Advocates of the global war on terror are congratulating one another on the successful interception of two parcel bombs, originating from Yemen and bound for two Jewish organisations in Chicago. A Qatar Airlines passenger flight first ferried one of the deadly packages to Doha, from where it transited to Dubai. Only a timely tip-off, apparently by the Saudi intelligence, enabled the authorities to locate the bomb inside a FedEx warehouse at the Dubai airport. The second parcel bomb booked by the logistics firm, UPS, was identified at the British East Midlands airport. The Yemeni and Saudi branches of the al-Qaeda, which have amalgamated into the al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), claimed responsibility for the failed attack.
Last year Nigerian bomber Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, who also spent time with the AQAP in Yemen, narrowly missed blowing up a Northwest Airlines flight as it prepared to land at Detroit on Christmas Day.
While the two foiled plots out ofYemen are counted by many in the West as battles won, victory in the war on terror is nowhere on the horizon. On the contrary, the tactics in the counter-terror campaign are alienating and radicalising many Muslims across the globe, especially in West Asia and Europe. As a result, terrorism is expanding, not shrinking as envisaged by the architects of the war on terror unleashed with much fanfare and fury following the horrific 9/11 attacks in the United States.
Terrorism breeds on hatred of the American. Unless the animosity towards the U.S. is diminished, the threat of a grandiose and carefully planned terror strike that will sow fear and rage in the collective western psyche and further polarise a deeply divided globe cannot be ruled out. The failed attacks from Yemen should, therefore, be seen as a cause for deeper introspection. Unless the Americans work out and implement a concerted plan, founded on fairness and justice, it may only be a matter of time before terror strikes with deadly effect in some vulnerable corner of the western world.
After the eight years of the presidency of George W. Bush, whose deeply divisive wars in Afghanistan and Iraq witnessed a concurrent surge in Islamophobia in the West and Muslim radicalisation in large parts of the globe, Barack Obama had a golden opportunity to heal some of the wounds. After a bright start, when he stirringly sought to engage the Muslim world on the principles of mutual respect and equality during his famed Cairo University address, the young American President failed to undertake the promised course correction. With the charismatic aura of his first few months in office fading, President Obama's chances of reworking a harmonious relationship with West Asia have been diminishing precipitously. After the drubbing of his Democratic Party in this month's midterm elections, he is confronted by a Congress that is led by a resurgent Republican Party. The Republicans are bound to discourage him from reaching out to the region on terms which are less lop-sided in favour of Israel, the U.S.' core ally. Yet, if the war on terror is not to be lost, Mr. Obama may have no choice but boldly re-engaging with West Asia, irrespective of the sweeping resistance he encounters from mainstream Israel and its neoconservative and Christian-Right allies in the U.S., who are so inextricably tied to the highly partisan but emboldened Republican Party.
Faced with this formidable phalanx of resistance, what can President Obama do to win the war on terror? In order to win the battle for hearts and minds, his administration should convince the vast multitude of Muslims as well as the rest of the world that the war on terror is not a crusade against Islam. This will not be easy to accomplish, as the psyche of the people in the region is still traumatised by the images of torture in Iraq's Abu Ghraib prison, and the horror stories emerging out of the detention facility in Guantanamo Bay.
Among the substantial steps President Obama can take to turn the tide of the war is fulfilling his promise of closing the Guantanamo Bay detention facility. It will go a long way in taking some of the sting out of the virulent anti-Americanism that makes sizable sections of Muslim youth susceptible to the al-Qaeda's poisonous appeal.
Second, more evidence now emerges that the Predator drone strikes, expanded on a significant scale by President Obama, are proving counterproductive. The attacks, no doubt, are killing some terrorists but are also motivating far larger numbers to join the terrorist ranks. In a recent article published by the Inter-Press Service (IPS), investigative historian Gareth Porter points out that CIA officers involved in the agency's drone strikes programme in Pakistan and elsewhere “are privately expressing their opposition to the programme within the agency, because it is helping the al-Qaeda and its allies recruit.” The article quotes Jeffrey Addicott, former legal adviser to the U.S. Special Forces and director of the Centre for Terrorism Law at St. Mary's University, San Antonio, as saying that some of the “CIA operators are concerned that, because of its blowback effect, it [Predator strike] is doing more harm than good.”
Given this negative fallout, the Obama administration may find it prudent to restrict the drone attack programme. The U.S. could, instead, find the expansion of its diplomatic engagement in Afghanistan far more rewarding. Without abandoning Pakistan, Washington may make much headway in Afghanistan by drawing more prominently into the diplomatic domain regional players such as Iran, India, Russia and Central Asian countries so that a far larger section of the Afghan population is more significantly engaged.
Third, the Americans have no choice but to negotiate with Iran if they wish to experience lower levels of hostility in the region. Iran, soon after its revolution of 1979, has been engaged in an anti-American campaign. And with the substantial expansion of its influence in recent years from the Hindukush mountain ranges to the Mediterranean coast of Levant, its war of words with Washington has acquired new teeth.
The U.S.' coercive diplomacy, centred around the denial of petrol this year to Iran, has not worked well enough. By modifying their petrochemical plants, the Iranians have refined additional crude, which not only meets their domestic consumption requirements but also generates a surplus to meet the energy needs of Afghanistan, Iraq and Armenia. Except for the Israeli-Right that is currently in power, and its diehard defenders in the U.S., who believe that the destruction of the Iranian regime is a sacred messianic undertaking, there may not be many professional military officers in the Pentagon who would see a war against Iran, based on military air strikes, as a realistic option. The Iranian nuclear facilities, likely to be the prime targets, are too widely dispersed to be demolished by aerial strikes, however destructive the weaponry is. Besides, air attacks against Iran, and the retaliation that will follow are likely to push up oil prices to unprecedented levels; something which a recession-hit U.S. and its allied economies will find hard to endure.
Finally, the war on terror has a political front which needs to be tackled with far greater urgency and intensity than has been done by the Obama administration. The theft of occupied Palestinian land for frenzied Israeli construction has sharpened the agony of the Palestinians who have already been uprooted from their land by the pogroms unleashed by the Israeli military in 1948 and 1967. Like the previous U.S. governments, the inability or unwillingness of the Obama administration to confront Israel for its gross misdemeanours against Palestinians, the symbol of Arab hopes, aspirations, collective guilt and humiliations, is bound to remain an enduring source of animosity towards the U.S.
President Obama has shown that he has the intellectual measure of the impediments to the war on terror. It would, nevertheless, be surprising if he musters the courage to work robustly for the removal of these obstacles so that a region scarred by extreme violence and suffering can begin to witness the end of its prolonged nightmare.
In order to win the battle for hearts and minds, the Obama administration should convince Muslims as well as the rest of the world that the war on terror is not a crusade against Islam.