Description   |   Syllabus

Taking Stock of the Forever War: Global Jihad, War on Terror, American Power
Bard College
Fall 2010

On September 11, the War on Terror will enter its tenth year, taking its place as America's longest war as well as its strangest. The War on Terror - whether we decide to honor that term by capitalizing it or cast doubt on it by encasing it in quotation marks - is an odd composite: one part conventional war (for three weeks during the 2003 "combat phase" in Iraq); one part traditional counterinsurgency (during the bulk of the Iraq war and the current effort in Afghanistan); and one part worldwide counterinsurgency of a sort undreamt of by traditional militaries. Ten years on, the war remains elusive: unbounded in space and in time, increasingly rooted in virtual battles on the internet, fought suicide bombs, IED's, unmanned drones and videos issuing from mysterious caves deep in the tribal areas of Pakistan. Beyond these widely dispersed battlefields, the War on Terror remains a shapeshifting "war of the mind" that provokes bitter political dispute among the thousands who are prosecuting it, in the United States, Europe, Asia and the Islamic World. In this seminar we will take stock of this "forever war" by examining the jihad waged against the United States - its underlying ideologies, strategies, and tactics - and analyzing the changing character of the strange and apparently endless war that the United States and its allies have crafted to combat it

Mark Danner has written about international affairs, human rights and foreign wars for two decades, covering Central America, Haiti, the Balkans and Iraq, among other stories. A longtime contributor to the New York Review of Books and former New Yorker staff writer, Danner is the author of The Massacre at El Mozote; The Road to Illegitimacy; Torture and Truth: America, Abu Ghraib and the War on Terror; The Secret Way to War and Stripping Bare the Body: Politics Violence War. 

Requirements: This course is a discussion seminar, meeting every Monday evening to examine the development of jihad and the War on Terror. Faithful attendance is critical, as is thorough preparation, which means keeping up with the reading and following closely the coverage of foreign affairs in the daily press. There will be a final paper and some shorter assignments. A one paragraph proposal for the paper topic is due in class on November 15; the final paper itself will be due on December 6. Acceptable final paper topics will relate to the United States and the War on Terror. Grading: The grade is based on attendance, class participation and the quality of the written work. 

Reading: I strongly urge purchase of the required texts. Some reading will be found at internet links as well. Newspapers and Magazines: Students are required to keep up faithfully with coverage of foreign affairs in the major daily newspapers, beginning with the New York Times, Washington Post and Los Angeles Times and CNN and other news stations like the BBC and Fox. The major newsweeklies, especially The Economist, are also strongly recommended. Required Reading (Books) Jim Dwyer and Kevin Flynn, 102 Minutes: The Untold Story of the Fight to Survive Within the Twin Towers (Times Books, 2004) Lawrence Wright, The Looming Tower: Al Qaeda and the Road to 9/11 (Vintage, 2007) Terry McDermott, Perfect Soldiers: Who They Were, Why They Did It (Harper, 2006) Ron Suskind, The One Percent Doctrine: Deep Inside America's Pursuit of its Enemies Since 9/11 (Simon & Schuster, 2007) Mark Danner, Stripping Bare the Body: Politics Violence War (Nation, 2009) Steve Coll, Ghost Wars: The Secret History of the CIA, Afghanistan, and Bin Laden, from the Soviet Invasion to September 10, 2001 (Penguin, 2004) Bob Woodward, Obama's Wars (Simon & Schuster, 2010) Giles Kepes, Jihad: The Trail of Political Islam (Belknap/Harvard, 2003) Peter L. Bergen, The Osama Bin Laden I Know: An Oral History of al Qaeda's Leader (Free Press, 2006) David Kilcullen, The Accidental Guerrilla: Fighting Small Wars in the Midst of a Big One (Scribe, 2009) Norman Cigar, Al-Qa'ida's Doctrine For Insurgency: Abd al-Aziz al-Muqrin's "A Practical Course for Guerrilla War" (Potomac, 2008) Marc Sageman, Understanding Terrorist Networks (U of Pennsylvania, 2004) Richard Clarke, Your Government Failed You: Breaking the Cycle of National Security Disasters (Harper, 2009)"¨ Abdul Salam Zaeef, My Life With the Taliban (Columbia, 2010) "¨ 


August 30: Viewing of The Oath — a 2010 documentary by Laura Poitras that examines the life of Abu Jandal, former bodyguard of Osama bin Laden, as well as Salim Hamdan, a driver for bin Laden in the 1990s and the first person to be tried by military tribunal after 9/11. Overview: Introduction to Jihad and the Global War on Terror. Students will note the unique qualities of the War on Terror, particularly its unbounded military commitment and the jihadist goal of using the conflict as a springboard for building a popular movement. And as the "forever war" enters its tenth year, what does victory look like for the United States and its allies? "¨ 

September 6: — No class. I. The Attacks of September 11 

September 13: Jim Dwyer and Kevin Flynn, 102 Minutes: The Untold Story of the Fight to Survive Within the Twin Towers (Times Books, 2004) "The Almanac of Al-Qaeda," an article by Peter Bergen and Katherine Tiedemann in Foreign Policy, May/June 2010 Overview: Revisiting the execution and immediate socio-political aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, which were unprecedented both in terms of casualties and the coverage they received due to their live broadcast on television. Students will be introduced to the internal politics of Al-Qaeda and their goals in carrying out the attacks — i.e. provoking an asymmetrical military response in hopes of creating a rallying point upon which to build a pan-Arab Islamist movement. Recommended viewing: 2010 Lawrence Wright HBO documentary, My Trip to Al-Qaeda. "¨ II. Who They Are and Why They Fight 

September 20: Lawrence Wright, The Looming Tower: Al Qaeda and the Road to 9/11 (Vintage, 2007)"¨ "Somebody Else's Civil War" by Michael Scott Doran in Foreign Affairs, January/February 2002 The 9/11 Commission Report, published in 2004 by the U.S. Government. Viewing of The Battle of Algiers, a 1966 film about the Algerian War, directed by Gillo Pontecorvo. Overview: Zooming out from the attacks of 9/11 and seeking to understand terrorism in general as a tool for building a popular movement and achieving a political goal. Students will note the parallels between the movement-building strategy of the Algerian FLN and the approach employed by present-day groups like Al-Qaeda and the Taliban — using terrorism to provoke an overbearing, unpopular response by the state that undermines its support among the public, thereby strengthening the hand of the militant opposition. Recommended reading: General Paul Aussaresses, The Battle of the Casbah: Terrorism and Counterterrorism in Algeria, 1955-1957 (Enigma Books, 2004). "¨ 

September 27: Terry McDermott, Perfect Soldiers: Who They Were, Why They Did It (Harper, 2006) Nine Years After 9/11: Confronting the Terrorist Threat to the Homeland, a testimony by Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano to the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Government Affairs President George W. Bush's September 20, 2001 speech to a joint session of Congress outlining U.S. resolve to combat Al-Qaeda and international terrorism. Overview: Understanding the individual personalities behind terrorism, from the 9/11 hijackers to Al-Qaeda leaders Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri — their histories, character traits, and role in planning the 9/11 attacks after al-Zawahiri merged his militant organization, Egyptian Islamic Jihad, with Al-Qaeda in 2001. At present, to what extent do these individuals contribute the geopolitical challenges facing the United States in the Middle East, notably the resurgence of the Taliban in Afghanistan?"¨"¨"¨ October 4 Ron Suskind, The One Percent Doctrine: Deep Inside America's Pursuit of its Enemies Since 9/11 (Simon & Schuster, 2007) Mark Danner, "Taking Stock of the Forever War," in Stripping Bare the Body: Politics Violence War (Nation, 2009) Overview: Assessing the complexity of policymaking and the formulation of counter-terror strategy within the U.S. Government in a post-9/11 world, with an emphasis on the implications of the "one percent doctrine" as articulated by former Vice President Dick Cheney (which served as the rationale for the 2003 invasion of Iraq) — if there a minute probability of a catastrophic event occurring (e.g. terrorists acquiring nuclear weapons), the U.S. must treat it as a certainty in terms of its response. Students will distinguish between the "notables" who formulate U.S. policy and the "invisibles" — agents on the ground — who obtain the intelligence and information for consumption by the notables. "¨ 

October 11: — Vacation. No class."¨"¨ III. How America Responded 

October 18: — Pakistan policy review due. Steve Coll, Ghost Wars: The Secret History of the CIA, Afghanistan, and Bin Laden, from the Soviet Invasion to September 10, 2001 (Penguin, 2004) Overview: Evaluating the current challenges of Middle East geopolitics, notably the hard-line theocratic government of Iran, the Taliban insurgency in Afghanistan, and Pakistan's love-hate relationship with Islamic extremism. What are the implications of these geopolitical challenges for U.S. interests, and how has America responded to these challenges? Pakistan, a critical U.S. ally (or perhaps, client) in the War on Terror, faces ongoing tensions with India, a domestic insurgency by the Tehrik-e-Taliban, and a weak civilian government, yet still provides support to the Afghan Taliban in the hope of establishing a friendly regime to the West that acts as a counter-weight to India. The U.S. has nevertheless taken a middle-road approach toward Pakistan that hopes to safeguard its friendly civilian government with billions in foreign aid while conducting drone strikes and secret raids in order to root out militants hiding in the tribal areas of the country. Are there any viable alternatives to this middle-road strategy?"¨"¨Students will propose and debate U.S. policy options in the event of a successful terrorist attack on a major U.S. city that was traced back to the Pakistani Taliban. 

October 25: Bob Woodward, Obama's Wars (Simon & Schuster, 2010) Overview: Understanding the changing U.S. strategy in Afghanistan through the lens of the political "war about a war" that is occurring within the Obama administration. Is President Obama a strong leader who is drawing down the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, or is he constrained too heavily by the geopolitical blowback of a withdrawal and the array of cross-cutting interests within the U.S. Government? The military in particular has exerted tremendous pressure on the President, impacting war policy in Afghanistan and elsewhere. "¨"¨ 

November 1: Giles Kepes, Jihad: The Trail of Political Islam (Belknap/Harvard, 2003) Overview: Charting the trajectory of the modern Islamist movement, with particular emphasis on the doctrinal guidance from important figures such as Sayyid Qutb, author of Milestones, and Iran's Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. Islamist militant groups often differentiate between the "near enemy" (local regimes that are friendly to the U.S. and therefore corrupt and apostate) and the "far enemy" (the U.S. and its secular Western allies that are "crusading" against Islam). The objective of many militant groups is to replace these local, "apostate" regimes with true Islamic societies that follow sharia law. However, are Islamist regimes sustainable over the long term? History suggests not, with the "high tide" of Islamic states having passed in the 1990s. Additional Reading: "¨"Taliban Elite, Aided by NATO, Join Talks for Afghan Peace." New York Times: "Turning the Taliban Against Al Qaeda." New York Times: PBS NewsHour Friday interview with Dick Holbrooke, Special Envoy to AfPak:"¨ Charlie Rose interview with Jack Keane, the retired general who did a review in Afghanistan a couple months ago: "Four More Years of War." The Daily Beast. Leslie Gelb predicts U.S. troops will be in Afghanistan until 2014: "Coalition Forces Routing Taliban in Key Afghan Region." New York Times. Reporter Carlotta Gall writes about military success vs. the Taliban in southern Afghanistan: "Times Square bomb plotter sentenced to life in prison." CNN. Article with quotes from attempted Times Square bomber Faisal Shahzad during his sentencing: 2008 book by Bruce Riedel, The Search for Al-Qaeda: Recommended reading: David Kilcullen, Counterinsurgency (Oxford, 2010). November 8 Peter L. Bergen, The Osama Bin Laden I Know: An Oral History of al Qaeda's Leader (Free Press, 2006) Text from Abu Mus'ab al-Zarqawi's 2004 letter to Al-Qaeda leadership: Overview: Although Al-Qaeda has succeeded in broadcasting its ideology throughout the Muslim world and elsewhere, their success in terms of "reshaping" Islamic society has been negligible thus far. What is the viability of Al-Qaeda's strategy as popular opinion in the Muslim world has shifted from their favor? Furthermore, what is the next step that Al-Qaeda might take in the "jihad" now that the rejuvenating effect that the Iraq invasion had on the movement has now diminished? "¨ IV. Jihad and the Future 

November 15: — Paper proposal due. "¨David Kilcullen, The Accidental Guerrilla: Fighting Small Wars in the Midst of a Big One (Scribe, 2009) Norman Cigar, Al-Qa'ida's Doctrine for Insurgency: Abd al-Aziz al-Muqrin's "A Practical Course for Guerrilla War" (Potomac, 2008) Overview: What progress has been made in the War on Terror — not just from a Western point of view, but from that of the enemy? Where will the "forever war" go in the future? In this class, students will obtain a firmer grasp of what the jihad is, how it works, and how it should be characterized. According to David Kilcullen, there are four general ways to frame the jihad: (1) an Islamic civil war, (2) a reaction to globalization, (3) a globalized insurgency, and (4) asymmetric warfare. At the same time, using the Doctrine for Insurgency as a guide, students will comprehend the strategic allure of terrorism from Al-Qaeda's perspective. Indeed, Al-Qaeda views terrorism as indispensible to their war against Western occupation — a war they divide into three stages: (1) engaging their enemy in a war of attrition, (2) eventually moving to a stage of relative strategic balance, and finally, (3) the decisive phase in which Al-Qaeda has broken their enemy's resolve to fight. Currently, Al-Qaeda might judge their operations in Afghanistan as a stage-two conflict. Recommended reading:"¨"¨Louise Richardson, What Terrorists Want: Understanding the Enemy, Containing the Threat (Random House, 2006)"¨"¨Sayyid Qutb, Milestones (Kazi Publications, 2007)"¨"¨Paul Berman, Terror and Liberalism (W.W. Norton & Co., 2003)"¨"¨James Hoge and Gideon Rose, Understanding the War on Terror (Foreign Affairs, 2005) November 22 Marc Sageman, Understanding Terrorist Networks (U of Pennsylvania, 2004) Full text of President Obama's speech in Jakarta, Indonesia: Overview: Delving deeper into the structure and composition of Al-Qaeda and other terrorist organizations in order to dispel misconceptions about the jihad. For example, Al-Qaeda's center of gravity Egyptian, not Saudi — most of Al-Qaeda's leadership is Egyptian, and most of its successful operational figures are from the Egyptian army. The role of radicalization as a precursor to terrorist activity will also be examined. Terrorists and radicalized Muslims are not overwhelmingly poor and uneducated, as prevailing wisdom seems to indicate. Instead, many are educated and come from middle-class families (e.g. 9/11 hijacker Muhammad Atta). Radicalization, simply put, does not necessarily favor one socioeconomic demographic over the other. One overarching and worrisome commonality, however, is the youth of the militant Islamist movement. Recommended reading: Edward Luttwak, Coup d'í‰tat: A Practical Handbook (Harvard, 1979) "¨"¨ 

November 29: Richard Clarke, Your Government Failed You: Breaking the Cycle of National Security Disasters (Harper, 2009) Overview: Despite the efficacy that drone strikes have shown as a coercive tool against terrorism, the U.S. Government has made many mistakes in the War on Terror, and the government mechanics which facilitate these mistakes deserve scrutiny and revision. How can potential national security threats — not only terrorism, but also cyber security and climate change — be addressed before they develop into full-blown disasters? U.S. national security must adapt quickly to Al-Qaeda's new strategy of "death by a thousand cuts," which favors high frequency, low damage strikes over the old formula of fewer, more spectacular attacks. Although this strategy change is one of necessity for Al-Qaeda due to the latent difficulty of coordinating large-scale attacks, the most recent operations — from the attempted bombings at Times Square and a commercial airliner in 2009, to the botched "cargo planes plot" in October 2010 — have not failed due to the vigilance of our national security apparatus, but due to the incompetence of the plotters. Unless the U.S. improves its national security machinery, it is likely that America will suffer a successful terrorist attack in the near future. Recommended reading: Richard Clarke, Against All Enemies: Inside America's War on Terror (Free Press, 2004) "¨ 

December 6: — Final paper due. Abdul Salam Zaeef, My Life With the Taliban (Columbia, 2010) "Top Secret America." Washington Post. This ongoing 2010 special report explores the colossal growth of the U.S. intelligence and national security bureaucracy since 9/11.  It poses the critical question — how effective has this tremendous investment been in keeping America safe? Overview: Examining the inner workings of the Taliban from the perspective of an ex-member, Abdul Salam Zaeef, in order to understand the fundamentalist group's political goals and strategic thinking. Scandals like the prisoner abuse at Abu Ghraib, the indefinite detention of "unlawful combatants" at Guantanamo Bay, and secret CIA prisons have undermined the credibility of the U.S. narrative against Islamic extremism and strengthened the vitriol of militant groups. What can the U.S. do to reverse its poor reputation in the Muslim world?"¨"¨Also, making sense of the breaking "Cablegate" scandal in which thousands of secret U.S. diplomatic cables were posted online by Wikileaks. How will this impact relations with U.S. "partners" in the War on Terror, particularly Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Saudi Arabia? Recommended reading on Cablegate: "¨ "Wikileaks Evolves." The New Yorker: "Wikileaks in the Moral Void." The New York Review of Books: "¨ 

December 13: Continued reading of Abdul Salam Zaeef's My Life With the Taliban (Columbia, 2010) "A Selection From the Cache of Diplomatic Dispatches." New York Times: Overview: The future of the jihad and America's War on Terror. As U.S. intelligence and national security continue their endeavor to stay one step ahead of the next terrorist plot, so continues the decade-old "forever war" and the natural debate surrounding it. However, will the robustness of the public debate be undermined in the long-term by the ongoing leak of secret U.S. diplomatic cables? Wikileaks founder Julian Assange's dogged aversion to the concept of "state secrets" may ironically undercut the information available to the press in the long run as the U.S. implements stricter measures to protect its sensitive data. "¨"¨Recommended reading: Jon Krakauer, Where Men Win Glory: The Odyssey of Pat Tillman (Doubleday, 2009) David Finkel, The Good Soldiers (Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 2009)"¨ Recommended reading for improving prose: William Strunk, Jr. and E.B. White, The Elements of Style, 4th edition (Longman, 1999) George Orwell, Politics and the English Language, a 1946 essay Recommended viewing: 2010 CNN documentary, Inside the Taliban:

© 2021 Mark Danner