The Dog Days of Terrorism

Al Qaeda is like that annoying stray dog that pees on your lawn and you try to get rid of but keeps on coming back. No matter what you do to make sure the dog goes away for good, it always seems to find a way to survive and keep urinating on your grass. The Taliban, too.

President Obama met with President Asif Ali Zardari of Pakistan and President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan at the White House on Wednesday, May 6 to discuss the deteriorating situation in the region. Since the U.S.-led invasion in December 2001 to topple the Taliban regime in Afghanistan and root out the al Qaeda presence there, things have not significantly improved.

Women are still oppressed, tribal regions are still lawless, terrorists continue to thrive, and fear continues to drive Afghan and Pakistani politics. There seems to be no end in sight to the war and to bring home U.S. and coalition troops. The war Bush started might not end with Obama. It might take his successor to finally declare victory.

Obama’s promise to send 17,000 additional troops to Afghanistan sounded like a great idea to stop the bleeding. It still does. But now it has become evident that the war has shifted fronts. Sending troops to Afghanistan is not enough. Something has to be done in Pakistan. This is where the Taliban is strongest. This is where intelligence experts believe Osama bin Laden (remember that guy?) and his lieutenants are hiding.

A recent U.S. air strike inside Afghanistan killed dozens of civilians, a move that will further radicalize Islamic fundamentalists around the world. As American popularity in the region continues to decline, winning this “War on Terror” is becoming more difficult than previously imagined. This might truly be a multigenerational conflict. Remember when Bush declared “mission accomplished” in Iraq? That seems like ages ago.

Maybe a whole new strategy is necessary to stamp out terrorism for good. Maybe the stray dog chooses to come back because he has needs that need to be fulfilled. If you address the problem instead of the symptoms, we might actually get somewhere. Like what Obama promised during his presidential campaign, it might be time to forget the ways of old and embrace new ideas for the future.

Defeating Islamic terrorism and Jihad might require tactics outside the traditional realm of military force. One could even argue terrorism in this part of the world isn’t motivated by religious extremism. It could be argued that this war is more about power than pleasing Allah. Whether it’s political or social, holding and asserting power is what motivates these people to carry out suicide bombings and kill innocent civilians.

Power is the primary motivation behind all wars. Nations invade other nations in order to take control of something. It could be natural resources like oil, gold, or diamonds; control over land and territories; or control over a people group. Either way, wars are fought to restore some sort of balance of power. The Spanish conquistadors invaded the New World for “God, gold, and glory,” but not necessarily in that order. The Nazis invaded Europe because of a militant and racist “manifest destiny” agenda. The Allied Powers invaded the Nazis and Japanese to restore the balance of power away from fascism/national socialism. The entire Cold War was about power leverage. You get the idea.

The “War on Terror” is also about power. The U.S. doesn’t want violent radicals to gain control of Afghan and Pakistani politics. That would cause further destabilization in the area; especially given the fact that Pakistan is a nuclear power. India is watching this war with extreme interest.

Al Qaeda’s mission is to undermine American power in the Middle East. Osama bin Laden infamously said he carried out the 9/11 attacks to protest the U.S. military presence in Saudi Arabia. His other goal was to subvert America’s military support for Israel, a nation seemingly at war with everyone in the Arab world. In other words, America’s wars in the Middle East should be seen in terms of a struggle for political power instead of petty things like oil, religion, democracy, or “freedom.”

President Obama understands that losing the war in Afghanistan would destroy America’s military credibility across the world. A similar fear persisted during the latter years of the Vietnam War. President Nixon was afraid that losing both South Vietnam and Cambodia to Communism would lead to a domino effect of other countries falling to Marxism across Southeast Asia and Latin America. This explains how Henry Kissinger can convince Nixon to execute the controversial Christmas bombing of 1972 against the North Vietnamese. Kissinger escalated the war in order to end it. Obama is doing the same thing with his “surge.”

But that might not be enough. This is not a war of ideology, as has been discussed before. This is a war for power. And how is power gained or lost? Through political credibility. The U.S. needs to convince the people of Afghanistan and Pakistan that extremism is not the way to run a country in the 21st century. American capitalism may not be the best alternative, but it’s a start. This involves winning the “hearts and minds” of the people, as cliché as that sounds. But the difficulty of this is that it’s very difficult to win over people’s hearts and minds when you’re bombing them into submission. Once again, we need to think outside the box.

How do we do that, exactly? How do we convince skeptical Muslims to trust the West? That is a question that I might not be able to answer. That’s right. I don’t have all the answers. I wish I did, though. The debate between war and peace is a delicate one. It’s very nuanced and all theoretical. For now, it’s important to remember that kicking the dog off your lawn will not make it go away. Dogs are not robots (just don’t tell that to Michael Vick). They have needs and desires just like human beings. Once we figure out what those needs are, we might be able to make progress where we can all live happily.

And who doesn’t want that?

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