The "War on Terror" was declared on 20th September 2001; officially it has not ended.

According to Time Magazine the estimated cost of the "War on Terror" is 5 trillion USD (2001-2011). Which is roughly 30% of the current US public debt.

I would like to know the following or at least getting close to answers of these questions:

  • How can the success of this war be determined?
  • Is there a method to determine if it was successful?
  • What are the goals of this war?
  • Is it a real war? It costs soldiers' lives, like real wars and unlike, for example, a war on alcoholism.
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    The success (or lack thereof) of a figurative war tends to be defined by politicians and historians. I don't think there's a handy chart we can all reference easily.
    – user1530
    Commented Apr 16, 2013 at 15:51
  • @DA. I can't declare this. Since in a war (normal one) there are goals. Bolsheviks won the civil war. Lost the cold war. Germans lost the second world war. These are obvious. You can tell which countries succeeded, here I think the situation is more sophisticated. Commented Apr 16, 2013 at 21:35
  • The answer to the question as it stands is just too broad to address here. There are tons of criteria that would need to be weighed, and information that is currently classified that we would need to know to understand. For that reason I have voted to close as NARQ. I think you could probably make some properly scoped and on topic questions out of each of the bullets you hahve outlined. Commented Apr 17, 2013 at 17:05
  • some comments removed If you have an answer to the question, please post an answer. Comments are only meant for clarifying the question or offering constructive criticism, they aren't a good place neither for answering nor for discussing the question.
    – yannis
    Commented Apr 20, 2013 at 9:07

2 Answers 2


This is a highly subjective question, and the answer, IMO, must also be taken with a grain of salt; however, I suggest that the War on Terror will never be over.

The "War on Terror" generally refers to the military campaign launched by the Bush administration to effectively wipe out Al Qaeda and other militant groups of similar ideology in the wake of the September 11th attacks. While many of the designated targets were indeed disrupted and/ or destroyed, terror cells continue to bloom throughout the Middle East and other areas friendly to extremism, and there has been disturbing evidence suggesting that America's efforts to use military force to quell such organizations have actually bred a new generation of anti-American sentiment that results in new terror organizations forming, but in less detectable ways and almost impossible to engage military forces in.

Bush defined the campaign's ending as such: "(o)ur 'war on terror' begins with al-Qaeda, but it does not end there. It will not end until every terrorist group of global reach has been found, stopped and defeated."

Since we now seem to be breeding our own terrorists, it seems unlikely this is a winnable 'War'. In traditional war, this would at best be called a stalemate and at worse a complete loss; however, since this is a political/ social term and not a true "war" , declaring the War on Terror anything other than an indisputable victory would not be politically feasible.

  • 1
    +1 I like the answer. If war on terror generates more terror, and without changing circumstances it would go on eternally, it must be a failure. A war is won if the winning side can enforce something on the losing side. This is not the case with this war. Commented Apr 18, 2013 at 8:53
  • 2
    Personally I have a hard time considering this a "War", or even a "police action", but rather a retaliation so that we could say "if you mess with us, we'll destroy your world."... it that vein, I think the message was received, but as in most retaliatory actions, the consequences are usually undesirable. Commented Apr 18, 2013 at 16:17
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    The War on Terror, Drugs, Poverty, Crime, etc. have either been complete failures, stalemates, or IMO have created environments where the very thing being fought becomes more pronounced. By using war terminology, the government is given leeway to do things that would ordinarily encounter resistance by the people. Over time, people stop asking the questions "is this worth it", "is this justified", or even "is this moral" all due to the "fact" that it is a war. Commented Jul 7, 2014 at 19:41
  • I agree. In this vein, I am hoping for a "War on Education" and a "War on Public Health" soon... Commented Mar 21, 2018 at 12:02

The War on Terror, although it does involve extensive use of military force, is fundamentally metaphorical. The success of War on Terror is impossible to measure, because its goals are impossible to define. This all follows from the fact that there is no precise and consistent definition of what "terrorism" is. As political scientist Eqbal Ahmad already put it in the late 1990s:

[T]he matter of terrorism is rather complicated. Terrorists change. The terrorist of yesterday is the hero of today, and the hero of yesterday becomes the terrorist of today.

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