Attorney General Eric Holder’s decision Friday to try the alleged 9/11 conspirators in U.S. federal court would seem to be yet another piece of evidence that the Obama Administration considers the war on terror to be over. Holder’s action was a natural consequence of the decision to close the Guantanamo detention center. But it reflects a clear shift in emphasis in national strategy away from a war model for dealing with Al Qaeda and its affiliates and towards a model based on terrorism as crime.
The consequences of this decision are far reaching. One recent example is in the way the FBI treated the e-mail exchanges between the alleged Fort Hood assassin, Major Hassan, and the Al Qaeda recruiter in Yemen. Because there was no overt evidence of criminal behavior, the FBI did not open a full investigation. Does anyone other than the FBI believe that Hassan was conducting academic research? Under a terrorism-as-war model, the simple link between an Al Qaeda operative and someone in a sensitive position in the U.S. military would have been enough to set off alarm bells. It would have initiated a major counterintelligence investigation. But not if terrorism is a crime and the requirement for further investigation is probable cause.
If the war on terror is over, what does this mean for the Department of Defense? It would seem we are over investing in capabilities to conduct counterterrorism operations. This is even more the case for investments in counterinsurgency and stability operations. The logic for engaging in counterinsurgency and stability operations is to reduce the availability of safe havens from which terrorists can operate. But this strategy only makes sense under a terrorism-as-war model.
Investments in special-operations forces and unmanned vehicles still make sense. But buying capabilities such as propeller-driven counterinsurgency fighters do not. The emphasis in defense procurement should shift to dealing with medium and high-intensity threats. This means more air dominance capabilities, missile defenses, cyber defenses and long-range strike systems.
Find Archived Articles: