To what extent does the War on Terrorism represent a break with previous United States foreign and defense policy?
The war on terrorism is a war that I am not sure we can win. The characters are ever changing and are never in the same place. Look at how many years we have been looking for Bin Laden, not even knowing for certain if we have ever been close.
I this war, we are not fighting a nation, or a specific group of people, and while the "enemies" we have fought in the past have sometimes been ill-defined, this one is almost a ghost. We are fighting an idea. A religious idea so extreme that it cannot be reasoned with, knows no borders or boundaries, and is not restricted to one nationality or region. So we are departing from past policies in that we are trying to fight an enemy we often can't see, and that we cannot defeat militarily. We are fighting the spread of an idea, and finding it very difficult to do so with bombs and bullets.
I would be the first to say that policy changed -- for the worse -- under the Bush administration. However, that only relates to the question if you accept Bush's spurious argument that the Iraq war was in response to 9/11. We now know that Al Qaeda and Iraq had little to do with each other at the time, and Bush, Jr.'s motivation had more to do with his father than a War on Terrorism.
The War on Terror is certainly different in the sense that it is a far different type of enemy than we have dealt with in the past. Even in Vietnam the enemy was a clearer target than it is now. Also, the enemy is worldwide, but in a way far different than the world wars of the past.
Now, perhaps more than ever before, the US has to realize that the strength of the enemy is directly correlated to the nature of US policy. Obama's speech in Cairo is a great step in the right direction, but we have decades (centuries, really) of Western religious enmity toward Islam to overcome.
Traditional U.S. defense policy did change under President Bush. He endorsed pre-emptive war as an acceptable military option.
This question holds a great deal of validity to where we are right now. If nothing else, it is timely. In order to answer this question, we have to establish why this particular war, or perhaps how it has been addressed, is uniquely different from other engagements in U.S. Foreign Policy History. If it is to be believed, this particular war is uniquely different than prior involvements of the United States because of its fluid and dynamic nature. Unlike prior wars where the enemy and its territory were highly defined and definite, this particular adversary is elusive, able to move and strike at any time. With this apparent justification, foreign and defense policies have changed because the rationale is different from other nations. One area where this change has been evident has been our changing perspective on unilateral vs. coalition action. In previous conflicts, our stance on taking help from other nations has been defined quite clearly. In Vietnam, for example, the U.S. approached the conflict from a unilateral point of view, independent from other nations' help. In both World Wars, the United States was a part of a coalition of nations. In the war on terror, we have seen this position vacillate: In Afghanistan, the United States formed a coalition and in our involvement in Iraq, unilateral action, for the most part, was pursued. Such changing of positions has caused a change in our foreign policy to seek help at certain moments, and not readily seek it at other points. The war on terror has also changed the defense policy of the United States. Given the fluid and dynamic nature of the war on terror as it has been presented, the United States has not been able to pursue one particular defense policy. The policy of defending the world against terror is very sweeping and commits the United States in many areas of the world. At one point, focus was on Iraq, as a haven for terrorists who were supposedly promulgating the war from Baghdad. This allowed an obliviousness to fomenting in Afghanistan, which now might be where our focus is on at this time. The reality is that both defense and foreign policy have had to be malleable and somewhat pliable because the justification for the war ended up constricting the hopes of definite and static foreign policy. This absence of "defineability" can be seen as a strength, responding to the supposed nature of the enemy, or a weakness, being controlled and leveraged by the enemy. The attached link is from 2004, but was taken at the height of the Bush administration's approaches to foreign and defense policy aims.
"Since the end of World War II, each administration has sought to develop and perfect a reliable set of executive institutions to manage national security policy, and tried to install a policy-making and coordination system that reflected each President’s personal management style."
"The National Security Council (NSC) has long been at the center of this foreign policy coordination system, but it has changed many times to conform to the needs and inclinations of each succeeding chief executive."
Terrorism represents a different type of threat to the security of the United States. Unlike conventional warfare, terrorists act in secret, covertly looking for opportunities to wreck as much damage and death in the most lethal way possible on their chosen victim.
In the past, wars were fought on the battlefield with an identifiable enemy wearing a uniform of an enemy country. With terrorism, the enemy is hard to identify, is often living among us, as was the case with some of the 9/11 hijackers, utilizing our own resources as weapons against our own people.
The United States policy, after 9/11, stated by President George W. Bush was that anyone who engaged in terrorist activity against the United States or harbored terrorists, or assisted them in their activities would be considered an enemy of the United States and could expect retribution or preventative action by the United States military on their terrorist activities.
As a rule, America does not invade countries to conquer, America is a country that was, under former Presidents, committed to spreading freedom and liberty around the world. Our military would assist other nations in their battle against hostile takeovers, Communist threats, tyrannical dictators who inflict insurmountable harm on their own people.
The 9/11 attack on the homeland of the United States was the worst since the attack on Pearl Harbor on Dec 7, 1941. In an undeclared war, our soldiers fight around the world in an effort to keep terrorists off the shores of our homeland. It is a difficult battle, at present, seems endless and never ending.
"U.S. policy toward international terrorism contains a significant military component, reflected in current U.S. operations in Afghanistan and (on a smaller scale) the Philippines and in planned deployments of U.S. forces to Yemen and the former Soviet republic of Georgia."
Till 29/11 happened, terrorism was only a theoretical concept for USA. It condemned terrorism, but paid little attention to taking taking concrete steps to counter it. It continued to give heavy aid to countries like Pakistan, turning a blind eye to the support provided by Pakistan for terrorism against India and other countries.
But when 29/11 happened, USA was forced to recognized the reality of terrorism, and accordingly make adjustment in its stance towards many countries.
But as it appears to me USA is still dragging its feet in many matters that are important to fight terrorism in the world.
I don't think the War on Terror is a break from previous policy, but a natural evolution of domestic and foreign policy in which the military takes a greater role. Previous policies from the War on Poverty to the War on Drugs, has created an environment in which military action plays a greater role not just in offensive ways, but defensive and stabilization as well.