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Redefining the GWOT (and a comment about Afghanistan)

This week commemorates the morning of the attacks that struck our Nation, September 11, a somber day in the memory of many, and a day, when it happened, that seemed would change our lives forever. But as time has passed, some memories have faded, and to others, a way to disavow policy is to alter the words used to describe history.

According to the White House, the terms 'Jihadists' and 'global war' are no longer acceptable.

Not since the 4th day of his Administration has our President used the term "war on terror." And John Brennan, head of the White House homeland security office made it clear in his speech at the Center for Strategic and International Studies that a new way of fighting terrorism. We fight a war, instead against al Qaeda. according to the new policy positionThe United States is at war with al Qaeda and its violent allies, and those who would carry out their "murderous agenda." Thus, we do not fight against jihadists, or terrorism, since "jihad" is a word that many use to convey a self-purification or "to wage a holy struggle for a moral goal."

Perhaps Juan Zarate, President Bush's deputy national security adviser for counterterrorism expressed best the sentiment of those who would dismiss Brennan's speech as cosmetic in nature.

The focus on terminology, he said, is "almost a nonissue." "It's a straw man. The question is, how do you deal with the policy?" Mr. Zarate said.

On the otherhand, it is hard to debate the belief that countries were more vulnerable to the influences of terrorists and extremists when the region was in economic crisis or experiencing social stratification. Clearly, the economic and social environments of a country make it more or less likely to become a hot bed of violence.

From Brennan's address at the Center for Strategic and International Studies:

At the same time, the president understands that military power, intelligence operations and law enforcement alone will never solve the second long-term challenge we face - the threat of violent extremism generally, including the political, economic and social factors that help put so many individuals on the path to violence.

The current "conventional wisdom"is that while the threat posed by al Qaeda will continue for two decades, it is more likely to pose a convention, rather than WMD threat. That's a fairly bold prediction considering a 20 year predicted threat, and the uncertainty of what will happen tomorrow. Further, continued instability in the world, especially in the region of Afghanistan and Pakistan where the Taliban ruled and then protected and spawned al Qaeda, suggests that the extremism of September 11, 2001 remains unchecked.

Boldly, the Taliban claims to have sabotaged the election. While some people argue the merits of the U.S. even staying in Afghanistan because of the allegations of corruption in the recent and still undecided election, many others would question the alternatives.

With 74 percent of polling stations counted, incumbent President Hamid Karzai leads with 48.6 percent. Top challenger Abdullah Abdullah has 30.1 percent. Karzai needs more than 50 percent to avoid a second round. The count is due to be completed this week, but results won't be final until a complaints commission investigates the claims of major violations. Separately, the election commission has already thrown out results from 447 of the 26,000-plus polling sites because of fraud.

Charges of fraud and "good old" ballot stuffing raise doubts of the validity of the election in which the warlords and Taliban held such sway. In fact, one recent articlestrongly underscore the fraudulent nature of the election.

"We think that about 15 percent of the polling sites never opened on Election Day," the senior Western diplomat said. "But they still managed to report thousands of ballots for Karzai." Besides creating the fake sites, Mr. Karzai's supporters also took over approximately 800 legitimate polling centers and used them to fraudulently report tens of thousands of additional ballots for Mr. Karzai, the officials said.

While the strategic importance of Afghanistan is debated, this flawed election might well re-emerge the influential warlords from the background. A run-off election could pose serious security issues and further challenge stability.

The question of Afghanistan's strategic importance was asked of General Petraeus. His response was as obvious as it was important.

"To be fair," he responded, "all of us should be asking that question more, in view of allegations of electoral fraud" in the recent Afghan election. "I don't think anyone can guarantee that it will work out even if we apply a lot more resources. But it won't work out if we don't."

The people of Afghanistan know the tyranny under which they lived by Taliban rule. To be fair, poverty and destitute living conditions enable the growth of extremism and make it possible for terrorism to become the avocation of choice among those trying to scratch an existence from the soil. Terrorism exists and has for sometime. It will continue to exist. The tactics may change, the importance of neutralizing the effects of the forces of extremism around the World, not just in Afghanistan, remains a challenge that will likely persist beyond the current Administration.

Michael Gerson ends his article with this:

Can we make Afghan lives better? There are no guarantees, but there are precedents. And this much is clear: It is not a serious strategy to exaggerate American obstacles in Afghanistan, to discount hopeful alternatives, and to speak with airy vagueness about how it will all work out if we retreat. It is a fantasy world of our own unmaking.

The war on terrorism and extremism continues, no matter the words used to describe the conflict and no matter the tactics employed.