I saw a snippet of an interview with President Bush on the Today show this morning, wherein he tells Matt Lauer that the war on terror cannot be won (rough paraphrase). Which, unfortunately, in my opinion, is true. We cannot win a *total* victory in the war on terror because terrorism is not a disease that we can inoculate the world against. We have wiped out small pox and are on the verge of taking care of polio, but similar results cannot be gained in regards to terrorism. At best, we can diminish terrorism and make it very difficult, possibly contain it or vastly reduce its effectiveness, but I think we are fooling ourselves if we think victory is truly possible, much less inevitable.
First, terrorists do not require a friendly country or territory to use as a base of operations. It certainly helps and makes terrorist operations easier to plan & execute, but a fairly large group or group of cells can easily operate in a neutral or even hostile environment. It requires more careful planning & procurement, particularly for plots that use chemical or biological weapons since manufacturing these components requires specific kinds of equipment and material. But as the Oklahoma City bombing proved, a terrorist does not need exotic materials to carry out an exceedingly deadly strike. And as we learned with the DC sniper case, 2 people in a beat up old car can easily terrorize a city with nothing more than a rifle and a box of ammo. If terrorists will resolve themselves to smaller, less grandiose attacks, then there is little than can be done to stop them without incurring huge security costs.
Second, even if we manage to get the right security mix here at home and actually make it exceedingly difficult to execute an attack on American soil (something we certainly have not done yet), all we are doing is pushing the terrorists' target matrix to softer targets elsewhere. Even then an attack does not have to directly target US facilities or personnel in order to cause the US a lot of problems. For instance, a significant attack in Saudi Arabia that destabilized the regime could cut off our oil supply or cause oil prices to sky-rocket. A biological attack in Mexico could potentially cause hundreds of thousands of Mexicans to flee northward, destroying even our currently meager concept of border security. Unless we are able to effectively secure the world, or at least the portions that interest the US the most, terrorists will continue to have thousands of viable targets.
Third, terrorism is an ideological virus. It is generally cheap, effective and coupled with radical Muslim theology (which is spreading throughout the world thanks in large part to the Saudis), it has a fertile soil in which to take root. Additionally, some of the very actions which we undertake to eliminate certain threats will only breed more terrorists in other areas. Whatever your position on the war with Iraq, it is clear that anti-Americanism has deepened and spread, and created either more terrorists or more potential terrorist. If the US is forced to make a move against Iran due to its possible nuclear weapons program, it will only spread the virus of terrorism even more. Also, it makes no sense for the US to continue to believe that terrorists do not have rational political goals. It sounds very nice to say "they hate us because we are free" but that doesn't say anything about the ends they are actually pursuing. One of the things that initially drove al Qaida was the presence of US troops in a Muslim holy land. 9/11 was, in part, an effort to force the US out of Saudi Arabia, which is an entirely rational political goal. While certainly driven by fanatical hatred, terrorists continue to have goals for which they develop specific strategies. Until we come to grips with the fact that blind hatred does not mean irrational actions, we will fail to develop comprehensive actions & responses that will quell the rising tide of terrorism.