Manual The First War on Terrorism: Counter-terrorism Policy during the Reagan Administration

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Instead, a deteriorating military situation obliged the president to order more troops to Afghanistan. He attempted to mitigate the buildup by simultaneously announcing a timetable for total withdrawal, which he was forced to abandon. Many observers criticized as a mistake his decision to withdraw all American troops from Iraq. It allowed the new Iraqi government to create a sectarian regime alienating the country's Sunni population and replace competent Iraqi commanders with regime loyalists.

Three Wars on Terror

As he learned in Afghanistan, once the troops are in, it is difficult to get them out. Air power offered a safer option, but requires a capable ground force to be effective, demanding the deployment of U. More than 6, American troops are reportedly back in Iraq and Syria. The administration's campaign against the Islamic State is an example of preventive war.

America's objective is to prevent the Islamic State from becoming a launching pad for terrorist strikes on the United States. Using drone strikes to kill terrorist commanders began with the previous administration, but became a major component of Obama's counterterrorist efforts. The strikes enabled the United States to directly attack terrorist organizations without taking on counterinsurgency or nation-building missions.

Drone strikes also remain directly under White House control. With advice from the intelligence community and military commanders, the president determines the target.

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Special operations have continued to play an increasingly important role in U. These are less the traditional deployment of Green Berets to work with local armies and irregular forces, and involve more kinetic operations — high-tech commando raids. They are preferred to sending large numbers of Americans into combat and they allow the White House to keep a tighter rein on involvement. America's stance on hostage situations returned to center stage during the Obama administration. The U.

Lessons from the First War on Terrorism | Westmont College

Beheadings of American hostages held by ISIS prompted the president to order a review of procedures, which led to improved coordination of government efforts. Official policy did not change, although some erroneously thought it did. Obama was accused of violating the no-concessions policy when the United States exchanged prisoners for an American private held by the Taliban, although trading prisoners for American military personnel is long accepted and not considered a violation of U.

The issue resurfaced when it was reported that the United States had returned to Iran funds frozen in in return for the release of American prisoners. Again, U. Yet, it was portrayed as paying ransom by the same critics who had chastised the president for not retrieving all of the American prisoners. Obama was determined to close the terrorist detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, which many felt had become a national embarrassment, but he failed to do so.

Flawed military commissions resolved only a handful of cases, and persuading other countries to accept detainees proved difficult. Transfers to the United States were blocked, mainly by the president's political opponents who saw closure attempts as a criticism of the previous administration.


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The military took no retaliatory action after the bombing of the Marine barracks in Beirut. When terrorists held passengers from the hijacked flight TWA for several weeks, the administration gave in to demands to secure the release of the hostages. David concludes that significant differences in opinion between Defense Department and State Department officials led to the inconsistent and ineffective response.

David thinks the failure to take consistent action may have encouraged terrorism.

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How is the current Bush administration doing? According to David, they are at least being consistent and have recognized that fighting terrorism requires an ongoing campaign. At the end of his book, David makes seven recommendations, arguing for continued prosecution of the war on terrorism and equipping the military and intelligence agencies to do so successfully. At the same time, he recommends ongoing diplomacy to resolve conflicts that foster terrorism.

He also contends that rhetoric must match action, or it becomes counter-productive. Finally, he notes that the war on terrorism must be a sustained effort rather than sporadic and superficial responses.