The Center for Critical Democracy Studies

Demos21: The End of the War on Terror?

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On Wednesday, December 8, 2021, Demos21, a series of lectures, roundtables and workshops organized by AUP’s Center for Critical Democracy Studies (CCDS), hosted its final event of the calendar year. Guest speaker Dr. Marc Hecker from the Institut Français des Relations Internationales (IFRI) led a discussion on the War on Terror. The hybrid event was held in CCDS’s classroom in the Quai d’Orsay Learning Commons, with participants attending online from throughout Europe and the Middle East. 
 
The lecture drew on the speaker’s book The Twenty Years’ War: Jihadism and Counterterrorism in the XXIst Century, co-authored with Elie Tenenbaum. Their book, based on several years of field investigations, was recently awarded France’s Prix du Livre Géopolitique, or geopolitics book prize. Hecker drew out several themes in the lecture, including the global history of the War on Terror, his analysis of the strategic realities of the conflict, and the lessons that might be learned from the past two decades. 
 
Hecker began his presentation by offering an overview of the War on Terror, which covered 9/11 and the emergence of a new strategic cycle, America’s military interventionist strategy, the era of counter insurgency, the wave of novel jihadi activity in the aftermath of the Arab Spring, the battle against ISIS, and the so-called “strange victory” achieved in recent years. A large part of his analysis dealt with the following question: “Who won the War on Terror?” 
 
Hecker’s research suggests that there are no clear winners. In the aftermath of 9/11, the stated objectives of the US were to eradicate Al-Qaeda, eradicate terrorist groups of global reach, and combat state hosts of terrorist groups, efforts which Hecker argues failed. On the other hand, Osama Bin Laden’s stated objectives were to remove infidels from Muslim land, remove apostate governments in the Muslim world, and create a caliphate to function as the nexus of the ummah (an Arabic word for nation used to signify the worldwide community of Muslim believers). Hecker pointed out that Al-Qaeda was also unsuccessful in realizing these goals. He drew on research from Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), which has reported that there has been a global increase in terrorist fighters in a larger geographical region and that, while terrorism has fallen in recent years, it is still notably higher than in 2001. 
 
Finally, Hecker offered his assessment of the future of jihadism, which has endured in part due to the ability of groups to set forth a compelling ideology. He concludes that jihadist successes depend entirely on their ability to incite an overreaction in their targets. In analyzing what lessons might be drawn from the past 20 years, Hecker concluded that France would do well to think of the fight against terrorism as a marathon rather than a sprint and to balance the impulse for overreaction against the potential for underestimation. Following Hecker’s presentation, the audience raised questions about the linguistic significance of the term “jihadist” as well as the implication made by the concept of the “end” of the War on Terror that terrorism has been contained.