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Terrorism: The urge to \'do something\'

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14 October 2010 15:45

Michael Wesley says that, rather than debate Afghanistan, we should be thinking about the next war: 'What are the likely reactions of our allies to a massive attack in Times Square or Trafalgar Square, planned and financed from Yemen or Somalia''

That's just the right question, and despite the fact that every government involved in the Afghanistan and Iraq campaigns has been chastened and humbled, it's not at all clear that further military campaigns won't be considered. 

After all, the costs of Iraq and Afghanistan have actually been quite modest. In historical terms, casualties for both wars are low, and so are the economic costs — combined, the two wars account for just 1.2% of America's GDP (the figure for World War II is 36%). There are also new institutional incentives for further military action — the intelligence agencies and armed services involved in Afghanistan and Iraq now all have experience, training, equipment and doctrine that is well suited to further counter-terrorist and counter-insurgency campaigns.

Then there's the simple urge, shared by governments and the public, to act decisively in a moment of crisis — to 'do something'. And it could be argued that military action has been quite an effective counter-terrorist tool, given the disruption al Qaeda has suffered in Afghanistan, and the lack of major strikes against the US in the last decade.

Then again, if there's a major attack on Times Square, it would be difficult to make the case that still more military action is needed to solve the problem. It might actually invalidate the entire military-led approach of the last 10 years.

 Photo by Flickr user dmachiavello, used under a Creative Commons license.

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