Today, the front line of the US war against terror can be anywhere in the world.
That is because of one evil methodology that is preached by al-Qaeda — a notorious terrorist group which is remarkably resourceful despite it being comprised of low-key and uneducated members — and the American tactic of taking the fight to the militants to slowly but surely destroy them.
Since former president George W. Bush initiated the battle eight years ago, the United States has overthrown two terrorist supporting regimes — as attested by the White House — in Afghanistan and Iraq; it has spent trillions of dollars operating its expansive war machine; and thousands of people and soldiers have lost their lives.
But there is no end in sight for the war and as the botched attempted to blow up a Detroit-bound Northwest Airlines flight by a Nigerian man on Christmas Day proved, the United States is not safe.
Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, 23, tried to use explosive concealed in his underwear to destroy the plane. The development which came against the backdrop of intelligence agencies' failure in preventing him has put President Obama on the defensive.
The phlegmatic commander in chief has always managed to play it cool since taking office on January 20, 2009. But in the past couple of weeks, he has appeared before cameras several times, talking about airline safety and anti-terrorism.
Aside from the heat from the Republicans, the panic in the nation, and even in the White House, has revealed one upsetting reality for the administration: The United States, more than eight years after the September 11 attacks, has not coped with the challenge of al-Qaeda.
The Christmas Day incident put the intelligence community on the spotlight. And President Obama did not hide his frustration. Before the attempted attack, Abdulmutallab's father had warned the security apparatus that his son had been in the process of becoming too radical.
On the flight day, the Nigerian purchased a one way ticket costing him about 3,000 USD. He was flying from Nigeria in Africa to Amsterdam in Europe and then heading to Detroit, and he was not carrying any luggage or even a single coat for the cold weather awaiting him.
His plan was particularly similar to that of the shoe bomber, Richard Colvin Reid, who also flew from Europe to the US in 2001 with no bags.
President Obama, two days after the attempted attack, said that the government had "sufficient information to have potentially prevented Abdulmutallab from initiating his plan." He said the intelligence community "failed to connect those dots."
Pointing to "the human and systemic failures that almost cost nearly 300 lives," he then ordered the overhaul of the way the intelligence community works.
What should not be forgotten, however, is that there will always be human and systemic failures; there needs to be a practical solution to the war on terror.
On May 1, 2003, on the flight deck of the USS Lincoln, President Bush declared an end to major combat in Iraq and said nearly "one half of al-Qaeda's senior operatives have been captured or killed."
Months later in September, he said "nearly two thirds of al-Qaeda's known leaders have been captured or killed." A year later, in October 2004, the former president proudly announced that "more than three quarters of al-Qaeda's key members and associates have been brought to justice."
If we take Mr. Bush for his words, the fight had been effective and as he put it on September 5, 2006: "Al-Qaeda has been weakened by our sustained offensive against them."
But the strategy only resulted in the resurgence of the militants, as Washington claims, around the globe, including oil-rich Yemen, where the Nigerian allegedly received training from militants who have pledged allegiance to al-Qaeda as well as other radical groups.
But is there really anything new on Yemen? The country has long been deemed by Washington as a hotbed for al-Qaeda and radical militants. After the September 11 attacks, a number of Yemenis were identified as having had connections to the terrorists who carried out the attacks.
The weak central government in Yemen has long relied on huge financial aid from US administrations — President Obama recently said that he would not dispatch any US troops to the country but would increase security aid to Sana'a.
President Ali Abdullah Saleh of Yemen has used US support to strengthen his rule. In his quest to appease regional countries, namely Saudi Arabia, he has chosen to fight Houthis — a tribe which accuses the government of violating Shia's rights as well as cooperating with extremists, such as the Wahhabis, to expand radicalism in the poor northern areas.
With his attention divided, President Saleh is not identified as a reliable ally in the White House; at least not in fighting terrorism. As the result, the increasing number of militants in the southern parts of the troubled country will continue to threaten Americans.
If one remembers the pre-war hype around Iraq and Afghanistan, the story of Yemen sounds familiar. The situation could lead to a new US war in the region aimed at fighting terrorism, despite President Obama's pledge not to send US troops to the country.
It could also open a new chapter for the use of Central Intelligence Agency operated drones — which have been targeting suspected militants hideouts in Pakistan, only to increase anti-American sentiments in the nuclear-armed country.
Or it could be pitched as a valid reason to spend trillions of dollars in military expense, which would inevitably pave the way for the deaths of thousands more civilians and American troops.
But the ending of any of these stories would not make the United States safer. The presence of US troops in the Middle East only adds to anti-American sentiments across the region. Also, it will most definitely drive more and more radical people to militancy.
What the Obama administration really needs to do is to fight terrorism and its evil ideology with a new method. It needs to find the roots of radicalism and demonstrate why the United States of America, as its people say, is "the greatest country" on Earth. It must show what it means by democracy.
President Obama must speak to the minds and hearts of militants with a language they understand rather than ordering the military to aim and shoot.
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