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Sep 10, 2008

Can a war without end actually be won?

By Alan Stoga

Watch our video editorial, which this week examines the good and bad news of the current state of the war on terror.

Seven years after the attacks on New York and Washington, D.C., there is good news and bad news in the fight against radical Islamic fundamentalism.
The most obvious good news is that al Qaeda has not succeeded in launching another attack on American soil. The U.S. invasion and occupation of Afghanistan and Iraq—President Bush’s self-declared “war on terror”—coupled with improved intelligence efforts, pushed the fight away from our shores and into the Middle East.
It is also good news that ordinary Muslims are evidently eager to reject the extremism of the Taliban and al Qaeda. There is evidence of this in Iraq’s Anbar Province and sections of Afghanistan.
Arabs may or may not lust for democracy, but they clearly prefer modernity to the dark ages.
The bad news is that our policy remains locked in the labyrinth of Bush’s endless war. Like a grotesque game of whack-a-mole, we first hit Afghanistan, then Iraq. Again, Afghanistan. Next, perhaps, Pakistan and then, who knows, Iran. Or, maybe, back to Iraq.
The two presidential candidates are essentially promising more of the same mentality. Senator John McCain insists that Iraq is the central front in the global war on terror. He argues that he was right in supporting the surge, and—therefore—he is better prepared to be president.
Senator Barack Obama says that he was right to oppose the invasion of Iraq and the surge, and that Afghanistan should be the central front in the global war on terror.
McCain says he will pursue Osama bin Laden to the gates of hell. Obama says he won’t have to go that far, since everyone knows that bin Laden is in Pakistan.
Somewhere, an otherwise disgraced neo-con is smiling.
The real question, of course, should be whether or not we are safer. “Not really,” was the recent answer from the government’s most senior terrorism analyst. Last month, the country’s top terrorist analyst said that al Qaeda today is actually more capable of attacking the United States than they were last year, and that the terrorist network’s desire to attack us is undiminished—even if no specific attack appears to be on the immediate horizon.
So, where is the return on the hundreds of billions of dollars we have spent and, more importantly, the untold thousands of people who have died while fighting this war on terror?
For seven years, we have given bin Laden the perfect foil for his madness. We have inflated a lethal criminal conspiracy into a geopolitical crusade. In the process, we have threatened our own core values and have helped nurture the very terrorists that we want to destroy.
Maybe, instead of sending the 82nd Airborne, we should be figuring out how to convince the people who are under assault by the terrorists that they need not join them—and then help them to realize their own possibilities in their own contexts.
It worked against the Soviets. We should have enough confidence and patience to make it work against the jihadists.

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