Although I like to give Jeff Jarvis (of Buzzmachine.com) a lot of shit for the stances he takes on the War on Terror and the invasion of Iraq, I would be remiss if I didn't thank him for giving me an opportunity and forum to think about these issues and articulate my thoughts in an often antagonistic forum, rather than here in the echo chamber of one's own blog, where there's no one to keep me intellectually honest but myself and the occasional commenter who stops by by mistake.
But time and time again what is being missed on his blog and in the American discourse at large is that there are two distinct conflicts going on right now--the war against Al-Qaeda and the struggle with militant Islam. While the former is a threat that requires a military solution, the latter cannot be won by force of arms without resorting to outright genocide (which, although seeming just peachy to some Americans, is thankfully not on the serious agenda of anyone involved in making policy).
It is true that Al-Qaeda has appropriated militant Islam to its own ends, but as the Christian conservatives are so quick the point out--and rightly so--religious fundamentalism does not automatically imply terrorism. In fact it is extremely rare, even within the framework of Islam, that the one leads to the other. Al-Qaeda is not an idea, it is an organization--wipe it out and you have neutralized its global terrorist threat and made the world a Hell of a lot safer. While it is tempting to take the cynical viewpoint that absent bin Laden's conspiracy, another will bubble up from militant Islam to fill the void, this presupposes that said replacement will somehow be able to duplicate the unique combination of personality and connectedness that permitted A-Q to access the highest echelons of Arab and Pakistani power. Given the newfound scrutiny being brought to bear against both nations, this is a highly unlikely outcome.
This is not to say that militant Islam is not a problem which the United States and the West must ultimately face. But it is not the immediate life-or-death problem. If all of the one billion-odd Muslims who are not terrorists woke up tomorrow and accepted Jesus as their personal lord and savior, Al-Qaeda would still be out there. We know that its acts of terrorism are planned sometimes years in advance, so even if deprived of future funding and intelligence it could still cause murder and mayhem for God knows how long.
Fortunately for bin Laden and his ilk, however, we have decided to conflate the War on Terror with the problem of radical Islam, giving A-Q millions of sympathetic souls and and presenting us with just as many potential enemies that we must now face. That this arrangement benefits the enemy far more than it benefits us is manifestly evident in places like Iraq, where Al-Qaeda can now lurk and feed off of a general anti-American sentiment which draws irregular jihadis from all over the Muslim world at no cost to their own organization, while at the same time we piss away a billion dollars a day that could otherwise have been used to step up the hunt for bin Laden and reinforce our domestic defenses against terrorism.
But go ahead and misrepresent my words again, all you petty wingnuts out there. Tell me what a good dhimmi I am and how I provide comfort and aid to the terrorists. Meanwhile bin Laden and his Al-Qaeda friends are laughing their asses off as we do his dirty work for him in turning the War on Terror into a general, ill-defined, and costly War on Islam as they busy themselves planning the next attack against the West. And the next. And the next. And the next.