America’s lingering Al-Qaeda problem

Winston Churchill once said “an appeaser is one who feeds a crocodile hoping that it will eat him last.”

Even though Al-Qaeda is one of the United States’ greatest foes, many Americans fail to understand what Al-Qaeda actually is and what it hopes to achieve. Al-Qaeda does not attack America because it wants to destroy us or hates our way of life. Al-Qaeda views terrorism against Western countries and targets as a means to an end, according to Foreign Policy. It is a tactic used to accomplish its main objective, which is to overthrow governments in Muslim countries that do not subscribe to its politics and theology. Al-Qaeda seeks to undermine American power and American support for regimes by performing acts of terror against Western targets.

A core principle of the Obama campaign was a pledge withdraw American troops from Iraq. According to The End Game by Michael R. Gordon and Gen. Bernard E. Trainor, Obama repeatedly asserted to Gen. Petraeus that the real fight against Al-Qaeda was in Afghanistan and Pakistan, not Iraq or anywhere else. This logic derives less from solid analysis than political posturing over the wisdom of the War in Iraq. Al-Qaeda’s leadership may have been in Pakistan and Afghanistan, but the organization is not a single centralized group, but rather a collection of Islamist movements stretching from the Sahara to South Asia and are highly integrated one another.

Al-Qaeda now sees Iraq and the surrounding region as its core battle, not the conflict in Afghanistan and Pakistan. By withdrawing from Iraq, we handed Al-Qaeda victory and opportunity on a platter. Regardless of how bloody the Iraq War was, leaving Iraq a dessicated, disunited shell has given Al-Qaeda the opportunity to surge forth in Anbar province, recapturing Ramadi and Fallujah.

Al-Qaeda has asserted U.S. support for Israel is a motivating factor for its hostility toward America. Maybe if we stop supporting Israel, Al-Qaeda and other terrorist organizations would back down. But would they be appeased? Throwing Israel under the bus seems like a simple solution to Islamic extremism.

Books like “The Israel Lobby” and “U.S. Foreign Policy” by Stephen Walt and John Mearsheimer, two highly respected academics from Harvard and the University of Chicago respectively, argue U.S. support for Israel is irrational and motivated by lobbyists and religion. The book was a “New York Times” best-seller and garnered support from foreign policy luminaries such as Zbigniew Brzezinski, Michael Scheuer, and Max Hastings. However, books like “The Israel Lobby” fail to understand that Islamic extremists are not going to stop attacking the West. These groups will use any means at their disposal to eliminate hostile regimes throughout the world and install their system of barbaric, theocratic autocracy.

We should look at modern Islamic extremists not as religious zealots lashing out, but rather in terms of their goals. They are political revolutionaries. Many pundits insisted the Arab Spring was the ultimate rejection of Al-Qaeda, but Islamist movements have made huge power grabs almost effortlessly in various countries that were once a part of the Arab Spring. The discourse about al-Qaeda has been clouded by popular opinion. Americans largely want the Arab world to democratize but are exhausted two bloody, drawn-out wars in the Middle East and Central Asia. The U.S. now largely seeks from the Middle East.

The Prime Minister of Britain during the 1930s, Neville Chamberlain, advocated for the appeasement of Nazi Germany and publicly expressed his sympathy for the Sudeten Germans. There are those who say Chamberlain’s actions allowed allies to prepare for war. But at the end of the day, Chamberlain’s policies a moral failing to confront evil and gave Germany the time to build up its armed forces. By avoiding real confrontation with Islamic extremism, we are setting the stage for a similar disaster. We need to remember history’s lessons.

The trend in the international relations community is to advocate the U.S. to reevaluate its relationship with Israel, disengage from the Islamic world and to refrain from liberal intervention. While on a surface level this logic may be appealing, it is ultimately flawed. The U.S. withdrawing support for Israel might placate groups like Al-Qaeda, and avoiding confrontation with Iran and Hezbollah may keep the U.S. out of another war. Ignoring the connections between Islamist groups around the world might make us feel safer, but it will ultimately come back to haunt us.

America should not have left Iraq to disintegrate, regardless of how wrong-headed the decision to invade in the first place was. America cannot abandon Afghanistan to the maw of the Taliban; America cannot continue twisting Israel’s arm to force it to make decisions that run counter to its interests. We cannot afford creating new havens for terrorists. America cannot back down from fighting Islamic extremism and supporting our allies that are on the front-line of Islamic terrorism, for if we do so we will find ourselves alone with a still hungry, much larger crocodile.

Andy Wallin is a junior in the School of International Service.

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