In This Era of Hope, Obama Must Embrace a Genuine Agenda of Peace
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While the Obama administration is likely to offer progressive leadership on Iraq, Iran and denuclearization, its approach toward the global struggle against al-Qaida is more problematic. The deployment of additional troops to Afghanistan is unlikely to bring lasting security to the region or stem the flow of recruits and support to al-Qaida. The presence of foreign troops in Afghanistan is the problem, not the solution. Political opposition to foreign military operations has grown in Afghanistan and Pakistan, and the deployment of additional troops will only make matters worse, fueling further resistance and terrorist attacks.
War and military occupation are not an effective strategy against al-Qaida. The concept of a "war on terror" is misguided and counterproductive. Utilizing the rhetoric and policy of war turns the criminals who commit mass murder into warriors and presumed heroes within their communities. When the United States bombs and invades Muslim communities, this undermines our moral standing and validates Osama bin Laden’s warped image of America waging war on Islam. Polls in Muslim countries have shown as much as 80 percent of the population agreeing with the view that American policy is directed against Islam. As long as these attitudes prevail, there will be no end of would-be recruits willing to blow themselves up to kill Americans and our allies.
The 9/11 Commission argued that the campaign against terrorism is primarily a political struggle for hearts and minds. The goal is "prevailing over the ideology that contributes to Islamic terrorism," which means separating al-Qaida from its social support base. This requires policies that rely not on military force but on political and economic measures that reduce support for violent extremism. The solution in Afghanistan is not more troops but a greater commitment to diplomacy and development. Security experts and senior military officers have called for power-sharing negotiations with local Taliban elements as a way of peeling away support from al-Qaida's globalist agenda. This approach should be combined with major investments in economic development and support for human rights. These are strategies that will be more effective, and less costly, over the long term in reducing the global terrorist danger.
In his Nov. 4 acceptance speech, Obama vowed to "defeat" those who would "tear down this world" and to support those who strive for peace and security. This lofty ambition will require a global security strategy that emphasizes cooperation over unilateralism and peaceful diplomacy over military action -- an approach based on the force of law rather than the law of force. The new administration can move decisively in this direction through military disengagement from Iraq, negotiations with Iran, action for nuclear disarmament, and a commitment to diplomacy, development and democracy in the fight against al-Qaida. These changes could pave the way toward more comprehensive transformations of U.S. policy -- strengthening the United Nations, reducing military spending, increasing diplomatic and peace-building efforts, expanding support for economic development, defending human rights, acting against mass violence in Darfur and the Democratic Republic of Congo and facilitating a just settlement between Israel and the Palestinians. All are elements of a cooperative security strategy that reduces support for violent extremism and helps to realize a more peaceful future.
David Cortright is a research fellow with the Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies.