Only way to fight militants
Many Americans do not fully understand the complexities involved in defending ourselves against Islamic militants.
Trans-national terrorists attacked our largest city and our capital. They came from a region with oil wealth beyond the dreams of avarice, yet the people there remain uneducated, live in poverty, feel demeaned and stripped of self-respect and have little hope of a better life for themselves or for their children.
The mullahs and despots who persecute in the name of Islam are re-enacting the history of past religious fanatics who also repressed and inhibited the development of civilization (e.g., Spain didn’t fully recover from the Inquisition for several hundred years).
Defending ourselves from militant extremists is a multifaceted task, and to understand it, we must frame the issue properly. We are not fighting “terrorists.” We are fighting militant fanatics who use terror as a weapon. Until Americans distinguish between the two, we’re going to have difficulty agreeing upon the strategies necessary to prevail.
The governments of the region “govern” by persecution and intimidation. They accept neither plurality nor human rights, and aren’t likely to change this behavior without outside intervention.
In an attempt to divert their citizens’ attention from their own inability to provide the necessities of 21st century living, these governments blame the region’s milieu of desperation on the U.S. It is primarily from this environment that Islamic militancy has arisen.
Complicating the issue is the fact that Islamic militants are trans-national in origin, which means they do not originate from any single nation, rendering national borders irrelevant.
The administration’s first step toward winning this war was to eliminate the enemy’s primary base of operations by removing the Taliban from power in Afghanistan. While al Qaeda was not entirely defeated, they lost their principal base for planning and training.
Insurgency remains in Afghanistan, but it’s no longer the “terrorist-free” zone that it was prior to 9/11. With the West’s assistance, the Afghans are acquiring the means to fight their own battles and control their own destiny.
The next step in helping the Arab people to regain their pride and self-esteem could have begun in Syria, Saudi Arabia or Iran. But the administration chose Iraq for three reasons: Saddam Hussein was the greatest threat to peace in the region; Iraq is centrally located in the region; and there was a reasonable expectation by the world community that he possessed and would use weapons of mass destruction again.
Using a Cold War analogy, the citizens of Germany tore down the Berlin Wall, the citizens of Eastern Europe overthrew their dictators, and so too must the citizens of the Middle East bring democratic reforms to their region. But they cannot do it without our help any more than Western Europe was able defend itself against the Soviets.
The Cold War lasted 55 years. Without the United States, Eastern Europe would still be in chains. The process was slow and involved numerous “hot” wars and many tests of will (Berlin, Korea, Cuba, Angola, etc.). But we persevered.
The Byzantine nature of geopolitics may not always lend clarity to situations, but do we not see the linkage between Kennedy standing firm during the Cuban missile crisis and fall of communism 30 years later? That “battle” was as critical to freeing Eastern Europe as were our armored divisions in Germany. We did not win every battle in the Cold War, and we’re not going to win every battle in this war. But we as a nation stayed the course until Eastern Europe was free and Soviet hegemony was ended.
We had allies during the Cold War, and we have allies now. During the Cold War, the Russian army had 40 divisions poised at the German border, and the French were 10 Soviet MIRVs from being eradicated from the planet. The Germans and French agreed with our strategies when they were in direct peril. Now they choose not to, which is their prerogative. But foreign governments and the U.N. Security Council, guided by their own economic interests, don’t lend legitimacy as to how America must defend itself.
The president’s primary responsibility is to keep Americans safe from foreign attack. The economy, the environment, AIDs research, education, gun control, Medicare, Social Security, civil rights and the women’s movement are all important. But each falls elsewhere on the national priority scale because we must defeat militant Islam to ensure our own survival and to protect our civil liberties.
Our administration has been unwavering in taking the offensive, which is the only means of fighting Islamic militants. Many Americans do not identify with asymmetrical warfare, which is understandable.
But do any of us truly understand why 19 angry Muslim men would fly 767s into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon and that their militant organization would declare war on America?
Before we can eliminate the root cause of terrorism, which is the hopelessness and despair of the region, the Middle East must undergo radical political reform. In order to do accomplish this task, many heretofore-untested strategies will be necessary. Suicide bombers will not be contained without historic reform in the region and the Iraqi elections next summer are but the first steps in that direction.
To those who do not believe we are justified in defending ourselves in the manner the administration is pursuing, feel free to wave your anti-war placard – it’s your right. But then please clearly articulate an alternative strategy as to how we might defend ourselves.
The argument that Iraq was not a threat to us does not hold water because every anti-American movement in the region posed a part of the threat of militant Islam. Sept. 11 was proof that America can no longer wait a few more centuries for the Arab world to institute reforms its own.
Butch Mazzuca of Singletree writes a weekly column for the Daily. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org