There is No War on Terror
One of the more amusing American preconceptions is their apparent idea that terrorism never existed prior to the 11th of September, 2001. (Or, as that date is referred to in their nomenclature, 9/11.)
It is not uncommon to run into Americans who, when talking about 9/11, say the "world changed" that day. After that, they tend to launch into a discourse on how we realised we are no longer safe from terrorists, and how we must launch an all-out war against them.
The most obvious flaw with this worldview is its Americo-centricness; most of the world was well aware about the problems of terrorism, thank you. The British did not put with the Irish Republican Army for nothing, nor did Malaysia put up with the Malaysian Communist Party for nothing, nor did India see more than one of its Prime Ministers assassinated by terrorists for nothing.
It was and is plainly obvious to the world that terrorism is a problem. Indeed, the whole of the civilised world (including America, I hope) has been at war with terror ever since the first terrorist reared his head.
Of course, this sails right over the head of the typical American, who seems to believe that terrorism represents a radically new problem unheard of prior to 9/11.
That's not surprising, considering that circumstantial evidence indicates this is how the American leadership thinks as well. After all, did the Americans bother learning from anyone else who has actually had to fight terrorism, before trying to tackle it?
Still, it's really great that you Americans have decided to join the rest of the world in fighting terrorism. Oh, except for the itsy-bitsy problem of how you're trying to fight terrorism.
Most countries around the world have treated terrorism as a law enforcement problem. Of course, because terrorism is often cross-border, international law also becomes involved, but that's not an issue for most countries.
The Americans of course just have to take exception to this. In particular, the George W. Bush administration has shown utter contempt for international law and most international organisations. "America must go its own way" seems to be the predominant thinking.
The result is that the Americans, since they can't use the law to reach terrorists outside its borders, declare a "War on Terror", and treat themselves as if they are in a state of war. It's only made them the laughing stock of the world — I always have to stifle a chuckle when I see an American seriously speaking about how his country is in a state of war.
A state of war is only helpful if there is a defined enemy which can be defeated. Otherwise, how can you have any conditions for determining when the war is won or lost? How can you even meet the basic definition of a war in the first place, which presupposes an armed conflict between two or more states?
Terrorism is not primarily a military problem. It is an immediate problem of law enforcement, and a longer term problem of culture and economics. In the short term, law enforcement bodies around the world must cooperate to bring terrorists to justice.
Meanwhile in the long term, countries must work together to foster a culture of respect for law and order, and economies which ensure nobody is left behind by progress. Believe it or not, much of the resentment against the developed world is because the developing world is — get this — not developed, and isn't really developing.
A "War on Terror" fought like a conventional war will only be an unmitigated disaster like one of the US's more ignominious wars — the "War on Drugs". If we want to keep the world safe from terror, we cannot fight it with boots on the ground; we must fight it with the laws and governments which make civilisation what it is.