Friday, September 12, 2014

The Road Not Taken After 9/11: Obama's New Path


From The Road Not Taken, by Robert Frost
....I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

"It will take a global coalition to defeat ISIS." Secretary of State John Kerry CNN,  August 30, 2014 

"We will degrade and destroy ISIL through an international coalition and long-term counter-terrorism strategy." 
President Obama, September 10, 2011

There were two roads to take after 9/11.   One was strewn with justified outrage and fear, justified horror and, perhaps, other more unsavory motives.  They propelled America into a war against terrorism that got us into real wars in Iraq and then Afghanistan.  No good outcomes came of  America's intervention. The threat of world-wide terrorism remains, from Al Qaeda, Hezbollah, Boko Haram, and is getting worse. ISIL's extreme inhumanity attests to that. Today there are more than 200 recognized terrorists organizations around the world.

The other road demanded a steady hand and a long-term strategy in the face of the unprecedented destruction of the Twin Towers in New York City.  It meant taking advantage of world shock and a shared world fear to create a comprehensive international coalition against terrorism that was global, inclusive, coordinated, strategic, sustained.   As many analysts have wondered, we perhaps missed an opportunity to capitalize on global outrage to forge a global coalition against unimaginable terrorism that threatens all nations.  On the other hand, this road is extremely hard to take.

I think President Obama recognizes the complexities, as demonstrated in his speech about dealing with the ISIL crisis.  He has responded thoughtfully and forcefully to their outrages, which are almost too sick to describe.  He is seeking another way. "I took the road less traveled by...and that has made all the difference," Robert Frost says in his poem.

Obama and Secetary of State John Kerry are doing all they can short of on-the-ground military intervention to reduce the hate, extremism and violence that is unraveling the world.  This is what the American people say they want.  No more wars. No more US involvement in the internal conflicts of other nations, be they in eastern Europe, the Middle East, Africa.  No more lone ranger.  The lessons from Iraq and Afghanistan have sunk in. We lost billions upon billions of dollars and thousands of American lives, and many more maimed, with no good outcomes.  We armed and trained and fought, and for what?

If the American people and their elected officials are so adamant about non-involvement, "no boots on the ground," why keep attacking Obama? He's getting pummeled from the left and right, Democrats and Republicans, for being "too cautious."  I understand it, and part of me agrees because the violence is so gruesome, so against international humanitarian laws and sensibilities.  But I know in my heart it is not the right road. Even in Ukraine, which haunts me. War is seldom the right road.

So, why not work together on a new direction, still evolving, in American foreign policy, and explore the road less traveled?  Why not try to create that "global coalition" that the president is talking about?  It will take a global village to stop terrorism.

Yes, there are risks.  Will Arab countries step up? Sunnis and Shia? Who will be our "boots on the ground" partners? What about Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Qatar, Turkey, and the Arab League nations, always reluctant, often in conflict? What about the EU nations, who usually hold back, let America carry their water for them, but who might now feel more directly affected?

It's possibly easier to go to war, to take the path of violence, than to develop an inclusive and effective global strategy against terrorism.  The road less traveled means forging a foreign policy based on Rule of Law, humanitarian values, a common global agenda and shared global concerns. It means uniting people of different faiths, beliefs, political views, economic ranking, social values. Maybe it's naive, idealistic.  Strong undercurrents push against it, chief among them the selling of arms, the powerful arms race that undermines every peace effort. But I believe it is the right path.  The one we did not take after 9/11.   The one we need to take today.

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