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Winning the War on Terror

Can it be done?

War on Terror

The history of warfare is that there are two positions of true victory in any military conflict. First, your enemy accepts your terms and surrenders, or second, your enemy is entirely eliminated. The latter position has been reached far less often than the former, but both have occurred in past conflicts.

In looking at the current fighting of the War on Terror with a primarily direct, brute force tactic where no formal enemy exists–in other words, there is no actual state or constructed entity that we’re fighting, but rather an abstract ideology of hatred–the question is can either of these two positions for victory be reached?

Examining them individually, you must ask if an abstract ideology can surrender? It doesn’t seem reasonable to suggest so, and appears that will limit our ability to obtain victory to only one position; the elimination of our enemies.

Again, when fighting an ideology of hatred, supported in part by the subverted use of a 14,000 year old religion that is the second largest religion in the world, is it reasonable to believe that we could ever eliminate our enemies by fighting them head-on?

By it’s very nature, the ideology of hatred is fueled and grows with each individual battle we are victorious in. For each enemy combatant killed, a spouse, child, brother, cousin and so on is inspired to elevate their simmering despisal of Western Culture into a boiling rage. With each enemy death, one or more new opponents are created.

Now, before anyone accuses me of being ’soft’ on terrorists or a ’surrender monkey’; let me make clear that in no way do I believe the policies of the past were sufficient–nor that those who commit or attempt to commit acts of terror should be forgiven. I don’t.

However, what I do believe is that a brute force attack against an abstract ideology is doomed to failure. I believe that to combat an ideology you must combat both those who use it to promote acts of terror, and the environment that it grows from.

A quick look at any poverty stricken, inner-city neighborhood in America provides a good example. Poverty and desperation breed crime. When a neighborhood becomes run down in a major city the first response is to put more police on the streets. That’s a brute force band-aid to slow the bleeding, but what always ultimately leads to the neighborhood turning around is economic development and the creation of jobs. Mayors add to the police presence up-front because it’s the only immediate action available to them, and they use it as a band-aid until the cure–the luring in of business and jobs–for the neighborhood can be established.

Bringing jobs and economic growth to the neighborhood is curing the disease, the early addition to the police presence is simply treating the symptoms until that cure is in place.

When fighting an ideology of hatred, I believe the same approach–in an expanded manner–is necessary. Fighting the individual fanatics of the ideology in combat operations is treating the symptoms of the problem, but the core problem–the tumor if you will–isn’t addressed with this approach and will continue to breed more believers to battle.

I don’t suggest that we abandon the use of force entirely. Those who have committed, attempt to commit or plan to commit terrorist acts against society must be stopped, incarcerated or killed. But in addition, the very causes behind the ideology of hatred must be attacked in an aggressive and non-violent manner to avoid simply creating more enraged combatants who will be willing to perform terrorist acts.

President Bush himself spoke of the environmental causes which help breed the ideologies behind terror soon after the 9/11 attacks. He cited poverty and the social conditions many people live under in some countries as primary contributing factors. He also acknowledged that U.S. policies had not sufficiently addressed this in the past and said, “hope is an answer to terror.”

Some efforts were made to show the light of hope as an alternative around the world, but I believe our subsequent invasion of Iraq with the “fight them there so we don’t have to fight them here” mantra negated them. It was viewed as the ultimate hypocrisy by many, to tell them that our way is of ‘peace and prosperity’ while at the same time elevating our diplomatic struggles with Iraq into a physical battle.

I’m not debating the merits of invading Iraq here, that’s for another writing. I’m simply pointing out how it was perceived by many outside (and within) the United States. To defeat an abstract ideology we must be willing to understand its roots and perspective.

Some have suggested that you can’t fight the ideology by fighting poverty because “these people don’t have materialistic aspirations like we [in Western Culture] do.” If that’s so, why does the perusal into the backgrounds of so many suicide bombers show that they come from the lowest of the economic scales in already poor regions? Why did the thousand dollar promise encourage so many attacks against Americans in Iraq? There’s an obvious connection between poverty and desperation–and the willingness to commit terrorist acts.

In addition to poverty is the social conditions where people live. A direct link between the levels of terrorist violence and a nation’s lack of political freedom has been indicated by Kennedy School of Government researcher and Associate Professor of Public Policy, Alberto Abadie.

This makes common sense, oppression and frustration leads to desperation. So, the idea of ’spreading freedom’ seems the logical method for combating this fork of the problem. Unfortunately, there’s a double-edged sword hiding here. If you attempt to spread freedom by force you sway those who might welcome it otherwise to support the oppressive regimes they’ve been living under. It’s feared that they might be trading one oppression for another, and with such a choice they’ll side with what they know over what they don’t.

So, how do we win the hearts and minds of those who simply distrust us [Western Culture nations] today without actions that will cause their distrust to turn into hatred? It’s a political razor’s edge to walk indeed, but I believe it can be done–and I certainly believe that America can and should lead the way.

First, we need to grab opportunities to display the hope that democracy offers when they come along. Almost two years ago Syria was removed from Lebanon and there were free elections held. The people of Lebanon overwhelmingly embraced and elected leaders with pro-Western Culture positions. They weren’t going to be a mirror image of American Democracy, but it was a model of democracy none the less. That’s what is needed in the region. It’s what we were hoping to get from Iraq. A model to serve as an example to others that a free and democratic society in the Middle East is not only sustainable, but offers hope to those living within it.

America and our Allies had the opportunity then to aid the new government in Lebanon. To strengthen their economy and military forces in order for Lebanon to address Hezbulla and truly become a free and independent democratic state in the Middle East. We missed that opportunity. We did offer limited financial assistance, but it was far short of what was really needed at the moment.

I don’t want to pour salt on any wounds by pointing this missed opportunity out, I’m saying let’s make sure we don’t miss the next opportunity when it presents itself.

That may even be right now in Iraq. I honestly don’t know at this point if the situation in Iraq can be turned around, but I do know that a change in direction as far as America’s policy there is required either way. What we’re doing clearly isn’t working. And by change I don’t mean a change in slogans, as from ’stay the course’ to ‘adapt to win’. I mean an actual change in our approach to working towards stability and democracy in Iraq.

Some suggest that we should set a date and redeploy our troops as a way of forcing the Iraqi people to stand up for themselves. I’m not sure if that’s the right move or not, there are obviously more knowledgeable people than myself on the ground situation in Iraq and the character and resolve of the Iraqi people. I only mention it to show that there are alternatives being suggested and after 3 years of watching our current policy fail maybe it’s time we have some serious discussions on these alternatives.

We need Iraq to become a positive example of democracy in action in the Middle East, but more importantly we owe it to the brave men and women who have made–and are making–the ultimate sacrifices on our behalf in Iraq, and we owe it to the people of Iraq to not be so partisan and stubborn that we fail to recognize failed policies, or discuss and explore any idea put forward that might have merit.

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Posted by Scott Bannon on September 2, 2006.



One Response

  1. The war in Iraq could still be won by the American people and not just by the soldiers nor Washington, nor the President. If we all got behind the action in the first place and not start questioning our president’s action, we probably would have gotten a better result and our troops started going home. We stand strong united and weak when divided. We need to act for the good of the country and not just our own.

    The American people has to come to terms and understand that the war has to be won. It is our war to protect our nation, economy and future. It is our future at stake as a nation and not the president’s.

    We need to stop arguing about the absence of WMD not justifying the war. It is past and we are beyond that. We are there. The fact is WMD was played like a poker game, where Sadam may have bluffed, and we took the bait. Whether war was the right action or not is just like deciding whether to take action only after the fact.

    We need to weigh possible consequences if another attack (which could be worse than 9/11) happened and it crippled our economy and the world’s. Everyone needs to imagine how it would be like to live in a depression era in a modern world. Then and only then perhaps would majority of people understand the importance of the choice.

    Defeating Bush by trying to do his job would only handcuff the next future generation of presidents and make them do nothing for fear of backlash by his own people. Imagine a president who would wait until an attack before acting. That is called appeasement which happened in the past.

    To win the war, we need to be united behind the cause and stop doing the president’s job. If we have a better solution, bring it to the president attention and away from the news camera. Just yelling “the war is not right” in front of the camera is not serving anyone’s purpose except the enemy’s.
    Yes America, we can still win the war that will determine our future if we unite. The world will start to love us when we are united.

    Reply to this specific comment

    by Phil on Jun 22, 2008 at 1:31 am

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