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The End of the War on Terror and the Future of US Counterterrorism


The “Global War on Terror” came to dominate US foreign policy in the wake of the 9/11 attacks. The effort served as a guiding light for how the United States interacted with friends, allies, and adversaries and deeply influenced US priorities around the globe, in general, and in the wider Middle East, in particular. While it will likely never be announced as concluded, the Global War on Terror is effectively over, due to four separate but related reasons: the killing of Osama bin Laden, the perceived failure of counterinsurgency as an effective policy instrument, the significant costs of the effort, and the Arab Awakening. This does not mean, however, that the United States will no longer pursue counterterrorists. Drones and special forces have emerged as the key tools in US counterterrorism, and the United States is likely to continue pursuing terrorist cells and high-value targets aggressively across the globe for decades to come using these means. However, this practice should be viewed as one of many defense efforts that the United States carries out on a regular basis in order to guard the full range of US interests. Elements of the emerging US counterterrorism effort remain problematic, but the end of the Global War on Terror nevertheless presents Washington with a window of opportunity to reorder its relations with the nations and peoples of the Middle East and North Africa and frees up resources for the United States to tackle other emerging strategic priorities, such as the shift of global power to the Pacific, the revival of the US economy, and security challenges such as energy security and cyber defense.

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