May 8th, 2011
03:11 PM ET

Fareed's Take: Counterterrorism beats nation building

There is a silly debate taking place in Washington about who deserves credit for Osama bin Laden's assassination - President Obama or President Bush.

John F. Kennedy once said that victory has a thousand fathers, so can we admit that lots of people - thousands beyond those two people - deserve credit?

The outcome is the culmination of years of intelligence and action, but this specific operation was obviously conceived, planned and executed by the Obama administration, which deserves genuine respect for handling it well.

But the real lesson that we should be drawing from it is that counterterrorism works. Counterterrorism is our most important and effective strategy in the war on terror.

There was a debate at the start of the Obama administration over policy toward Afghanistan and Pakistan. Some, like Vice President Biden, wanted a limited counterterrorism operation with fewer troops.

Others wanted a broader counterinsurgency campaign that involved all kinds of things that we would generally call nation building. The counterterrorism advocates lost. General Petraeus won. But the counterterrorism guys were right.

And this is something we can credit Obama with: Despite his choice, he focused much more relentlessly on the counterterrorism part of the strategy in Pakistan.
He dramatically increased the number of drone attacks, for example, and that's just one metric.

There also has been a massive expansion of other counterterrorism efforts, including intelligence gathering and live operations. The killing of Osama Bin Laden is the fruit of that much larger investment in special operations and counterterrorism.

President Bush, of course, did support special operations, but the bulk of his time, energy and attention got devoted to a much larger nation-building project in Iraq. Bush believed that a functioning democracy in Iraq would sap the ideological strength of al Qaeda's message.

The theory was right. Look at how the Arab revolutions have put al Qaeda on the defensive, as it has become clear that people in the region want jobs and freedom, not jihad and caliphates. But the trouble is nation building is a much larger, more expensive and inherently more difficult mission for an outside power like America.

America gets seen as wanting to dominate other countries, imposing its will and being imperialistic. It is easy to excite nationalist opposition against the 800-pound superpower.

Counterterrorism, by contrast, is something we can do well. It requires good intelligence, of course, but also superb military work - and that is something the American military shines at.

The killing of Bin Laden shows that there is a very powerful way for the United States to fight terrorist organizations - through vigorous special ops.

We do not need to occupy vast tracts of Afghanistan for decades to keep al Qaeda at bay.

We can keep the terrorists on the run, decapitate their leadership, pursue their planners, track their money and foil their plots. It's hard; but it's not nearly as hard as turning Afghanistan into a functioning, modern, capitalist democracy.

That's my take. What's yours? For more of my views throughout the week, I invite you to check back at and to follow me on Twitter and Facebook.

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Topics: Afghanistan • CIA • Fareed's Take • GPS Show • Iraq • Middle East • Military • Osama bin Laden • Pakistan • President Obama • Security • Strategy • Taliban • Terrorism • United States

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  1. x


    Military-Industrial Complex Speech, Dwight D. Eisenhower, 1961


    Public Papers of the Presidents, Dwight D. Eisenhower, 1960, p. 1035- 1040

    My fellow Americans:

    Three days from now, after half a century in the service of our country, I shall lay down the responsibilities of office as, in traditional and solemn ceremony, the authority of the Presidency is vested in my successor.

    This evening I come to you with a message of leave-taking and farewell, and to share a few final thoughts with you, my countrymen.

    Like every other citizen, I wish the new President, and all who will labor with him, Godspeed. I pray that the coming years will be blessed with peace and prosperity for all.

    Our people expect their President and the Congress to find essential agreement on issues of great moment, the wise resolution of which will better shape the future of the Nation.

    My own relations with the Congress, which began on a remote and tenuous basis when, long ago, a member of the Senate appointed me to West Point, have since ranged to the intimate during the war and immediate post-war period, and, finally, to the mutually interdependent during these past eight years.

    In this final relationship, the Congress and the Administration have, on most vital issues, cooperated well, to serve the national good rather than mere partisanship, and so have assured that the business of the Nation should go forward. So, my official relationship with the Congress ends in a feeling, on my part, of gratitude that we have been able to do so much together.


    We now stand ten years past the midpoint of a century that has witnessed four major wars among great nations. Three of these involved our own country. Despite these holocausts America is today the strongest, the most influential and most productive nation in the world. Understandably proud of this pre-eminence, we yet realize that America's leadership and prestige depend, not merely upon our unmatched material progress, riches and military strength, but on how we use our power in the interests of world peace and human betterment.


    Throughout America's adventure in free government, our basic purposes have been to keep the peace; to foster progress in human achievement, and to enhance liberty, dignity and integrity among people and among nations. To strive for less would be unworthy of a free and religious people. Any failure traceable to arrogance, or our lack of comprehension or readiness to sacrifice would inflict upon us grievous hurt both at home and abroad.

    Progress toward these noble goals is persistently threatened by the conflict now engulfing the world. It commands our whole attention, absorbs our very beings. We face a hostile ideology - global in scope, atheistic in character, ruthless in purpose, and insidious in method. Unhappily the danger is poses promises to be of indefinite duration. To meet it successfully, there is called for, not so much the emotional and transitory sacrifices of crisis, but rather those which enable us to carry forward steadily, surely, and without complaint the burdens of a prolonged and complex struggle - with liberty the stake. Only thus shall we remain, despite every provocation, on our charted course toward permanent peace and human betterment.

    Crises there will continue to be. In meeting them, whether foreign or domestic, great or small, there is a recurring temptation to feel that some spectacular and costly action could become the miraculous solution to all current difficulties. A huge increase in newer elements of our defense; development of unrealistic programs to cure every ill in agriculture; a dramatic expansion in basic and applied research - these and many other possibilities, each possibly promising in itself, may be suggested as the only way to the road we wish to travel.

    But each proposal must be weighed in the light of a broader consideration: the need to maintain balance in and among national programs - balance between the private and the public economy, balance between cost and hoped for advantage - balance between the clearly necessary and the comfortably desirable; balance between our essential requirements as a nation and the duties imposed by the nation upon the individual; balance between actions of the moment and the national welfare of the future. Good judgment seeks balance and progress; lack of it eventually finds imbalance and frustration.

    The record of many decades stands as proof that our people and their government have, in the main, understood these truths and have responded to them well, in the face of stress and threat. But threats, new in kind or degree, constantly arise. I mention two only.


    A vital element in keeping the peace is our military establishment. Our arms must be mighty, ready for instant action, so that no potential aggressor may be tempted to risk his own destruction.

    Our military organization today bears little relation to that known by any of my predecessors in peacetime, or indeed by the fighting men of World War II or Korea.

    Until the latest of our world conflicts, the United States had no armaments industry. American makers of plowshares could, with time and as required, make swords as well. But now we can no longer risk emergency improvisation of national defense; we have been compelled to create a permanent armaments industry of vast proportions. Added to this, three and a half million men and women are directly engaged in the defense establishment. We annually spend on military security more than the net income of all United States corporations.

    This conjunction of an immense military establishment and a large arms industry is new in the American experience. The total influence - economic, political, even spiritual - is felt in every city, every State house, every office of the Federal government. We recognize the imperative need for this development. Yet we must not fail to comprehend its grave implications. Our toil, resources and livelihood are all involved; so is the very structure of our society.

    In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the militaryindustrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist.

    We must never let the weight of this combination endanger our liberties or democratic processes. We should take nothing for granted. Only an alert and knowledgeable citizenry can compel the proper meshing of the huge industrial and military machinery of defense with our peaceful methods and goals, so that security and liberty may prosper together.

    Akin to, and largely responsible for the sweeping changes in our industrial-military posture, has been the technological revolution during recent decades.

    In this revolution, research has become central; it also becomes more formalized, complex, and costly. A steadily increasing share is conducted for, by, or at the direction of, the Federal government.

    Today, the solitary inventor, tinkering in his shop, has been overshadowed by task forces of scientists in laboratories and testing fields. In the same fashion, the free university, historically the fountainhead of free ideas and scientific discovery, has experienced a revolution in the conduct of research. Partly because of the huge costs involved, a government contract becomes virtually a substitute for intellectual curiosity. For every old blackboard there are now hundreds of new electronic computers.

    The prospect of domination of the nation's scholars by Federal employment, project allocations, and the power of money is ever present

    and is gravely to be regarded.
    Yet, in holding scientific research and discovery in respect, as we should, we must also be alert to the equal and opposite danger that public policy could itself become the captive of a scientifictechnological elite.

    It is the task of statesmanship to mold, to balance, and to integrate these and other forces, new and old, within the principles of our democratic system - ever aiming toward the supreme goals of our free society.


    Another factor in maintaining balance involves the element of time. As we peer into society's future, we - you and I, and our government - must avoid the impulse to live only for today, plundering, for our own ease and convenience, the precious resources of tomorrow. We cannot mortgage the material assets of our grandchildren without risking the loss also of their political and spiritual heritage. We want democracy to survive for all generations to come, not to become the insolvent phantom of tomorrow.


    Down the long lane of the history yet to be written America knows that this world of ours, ever growing smaller, must avoid becoming a community of dreadful fear and hate, and be instead, a proud confederation of mutual trust and respect.

    Such a confederation must be one of equals. The weakest must come to the conference table with the same confidence as do we, protected as we are by our moral, economic, and military strength. That table, though scarred by many past frustrations, cannot be abandoned for the certain agony of the battlefield.

    Disarmament, with mutual honor and confidence, is a continuing imperative. Together we must learn how to compose differences, not with arms, but with intellect and decent purpose. Because this need is so sharp and apparent I confess that I lay down my official responsibilities in this field with a definite sense of disappointment. As one who has witnessed the horror and the lingering sadness of war - as one who knows that another war could utterly destroy this civilization which has been so slowly and painfully built over thousands of years - I wish I could say tonight that a lasting peace is in sight.

    Happily, I can say that war has been avoided. Steady progress toward our ultimate goal has been made. But, so much remains to be done. As a private citizen, I shall never cease to do what little I can to help the world advance along that road.


    So - in this my last good night to you as your President - I thank you for the many opportunities you have given me for public service in war and peace. I trust that in that service you find some things worthy; as for the rest of it, I know you will find ways to improve performance in the future.

    You and I - my fellow citizens - need to be strong in our faith that all nations, under God, will reach the goal of peace with justice. May we be ever unswerving in devotion to principle, confident but humble with power, diligent in pursuit of the Nation's great goals.

    To all the peoples of the world, I once more give expression to America's prayerful and continuing aspiration:

    We pray that peoples of all faiths, all races, all nations, may have their great human needs satisfied; that those now denied opportunity shall come to enjoy it to the full; that all who yearn for freedom may experience its spiritual blessings; that those who have freedom will understand, also, its heavy responsibilities; that all who are insensitive to the needs of others will learn charity; that the scourges of poverty, disease and ignorance will be made to disappear from the earth, and that, in the goodness of time, all peoples will come to live together in a peace guaranteed by the binding force of mutual respect and love.

    May 9, 2011 at 12:28 am | Reply
    • bejvalejpepik

      Impressive computer savvy on display – but my son knew how to do copy-and-paste in preschool.. Is there something else behind this? I'm sure it must be some favorite piece from American History of some former-hippies-now college-professors of some American university or something – right?

      May 9, 2011 at 12:50 am | Reply
      • hillbillyblu

        Impressive computer savvy on display – but my son knew how to do copy-and-paste in preschool.. Is there something else behind this? I'm sure it must be some favorite piece from American History of some former-hippies-now college-professors of some American university or something – right?"

        Do you know how ignorant you sound???? Did you even read what was said in Eisenhower's speech? "some favorite piece from American History.." You are so unbelievably stupid. YES. There is something else behind the words, idiot. Read and comprehend and stop trying to bully others with your opinions and misinformation that you happen to believe
        @ X Good point, it's been awhile since I read or heard this speech. It stands the test of time. ThanX

        May 9, 2011 at 1:47 am |
  2. Madhu Thangavelu

    Yes, I recall VP Biden supported counter terrorism with small, advanced tactics groups rather than carpet bombing and other large scale ops that DoD recommended. I think both options are needed, but for different scenarios. But the SEALS proved that surgical intervention can save countless innocent lives. Good to remember that AQ is just a band of thugs, not a nation, supported by extremists siphoning petrodollars that we bequeath, day after day, year after year, upon some nations that really should be taken to task for not cleaning up their act.

    May 9, 2011 at 2:02 am | Reply
  3. Jack Lewis

    May 9, 2011 at 2:15 am | Reply
  4. RightTurnClyde

    It's no longer about countering terror .. it's all about politics and elections. Nobody cares who gets credit for killing OBL. Actually neither Bush NOR Obama did it. The SEALs did it. The fat politicians did nothing. I am at the point where I'd rather take a chance of being killed by a terrorist that submit to being Xrayed and sexually molested by my government if I want to go to another city. Now they want to do it on AMTRAK too. Is Greyhound after that? There is no absolute certainty - you do what you can and then you take your chances (like driving a car). I do not give Obama credit for anything. He screwed up everything he touched so far .. and Napolitano too - especially airline travel.

    May 9, 2011 at 2:29 am | Reply
  5. John

    Fareed is the smartest person on CNN. He isn't a carnival barker, or a shill, he doesn't lobby for foriegn countries. He just speaks the truth after careful study of the issue. I enjoy seeing him break down the ignorant stuff that appears on Cable News. You are the best Fareed!

    May 9, 2011 at 2:53 am | Reply
  6. mark

    This is silly and untrue. I'm not for either, but of course with the right intelligence ANY president would've taken the same action. To not give ANY credit to Bush just because "it wasn't him", to say we got him just because obama was in office just shows your ignorance and blind faith in this president.

    May 9, 2011 at 4:26 am | Reply
  7. Dennis Ferguson

    There is big money to be made in nation building plus work and ribbons for the armed services. So the big money people buy Congress and that's why we are into nation building of countries like Afghanistan. Apparently there is not so much money or glory to be made for our patriots here in the USA!!

    May 9, 2011 at 8:35 am | Reply
  8. Keith

    There is a silly debate taking place in Washington about who deserves credit for Osama bin Laden's assassination – President Obama or President Bush.

    “No person employed by or acting on behalf of the United States Government shall engage in, or conspire to engage in, assassination…”

    Part 2.11 of Executive Order #12333, signed by President Ronald Reagan, states the following:
    This executive order carries within it a proscription against US intelligence agencies sponsoring or carrying out an assassination. This is meant to cover a person or persons who are enemies of the United States.

    May 9, 2011 at 10:40 am | Reply
  9. Derek Bergquist

    The strategy will always be to move disconnected regions where terrorists operate without rule of law into the economic community of nations. Special Operations does work well in the short-term, but we don't need a dozen years of incursions into Pakistan or Afghanistan fighting Ayman al Zawahiri, Mullah Omar, and the Hajjani network. The US needs victory in 2014 leaving Afghanistan in better economic shape with a functioning police force to take them down themselves. What is the alternative if you have 30% unemployment and can't feed yourself? The policy is currently a punative policy not a rehabilitative long-term policy that finally extricates the US out of the Middle East/South Asia/East Aftrica Militarily and connects economically beyone simply energy supplies.
    The US should continue to nationbuild to 2014 at a 10% contribution with China/India/Russia contributing the 90% since they are neighbors with Afghanistan/Pakistan. Otherwise, it will be 2021, 2031 with simply the US involved and India/China/Russia free-riding off the system. Bring those three powers into rebuilding both Afghanistan and Pakistan economically. Ask the question of them, what if the US fails in South Asia?
    Derek Bergquist

    May 9, 2011 at 10:47 am | Reply
  10. frank

    Nation building sure worked in Germany and Japan....

    May 9, 2011 at 2:07 pm | Reply
    • frank

      Of course, we first had to completely destroy their economy first 🙂

      May 9, 2011 at 2:08 pm | Reply
  11. imeanwhat

    Are Al Qaeda a bunch of manzies? Find out about who's really behind Pakistan Fashion Week @imeanwhat

    May 9, 2011 at 9:58 pm | Reply
  12. Paul

    Good article even tho I think the key is to have a little bit of both counterterrorism and counterinsurgency.

    I think what really stirred the pot was finding trusted couriers and large scale improvements and deployment of UAVs into Pakistan.

    In future wars, we might not be able to have boots on the ground in every country or even be allow to fly UAV's in a country without permission or doing it covertly.

    It really came down to trial and error and it's not over yet.

    May 10, 2011 at 5:30 am | Reply
  13. grumpygramma

    On Nation building: I am reminded of an old saying- "You can't make a silk purse out of a sow's ear"
    Democracy has to come from within a culture and people...they are light years away from it.

    May 10, 2011 at 8:00 am | Reply
  14. barrymillay

    Fareed Zakaria – pimping for Obama and Soros. A plant. A stooge. Bought and paid for by The One. This explains the fawning interview he had with his paymaster, George Soros. Fareed is advising and showing the love for his O-Man.

    May 15, 2011 at 12:03 pm | Reply
  15. Liliane

    Netanyahu: "America is Easy to Push Around (English Subtitles)"


    May 31, 2011 at 11:02 am | Reply
  16. barrymillay

    "John F. Kennedy once said that victory has a thousand fathers . . . "

    Hey, Fareed, JFK also once said, "Hey, watch out! That boat's gonna hit us!"

    May 31, 2011 at 1:14 pm | Reply
  17. veidipigree

    Sorry if this is a little off topic... I enjoy reading

    With all the talk about Lite Drywall.
    My comany really like using it. What are your thoughts?

    I save a ton of $ in garbage fees. The material is very easy to pick up.

    September 10, 2011 at 1:56 pm | Reply
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