The United States has been engaged in sustained combat for almost a decade against Islamist extremists. The United States military has pummeled Al Qaeda forcing its followers to have to be in constant hiding or risk getting attacked by drones or Special Forces units. Despite the beating Islamic extremist forces have taken militarily they have been able to avoid being completely crushed by managing to achieve enough victories in the public relations war. Al Qaeda has taken advantage of the fact that so many people in the Middle East are subjected to the most ruthless oppression and abject poverty. They offer people who have no means to resist these conditions a cause and source of empowerment. The United States continues to fail to adequately present a viable alternative to the frustrated people in the region. Officials in Washington constantly disappoint people in the Middle East by not taking a firmer stand in support of reformers and this has been painfully evident during the current situation. This is how Al Qaeda manages to survive.
Despite the United States government’s lack of success in winning the war of popular opinion and perception, mediums such as Facebook have brought Western ideas to the young people of the Middle East and the events of the last month have shown the people of the Middle East overwhelmingly want what people in the United States have. They want freedom. They want democratic institutions. They want opportunities based upon their hard work and talent. They do not want a Caliphate or any other authoritarian government masquerading as a religious regime.
The United States has been given the opportunity to score a decisive victory in the war against Muslim extremists. The United States needs to fully support those that are seeking reform. Those that are urging caution are exactly right when they warn that this situation is going to be extremely difficult and messy. Fundamental change is never going to be easy, however the United States’ current strategy in the War on Terror of seeking slow, incremental change will result in U.S troops and Islamist extremists continuing to play a game of cat and mouse for decades to come. The barometer for success will undeniably become establishing stability and a tolerable status quo. This mindset is what led the United States to tolerating dictators in so many Middle Eastern countries and has led it us to where we are today. The events of the past month change everything. The only hope that the extremists have to remain relevant is that the United States will not support the reformers because that would destroy them. Without the excuse of the evil United States being the force behind the corruption and oppression in the Middle East Al Qaeda becomes irrelevant.
There are 350 million people in the Middle East looking for someone to help them become part of a free society. This is the moment where the United States has to go all in on supporting the reform movements. Al Qaeda and other Muslim extremists will step into the void if the United States fails to step up to the plate. The United States needs to mobilize whatever resources it takes in order to show the people of the Middle East we support their desires. The United States should be air lifting in relief supplies all across the Middle East. In countries like Libya, the United States should be sending military forces to protect those being massacred. In this moment if the United States fails to stand with the huge amount of young reform minded people in the Middle East the consequences will be devastating. Rather than being seen as a liberator, the United States will be seen as an enabler of those dictatorships that committed so many atrocities against their own people. Al Qaeda and its supporters will have a recruiting bonanza as it sends forces to assist those trying to overthrow governments. People will counter this argument by pointing out the fact that the uprisings are being led by young, educated people whom an overwhelming majority of reject the beliefs of the Islamic extremists. This is true, but it is also true that the uprisings are spreading throughout all segments of society and as the battles becomes fiercer in countries like Libya relationships will be forged in battle between extremists and potential recruits to their cause just like happened in Afghanistan during the war against the Soviet Union.
The United States can achieve a critical victory in the War on Terror and help usher in dramatic reform in the Middle East if it does not hesitate due to fear of the unknown. What is known is that people in the Middle East are no longer going to accept the current conditions. There is no going back to how things were a month ago. The United States can either be seen as a force for reform or a force for oppression. The time to act and act dramatically is now if the United States wants to win the War on Terror and see a reformed Middle East become a reality.