What can be done to remedy the longstanding policy failure of the US’s counterproductive war on terrorism?

The War on Terrorism’s Middle East focus, from Bush, to Obama and now onto Trump, is not working. Civil wars and conflicts in Libya, Iraq, Yemen and Syria are but a few instances that illuminate this failure.

Furthermore, terrorist attacks in the U.S., Europe and throughout the world are largely the result of ‘blowback’ to Middle East policy and, since 9/11, to the War on Terror. This is the same blowback that led to the bombings of Algiers’ pied-noir cafés in the early 1960s and, more recently, has evinced in attacks on Parisian nightclubs and in San Bernardino, California.

We have tried the military and regime change response to terrorism for 15-plus years. That reaction has drastically amplified terrorism throughout the world and exponentially multiplied ‘those who hate us.’ Ramping up the War of Terror, as Trump has begun to do, will only further increase blowback. The result is increased global privation in the Middle East, the West and elsewhere throughout the world.

What can be done to remedy this longstanding policy failure?

A good start would be to develop a new, more realist policy towards actors and regimes that are involved in Middle Eastern conflicts. For one, this would mean developing an agnostic stance towards regime survival. It would also entail not allying with states or stateless actors in conflicts, for taking a side in a civil war tends to fuel and prolong conflict. Conflict prolongation is magnified when it is the world’s most powerful actor, the United States, that distributes weapons, money, military advisers and special forces to a conflict participant. The resultant protracting of conflicts not only exacerbates suffering and multiples casualty rates, but fosters stateless vacuums from which terrorists thrive and multiple.

The second step in substituting out the War on Terrorism’s Middle East focus is to work with key stakeholders that are currently on the West’s bad side: Russia and Iran. Together with all principal stakeholders in the Middle East’s conflicts, the West, Iran, Hezbollah, Turkey, the Kurds, Russia and Sunni majority countries, the U.S. can actively pursue policies that support state building and counterterrorism. The primary ­­­stakeholders hold a shared interest in diminishing the threat of violent Sunni extremist groups, which are chiefly from the Islamic State, Al Qaeda, al-Nusra (or, Jabhat Fatah al-Sham, as they now refer to themselves) and Ahrar al-Sham. Through cooperation, common security threats can be reduced and the vacuums through which these threats emerge can be plugged.

Once this necessary rapprochement with Iran and Russia is reached, many of the conflicts in the Middle East can be pushed towards resolution. The focus will then turn towards ensuring conflicts do not recur, which would likely include moving UN troops from neutral countries into post-conflict regions. As the insecurity of conflict regions diminishes, the appeal to join a terrorist group will also subside. Additionally, when Russia and the West come to be seen as the arbiters of peace and stability, as opposed to their opposite (which is now often the case), terrorist recruitment will further wane. While vacuums proceed in their slow and difficult evolution towards functioning states, principal stakeholders can work on targeted actions against the aforementioned terrorist groups.

Certainly, none of these policy changes will come easily, due to the entrenched interests of military-industrial, fossil fuel and AIPAC lobbyists, compounded by a strictly-fixated, media-backed narrative that myopically frames our perception of the world. Nevertheless, ending the U.S.’s Middle East-concentrated part of the War on Terrorism is a necessary course to reduce terrorism, its appeal and the mutual security threats that the world faces. It also will decrease privation across the globe and free the West from our post-9/11 security mindset that, too often, cowers in fear of terrorism and of the other.