Kevin Drum, the CalPundit, thinks the war on terror is likely to be just as futile as the war on drugs. Peter Reuter, John Caulkins, and I, all of whom think about drug policy professionally, took a look at that analogy a few months ago and weren’t convinced. In particular, drug dealers have customers, and are therefore likely to be replaced when enforcement puts them out of action; the funding mechanisms for terrorism are different, and replacement not nearly so automatic. The good news about 9-11 was that people in the know were saying “Al-Qaeda” that morning, before any specific facts were available; apparently there isn’t a second group that the experts thought of as willing and able to carry out such an operation, and it’s not at all obvious that, if we were able to really dismantle Al-Qaeda, a replacement would spring up quickly.
None of that means that we know how to fight terrorism, only that one analogy suggesting that we probably can’t has less force on close inspection than it appeared to have at first glance.
Kevin has more to say on the subject.