From the Cold War to the War on Terror

About this Episode

Guests
Philip Travis, Adrian Hänni

The September 11th attacks put terrorism in the forefront of American consciousness. Since then, the U.S. has waged a nearly ubiquitous global war on terror, that now reaches 76 countries and seems far from over. Although American thought on terrorism persistently goes back to 9/11 and 2001, U.S. interest and rhetoric on terrorism dates back well into the Cold War. How did terrorism become a focal point of U.S. foreign policy? How did earlier precedents shape how the U.S. fights terrorism and its response to 9/11? And what does this deeper history tell us about what terrorism is, how our common assumptions about it might be wrong, and how we should rethink it? On this episode of History Talk, hosts Brenna Miller and Jessica Viñas-Nelson speak with Drs. Philip Travis and Adrian Hänni to discuss the historical context for today’s war on terror and the Cold War precedents that help explain where we're at today. 

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Cite this Site

Brenna Miller, Jessica Viñas-Nelson , "From the Cold War to the War on Terror" , Origins: Current Events in Historical Perspective
July, 2018
https://origins.osu.edu/historytalk/cold-war-war-terror?language_content_entity=en.
July, 2018

Transcript

Brenna Miller 

Welcome to History Talk, the podcast that brings together a panel of experts to discuss current events in historical perspective. I'm your host, Brenna Miller.

 

Jessica Vinas-Nelson 

And I'm your other host, Jessica Vinas-Nelson. The September 11th attacks spurred a global war that put terrorism in the forefront of American consciousness. Since then, the U.S.' War on Terror has become nearly ubiquitous, and seemingly without end.

 

Brenna Miller 

American thought on terrorism persistently goes back to 9/11 in 2001, which has served as the premise for U.S. interventions all over the globe. But U.S. interest and the rhetoric on terrorism dates well back into at least the 1980s. So how did terrorism become a focal point of U.S. foreign policy? How did earlier precedent shape how the U.S. fights terrorism and its response to 9/11? And how do they continue to shape U.S. strategies on terrorism today and are they effective?

 

Jessica Vinas-Nelson 

We've invited two scholars to discuss the historical context for today's War on Terror, and the Cold War precedents that help explain the U.S.' approach to combating terrorism. On the phone, we have Dr. Philip Travis, an assistant professor of history at the State College of Florida, where he focuses on the Cold War, twentieth century U.S. foreign policy, the War on Terrorism, the Vietnam War, and the Second World War, and is the author of Reagan's War on Terrorism in Nicaragua.

 

Dr. Philip Travis 

Thank you. I'm happy to be on the show.

 

Brenna Miller 

Also, on the phone, we have Dr. Adrian Hänni, a professor of political history at Distance Learning University Switzerland, where he focuses on terrorism, intelligence history, and the Cold War.

 

Dr. Adrian Hänni 

Thank you for having me. It's a pleasure to be on the show.

 

Jessica Vinas-Nelson 

Thanks for joining us today. So to start us off, what is the current state of the now 17-year-old War on Terror?

 

Dr. Philip Travis 

I think it's ongoing. The United States' resolutions authorizing military activity and the combat of terrorism, which began after September 11, is now some 17 years in the books and continues to be used to justify a myriad of interventions. So in that sense, it's very much still directly connected to the September 11th attacks.

 

Dr. Adrian Hänni 

Yeah, if I kick in here, I think this is an important point on this War on Terror that was announced after 9/11 is still ongoing. And it's the still empowerment from Congress that is still used today to basically bring the United States military into armed conflicts on various places on the globe.

 

Jessica Vinas-Nelson 

What does the U.S. really hope to accomplish in the War on Terror? And are the objectives clear?

 

Dr. Philip Travis 

Any kind of precise objective, aside from the broad objective of sort of stamping out cases of anti-American terrorism, it seems that this precise goal has changed quite a lot since the original war in Afghanistan and the war in Iraq. I mean, indeed, you could argue that the inactive resolution, following September 11th, was precisely written about al-Qaeda and those that perpetrated September 11th, but of course, Iraq, which was known at the time, had little to do with September 11th, and so it seems that a precise objective was really diverted from the very beginning. And today we see the War on Terrorism applied to multiple continents and pursuing groups that are not simply limited to al-Qaeda or 9/11, but a wider swath of radical groups.

 

Dr. Adrian Hänni 

The label of the War on Terrorism has been used over the last 17 years by a range of actors for quite a big set of different strategic objectives. Probably it's the strength or the flexibility of the concept that so many different objectives can be taken under its umbrella. But if we take it literally, it would be a war on a particular form of violence. And it's claimed to basically declare war on terrorist violence. And if we look at this, at least, declared objective of this war, then we have to admit after 17 years that these strategic objectives have not been successfully reached at all.

 

Dr. Philip Travis 

Yeah, and in as much as the strategic objective is targeting a type of violence. One has to really ask the question -- is achieving a satisfactory conclusion to this in a reasonable timeframe really possible? If it's not possible, how long, for example, does the international community accept this sort of loosely guided resolution that allows intervention almost at will in multiple countries? To what extent do the American people accept certain curtailments of civil liberties in the interest of defending against terrorists? Or do we need a more precise definition, I think is one of the bigger questions in terms of objectives.

 

Dr. Adrian Hänni 

I think this is very important. And I mean the two points here. One is, is it even possible to strategically defeat a form of violence that we as historians will probably say was always with us in human societies? And the second thing, major problem of the concept of the War on Terrorism is, is it possible to defeat such a form of violence to a militarized strategy? Can violence be rooted out through violence? And I think if we look at the record, it looks pretty bad. So there is the remarkable initiative of the University of Maryland, who has the "START" database. And of course, it's always difficult to take these exact numbers of global terrorist incidents, but they collected one of the most acknowledged databases of terrorist violent acts and they recorded about 650 violent acts in 2003 globally, at the beginning of the War on Terror. It increases to 8000 in 2010. And it goes to about 15,000 in 2015, which is about 40 terrorist attacks a day globally in 2015. And I think it's fair to say that, that in a lot of regional places, these military strategies to annihilate terrorist actors through drone strikes, through military campaigns have aggravated a lot of key drivers of regional conflict as well and have aggravated other forms of political violence beyond just terrorism.

 

Jessica Vinas-Nelson 

Those statistics are just stunning.

 

Dr. Philip Travis 

Well, the statistics tell the story. But even to just the everyday sort of observer of international events, it seems pretty apparent that the wars in Afghanistan, the war in Iraq, and the other various theaters the War on Terrorism have, it seems, exacerbated the problem, as we have seen terrorist groups with links spread out over multiple continents.

 

Brenna Miller 

So how do we define terrorism? And has that changed over time?

 

Dr. Philip Travis 

This is one of the key themes in my book, how precisely do we define it, or how loosely we define it. In the 1980s, the Reagan administration's Office of Counterterrorism actually resisted other elements within the Reagan administration who sought to define terrorism very broadly, to effectively define it in such a way that it might warrant a wider array of actions that could be taken against certain international opponents of the United States. This really became the precedent of the Reagan administration, but it was opposed by the leadership in the Office of Counterterrorism. Individuals, like Robert Oakley, who oppose this on the basis of the idea that if we define terrorism very broadly, then you open the door to sort of an issue of credibility. In the 1980s, for example, they redefined narcotrafficking, the State Department did, as a form of terrorism, narcoterrorism. And so the decision to kind of loosely and vaguely define the individuals you target as terrorists, I think has some degree created a bit of a credibility gap for the United States. And I think if you go to the war in Iraq, you see that yet again, where the United States attacks Afghanistan, due to its alleged complicity in the 9/11 attack, but then it turns around and applies a preemptive policy of regime change, a conventional war against Iraq, a country that was, at the time, pretty widely accepted as having nothing to do with that.

 

Dr. Adrian Hänni 

Yeah, I think this is a point where we as historians can kind of show that what has been filtered as terrorist violence has varied widely over time. Another case example from the '80s and the '90s would be the violence against abortion clinics that has been defined as terrorism at some points, particularly under the Clinton administration, and has not been defined as terrorism at other points, for example, in the Reagan years. I think it's more than a question of definition. So of course, the definition already filters the phenomenon to non-state actors and to non-state political violence. But there's more to that than definitions. What is labeled and framed as terrorism to politicians, to the media, it shows that definitions are actually often pretty irrelevant. And one case in point would be Dylan Roof. He was a young American, a guy who went into a black church in Charleston, South Carolina, and shot and killed nine worshippers in the church. And he had very clear political motivations behind his act. He wanted to, as he himself wrote down in the documents that were found at his home, wanted to incite the war between the races. He had a lot of pamphlets, flags, photographs of right-wing ideas at his home, of white supremacist ideologies. He had his own website, The Last Rhodesian, and he was part of a Southern Christian Confederate movement. So it had all the points that would fit all major definitions to be called a terrorist act. But that did not happen with Dylan Roof. And although he actually was a perfect case of terrorism, according to the FBI's own definition, he was sentenced to death for murder and for hate crimes, but he didn't get indicted or sentenced for terrorism. So my point is that at the end of the day, the definitions are pretty irrelevant of what we as societies label and filter as terrorism or terrorists.

 

Jessica Vinas-Nelson 

When did the modern problem of terrorism really emerge then? Are there ways that terrorism, as we think of it today, differ from much earlier acts of terrorism?

 

Dr. Philip Travis 

There is an important distinction, at least from the United States government's standpoint, that should be made between international terrorism and domestic terrorism, international terrorism being terrorism that occurs across international boundaries and is usually somehow involved in the complicity of a state sponsor of terrorism along with other various groups. In that respect, I think most historians would agree that sort of the modern problem of terrorism emerges most in the late '60s and the 1970s. And in the 1970s, probably the most widespread case would have, of course, been the PLO, or general Palestinian groups, and their conflict with Israel. And of course, the most infamous case being the Black September attack of 1972 in Munich, Germany, and there are numerous sky jackets and hijackings. But for the issue of what the United States would define as international terrorism, the one interesting change that we find in the 1970s, by and large, terrorists associated with the Israel-Palestine conflict sought rudimentary exchanges. They sought to use political prisoners to gain negotiating leverage for the release of other prisoners. And so we have cases of hijackings in the 1970s, where no one's killed, and then you transition into decades later, and particularly today, it is almost universally associated with the sort of shock mass killings and bombings that we associate with the War on Terrorism, and how that develops is complex. But I think the U.S. policy approach of non-negotiation with terrorists probably plays into that.

 

Jessica Vinas-Nelson 

How many other countries have a similar policy of refusing to negotiate with terrorists?

 

Dr. Adrian Hänni 

A lot of Western countries started to adopt at least the formal stance of not negotiating with terrorists. But I think we have to be a little bit careful of what's the stated doctrine or position on negotiations and what has been done behind the scenes. A lot of governments throughout the decades, the '70s, the '80s, up until today have negotiated with terrorist actors in specific crises, even Reagan and his government have engaged in negotiations. So one example would be the 1985 hostage crisis, when a plane of the Trans World Airline, TWA, was hijacked and brought to Lebanon, and Reagan was willing to go into negotiations with these hijackers and eventually put pressure on the Israeli government to release a great number of Palestinians from Israeli prisons. Another very infamous case is obviously the Iran-Contra affair, which was basically initiated by the fact that the Reagan government was willing to negotiate with terrorists and try to cut the deal with Iran so that Iran would pressure Hezbollah to release American citizens that were kidnapped in Beirut and held in Lebanon. So I think we have to be careful not to take that position too literally, that the Western governments never negotiate with terrorists.

 

Dr. Philip Travis 

Yeah, I agree. That's a really excellent point to make. And the United States has done that. And its negotiation with terrorists, as Adrian was pointing out, while effective was highly controversial for the Reagan administration. But of course, the stated policy of the United States has been particularly dug in on the idea that it won't negotiate. And I think that the examples that Adrian is pointing out and myself, I think, might raise the question of just how hardline should we be with respects to diplomacy and with the idea of potentially having conversations that might result in peace.

 

Dr. Adrian Hänni 

What's underlying is also certain stereotype on terrorists and what a terrorist is. And if we come from that notion that has been pushed very hard since 9/11, that a terrorist is basically like an unchanging virus that has a certain set of fixed rates and ideas that can't be changed and it can only be an annihilated, then obviously, negotiation is baseless. But if you assume that terrorists are of course doing very bad things and are applying tactics that we consider absolutely unacceptable, but that they are also humans that pursue a political idea, and that potentially change and modify these ideas, and there are a lot of historical case studies, such as the IRA, where this has actually happened. We have the example of the FARC here in Colombia. So we assume that actors that apply terrorist violence can also change their tactics over time if one engages with them in a particular political way, then there is a room for negotiations, obviously, that opens up.

 

Jessica Vinas-Nelson 

Well, speaking of stereotypes, and you guys have both mentioned some other errors already, but most Americans associate terrorism with the Middle East. Can you speak to some of the other areas of the world that laid the ground for present policies on terrorism?

 

Dr. Philip Travis 

My own research, I've looked, of course, at Latin America, typically Nicaragua and Central America, as well as some research more broadly. And what we find is that historically, terrorism is not a Middle Eastern phenomenon exclusively, it's not a radical Islamic phenomenon exclusively. But the issue of terrorism has been something that has had many theaters and in fact, Latin America, for many years in the 1980s, was one of the foremost areas that the United States government perceived the threat of terrorism, as we saw the El Salvadoran Civil War, of course the war against Nicaragua, narcotrafficking associated with groups like FARC in Columbia. And so I think the tendency today to assert it as an Islamic problem, I think exacerbates a number of problematic stereotypes.

 

Dr. Adrian Hänni 

I think this is a point that cannot be underscored enough. To look at this from a historian's perspective, there is nothing fundamentally or essentially Islamic or Islamist in terrorist violence. Even if we look at the 1970s, as Phil said, with the attacks by Palestinian commandos and particularly the spectacular hijackings of airplanes, if we look at the leader of those Palestinian factions that committed those attacks, they were often not Muslims, but Orthodox Christians. For example, Wadie Haddad, probably the big mastermind of the hijacking wave in the turn of the early 1970s, leader of the external operations of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, was a Christian. So was George Habash, the leader of the PFLP, so were a lot of other Palestinian terrorist operatives in Europe. So even if we look at it in that very narrow lens of the Middle Eastern conflict, historically, this hasn't been a phenomenon that has been in its essence in any way Islamic, or derived from the Qur'an or from Islamist ideology, more and more specifically.

 

Dr. Philip Travis 

It's interesting. One of the most high profile pre-September 11 acts of international terrorism to occur in the United States was a bombing of a political opponent in Washington, D.C. in the late 1970s that was perpetrated by those affiliates of the Chilean government in a program of international terrorism, in an operation that some members of the State Department described as rightist and even like a far right movement and from the perspective of some leaders, maybe even Christian, in terms of their outlook and their pursuit of leftist opponents.

 

Dr. Adrian Hänni 

Absolutely. I think another big example, if we look at the domestic scene in the U.S., a big share of terrorist violence in the 1970s originated from Cuban exiles and anti-Castro organizations that were exploding bombs in Florida and Miami, but also in New York and in other places of the United States in high frequency in the 1970s. Were even responsible for the bombing of a Cuban airliner that killed more than 70 people as it exploded in midair in 1976. So the example of these Cuban exile, anti-Castro terrorist groups would demonstrate that terrorism has historically neither been a left-wing nor a religious or even Islamic phenomenon.

 

Jessica Vinas-Nelson 

What effect did that have on America's formative period, that you could say, for developing anti-terrorism policies, if this arose primarily during the late Cold War?

 

Dr. Philip Travis 

Well, interestingly, during the Reagan administration, and actually, you would assert this with Henry Kissinger's State Departments as well, in the mid-later '70s, there was a tendency to define terrorism as a leftist problem. The Reagan administration, particularly in the 1980s, very rarely acknowledged the problem of rightist terrorism. Certainly, the Contras were really, by the Reagan administration, never referred to as terrorists, they were referred to as freedom fighters, which, of course, was a political sort of propaganda move, but the Reagan administration certainly, and I think Henry Kissinger's State Department, had a tendency to awfully interpret terrorism and leftism as kind of related -- the sort of moniker of the "communist terrorist." And by the middle of the 1980s, as you see a softening of tensions between the United States and the Soviet Union, led by Gorbachev, the Reagan administration increasingly tended to define not only leftist states, but also some of the more revolutionary countries, like Iran, as part of an axis of international terrorism. And that kind of grew out of this problem of leftism in the Cold War.

 

Dr. Adrian Hänni 

Yeah, just to keep on with the example of the Contras, there was a discussion in the New York Times actually, after the Iran-Contra scandal broke, there was at least one or two articles that discussed whether or not the Contras should actually be considered terrorists as well. And there was a letter to the editor where one fellow citizen made the remarkable line, and that brings us back to the definitions, "If the President of the United States ordered it, it's not terrorism."

 

Dr. Philip Travis 

 Very, very, very Nixonian.

 

Dr. Adrian Hänni 

Yes. But yes, I think the emphasis on left-wing terrorism during the Reagan years can be explained by the fact that terrorism is basically seen as an ideological tool, particularly the neoconservative policymakers that, in great numbers, came into the administration when Reagan was first elected in 1981, recruited from the Committee on the Present Danger from the Heritage Foundation and new conservative groups that are funded in the second half of the 1970s. And they got into a very big number of important policymaking positions in the National Security Council and, to a lesser degree, in the State Department and the Department of Defense. And a lot of these policymakers saw terrorism as an ideological tool to revive the Cold War, to come over this period of peaceful coexistence and the tone that had been a characteristic for the 1970s. And they were basically thinking, "How can we make Americans fear communism again?" A lot of these older concepts that were used in the 1950s, in this first wave of anti-communism in Europe, the Soviet threat, were not really working anymore in the 1980s. And one solution they came up with is this ideological construct of terrorism, that they would basically sell the idea that terrorism was this monolithic threat of left-wing groups and more or less centrally directed from the Soviet Union, from the KGB, against the Western democracies. So they integrated terrorism into Cold War narrative, to simplify it a little bit, to frame the Cold War, again, in moral categories, as the fight of "good versus evil," to them, half the domestic argument for the Cold War politics that the Reagan government wanted to initiate.

 

Dr. Philip Travis 

I think a lot of this too, we have to remember this is all in the context of remembering of the Vietnam War. It's, of course, the Reagan administration that was almost obsessed with this idea of the Vietnam Syndrome, the idea that somehow the failures in Vietnam had taken the political capital away from the United States to be able to wage the Cold War in a way that it saw fit. And so the Reagan administration went to great lengths to try to find ways to pursue the Cold War in such a way that would not connect with bad memories of Vietnam.

 

Brenna Miller 

Philip, I know that your expertise is largely on Latin America. And we just want to know if you could offer a few specific examples where what you're talking about, where this shift from anti-leftism to anti-terrorism plays out.

 

Dr. Philip Travis 

So in Latin America, I think one of the best examples, of course, is Nicaragua, and by association, El Salvador. So of course, Nicaragua, the overthrow of the Somoza regime in 1979, left the United States in a difficult position. The Carter administration had sought to sort of play a balancing act between a potential Sandinista government or something that was closer to the old government. The Reagan administration, when it comes to power, pursues a war of harassment, and then ultimately regime change on the government of Nicaragua, largely for its association with the militants in El Salvador. And so the United States largely constructed the revolutionaries in El Salvador, the FMLN as specifically a terrorist organization. Of course, it was really an insurgency. There's a very interesting memo in 1984, circulated by Robert McFarlane, they redefine what an insurgency is and what a terrorist group was. And an insurgency was defined with such a rigid boundary that you almost have to wonder if any revolution could be an insurgency. They had to wear a uniform, they had to operate within a specific boundary, and it had to behave within the norms of international law and combat. Of course, the United States was simultaneously supporting an insurgency that did not fit that moniker. But that definition was used to put the FMLN on the U.S. terrorist group list and labels the FMLN in El Salvador as a terrorist army of nearly 13,000, one of the largest in the world, as opposed to a legitimate insurgency, and use that allegation to justify support for the El Salvadoran government as well as, of course, the Contra War and insurgent war against Nicaragua. The United States also sought to redefine the concept of narcotrafficking and use the issue of narcoterrorism in its characterization of militants fighting the Colombian government, and of course, in the 1980s, there were a number of very significant events in the Americas. In June of 1985, we had several American off-duty servicemen killed at an outdoor cafe in El Salvador. And this became the real basis for Ronald Reagan's so-called outlaw state speech, and formed a lot of the basis for the Reagan administration's reclassification of state sponsorship of terrorism. And Cuba, likewise, for decades up to this point, was really regarded as the United States' number one state sponsor of terrorism for its activities in not only aiding and in supplying militants in Central America, as well as eventually the government of Nicaragua, but of course, Africa and so forth. As it carried on, the idea that Cuba remained on the state sponsorship of terrorism list for years, was probably not right. But it was nonetheless regarded by the United States as the preeminent state-sponsored terrorism.

 

Jessica Vinas-Nelson 

Adrian, anything to add to that?

 

Dr. Adrian Hänni 

Yeah, I think El Salvador is certainly an ideal case in the early 1980s, where we see this connection of the leftist threat with the terrorist threat. And one dimension is, as Phil said, that the insurgency in El Salvador, the left-wing insurgency and guerrilla groups were framed as terrorist groups in the same way as nihilist leftist groups in Western Europe, that were very different in character, such as the Red Army Faction in Western Germany or the Red Brigades in Italy. And the second dimension was that the U.S. government tried to paint the picture that this left-wing insurgency in El Salvador was part of this international terrorist network or conspiracy that was led by the Soviet Union. And in a similar way, that after 9/11, there was an attempt to have the intelligence services find evidence of links between Saddam and al-Qaeda to justify the war in Iraq. I've seen a lot of memoranda from the early Reagan years where they taught the CIA to find links to what they call the international terrorist network and the insurgency in El Salvador, to have this connection to a larger international terrorist threat and either regional or national conflict in El Salvador, and to use this as a justification to on one side, support the government militarily, the very authoritarian governments, but also to send special forces that would directly be involved in the conflict.

 

Brenna Miller 

So we're talking about terrorism as sort of a global phenomenon, which means that the strategy that you're talking about of defining state sponsors of terrorism and outlaw states is pretty wide-ranging. What are the consequences then for ideas of international relations and sovereignty?

 

Dr. Philip Travis 

I think when you look at terrorism, terrorism presents a new legal argument in terms of international law. And this was the argument that because of the sort of malevolent threat, as well as the multi-state, irregular nature of the threat, that the United States somehow had a legal right and obligation, regardless of a country's sovereignty, to make a war of regime change. So you move from the containment policy of Vietnam to these more irregular types of conflicts that then become justified by a different legal argument that international terrorism requires that the United States take preemptive and preventative measures to address this threat. And this was the argument that the Bush administration made following the September 11 terrorist attack. Then, of course, we saw how that played out in subsequent policies. But that same legal argument was put forth by legal experts working for the Reagan administration in the 1980s. With the case of Nicaragua, and the United States used that case against Nicaragua, the International Court of Justice at The Hague, of course, sided with Nicaragua in that it was an illegal violation of Nicaragua's sovereignty, despite the legal arguments that the Reagan administration made, albeit the Reagan administration never really acknowledged those proceedings to begin with.

 

Dr. Adrian Hänni 

Yeah, I think this is the key point that Phil raises, that the legal but also particularly the ideological and public justification, legitimation for military interventions for the War on Terror that has been employed after 9/11 by the George W. Bush administration has been developed or has emerged during the Reagan years. And we see that, as a result, that most counter-terrorism policies that came to define the War on Terror in the 9/11 area were actually conceived during the first six years of the Reagan administration, that was using military intervention, using special forces militarily to counter the terrorist threat. Also, there was the initiation of an armed drone program in 1986. Why did that then take 15 more years to actually become a major factor after 9/11 only? And one of the major reasons is that in late 1986, the Iran-Contra scandal broke, which is sometimes almost forgotten today, probably the biggest scandal in American political history since at least the post-World War Two years. And it almost brought down the Reagan administration. And it led to the resignation of a large number of those responsible for foreign and security policy within the Reagan administration, and almost all of the proponents of the War on Terror ideology had to leave the administration in late 1986 and late 1987. And terrorism was completely reframed for the last two years of the administration, starting in spring 1987, it was no longer conceived as a war or as an existential threat. But the new national security adviser, Frank Carlucci, and others were ordering that terrorism should be looked at as a crime and be dealt with true to the law enforcement system and not to the military system. And this basically abruptly stopped the development that was already, in the first six years of the Reagan administration, going very directly into counterterrorism policy that we would assume as the War on Terror in post-9/11.

 

Jessica Vinas-Nelson 

How should that change our thinking about 9/11 and the U.S.'s response to it, then, as a continuation or a departure?

 

Dr. Philip Travis 

Certainly, there is a large degree of continuation. However, I don't think we should take that to the step of saying that there's not a fundamental shift occurring. I think, when you look at the authorization for the use of military force, which has remained in place for 17 years, which is the military resolution that effectively allows the United States, without any kind of formal war declaration, to apply military force broadly in the world as it sees fit to combat terrorism. This is a very important development that I think is very unique in its own right. I think it's also important to note that the war in Iraq was a large-scale conventional war. When we're talking about counterterrorism in the 1980s, largely we're talking about the United States using maneuvers to harass a country like Libya, and then doing some tit for tat strikes on Libya. We're talking about the United States sanctioning Nicaragua, harassing Nicaragua, trying to overthrow the government with insurgents. But I think, when we look at the beginning of the Bush Doctrine, it's built on the legal arguments of its predecessors, it's built on the history of the Cold War. But it nonetheless embodies a very, very different shift in terms of the scale of U.S. intervention, not only with wars like Iraq and Afghanistan, but the nature of U.S. intervention throughout the globe, and also coming with certain domestic restrictions as well. So I think that the scale, the overtness of the post-September 11th world, despite being built on precedence, still makes it a very important and unique development.

 

Brenna Miller 

So thinking about the consequences of a military intervention in these cases, what alternatives are there that perhaps American foreign policy makers should take more seriously when they're thinking about the War on Terror?

 

Dr. Adrian Hänni 

Yeah, this is not an argument that violence should never be used against terrorist actors, or that there is never a role to play for the military. But it's also a question of priorities, and what are the major tools that you're using and to what degree? And I think there is, as history shows, there are different approaches that can be very, very successful in dealing with terrorist challenges. One thing is the law enforcement approach, which has been used very strongly and actually very successfully in the United States during the 1990s, even against al-Qaeda and then Islamist terrorism. There was the first attack on the World Trade Center in 1993, by a group that had some loose connections to what would later emerge as al-Qaeda. There were other al-Qaeda related attacks in the 1990s, and those perpetrators were caught, sometimes abroad, that were brought to the United States and brought to civilian courts to civilian judges, who sentenced them to prison sentences. If we compare this to what happened to 9/11 is that we have a total failure of the justice system as until now, none of the 9/11, of those directly responsible for 9/11, have received the sentence, although most of them have been caught. So there is a law enforcement and justice line that could be strengthened and that has often proven very effective. And I think even more important, and what has been forgotten, is that there are political approaches as well, and that the military is often only effective if there is a political strategy that's underlying military action. That is obviously very acknowledged if we're talking about traditional threats. But apparently, if we talk about terrorist challenges, there seems to be the idea that this can be dealt with only by the military, by sending it out and killing one terrorist after the other until no one standing. But I think, as historians, we can pinpoint to a lot of examples of political solutions. And then at least the attempt to tackle the underlying problems and going into preventive strategies can be a very effective approach.

 

Dr. Philip Travis 

If I may interject for a moment, in the middle of Ronald Reagan's presidency, George H.W. Bush headed a task force to combat terrorism. And this was an administration-wide group thats job was to basically evaluate the terrorist threat and come up with the best approach to dealing with this. And interestingly, the leadership in the Office of Counterterrorism, which was Robert Oakley and Parker Borg, particularly, when they got the report and they began revising it, were appalled by the fact that the leading actors in creating this report had biased the interest of using military force. That report, which Paul Robert Oakley and Parker Borg, and more or less eventually led to both of their early exits, because they believed that the real goal, as Adrian was correctly pointing out, is to use the legal system, to use cooperation with allies, diplomacy in these types of measures and to place military measures as really a last resort. If we look at the post-September 11th world, as Adrian pointed out early on with those statistics, there's really little evidence to suggest that a military-first approach has been very effective in solving this problem.

 

Dr. Adrian Hänni 

Yes, and those statistics were only directly speaking on the terrorist violence. That doesn't even take into consideration the huge amount of human suffering that has been caused. And these are American soldiers, of course, that have died in significant numbers. There has also been a hundred thousand, roughly hundred thousand of veterans from the war in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Syria, that have committed suicide since 2001. That is a huge number. All this attention, all this brain power that goes into conceiving these military strategies, all the money that it costs, the trillions of dollars that have been spent since 2001 cannot be used for investments in education, in the health system, in infrastructure that's crumbling in certain places in the country. And I think if we're all adding it up, it would be high time to make a reset now and rethink the militarized strategy that we pursue.

 

Brenna Miller 

Alright, so here at the end then, we just want to offer an opportunity for you guys to offer any final thoughts.

 

Dr. Philip Travis 

I think probably the biggest conclusion I would add would be to consider the degree to which the United States today intervenes in the world, and that Americans need to be very thoughtful as a democratic nation, in evaluating how and when the United States is using military force in the world. These types of actions not only cost money, they cost tremendous amounts of lives, and they've not demonstrated much of a success rate in terms of ending terrorism. Even when you go back to the 1980s and you consider these the counter-terror operations in Central America, you'll find that these were hardly stellar successes for the United States. And so the War on Terrorism really signifies the emergence of a hyper interventionist United States, and one that is acting in such a way that really poses real challenges to the international sovereign state system. And that we need to really think about if we're going to consider this to be the new reality, or if we want to rein in this level of interventionism and pursue diplomatic and legal approaches to these types of problems.

 

Jessica Vinas-Nelson 

Adrian, thoughts to add?

 

Dr. Adrian Hänni 

Yeah, maybe there are two points that could be taken out from historical studies of terrorism. And one would be that people should be aware that what we're facing today is, from a historical perspective, really not something that new or unique, and that we have qualitatively and quantitatively similar instances and similar waves of terrorist violence in the Western world. The other major point, I invite people to really think about what the terrorist label makes with themselves when they hear terrorism, when they see terrorism, when they think about terrorism. And what I'm hinting at is the strategic character of knowledge on terrorism and how terrorism has been used as a power strategy to influence our thinking and to make us support certain policy options. And this is something that we can really trace well through historical investigations, because we can't access government documents, sometimes documents from non-governmental actors as well. And we can evaluate how terrorism was used very deliberately as a strategy to sell certain policies. And in the particular case of the U.S. government, how at different periods, and in more recent history, institutions within the U.S. government have very deliberately set up strategies to sell a narrative of terrorism as an existential threat, of terrorism as a monolithic threat, where it's claimed that all the different terrorists that appear in Europe, in the Middle East and the U.S., in Asia that they are somehow connected by and guided by central actors, whether that is Osama Bin Laden in Afghanistan, or ISIS in Iraq and Syria, or, as it was in the 1980s with the Reagan administration, actually the KGB and the Kremlin in Moscow, that there are recurring stereotypes and images and narratives surrounded by terrorism, that sell it as this monolithic and existential threat that makes us concur to certain policy options, whether that is military intervention or increased surveillance, torture, and other measures, that we would not under normal circumstances agree to, but as a result of the terrorism label, we are willing to agree to.

 

Jessica Vinas-Nelson 

We'll wrap it up on that note. Thank you to our two guests, Drs. Phil Travis and Adrian Hänni.

 

Brenna Miller 

This episode of History Talk podcast was brought to you by Origins: Current Events in Historical Perspective, an online publication of the Public History Initiative and the Goldberg Center in the history department at The Ohio State University in Columbus and Miami University in Oxford, Ohio. Our main editors are Steve Conn and Nicholas Breyfogle. Our executive producer is David Staley. Our audio and technical advisor is Paul Kotheimer. Our audio producers and hosts are Brenna Miller and Jessica Vinas-Nelson. Song and band information can be found on our website. You can find our podcasts and more on our website at origins.osu.edu, on iTunes and on SoundCloud, and as always, you can find us on Twitter and Facebook. Thanks for listening.

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