James writes (from Big Government)

For those who were expecting the election of Barack Obama to yield a peace dividend in the war on terror, the resurgence of Al-Qaeda has come as a surprise. Obama’s obsequious diplomacy was supposed to be a tonic to the aggressions of the Bush years, but his appeasement seems to have only encouraged more war. Rather than calm the Islamic world, Obama’s passivity has invited attack.

As in the Cold War, the current battle of ideology takes place in proxy wars. Unlike in the Cold War, the war on terror is largely fought through symbolic actions. Islamists do not make tactical attacks. They do not bomb Boeing factories or destroy highways and rail lines as in a conventional land war. Instead they destroy iconic buildings, trains, and airplanes. They use the spectacle of destruction, carried out in a diabolical way by suicide agents, as their means of waging war. That is the definition of a terror campaign.

The proper response to terror is not appeasement but counterattack. Islamists wage their terror campaigns in order to cow American influence abroad, especially in the Gulf. The answer to such attacks, if we hope to avoid them in the future, is to increase American involvement in Muslim countries both through soft influence and force of arms. Such a strategy was one of the best but least articulated justifications for the Second Gulf War.

Obama doesn’t get this. When the State department closed its embassy in Sanaa, Yemen for two days last week due to intelligence of an imminent terrorist threat, this action only increased the existential threat to Americans in Yemen and abroad. It came off as a symbolic withdrawal of American influence, especially so close to the attempted Northwest airline bombing. The temporary closing betokened a myopic vision of the war on terror as an isolated series of security issues rather than an ideological battle fought through connected symbolic action.

All of the West’s technology and intelligence can never prevent would-be terrorists from penetrating our defenses. The only way to prevent terrorism is to make it clear that terror attacks will result in symbolic outcomes that are most advantageous to us and least advantageous to them. We need a Containment Policy for the 21st Century.