The one foreign policy imperative of the White House in the election is to be seen as aggressively prosecuting the “war on terror.” Everywhere it continues unabated – indeed, revved up in places like Somalia, Yemen and the Pakistani side of the Durand line.
One might think that having harpooned the great white whale the relentless campaign to wipe the last violent Islamist jihadi or would be/could be jihadist from the face of the earth would ease.
After all, the great inspiring symbol is gone. The supposed brain of the terrorist octopus has been extinguished. Vengeance has been exacted. Al Qaeda, to the extent that it exists, is a franchise operation whose chapters have local agendas; its philosophy is fading rapidly among all Muslims -- especially Arabs; and most of the vast fortune that America has expended in the “war” has either been to no avail or counter-productive as in Iraq.
Moreover, in nearly a decade there has not been a serious terrorist operation against the United States at home or anywhere outside of war zones.
Yet no one in official Washington, or among the country’s political class generally, sees the logic of “cooling it.”
That is most evident in the Obama administration’s ratcheting of the military pressure in northwest Pakistan and the political pressure in Islamabad. In the days immediately after the Miracle of Abbottabad, there were expectations in some quarters that the White House might use the event, and the political capital that it generated for President Obama, to rethink the open-ended commitment to the all-out campaign against the Taliban and their partners (e.g. the Haqqani network) in addition to the al-Qaeda remnants. That it might accept something less than a complete sanitizing of the region’s hostile elements.
That it we might see the full dangers of provoking a civil war in Pakistan. That the United States has become so unpopular among elites and masses alike that it could reach its audacious only exerting direct control over both places. That any escalation -- of resources, of tactics, of geography -- only adds to the risks of something unfortunate happening to the 100 odd Pakistani nuclear weapons. Not on your life!
Yet, in truth, the adrenaline coursing through the American body politic has made the Obama administration more reckless and more heedless of the pernicious consequences that could await him.
(Professor Michael Brenner teaches at the University of Texas at Austin, and at the University of Pittsburgh. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org)