Wednesday, January 25, 2006

U.S. Action is Not the Primary Reason for Jihad

In a New York Times editorial, Daniel Benjamin and Steven Simon argue that the terrorists are gaining ground.

Despite so much evidence that the jihadists are winning sympathy, America has provided no counter-story to their narrative. Rather, the president has repeatedly objected to the notion that the Iraq war is having a radicalizing effect by arguing that America was attacked before we ever stepped foot in Iraq.

This, of course, is a non sequitur - douse a guttering fire in gasoline and you will get a bigger fire. A movement that was staggering after the Taliban was toppled has come back with a vengeance. Realistically, we cannot deploy a counter-narrative - one that emphasizes that we are a benign superpower - so long as our troops are in Iraq.

Benjamin’s and Simon’s argument is itself a counter-narrative. The jihadist movement was indeed staggering after the Taliban was toppled, but it is just wild speculation to think it would have stayed down. The belief that, if not for Iraq, the jihadist movement would have stayed relatively docile is the product of a flawed worldview.

Individuals are not lured into jihad solely or even mainly by the actions of the United States. To believe such a thing is to drastically minimize the importance of personal choice. Have our actions in Iraq spurred some Muslims into jihad? Of course. Would they have become jihadists anyway even without the war? Many very well could have.

We are not going to end or even significantly reduce the jihadist threat by pulling out of Iraq because the jihadists have aims much bigger and much darker than merely fighting the United States. Those that embrace jihad are powder kegs. And if your house is full of explosives, simply trying not to jostle them is not enough. You have to remove them. Even if that means a few are going to explode along the way.

There’s a lot of room for debate on the Iraq War and on terrorism itself—but pretending like we’d all be safer if we just left Iraq is a false claim. We can never be “benign” enough to satisfy the jihadists. As such, it is best for now if we stay and fight.


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