On this date 12 years ago, a dinghy filled with explosives pulled next to the USS Cole at a harbor in Yemen. The resulting blast, reportedly masterminded by Osama bin Laden, blew a 40-foot hole in the destroyer. The attack killed 17 sailors.
It was not the first attack organized by bin Laden and sadly it would not be the last.
Bin Laden’s final hurrah came on Sept. 11, 2001, and almost 3,000 people died in the attacks. The U.S. response has so far cost trillions of dollars and many more U.S. lives.
We waged a war against Iraq, and last week marked the 11th anniversary of continuous fighting in Afghanistan. We sent an incursion team into Pakistan to kill bin Laden.
To the horror of residents there, we are flying armed drones over Pakistan and Yemen, killing suspected terrorists with routine precision.
The post-2001 “war on terrorism” is one of the most expensive, determined ventures ever taken on by America. Is it working?
It seems that every incursion we make onto foreign soil, every attack from unseen drones above, breeds more terrorists. The terrorist attack on the embassy in Libya is a possible example. We decimate the leadership of al-Qaida, and suddenly we must confront other groups with new reasons for anger.
The presidential campaign could have been an opportunity for the nation to evaluate its strategies in confronting terrorism.
Is killing one terrorist worth it if, in the process, we create more? Are there ways to combine our necessary military response with efforts to understand the root causes of the anti-American fury?
Instead, the campaigns seem to be a race toward military solutions. Mitt Romney begrudges the U.S. departure from Iraq, surrounds himself with the same neo-conservative advisers that got us into Iraq and makes no promises on when he would bring U.S. troops home from Afghanistan.
President Barack Obama at least wants to end the war, but he campaigns on a record of drone strikes that many in the Arab world see as murder. Obama is silent on one of his few non-military solutions to terrorism, the Agency for International Development, which provides funding for schools that reduce the odds that Arab children will later become America’s sworn enemies.
We need a strong defense. We need to retaliate when terrorists attack. Throwing more money at the military does not seem to be solving the problem.
Even as we protect ourselves, we need a national discussion on what steps we can take to reduce the tensions that lead to terrorism.
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