The Magazine

The War on Terror: Year Five

From the August 29, 2005 issue: It's global and it's at a crucial moment.

Aug 29, 2005, Vol. 10, No. 46 • By FRANK CANNON and JEFFREY BELL
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Finally, there is the relationship between the conduct of the world war and the state of play in American politics. The mass murders of 9/11, much against the hopes of bin Laden, made most Americans into hawks in the first phase of the war. It is reasonable to speculate that the realization of this backfire has played a part in the lack of enemy attacks on the U.S. mainland in the four years since. After the successful January elections in Iraq, the Bush administration turned its attention in other directions, mostly domestic, at the very time when the enemy's Iraq terror achieved a peak of effective psywar.

Meanwhile, Democrats are tempted to treat Iraq as a stand-alone Bush blunder rather than the intense pressure point of a far larger conflict that in fact it is. What if the Democrats succumb to their antiwar temptation at precisely the time when the worldwide nature of the conflict again becomes clear? Would a renewed campaign of mass murder on the American mainland make people think of the failure of the Bush administration to prevent it, or of the folly of antiwar Democrats?

There is plenty of uncertainty and danger on the American side about all these issues and inflection points. The good news is that our asymmetric enemy has even more to worry about, and far less margin for new errors.

Jeffrey Bell and Frank Cannon are principals of Capital City Partners, a Washington consulting firm.