August 26th, 2011
12:23 PM ET

Debate: Did George W. get counterterrorism policy right?

Max Boot writes:

U.S. counterterrorism policy since 9/11 has been phenomenally successful. Who could have imagined in 2001 that ten years later there would not have been a single successful attack on the American homeland? And yet, apart from a few lone-wolf attacks such as the shootings by Major Nidal Hasan at Fort Hood, the record has been close to perfect.

What accounts for this success? Part of it is due to factors beyond anyone's control, in particular the fact that the United States is located far from the Middle East and does not have a ready supply of internal terrorists. One of its biggest counterterrorism strengths is its ability to assimilate immigrants of many different nationalities, including Muslims; it doesn't have a disaffected population of Muslim immigrants, or offspring of immigrants, which has been a breeding ground for terrorism in Europe.

Using imported operatives, al-Qaeda was able to carry out the worst terrorist strike in history on American soil–but not to repeat it or even come close. Why not? I would credit many of the improvements made to counterterrorism operations after 9/11. Vastly more resources flowed into this area at the FBI, New York Police Department, CIA, and other relevant agencies, and many of the bureaucratic barriers that had prevented effective cooperation among them were knocked down.

More controversially, President Bush authorized a number of steps that went well beyond the bounds of traditional law enforcement, including the use of "enhanced interrogation techniques" on high-value detainees such as Khalid Sheikh Mohammad (who was waterboarded 183 times after being arrested in Pakistan in 2003); the warrantless wiretapping of those who might have terrorist connections in the United States; the "rendition" of detainees back to their countries of origins even though some of those countries (e.g., Egypt, Algeria, and Jordan) were notorious for using torture; the indefinite detention without trial of eight hundred suspected terrorists at Guantanamo Bay and at CIA-operated "black sites"; the creation of military tribunals to try terrorist suspects without normal criminal-court protections; and the targeted assassination of al-Qaeda leaders with Predator drones in Pakistan and Yemen.

Such measures were denounced by civil libertarians and, once the immediate post-9/11 fear had passed, many of them were curtailed through a combination of congressional and court action. But key aspects of the Bush approach–from military tribunals and detentions at Guantanamo to Predator strikes–have been employed by the Obama administration. We now have a bipartisan approach to counterterrorism that has kept the United States safe for the past decade.

What do you think?

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Topics: Debate • Strategy • Terrorism • United States

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soundoff (14 Responses)
  1. Onesmallvoice

    Actually, George W.'s counterterroism stategy is no more no less than a cover up for U.S. and NATO expansion into the Middle East and Central Asia. If one considers counquering Muslim countries the right thing to do, yes Bush's strategy did work quite well and the Muslims are all, except for the Elitists, paying for it in spades!!!

    August 26, 2011 at 12:43 pm | Reply
  2. j. von hettlingen

    "Khalid Sheikh Mohammad (who was waterboarded 183 times after being arrested in Pakistan in 2003" is the uncle of Dr. Aafia Siddiqui's second husband. Siddiqui is regarded as Jihadists "Joan of Arc". She is serving a 80 year old sentence in Texas. The Pakistani Taliban had kidnapped two Swiss on July 1, 2011 and asked for her release in exchange for the hostages.
    Bush's counterterrorism was a partial success as attacks had been contained within the U.S. Yet the anti-American sentiments in Pakistan, Afghanistan and many Muslim countries have grown tremendously the 10 years!

    August 26, 2011 at 1:04 pm | Reply
    • Onesmallvoice

      I guess that you wouldn't know why there's so much anti-Americanism in the Muslim world today, would you? Then again, you couldn't grasp the anti-German feelings in France during WW2! Muslims today, just like the French in the 1940's, neither like nor want foreign rule!!!

      August 26, 2011 at 4:29 pm | Reply
    • j. von hettlingen

      please read – the PAST ten years.
      The author – "it doesn't have a disaffected population of Muslim immigrants, or offspring of immigrants, which has been a breeding ground for terrorism in Europe."
      What do you say about the clamour last year about a mosque, which was to be built in Lower Manhattan? And a pastor in Florida who burnt the Koran? All these could disaffect the muslim minority in America.

      August 27, 2011 at 7:05 am | Reply
  3. Mirame

    TWO STATE Solution. Israel / Palestine
    Intelligent "counter terrorism" would be "intelligent" Truly, I think that if the Trilllions were spent on intelligence CIA whatever...perhaps even "nation building" we would have better results.....and a little pressure on our "friends" in Israel.
    (I loved what Thomas Friedman had to say on this – on your show)

    Bush's strat has killed over 3,000 American soldiers and recruited who knows how many more terrorists.
    (Obama is not doing much better)

    Of course it would have been much harder to sell the "nation building" stuff...but surely Americans would understand if the President told the country that he was fighting the terrorists with covert intelligence and drones...etc....that would have been far more effective – less costly – and less deadly.

    A Muslim man actully told me that Soviets were in Afghanistan for Oil and Americans are there for Opium !
    He is a Bosnian man, living in the US – and I cannot believe he got this idea by himself...someone is telling them these lies and they are believing them.

    Question is: Without a Two State Solution in Israel / there any successful strategy ???

    August 26, 2011 at 2:38 pm | Reply
    • Jarrad Winter

      The notion of a two state solution is a myth. Palestinians have no desire to have a state along side the (in their minds) filthy Jews.

      Qur'an (5:51) O you who have believed, do not take the Jews and the Christians as allies. They are [in fact] allies of one another. And whoever is an ally to them among you – then indeed, he is [one] of them. Indeed, Allah guides not the wrongdoing people.

      Muslim (41:6985) Abu Huraira reported Allah's Messenger as saying: The last hour would not come unless the Muslims will fight against the Jews and the Muslims would kill them until the Jews would hide themselves behind a stone or a tree and a stone or a tree would say: Muslims, or the servant of Allah, there is a Jew behind me; come and Kill him; but the tree Gharqad would not say, for it is the tree of the Jews.

      Both the PA and Hamas are terrorists and wish to eradicate the Jews in Israel. The best counter-terror strategy is to convince the Muslims the horrifying place the relgion of allah has put them in. Everywhere you look, you have backwards Islamists trying to drag the whole world back to the 7th Century. That is because of Islam and a true and correct reading of the Qur'an and Hadiths.

      Islam is the problem. The world needs less Muslims. In fact, the world needs none of them. The not-dangerous-Muslims who claim to be of the "faith" need Intellectual rehabilitation and we have to kill the very motivated Islamofasicsts. We have to teach the others how to live with freedom, why it's cool, and help them find them a new way of thinking, behaving, and living. Islam, the 1400 years of violence/death in the name of allah and the rest of Muhammad's insanity, is the cause of it all.

      PA daily cartoon: "Palestine" must replace all of Israel

      Fatwa On Islam

      Defend Freedom

      August 26, 2011 at 5:52 pm | Reply

    George W Bush got it right.

    August 27, 2011 at 12:22 am | Reply
    • Onesmallvoice

      Did he really, STEVEN? If you consider the wanton slaughter of hundreds of thousands of Muslims halfway around the world for defending their homeland the right thing to do, then you're quite correct.

      August 27, 2011 at 2:59 pm | Reply
      • elixelx

        So, really, The germans in WWII were just trying to get some living space and boom, George W. Churchill attacks them soon to be joined by George W. Roosevelt.
        So you think that, were it not for Iraq the Afghan war would also be over by now, or was the Afghan war a good and inexpensive little war, while Iraq was a mistake!
        Incidentally for all the screaming that Panetta is doing about Al Qaeda being decimated and destroyed, where exactly were the killing fields. In Iraq, that's where.
        No Iraq you would have had 20,000 more Al Qaeda making mischief all over the place, and that particular war would have landed 50 times, 100 times on the malls and cities of America!
        You should thank your lucky stars for a man with the steel and flint of GWB. Someday, and soon, there WILL be a statue of him raised in Saadon Square!

        August 27, 2011 at 4:15 pm |
  5. Reasonable1

    Bush's policy did not work. The unnecessary but expensive war in Iraq bankrupted us. Now we do not have the money to improve our strength. We are worse off than we were 10 years ago.

    August 27, 2011 at 3:07 am | Reply
  6. leeintulsa

    Mother Jones has an interesting article this month, regarding the war on terror. Apparently, the only terrorists they are finding are the ones they create and finance. The *real* terrorist strikes are flying under the radar.

    Some excerpts:

    'Counterterrorism is the FBI's top priority, consuming the lion's share of its budget – and much of the attention of case agents and a network of some 15,000 informants.'

    '"The problem with these cases is that defendants would not have done anything if not kicked in the azz by government agents," says one of the lawyers involved.'

    'FBI officials say they have to flush out terrorist sympathizers – even if it means faking plots. "What would you do?" asks one. "Wait for him to figure it out himself?"'

    'After one sting target's trial, a judge warned that the FBI "created acts of terrorism out of his fantasies of bravado and bigotry, and then made those fantasies come true."'

    'Mohamed Osman Mohamud was an 18-year-old wannabe rapper when an FBI agent asked if he'd like to "help the brothers." Eventually the FBI gave him a fake car bomb and a phone to blow it up during a Christmas tree lighting.'

    They are finding homeless and broke muslims in America, giving them food and shelter and offering them exorbitant amounts of money, influencing them to think about attacking American interests. Sometimes it takes years for them to influence these disaffected people. They are entrapping American citizens and calling it foiling terrorist plots.

    Did anyone hear about a plot to blow up the Sears Tower? The Washington Metro bombing plot? Each of these plots was led by an FBI assett. Informants can be paid as much as $100,000 per assignment. ALL high-profile domestic terror plots of the last decade, with the exception of the guy who came close to bombing the new york subway systems in Sept 2009, the dude who opened fire on the El-Al ticket counter in LA, and the failed Times Square bomber, were actually FBI stings.

    August 28, 2011 at 2:47 pm | Reply
  7. Andrew Saunders

    We knew about the attacks being planned on 9/11, they were presented in the president's daily brief weeks before they occurred. We just did not have the foresight to do anything to stop them, which is understandable as the scale was pretty hard to believe back then. It was false security after having peace for so long. Probably the knocking down of walls between the agencies has helped a lot since then, but the expansion of activities seems to have been more knee-jerk reaction and overkill to make people feel safe whereas the pre-9/11 activities obviously picked up on terrorist planning just as well as it does today.

    August 29, 2011 at 5:37 pm | Reply
  8. Steven Olson Shaw

    George W Bush was a great president. It is a great lose to our country when his mother Barbara Bush recently passed away at 92. Our country derived a lot of stability from Barbara Bush. God bless her,

    May 15, 2018 at 12:31 am | Reply

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