A historic moment in fight against terror
The Post Independent took the unusual step last week of putting a national wire story on the front page — President Obama’s announcement of planned air strikes in Syria and a strategy to combat the vicious terror group ISIS.
We know that you don’t look to us for much national and international news — information from Garfield County, where we are the only real source of news, is our raison d’etre.
The president’s speech, though, was an important and instructive moment in the world’s struggle with terrorism from Islamic extremists.
As our Associated Press story noted, “It marks the first time since 9/11 that a U.S. president has authorized the bombing of terror targets in another nation without seeking permission or at least notifying it in advance.”
Though deeply torn by a brutal dictator and civil war, Syria is a sovereign nation. Authorizing air strikes there, in historic terms, reminded me of Richard Nixon’s speech to the nation on the evening of April 30, 1970, that U.S. forces would launch an incursion into Cambodia, which Viet Cong and North Vietnamese forces used for supply lines and sanctuary. (I was 12. I remember Nixon’s map and my father saying that as long as we were in Vietnam, we had to fight the enemy where he was.)
“This is not an invasion of Cambodia,” Nixon said. “Once enemy forces are driven out of these sanctuaries and once their military supplies are destroyed, we will withdraw.”
Or, as Obama said Wednesday evening, “I want the American people to understand how this effort will be different from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. It will not involve American combat troops fighting on foreign soil.”
So we all hope. The last thing we want is PI headlines about people from our region dying in Syria.
The president also asked Congress to authorize greater assistance to supposedly more moderate Syrian rebels.
Aid to these rebels, long debated and rejected because none of the groups seeking to oust Syrian President Bashar Assad is made up of reliable, nice guys, represents a substantial escalation. So do the air strikes, which risk losing American fliers, to say nothing of the dubious constitutional grounds on which they are being justified.
Experience shows us that starting down these roads can lead to pressure to escalate further.
This is the doorway where we stood as the president outlined his plan.
The step through that door takes us to yet another front in a protracted conflict with a multi-headed, nontraditional enemy that keeps changing forms.
Nobody likes ISIS, so we should have plenty of help. But the ideology of al-Qaeda and ISIS just gets more extreme and crops up elsewhere, so crushing ISIS over a few years won’t end it. It’s part of the continuing war that we don’t know how to fight from which Obama has tried to extricate us.
Cultural differences make it very difficult for us to counter the hateful anti-American indoctrination of many — not all — Muslim youth, and our efforts to install governments that will do our bidding is well proven to breed further hatred.
“We cannot erase every trace of evil from the world, and small groups of killers have the capacity to do great harm,” Obama said. “That was the case before 9/11, and that remains true today.”
Thirteen years after 9/11, we all must acknowledge that this is a normal state of affairs in the world. Our best hope is to build a broad, diverse coalition of nations to share intelligence, support reasonable ideas and moderate Muslims, fight poverty everywhere, and limit the influence and damage of the world’s sickest minds. Some of the extremists are so vile and dangerous that for our security we must seek to kill them — but we can’t kill them all.
We would also do well to acknowledge that presidents face impossibly tough choices, from Nixon over Cambodia to Bush after 9/11 to Obama today.
Seeking local thoughts on how to combat ISIS, we posted a question on Facebook Wednesday: “President Obama addresses the nation tonight on a strategy to combat ISIS, the terror group that has seized territory in Syria and Iraq, that has beheaded two Americans. We’d like to print some (civil) local comments about what you think should be done about ISIS.”
We got two comments critical of Obama.
We tried again: “The question is what you think should be done about ISIS.”
Polarization in the United States paralyzes us in fighting our real enemy. While we shouldn’t blindly support a person or policy, if criticism and blame are our foundation, we can build nothing strong.
Randy Essex is editor of the Post Independent.
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