The discourse of US public opinion on terrorism changed on a single day. The ‘war on terror’ was defined by a war– not only on an identifiable group–but a war on an ideology. The main challenge for the future of US national security is conceptual: we have yet to move beyond the thinking that was formulated pre 9/11 in a meaningful way.
What we are talking about here is risk. How willing are we, as Americans, to tolerate the possibility of another terrorist attack. No amount of money, weapons or intelligence will create a perfect solution to protect the United States from all risk. How much are we willing to pay out of the national treasury to reduce the odds of an attack? How much of our rights and liberties are we willing to sacrifice? A straight-line extrapolation of our pre-9/11 thinking is not viable…and worse, it doesn’t really work. What does a national security strategy look like that starts with a blank sheet of paper? That is really the question.
The US is certainly exercising great liberties with counterterrorism strategies, or so it seems, in countries where al Qaeda affiliates are based. It is unclear to the public, at least, what arrangements are being made with countries containing those groups. But it is more complex than that: some of these states are complicit, yes, but others don’t even control their territorial boundaries.
A drone is a tool—a developing technology that is here to stay. What are the alternatives? Deploying forces? Enabling law enforcement? Better intelligence to support forces? These are all still tactics–we need to incorporate tactics into a bigger strategy. Drones will eventually be replaced by yet another technology platform, instead of policing specific technology platforms; we need to establish an overarching foundation on how we conduct counter-terrorism operations.
One can argue that drones may be our best of a bad set of options until we figure out how to address the larger issue of why this ideology continues to galvanize support. Its simplistic in nature to just say, “they hate the US and western powers”, because they are also killing Muslims. Terrorism has been around for millennia and likely isn’t going away any time soon.