Fighting binladenism

Shibley Telhami, James Steinberg

Research output: Chapter in Book/Entry/PoemChapter


As the Bush Administration begins its second term, it faces the challenge of refocusing the global war on terror. The war on terror was originally presented, to American and foreign audiences, as the overarching framework for American foreign and national security policy in the post-9/11 world. However, as a conceptual and rhetorical device, it has become less useful (and potentially counterproductive) for this purpose as ever more diverse policy goals have been placed under its rubric and as its international legitimacy has declined following the intervention in Iraq. If these trends are not corrected in President Bush's second term, there is a significant probability that the "war on terror" will ultimately become little more than a slogan to justify other foreign policy objectives and not a rallying point for gaining international support for U.S. actions. Under current circumstances, refocusing the war on terror will necessarily entail two related shifts in U.S. policy. First, the definition of the objective of the war on terror has become too vague, making it imperative to specify more clearly the nature of the threat. Of course, the United States, as a matter of policy, opposes all terrorism, defined as the deliberate targeting of noncombatants for political purposes. But the threat to U.S. interests that emerged in such a highprofile fashion on September 11, 2001 is characterized not simply by means that a range of groups around the world employ, but also by a particular complex of aims, capabilities, and lack of responsiveness to traditional deterrence strategies. By these criteria, America's primary enemy in the post-9/11 world is most appropriately identified, not as "terrorism" in a generic sense, but as "Binladenism." • Obviously, Binladenism refers to al-Qa'ida; the term also refers to other groups that have come to embrace al-Qa'ida's mission. From a strategic perspective, Binladenism is an international movement that aims to establish a puritanical Islamic order throughout the Arab and Muslim worlds, sees the United States as its principal enemy, and is empowered by transnational capabilities and a willingness to use any means available. • Although Binladenism takes its name from the founder of al-Qa'ida, its orbit extends well beyond the limits of the al-Qa'ida organization and it almost certainly would survive the passing of Usama bin Laden himself.1 Second, the president and his senior advisers need to acknowledge that, to be effective in confronting, isolating, and weakening the Binladenist threat, their efforts will depend, in large part, on garnering maximal international cooperation and winning allies in Muslim countries themselves. • This means that, in order to succeed, the Administration's strategy for a refocused war on Binladenism must be devised with a clear understanding of the international and regional environments in which that strategy will be implemented. • What is needed is a broad-based effort to shape international and regional contexts for the war on Binladenism that would be more conducive to securing sustained international and regional cooperation.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationThe Road Ahead
Subtitle of host publicationMiddle East Policy in The Bush Administration's Second Term
PublisherBrookings Institution Press
Number of pages6
ISBN (Print)0815752059, 9780815752059
StatePublished - 2005
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Social Sciences


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