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Chicago Sun Times - Obama has Fresh Ideas in War on Terrorism

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Chicago Sun Times - Obama has Fresh Ideas in War on Terrorism

Jennifer Hunter

As soon as terrorism is snuffed out in one area of the Middle East, it comes back virulently in another spot, like a noxious weed.

Funding of extremist groups by countries such as Saudi Arabia and Iran and the drug trade makes it very hard to stamp out the growth of various al-Qaida forces that have cropped up in Afghanistan and Iraq.

What can we do?

The White House has come up with few answers: sending a surge of troops to Iraq; encouraging Pakistani president Pervez Musharraf to send troops to the Afghan border to rout terrorists; and trying to increase aerial spraying of poppy crops in Afghanistan. But we are essentially spinning our wheels.

On Wednesday, Democratic presidential hopeful Barack Obama offered a number of ideas to quash terrorist activity -- some are worth consideration, a few are impolitic. His speech, to the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, may have been an effort to give gravitas to his understanding of foreign policy -- particularly in light of bashing from Hillary Clinton about his naivete in this area -- but he does have creditable thoughts for the rest of us to mull over.

One is to open "America Houses" in Islamic countries "with Internet, libraries, English lessons" etc., and a Global Education Fund to counter the teachings in the radical madrasas.

We have done a poor job of explaining ourselves to the rest of the world, and through our actions in Iraq, we are seen as a ham-fisted enforcer shoving democracy down everyone's throat. I applaud the idea of "America Houses."

Obama also said he would increase non-military aid to Afghanistan by $1 billion to help Afghans find alternative means of supporting themselves, other than the lucrative opium trade. The Brits have tried to get the Afghans to switch crops, and it hasn't yet worked; why plant wheat when you can earn eight times more growing poppies?

In 2006, Afghanistan was the source of over 90 percent of the world's production of opium. The Economist reported in June that "some of the biggest drug barons are reputedly members of the national and provincial governments, even figures close to President Hamid Karzai."

Reforming a drug-growing culture can take decades, but it can be done. It worked in Thailand and to a certain extent in Colombia. In Turkey, poppy growing has been legally licensed for use in pain-killers, thereby taking the drug trade out of the hands of thugs.

Obama also makes a recommendation to tie U.S. military aid to Pakistan to that country's progress in booting out terrorists .

President Musharraf made a deal last year to withdraw the Pakistani army from western provinces and give peacekeeping duties to tribal leaders in exchange for their promise to keep the Taliban and al-Qaida from crossing into Afghanistan. That has been a disaster. The Taliban and al-Qaida have metastasized like cancer cells.

But Obama's recommendation to send in U.S. forces if Musharraf cannot deal with the terrorists on his soil is downright dumb: "If we have actionable intelligence about high-value terrorist targets and President Musharraf will not act, we will."

That is meant to sound tough, but the western region of Pakistan is a treacherous, mountainous place that, like parts of Iraq and Afghanistan, is almost impossible to penetrate. After Iraq, how could we? And Pakistan is an ally.

Also, moving into Pakistan uninvited would turn ordinary Pakistanis, who are not enamored of the United States, into disaffected foes.

Obama also recommends setting up a partnership program with our allies to "take down terrorist networks" around the world and he, as president, would provide $5 billion over three years to do this. This is worth exploring, especially if, as Obama says, it will not involve "repressive tactics."

But it will take a lot of global arm-twisting. Some of our NATO allies are weary of the casualties inflicted on their troops in Afghanistan and want out; the debate is heaviest in Canada and Germany.

Obama's threat about sending forces into Pakistan may be imprudent, but his other ideas are worth consideration. He is the first Democratic presidential candidate to put forth such far-reaching ideas about how to counter terrorism. I am eager to hear what the others have to say.

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