Explore Harvard's Nieman network Nieman Fellowships Nieman Lab Nieman Reports Nieman Storyboard

How do you win the war on terror?

ASK THIS | July 19, 2005

It’s essential that we triumph in the war on terror. But how do we do that? A researcher on public opinion and military conflict poses some questions for which we lack sufficient answers.

By Christopher F. Gelpi



Q. Who are the security forces that the US is training?


The Bush Administration has made it clear that training adequate Iraqi security forces is central to American success. But are these capable of maintaining the peace and maintaining some semblance of human rights? Recent reports suggest that the abuses of US soldiers pale in comparison with the treatment of Iraqis by Iraqi police. Our victory will be a hollow one if we replace Saddam with another police state that represses its people. How would we ensure that such a state did not pursue goals even more hostile to US interests than those of Saddam?


Q. What is at stake in the upcoming elections?


Democracy is of little comfort to the United States if the public elects violent and virulently anti-American leaders.The recent elections in Iran should make us cautious in placing too much faith in simply holding elections as a measure of success.


Q. Are we winning in Afghanistan?


The conflict in Afghanistan receives little attention because so few American forces have been killed there, but it is essential that we succeed in building a stable Afghanistan if we are going to ensure that it does not become a training ground for terrorism once again. The evidence seems to suggest that the Afghan government controls little that goes on outside Kabul.If things remain that way, then the “victory” over the Taliban will have been of little use.

Q. What actually causes terrorist campaigns to end?


While the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan may be “won” by establishing stable democratic governments that can control their own territory, how does this contribute to an ultimate “victory” in the war on terrorism? What do we know about when and why terrorist campaigns end?


Q. Is the presence of US forces a major cause of the insurgency?


The recent push for a withdrawal of US forces had at its core the claim that the US presence in Iraq is making things worse rather than better. Is this true? How would we know?


The NiemanWatchdog.org website is no longer being updated. Watchdog stories have a new home in Nieman Reports.