Last week I was watching an MSNBC analyst-exactly who escapes me-discuss the “war on terrorism” under President Obama. The analyst hit the nail on the head when he said that the war on terrorism would drastically change because President Barack Obama did not view terror as an “ism” which can be fought like fascism or communism but a tactic employed by groups of fundamentalists with an anti-western ideology. If this argument seems confusing I will attempt to lay it out as clearly as possible.
Let’s start with the definition of “ism.” Someone can probably attach “ism” to anything but for this argument we will define it in the context of fascism, communism, etc. meaning it is an ideology with a social and political structure that allows for nation-state to exist. Under this definition few would agree that terror-ism is similar to the “isms” listed above. In fact terror-ism is not an “ism” at all but a tactic used by certain groups because they feel it is the most prudent way to achieve an end. This is echoed in the U.S. Law Code which defines “terrorism” as a “premeditated, politically motivated violence perpetrated against noncombatant targets by sub-national groups or clandestine agents.”
I posed this argument over a round of drinks to some of my friends this weekend and those who disagreed with my argument seemed to stumble when comparing modern terrorist groups to those found in history. They were in agreement that American revolutionaries fighting the British, the KKK and the IRA could be considered terrorist groups, but they believed that terrorist groups of today’s world are some how different from those previously mentioned. My friends could never articulate exactly how the terrorist groups differed but they simply overlooked the obvious. The difference between terrorist groups throughout history and now is modern terrorist organizations currently have an anti-West, anti-U.S. agenda.
Many, including former President George W. Bush, believe that the act of terrorism itself is a binding link between the many terrorist groups across the world. This is a false assumption. The act of terrorism is not what binds these organizations but their belief that the West, particularly the United States, wishes to establish hegemonic rule over the rest of the world. Some often argue that these groups are connected by their religion but this claim is also false. Many terrorist organizations use their religion as a way to rally and give legitimacy to their claims. The ethnic killings done by Shiites and Sunnis during 2006-07 shows that religion does not bind these groups.
Under the assumption that terrorism was something that could be fought by conventional military means alone, the Bush Administration launched its war on terrorism. The stated goals of the war on terror was to protect US territory, break up domestic terrorist cells and disrupt the activities of the international network of terrorist organizations. This war on terror has, however, not decreased terrorist activities across the world but increased them. Bush’s war on terror has stalled because “terrorism” is a tactic to achieve a belief. The Bush Administration’s declaration of war on terror would be the equivalent of the United States declaring war on surprise attacks after the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. Surprise attack being the tactic employed by our enemy which is parallel to the tactic of terror being used by America’s enemies today.
I agree, as does President Obama, that to successfully fight America’s enemies we must re-engage the world through quality leadership and international diplomacy. It is important to note that modern terrorist organizations represent a small fragment of the populations that they are a part and they must be treated as such. Bush was correct to engage the military aspect of these organizations but to truly defeat these terrorist organizations one must defeat the ideas that they support. Former President Bush often spoke of winning the “hearts and minds” of the various peoples around the world, but his hearts and minds campaign was conducted by military force.
In his inaugural address Obama said, “As for our common defense, we reject as false the choice between our safety and our ideals. . . And for those who seek to advance their aims by inducing terror and slaughtering innocents, we say to you now that our spirit is stronger and cannot be broken; you cannot outlast us, and we will defeat you.” This language signals that Obama intends to promote the principals of America that have made the United States the envy of the world. In only his first week in office, President Obama signed an executive order outlawing torture, rendition flights and closed CIA run secret jails. As a symbol to the American people that he was committed to returning the US to its high moral standing in the world pre-George W. Bush, President Obama ordered the Guantanamo Bay detention camp to be shut down within a year. President Obama also signaled to the world that he was dedicated to the idea of peace through diplomacy by placing his first calls as President to Mahmoud Abbas, President of the Palestinian Authority, President Mubarak of Egypt, Ehud Olmert, the Israeli Prime Minister and King Abdullah of Jordan.
Obama understands the realities of the world in which we live and that the threats against America are real. To defeat these threats the world must unite in common cause to defeat an enemy who threatens the very idea of freedom. America must demonstrate that, although facing an enemy who uses tactics of fear and mass murder to achieve their goals, it will be unwavering in the principals upon which it was founded. Although the road may be long and arduous, with Obama leading, the world will once again stand beside America to fight these terror organizations and ensure that the peoples of the world are given the basic rights entrusted to us all: life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
Aaron TurnerCo-presidentMiami University College Democratsturnerav@muohio.edu