A Review of Terrorism, Freedom, and Security: Winning Without War

by | May 15, 2005

Terrorism, Freedom, and Security: Winning Without War By Philip B. Heymann The MIT Press, Cambridge, MA London, England, 2003, 210 pages

Philip B. Heymann, the James Barr Ames Professor of Law at Harvard Law School, analyzes the domestic and foreign policy aftermath of September 11, 2001 in the United States in this insightful book. Heymann, formerly U.S. Deputy Attorney General in the Clinton Administration and Acting Administrator of the United States’ State Department’s Bureau of Security and Consular Affairs, is definitely qualified to scrutinize U.S. strategy in its struggle against terrorist forces. His scrutiny, while given with a sense of urgency, is able to deftly consider different perspectives of the ramifications of U.S. policy, including how the U.S. stance is alienating many of its allies from Latin America and beyond.

Terrorism, Freedom and Security takes issue with the Bush administration’s declaration of a “war on terrorism” after the September 11th attacks. Although acutely aware of the world-changing events of that day, Heymann asserts that a proclamation of war (albeit informal and without Congress’s official declaration) did not have to be an essential outcome. This “war,” as it was, took on many different forms: a war against al Qaeda, a war against the Taliban regime in Afghanistan, and eventually, a war against Saddam Hussein’s regime in Iraq. Heymann argues in part that the declaration of war against al Qaeda gave too much credence to the terrorist group—war is a term usually reserved for intercountry conflicts—and therefore, gave “undeserved dignity to [the U.S.’s] opponents.”

Furthermore, Heymann believes that the extent of the United States’ aggressive military exercises will be detrimental to the country in the long term—partly by ostracizing the U.S. in the global community and also by not truly addressing the problem at hand. Pushing aside the rhetoric of war that pervades the mass media and popular culture, Heymann delves into investigating the significance of the declared “war” against al Qaeda and terrorism. The author expresses his unease about U.S. engagement in a war against an enemy whose resources, capability and future is very unknown. While the United States in the past has declared war on abstract concepts such as drugs, it rarely, if ever, has declared “war” on a foreign non-state group or a concept such as terrorism. Rather than let the military play the dominant role in combating terrorism, Heymann would rather utilize diplomatic strategy and multilateral alliances to prevent future terrorist acts.

Throughout Terrorism, Freedom and Security, Heymann offers a well-delineated set of solutions to combat the problem of terrorism against the United States. Heymann lays out a 5-pronged plan which emphasizes the importance of: decreasing the anti-U.S. fervor of terrorists; tangibly deterring terrorist threats; eliminating access to vulnerable U.S interests; more efficient intelligence operations; and the disruption of the terrorists’ activities. The role of force is not completely absent in Heymann’s plan—however, he firmly believes that the United States must obtain “extensive international cooperation” without military coercion. The United States arguably has always been somewhat of a maverick in regards to its foreign policy—evidenced by its reticence to be under the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court, a court of last resort meant to prosecute crimes against humanity, genocide, and crimes of war. Indeed, as historically the case in Latin America, U.S. policies and action are often construed as arrogant and selfish. Heymann argues that the Bush administration’s propensity to act unilaterally in its fight against terrorism only further harms the global reputation of the United States. Already, according to Heymann, the United States is often the “scapegoat” for many of the problems in the Middle East stemming from external pressure. Worsening the situation is the fact that the U.S. has essentially committed itself to reducing the sovereignty of any country that houses al Qaeda—certainly a stance some in the international community would find intimidating. Heymann notes that while military action, such as in Afghanistan, is necessary at times—there is a limit to the usefulness of aggression. While the current administration may be hoping that America is viewed as a “benevolent superpower,” Heymann is fairly sure that this will not happen and resentment will grow from U.S. behavior.

While the resentment alone may not be detrimental to the United States per se, Heymann notes that its effects include decreased intelligence gathering from essential countries and increased incentive for harboring terrorists—direct and adverse impacts on the U.S. struggle against terrorism.

Heymann observes how even a plan rooted in multilaterism, as his own, can disintegrate into a system that cultivates undemocratic values and the loss of civil liberties. The increased need for intelligence gathering and profiling of certain persons is almost inescapable in an effective post-September 11th terrorism deterrence plan. Heymann believes in the importance of open and honest dialogue regarding the maintenance of civil liberties, accepting that the situation necessitates a delicate balancing act.

One of the strengths of Terrorism, Freedom and Security is that Heymann does not try to place the problems of today into the framework of yesterday’s solutions nor does he paint with a broad brush in his analysis. He does not contend that his ideas are foolproof. Instead, he offers them as alternatives to the current policy. He accepts that the United States cannot suppress other countries into submission, cannot rely on unilateral efforts and cannot hide behind its military. While the U.S. invasion of Iraq is not discussed heavily in this book—perhaps due to its late 2003 publication date—its absence makes the foresight displayed by Heymann all the more striking. Over the past two years, the world has seen many of Heymann’s predictions come true: the war on terrorism is lingering; insurgents are still powerful; and the United States’ global reputation has suffered due to its perceived disregard for civil liberties (i.e. the Abu Ghraib scandal, friendly fire incidents, interrogation techniques, etc.). The lack of multilateral support and diplomatic overtures has seemingly isolated the United States from many of its former allies and it is uncertain how pervasive terrorists cells continue to exist.

Many have thought, including Heymann, that there must be another way to approach the post-September 11th terrorist threat—Terrorism, Freedom, and Security provides some feasible options for this divergent path.

Spring/Summer 2005, Volume IV, Number 2

Amanda F. Austin is in her final year at Harvard Law School. She has been an intern in the publications department of DRCLAS for the past five years.

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