This is the conclusion, for now, of "The War on Terror and the Fire Paradox" blog post series.
So how should America go about its 'war' against terrorism? The root cause of terrorism needs ample understanding, thus helping in the fight, or what could be described as a fight, more against the source of terrorism than its effects. An issue with counterterrorism efforts abroad is that cooperation — if not total coordination — with the local government at the site of the operation is needed, as well as with others who may be affected.
The 9/11 Commission, set up over a year after the 11 September 2001 terrorist attacks upon the United States, gave a handful of major recommendations for an American course of action in the global battle against radical Islamic terrorism. "But the enemy is not just "terrorism," some generic evil. This vagueness blurs the strategy. The catastrophic threat at this moment in history is more specific. It is the threat posed by Islamist terrorism — especially the al Qaeda network, its affiliates, and its ideology." (p.362)
The 9/11 Commission Report also states education as a major preventative effort in states susceptible to breeding or attracting terrorism, as is economic development aid (pp.377-379). In addition, the report stresses a positive image of the United States in the Muslim world in order to allow the US to be seen as a legitimate and positive force, and not hinder its operations with governments wishing to help in battling extremism (pp.376-377).
Not only does the transnational flow of terrorists and their radical movements need to be halted, but a helpful combination of good PR (but not propaganda), economic agreements (but not unreasonable concessions), and open-channel diplomacy (but not a free-for-all) should be kept with states suspected of harboring — or even directly or indirectly supporting — terrorism. Countries like Syria, which is a major hub for insurgents entering Iraq, could help in the fight against terrorism if they were not shunned by the US. In Syria's case*, good relations with America could even bring the state further from more devious states like Iran. Lest we forget, terrorism is a problem for other governments too, even 'evil' ones. Most every state in the Middle East and North Africa fears terrorism of the radical Islamic persuasion.
The US cannot fight its war alone either. It needs to be willing to reach out to friends and foes alike, observing the greater good while still keeping on the ethical side of things. Guantanamo Bay does little in helping the war on terrorism, except in political ways for the Bush administration — e.g. when a suspect 'confesses' to some sort of scary-sounding terrorist plot, it raises political support for the White House. Gitmo is a negative symbol in the war on terror and looks bad from close allies like the United Kingdom as well as disgruntled Middle Easterners who already mad enough at America — things like Gitmo may well push them over the edge and radicalize the population, thus playing into the extremists' hands. Not to mention the fact it's a legal and human rights disgrace, an example of how freedom suffers at the hands of those who fight in the name of security (freedom v. security). These extremists resort to big measures to get public opinion on their side; the US is only helping them by providing perfect rallying cries: 'the imperial occupiers, who kill your brothers and bombed your village wish to harm us further', etc.
As Joseph Nye points out in a Foreign Affairs article from May/June 2004, you cannot just use military power in the 'war on terror' — perception matters*, whether in the eyes of allies or enemies. Allies must see the United States' foreign policy as legitimate, other must see it as non-threatening. Anti-Americanism is more serious than some in Washington think, and it’s high time to take actions to limit the resent against America.
---. Soft Power: The Means to Success in World Politics. New York: PublicAffairs, 2005.
* = a post from this blog