The 2006 mid-term election in the United States was the sharp popular rebuke that President George W. Bush has yet suffered at home. With Congress lost to the Democrats and exit polls showing six in ten voters opposed to the Iraq war, Bush finally fired Donald Rumsfeld, his disastrous secretary of defense. But while Americans gave the Bush low marks on the war in Iraq, polls show that they still support him on the struggle against terrorism.
Unfortunately, America is not winning the “war on terrorism.” An official National Intelligence Estimate confirmed that more jihadist terrorists are being recruited than the US is killing. Bush is correct to say that Al Qaeda has been disrupted, but its attraction as a movement has been enhanced. The cancer has metastasized.
Bush is also right to say that this will be a long struggle. Most outbreaks of transnational terrorism in the past took a generation to burn out. But America won the long Cold War by a smart combination of hard coercive power and attractive ideas. When the Berlin Wall collapsed, it was not destroyed by an artillery barrage, but by hammers and bulldozers wielded by those who had lost faith in communism.
There is little likelihood that people like Osama bin Laden can ever be attracted: only force can deal with such cases. But the people the extremists recruit can be brought to choose moderation over extremism. The Bush administration is beginning to understand this proposition, but it does not seem to know how to implement such a strategy.