Wednesday, June 17, 2009

It Takes A Community… To Fight A War

By Lon S. Cohen

Go back a few short years ago. Who knew that people all over the world wanted to share information in a mere 140 characters on Twitter or to gather around Causes as grim as Cancer to ones as lighthearted as “Drinking is Cheaper than Therapy” on Facebook? Apparently just as financial experts misread the dangers of subprime mortgages and credit default swaps, pundits missed the simmering underground of geeks and technophiles creating a powerful means through which a smart candidate might just get millions of people to rally around his vision of change. Barrack Obama (or more accurately David Plouffe) saw this undercurrent not as just a passing fad but as a middle ground where people were crying out to be given a voice on everything from gadgets to politics. His strategy was wildly successful as is evident from his victory in November 2008 at the polls and it legitimized Social Media in the process proving its power. But what was there all along was the fact that people always formed communities, not just inside websites, in forums and chat groups but in real life as well. This is the keen insight that Barack Obama had about the American people.

Barack Obama’s past as a community organizer taught him about the need to bring people together to advance a cause and the power that community can wield once the momentum gets going—for good and for evil. This is why the foundation of that community needs to be strong, educated, moral and most of all led by a person of good character. This what President Obama brought to the table when he spoke in Egypt. It’s what so many past diplomats did not or could not even being to understand.

The previous administration faced one of the most tragic and direct attacks on the United States in modern history. They reacted quickly and with the certainty that what they were doing was right. Putting aside all the missteps and misinformation, what the Bush administration failed most to understand is that when they were framing their campaign as a “War on Terror” they had made a huge strategic mistake. What they should have recognized was that this was not a war on terrorism but a battle with terrorism, for terrorism is merely a symptom of a larger and much more complex problem than routing out the bad guys and brining them to justice. The battle against terrorism has not been won. It has mitigated some of what the terrorists tried to do but at a high premium in blood and money. The war has still yet to be fought.

By going to the Middle East and presenting himself to the Arab world with a message of understanding President Obama has shown that he knows where the war really is and he has the experience and background to fight. The Arab world suffers from some of the deadliest afflictions known to mankind: lack of education, poverty and oppression. The terrorists know that this where the real war is fought and they’ve been winning, getting stronger and better at it because they have “boots on the ground” in the real battle zone, recruiting form the disenfranchised, exploiting weaknesses, transmogrifying the shield of faith into a sword of vengeance while we fight the terrorists that they produce on the other side of that process to stalemate because there is no lack of resources in the Middle East when it comes to frustrated young men looking to make a mark on this world.

What Obama brings with him is the knowledge that while building a strong community in an American city like Chicago may not be the same as building a strong community in Kabul or the West Bank, the lessons learned and the hopefulness that makes a person better, stronger and smarter when he is part of a community larger than himself is universal. This is where the “War on Terror” will finally be won, not on the battle fiends of Iraq or even in the mountains of Afghanistan but in the community of men.

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