Should Americans shoulder the burden of the war in Afghanistan? Is it fair to put forty thousand additional families through the grinder as per General McChrystal's request? Is the war winnable?
These questions come at a time of economic upheaval, with unemployment at twenty-six years high, a government drowning in debt, and citizens suffering silently searching for the very basic promise of America.
The current poisonous political environment that transformed ex-doves into vicious hawks, and magically helped others see the light of a new world where American military might should never be thrown around at a whim, makes it impossible to find the sound of reason in the mist of all the raving. However, the questions are legitimate and need answers.
Our enemy is not a race, a tribe, or a nation. The fight is against a distorted ideology based on a flawed interpretation of the reasons behind the demise of Islam as a political power and Muslims' role in the world. An army of mostly uneducated individuals with very little earthly inspirations and bleak social existence carries the so-called holy war. They are armed, and willing to die, for a cause beyond our control.
Moreover, the conditions that produced organized terrorism in Afghanistan at a global scale are now widely spread in places such as Yemen and Somalia. Fighting in every failing nation on earth is not an option. Holding every Muslim suspect is impractical, illogical and beyond our reach.
Nevertheless, leaving Afghanistan -now- is the wrong choice. We did it once in the early eighties. Two decades later, our nation had to mourn the innocent victims fallen on September 11.
Eliminating the enemy militarily, with or without forty-thousand additional troops, is also unrealistic goal. We learned in the narrow streets and wide fields of Iraq, that successful counter insurgency requires much more than boots on the ground.
Despite the bleak picture and the bad options, the world can still eradicate extremism. It will take at a minimum the same level of sophistication used to create this monstrous movement in the first place.
In the mid seventies, the world played with gas (religion), and matches (weapons). The complex plan devised by the CIA, and financed by Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States, defeated the Soviet Union. The foot soldiers in the fight were simple-minded Middle Eastern young men recruited in the crowded lecture halls, and the noisy streets of many -moderate- Arab and Muslim countries. The future jihadists received intensive training using a twisted reading of Islam, and made-in-America firepower. As in all bad Hollywood movies, the mindless robots we created got out of control.
The only realistic path to defeat terrorism must utilize the same players, and identical techniques.
Now is the time for Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States to provide funds and genuine religious leaders capable of teaching an Islam that coexisted, learned and taught others for hundreds of years.
This is the chance for Egypt, Pakistan, and other populous Muslim nations to provide forces on the ground to help secure their fellow Muslims against the radical elements.
This is a loud and probably final call for smart, capable, and willing American government, to devise a plan, lead the efforts, and help address the deep grievances created over years of mismanagement and neglect.
The previous American administration's handling of the Palestinian/Israeli problem, and Iraq invasion made it a political suicide for any Arab or Muslim leader to associate with the Americans.
To the contrary, the goodwill created by Obama's Cairo speech, and his promises on host of issues such as a Palestinian homeland, closing Guantanamo, and nuclear disarmament altered the public opinion in the region. This transformation will provide the political cover needed by the Middle Eastern governments to work with the current American administration. It happened once in the first Gulf War, and it must happen again.
I hope that the long awaited decision by President Obama will keep the current American forces and commitment in Afghanistan. Announce a new concrete steps to build such alliance with Arab and Muslim governments. After all, we are in this fight together, and this is the only way to win the war.
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