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Is every al Qaida group our problem? [Commentary]

Iraqi insurgents kicked off 2014 with fireworks in Fallujah and Ramadi where Sunni militants — part of an al Qaida group active in Syria, according to news accounts — burned police stations, freed prisoners and occupied mosques.

The militants fought under the banner of ISIS, or the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria. ISIS was originally formed to induce a withdrawal of coalition forces in Iraq, suppress Shiite populations and establish an Islamic state. The group was first known as "Al-Qaeda in Iraq," after pledging allegiance to the terrorist organization in 2004. Their attacks have since spread from Iraq to Syria in support of Syrian rebel forces.

The ideology of ISIS does not include attacking the U.S. — its sole purpose is to establish a fundamentalist Islamic state. Yet the conservative right in America has argued that Iraq is a breeding ground/haven for terrorists who will attack us if we stop applying pressure with the blood of our soldiers.

To the right, 9/11 is a symbol for what we're trying to prevent through our involvement in the Middle East. Every militant group remotely affiliated with al-Qaida in Iraq and Afghanistan — regardless of whether their goals include attacks on U.S. soil — has been thrown into a Qaida quesadilla and is immediately considered an enemy.

When it comes to the protection of U.S. civilians, most of us would support a war if another country attacked us. However, when it comes to "stability operations" in the Middle East, many Americans are only willing to go so far. Thus, it's convenient for those who want to maintain support for our wars to label Islamic fundamentalists, like ISIS, as al-Qaida affiliates.

We've got to realize that this isn't the Cold War anymore. We're fighting for stability in the Middle East, not for the survival of our homes. We have to learn to pick our battles against al-Qaida, lest we fall into the same bear trap the Soviet Union did in Afghanistan. Some may say that groups like ISIS may change their ideology after forming Islamic states and declare war on the U.S. But Iran is in that position. Iran isn't our ally, but it certainly isn't going around declaring war on Western nations because it faces annihilation if it does so. Islamic states do not have the incentives to attack us when we have the strongest military in the world. Iran may be a state sponsor of insurgents destabilizing the region (and a state created by ISIS may become such a sponsor), but does that warrant an invasion costing trillions of dollars, thousands of our soldiers' lives and thousands more of civilians' lives abroad?

Though there is a remote possibility that Islamists could take over enough territory to pose a significant threat, to recognize this possibility is to blur the sight of our own logic. The reality is that we are a single nation with limited resources, and we must draw a line somewhere when insurgents do not pose a direct threat to civilians at home.

We made this mistake in Afghanistan back in 2001. In response to the Bush administration's demands for Osama bin Laden's extradition, the Taliban said, "If the Americans provide evidence, we will cooperate with them, but they do not provide evidence." The U.S. declared war on the Taliban and then provided the evidence, and now trillions of dollars have been flushed away, thousands of soldiers' lives have been lost, and thousands of civilians have been killed because of the conflict.

This isn't to say that the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan were mistakes and nothing else. The Iraqis are undoubtedly better off than they were with a single-party state that mirrored North Korean totalitarianism. A BBC poll indicated that 82 percent of Afghans prefer the current government in comparison with the Taliban (4 percent).

Over the past 10 years, we've made tremendous strides against al-Qaida, with the deaths of Osama bin Laden and many other leaders in the group. Because of our involvement, al-Qaida is becoming "geographically isolated," and Islamic terrorists have become characterized by "decentralized leadership" merely using the al-Qaida "brand."

Nevertheless, there has to be a line drawn on how far we're willing to go to fight the insurgencies when the lives of U.S. civilians are not at stake.

Anhvinh Doanvo is a high school senior in Florida, interested in the United States' relationships with Middle Eastern nations. His email is vinhdoanvo@outlook.com.

To respond to this commentary, send an email to talkback@baltimoresun.com. Please include your name and contact information.

Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun
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