In response to Greg’s query to me: Briefly, I don’t assume that Bin Ladin and al-Zawahiri are hiding in urban areas (but, of course, I have no intelligence upon which to base this assumption). So your question underscores my point precisely: the military is not the lead counterterrorism agency in urban areas, where so many segments of the jihadist movement thrive. And that is why the pre-9/11 mindset is a canard.
I agree with Matt that the notion that U.S. counterterrorism policy is largely under the purview of the military is a false one. It relates, I think, to the partisan charge that the Democrats possess a “pre-9/11 mindset” when it comes to counterterrorism. Throughout the past seven years, the military has been the public face of U.S. counterterrorism efforts (the consequences of which merit their own discussion thread). But behind the scenes the same-old, pre-9/11 intelligence and law enforcement efforts have been crucial to foiling plots at home and across the globe. The twenty-or-so jihadist plots that have been rolled up since 9/11 came as a result of time-honored police and intelligence work, the success of which was sometimes predicated upon strong international cooperation. It is time to put the myth of the pre-9/11 mindset to rest.
That we need to use all of the tools in the toolbox is not a new argument. But in the context of this question, I think it is important to emphasize the heterogeneity of the global jihad and what that means for those who accept a multi-faceted approach. The global jihadist movement is not a monolithic, unitary actor that requires the same set of policy prescriptions across the board. A diverse set of actors (the al-Qaeda vanguard, regional groups, start-up cells) reside under its umbrella with varying degrees of cooperation between and among them. For some segments of the movement, the problem is primarily an intelligence and law enforcement issue. For other segments, namely the vanguard in Afghanistan/Pakistan, the military has and will continue to play a leading role in containing and reducing the jihadist threat.
We seem to have reached the consensus that poverty–along with other grievances such as political oppression and cultural alienation–are not reliable indicators of future terrorist activity. Given the prevalence of these conditions throughout the Muslim world, the “root causes” approach overpredicts the level of terrorist activity that we should expect to observe. As Quintan Wiktorowicz notes in Islamic Activism, “[w]hile grievances are ubiquitous, movements are not.” The question remains, then, why almost seven years after 9/11, does the root causes debate still shape the counterterrorism discourse?
From a policy perspective, the approach is a seductive one: if we can identify the causes of terrorism, then we can eradicate the conditions that allow terror to take root. At one time or the other, policymakers on both sides of the aisle have found comfort in this formulation. As Peter mentions, this does not mean that global poverty reduction or similar measures shouldn’t be a goal of U.S. foreign policy, but the expectation that they will reduce terrorism may be misplaced.