I love the Arab world. Truth be told, I feel less awkward in certain parts of the Middle East than I do anywhere else on the planet. And while I am currently living in America, a large part of my heart remains in the Middle East, and along with my family, I have all intentions of returning and living there again one day in the future. So when I think about the current reality of the Middle East, I do so with a very heavy and hurting heart. I want, more than anything else, for the wars to end, and for there to be peace on earth. That is what I want above all else. For peace to prevail. For peace to win.
However, the current reality of the Middle East is anything but peaceful. Iraq is an absolute nightmare of a mess. The devasting cycle of war that began in 2003 has exacerbated political divisions and high unemployment, with the country now being one of the most unstable in the entire Middle East. Syria is an absolute nightmare of a mess. Since the war began in 2011, more than 5.6 million Syrians have fled the country and more than 6 million people are internally displaced. Jordan is on the verge of becoming an absolute nightmare of a mess as the country is greatly suffering from the massive influx of refugees, who have continually poured in over the past decade to escape the brutal wars in Iraq and Syria. Yemen is an absolute nightmare of a mess that has devolved into the worst humanitarian crisis the world has ever known, with 13 million people literally on the verge of starvation as Saudi Arabia and Iran continue their devastatingly indiscriminate proxy-war in the country. And the Iranian influence — which should be an absolute nightmare to us all — is spreading throughout the region like cancerous cells.
Unfortunately, the inconvenient truth is that all of these aforementioned nightmares have been brought into manifest reality since the inception of the “war on terror” began in October 2001.
While the moniker “war on terror” may slightly help clarify what we have been at war with, it in no way defines with whom we have been at war since first deploying combat troops to Afghanistan to fight the “war on terror” in 2001. And our refusal to specifically define who this enemy we are fighting against is has undoubtedly contributed to, whether intentionally or not, the mass military expansion from one country, Afghanistan, into 76 countries (and counting) across the planet. Until we state in absolute terms with whom we are at war, we will forever remain trapped in an un-winnable, never-ending war. (Editor’s note: Author’s country count includes all countries in which our US military is involved, including training of local military or police forces.)
We are at war with the men and women who have declared war on us under the flag of violent Islamic jihad. We are not at war with terror. We are not at war with Islam. We are at war with violent Islamic jihadists.
Let me say it again: we are undoubtedly in a very real war against violent Islamic jihadists and we must respond accordingly. However, as we move into the future this war, cannot and should not primarily be a military-type response.
There are absolutely appropriate circumstances for which a significant military role is necessary, such as in combating the Taliban and al-Qaeda in Afghanistan in October 2001, or in dealing with the emergence of ISIS and its control over substantial territories across Iraq and Syria more recently. The military’s warriors are undoubtedly the right people for the job of going into essentially ungoverned spaces that have become training and launching grounds for terrorists, hunting them down and destroying them. And that is the type of war the uniformed members of our military voluntarily signed up to be sent off to in defense of our nation: One where they go into battle against a clearly defined enemy that attacked our homeland, wipe out the adversary entirely, leave, and come back home. That is the sort of war for which we should use our military.
However, in this war against Islamic jihadists, a military response should be the exception, not the norm. The vast majority of people with whom we are now at war — Islamic jihadists — do not control any sort of meaningful amounts of territory. They are inside the hardline Salafi mosques in the backstreets of Cairo, Amman and Khartoum, and they are blended in well -hiding in plain sight.
Yet since the 9/11 attacks, America’s elected leaders have continually inseminated the enemy, who had been lying dormant in the Middle East for ages with an uncontrollable rage the world had never seen, by choosing to continually fight the war on terror primarily through the use of our military. Unfortunately, we have continued to embrace the idea that the primary response to terrorism must be a military one, which surely we can now agree, as it relates to the “war on terror,” has caused more problems than it has solved. This is for several reasons, chief among them being that large, military responses generally result in untold numbers of innocent civilian deaths, which in turn serve as propaganda points for local terrorist groups, greatly helping in their recruitment of new members. Furthermore, an absolutely key component of Islamic jihadi narratives is that their actions are part of a larger conflict, something bigger and greater than themselves, and in our framing counterterrorism primarily as a military war, we are enabling such a narrative.
As such, it is wholly inappropriate for us to continue using the military as our primary warriors in this ongoing battle. We as a nation have irresponsibly and unethically continued to use our military when we should have been using a different type of warrior all together. It is time to bring our combat troops home and deploy a more appropriate type of warrior to battle and defeat radical Islamic jihadists.
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