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Guy Yedwab

Mr. Neblett

World Since 1945

At War With The Mystics

Americans, like the citizens of the British Empire before them, are in the unique

position of controlling the destiny of most of the countries on the planet. And like the

Brits toward the end of their rule, the question has begun to crop up more often: “Why do

they hate us?” Of course, the ‘they’ to which the question refers is not a single group, and

therefore there is no single answer. On September 11th, however, one group of Anti-

Americans made themselves far more important in the American mindset than any other

group. France may enjoy US-bashing, and Hugo Chavez may call America the ‘terrorist

nation,’ but it is Islamic radicals typified by Al Qaeda that the United States is most

concerned with. Aside from Americans themselves, Al Qaeda is the first group to

perpetrate an attack on American soil since the Japanese in World War Two. Today, our

president George W. Bush has declared a War on Terror—and this, he says, is the solution

to the problem of Islamic radical attacks on America. To this end, he has invaded

Afghanistan to depose the Taliban regime, and invaded Iraq to depose the Hussein regime

(so that Hussein would not supply Islamic radicals with WMD, allegedly). However, this

approach to dealing with Islamic fundamentalism is thoroughly misguided both in the

short run, and in the long run. In the short run, the ‘threat’ of Islamic radicalism must be

confronted through defensive measures, and in the long run, Islamic radicalism must be

countered by systemic changes which attack the roots of Islamic radicalism. Like both the
War on Drugs and the War on Poverty, the War on Terror will fail if it is implemented in a

short-sighted, confrontationalist fashion.

The short-term solution which President Bush has presented to the American

people is war, but the two wars to which the United States has committed have had mixed

results. The invasion of Afghanistan, largely supported by most of the world, came

immediately after September 11th. The rationale was simple: Afghanistan was a haven for

Islamic radical terrorist training camps. The Taliban, by sanctioning these terror groups,

were aiding and abetting the enemy, and thus had to be removed. After a short, relatively

painless operation, the Taliban had been deposed, and Al Qaeda as an organization

became largely defunct. In most of the ways which Secretary of State Colin Powell

defined ‘success’ during the lead-up to the war, the United States has succeeded. The

democracy which was installed, though initially plagued by assassinations, eventually

became stable enough to begin the complicated task of self-regulation. Afghanistan was

an example of a fruitful use of force to combat Islamic radicalism. Although some

military operations were botched, causing Afghani citizens to cry out against the

American military, Afghanistan was mostly improved by the invasion. However, the

failure to root Taliban and Al Qaeda forces out of the Tora Bora caves on the border of

Pakistan is indicative of the difficulties of confronting guerillas with direct force. The

operation began in late 2001/early 2002, and as of this writing (5/27/06), the Taliban have

still been able to clash with American forces. Luckily, this insurgency is not too severe of

a strain of American forces. However, Afghanistan is not a typical example of the

difficulty of regime change to fight terrorism. The Taliban regime was largely unpopular
at home, and the Islamic radicals were already a largely diffuse group centered outside of

Afghanistan in sleeper cells. The next war, in Iraq, provides a much more stark example

of American use of force to combat ‘terrorism.’ Bush, who has often said that we are

fighting terrorists in Iraq so we don’t have to fight them at home, overlooks the explosive

growth of terrorism and insurgency in Iraq since Hussein was deposed. In Iraq, America

deposed a secular dictator, freeing Islamic tensions between Shiites and Sunnis to

manifest violently. While it is most likely true that most of the terrorists in Iraq will not

come to the United States to pursue acts of terror, it is still important to note that

Americans and innocent Iraqis are being slaughtered in ever-higher numbers, with no end

in sight. Because of the diffuse nature of fighting guerilla warfare and terrorism, the US

Army has been unable to ‘defeat’ the insurgency and terrorists in Iraq, and therefore we

have merely overstretched our already weak military. This can only make us more

susceptible to attack on our own homefront.

Rather than focus on direct military conflict, the United States needs to focus on

its own security. Despite the attention paid to airline security, reports have said that 40%

of all bombs and weapons passed through airport security in 2005 during tests by

Homeland Security. Despite the talk about Air Marshalls, most domestic and international

flights through the United States do not carry them. Meanwhile, other areas of defense

are equally overlooked. In 2005, over half of the Coast Guard’s boats were either

temporarily or permanently grounded due to various servicing problems. Homeland

Security constantly complains of underfunding. If the United States cannot

comprehensively protect its borders, it will be attacked again. This does not mean,
however, that it should engage in the arcane new processes of immigration that have

recently been put in place for people applying for Visa’s.

These short-term reforms are secondary to the larger, more long-term reforms that

have been largely ignored by most politicians. Terrorism from Islamic radicalism is a

diffuse enemy to attempt to defeat, and cannot be defeated on a person-by-person level.

However, many of the causes that lead to Islamic radicalism can be targeted by a more

compromising foreign policy. The United States has often involved itself in Middle

Eastern affairs in a self-centered fashion. In Saudi Arabia, the US has propped up an

autocratic regime simply in order to facilitate its oil extraction. The US made many

enemies in Iran thanks to its support of the brutal and unpopular Shah, also in the interest

of oil. Pakistan, the country which CIA Director George Tenet hinted is the current home

to Osama Bin Laden and which contains many of the ex-Taliban and Al Qaeda operatives

which have not yet been brought to justice, was insulted when the United States decided

to encourage nuclear development (in violation of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty)

in India but not in Pakistan. If the United States continues on this path of self-centered

policy, then it will not be a surprise that it will find itself hated by the Islamic radicals

who seek to remove American presence in the Middle East. The United States instead

should seek to help develop the Middle East and ease the poverty and internal conflict

that tears it apart. By helping countries like Palestine and Lebanon rebuild and take on

their own government, supporting whatever government coalesces in Iraq, attempting to

engage President Ahmadinejad in a more constructive dialogue, and other reforms which

would help rebuild life for the average Middle-Easterner, the United States would have a
more positive track record of its involvement in the Middle East. As a positive force in

the region, it would be harder for Muslim fundamentalists to point to Westernization as a

destructive force.

The United States is the big kid on the playground, and too long has it been the

bully. Rather than casting itself as the big bad wolf, the US should aim to create itself a

role as the protector of the weak, and help increase global prosperity, if it wishes to

diminish the vast hordes of people worldwide who seem to want it to withdraw

completely from their affairs. Whereas Ahmadinejad has spurned the United States

(which has been giving Ahmadinejad the diplomatic cold shoulder since the 1979 hostage

crisis), previously virulent anti-American Momar Qadaafi has normalized relations with

the United States, and Libya is no longer a source of anti-American Islamic radicalism. It

also has been induced to abandon its weapons program. This is the sort of long-term

rehabilitation which has been successful—but this is not the current norm. If this tactic is

employed more, we will see a more peaceful world begin to develop.