Strategic Counterterrorism: The Signals We Send
Measured in lives and dollars, government reactions to terrorism often impose greater costs on the societies attacked than the terror attacks themselves. Indeed, what makes a terrorist attack “successful” is its ability to goad victim states into wasting their own resources, taking actions that drive support to terrorism, and behaving in ways that confirm terrorist worldviews. The strategic logic of terrorism demands better counterterrorism policies than those adopted by American policymakers after the September 11, 2001 attacks. Our counterterrorist activities communicate to important audiences about the United States, its values, and moral authority. Overreaction can frustrate our goals by sending the wrong messages about the utility of terrorism and the viability of terrorist groups. Accordingly, while government authorities pursue terrorists assiduously, the public face of U.S. counterterrorism should be unflappable, cool, and confident.