The New Rules: U.S. Counterterror Stance Ain’t Broke, So Don’t Fix It

The New Rules: U.S. Counterterror Stance Ain’t Broke, So Don’t Fix It

Despite the rush right now to declare important milestones or turning points in the fight against terrorism, the best handle we can get on the situation seems to be that al-Qaida is near dead, but its franchises have quite a bit of life in them. The implied situational uncertainty is to be expected following Osama Bin Laden's assassination, as he was our familiar "handle" on the issue for more than a decade. But although it is normal that we now seek a new, widely accepted paradigm, it is also misguided: In global terms we are, for lack of a better term, in a good place right now on terrorism, meaning we don't need to unduly demote or elevate it in our collective threat priorities. Instead, we need to recognize the "sine wave" we're riding right now and seek no profound rebalancing in our security capabilities -- other than to continue protecting the "small wars" assets that we spent the last decade redeveloping.

First, some historical perspective: Over the past couple of centuries, global capitalism has faced a revolutionary/terrorist response everywhere it has spread. That response has been anti-city and anti-Western in character for the most part, but given capitalism's early successes in advancing urbanism and Western social structures, this was to be expected. The key thing to note is how each successive response has sought to turn back the clock further and further.

Karl Marx's original diagnosis of capitalism's collapse did not allow for the possibility of political adaptation, and that failure of imagination led his successors to retreat further back in time in their search for effective bastions of resistance. Vladimir Lenin saw his moment in barely industrialized Russia, while Mao Zedong saw his in China's pre-mechanized countryside. Both political movements subsequently engendered frantic catch-up or modernization campaigns that succeeded most spectacularly in murdering vast swaths of their populations. Their ideological ruthlessness was later surpassed by Cambodia's Khmer Rouge movement and Pol Pot's genocidal efforts at a "year zero" demographic cleansing.

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