On the one-year anniversary of his
inauguration, Barack Obama remains stuck in the rhetorical trap left by
his predecessor. While he has committed himself to closing down the war
in Iraq, he has only escalated the war in Afghanistan and, most
ominously, embraced the misguided Bush-era label of the “War on Terror.”
It is long past time to acknowledge that
declaring “war” on terror, while it served to mobilize patriotic
sentiment in the aftermath of 9/11, is a mistake, and to commit
ourselves to ending it. This is not to say that we do not need to be
vigilant and use every means to make our country more secure. It is
simply an acknowledgement that a security policy that makes military
action central is not the most effective way to make us safer.
Especially when the real enemies who seek to do us harm do not behave
like typical military entities.
I have a very large dog named Pete. He
sleeps in my bedroom, circled in on himself in a very narrow sliver of
wooden floor between the closet and the bedside. There is barely enough
room for him to sleep, much less turn around his mostly Newfoundland
torso. Pete is loyal and devoted to the safety of our family members.
Somewhere in his walnut-sized brain he has decided that the best way to
keep us safe it to get up in the middle of the night and bark like a
crazed wolf at passing snowplows.
Pete has declared war on snowplows.
Watching him rise to his feet and struggle to turn and make his way out
of the room in the dark whenever a snowplow goes by is an awkward and
disturbing event. Most times the plow has passed and the street has
returned to quiet before he makes his way to the window to bark loudly
into the night. You just can’t move a body that big fast enough to be
effective. By the time you do get up and going, everyone in the county
knows you’re afoot.
I don’t know what instinct urges him on,
but it is very clear that he feels compelled to take action whenever a
snowplow barrels down the road. Fortunately he is indoors at night and,
thus, cannot harm himself or others.
On the other hand I have two cats. I
don’t like the cats much, but many in my family do. Cats, of course,
resemble terrorists much more closely than the cumbersome members of
the canine species. Cats are sneaky, patient and oh so nimble in ways
that dogs, had they the wits, would envy.
Were I to plaster my lawn with signs
saying “Support the Newfs” it would no doubt make me feel better and
elicit nods of support from the neighbors as they drive by, but it
wouldn’t make the dog any quicker or the mission of barking at
snowplows any more sensible. It wouldn’t make Pete more stealthy than
The use of war as the central metaphor
in our confrontation with Islamic extremism just doesn’t help us grasp
what must be done. It only helps further the likelihood that we will
find ourselves militarily involved in more places around the globe, in
effect sending more of our young people to be targets and giving
genuinely bad people more means of recruiting converts to their cause.
Witness the latest attempt to attack an
American city. The bomber who tried to take down an airplane over
Detroit was a Nigerian man affiliated with a Yemen-based terrorist
group, al-Qaida of the Arabian Peninsula. By the logic Obama has
succumbed to regarding Afghanistan, you have to wonder if and when we
will be invading Nigeria, or Yemen.
If we look at countries that have faced
significant terrorist threats in the recent past—Britain and Israel
chief among them—they adopted a number of measures but never declared a
war on terror. Terror is a tactic, and you can’t declare war on a
President Obama took his inherited war
in Afghanistan and stamped his own name on it by announcing two
escalations involving tens of thousands of additional U.S. troops
headed to that nation. Many of those troops will come from Fort Drum,
just to our north.
Terrorism can’t be stopped by plopping a
large army down in a desert or a hostile mountain range. Terrorism
doesn’t fight fixed battles with fixed positions.
Conservatives like to pick on Obama,
charging that he conceives of the problem of terrorism as essentially
one of law enforcement. Obama correctly pointed out that the Christmas
Day near-miss was caused by a failure of several of our intelligence
agencies to enforce laws and ban the bomber from that flight, but he
did not refute their choice of words. For this we will pay a heavy
price. I say it’s time to call off the dogs. Mr. President, send in the
Read Ed Griffin-Nolan’s award-winning commentary every week in the Syracuse New Times.