiveness of al-Qaida to kill many Americans after 9/11. Or it may also reflect hopes that if we only leave Iraq, radical Islam will wither away. But it is dead wrong for a number of reasons.

First, Islamic terrorists plotting attacks are arrested periodically in both Europe and the United States. Just last week a leaked British report detailed al-Qaida's plans for future "large-scale" operations. We shouldn't be blamed for being alarmist when our alarmism has resulted in our safety at home for the past five years.

Second, have we forgotten that Nazi Germany was never able to kill 3,000 Americans on our homeland? Did Japan ever destroy 16 acres in Manhattan or hit the nerve center of the U.S. military? Even the Soviet Union couldn't inflict billions of dollars in damage to the U.S. economy in a single day.

Third, in some ways stateless terrorists can be more dangerous than past conventional threats. Autocrats in some Middle East countries allow indirect financial and psychological support for al-Qaida terrorists without leaving footprints of their intent. They must assume that a single terrorist strike could kill thousands of Americans without our ability to strike back at their capitals. This inability to tie a state to its support for terrorism is our greatest obstacle in this war - and our enemies' greatest advantage.


Victor Davis Hanson

Victor Davis Hanson is a classicist and historian at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University, and a recipient of the 2007 National Humanities Medal.