Ny now most of us have heard of the hundreds of Nigerian school girls who were kidnapped by the radical Islamist group Boko Haram. While this story is worthy of all the media attention it gets, we must not forget that this is not an isolated incident. Unfortunately, much of our world remains a dangerous and unfree place, where people must live in fear of violence and repression. Before they kidnapped these girls, Boko Haram has carried out terrorist attacks in Nigeria that have left hundreds dead. And that is just one terrorist organization. In the 2012 election Mitt Romney informed us that Al-Qaeda and other islamist groups were resurgent in Africa. Sadly he was shot down and dismissed by the media, even as our embassies were burning in Libya. We may have fought long wars in Iraq and Afghanistan but the truth is that terrorist groups are not governments that can be overthrown. They are guerrilla groups based on ideology, and ideology does not die easy. Surely something still must be done to combat evil in the world, but what?
George Bush was of the mind that America could combat evil by overthrowing tyrannical governments and fighting a global war on terror. While his intentions were noble, it is clear now that the Iraq-Afghanistan strategy of spreading freedom does not work. It is tempting to use the fantastic might of the United States Military to combat evil such as the kidnapping of school girls or brutal dictatorships, but experience seems to dictate that this is a poor strategy in the long run. There is a never ending supply of evil in the world. Man is a sinful creature after all. To send in US troops wherever an injustice is done would result in thousands more dead Americans. Additionally, use of combat troops would most likely leave countries war torn and hellish. Look at Iraq and Libya. Despite being recipients of US “help”, each country is now arguably more chaotic than before we intervened. This is not the fault of our soldiers, sailers, airmen and marines. Instead it seems to be a consequence of suddenly upending foreign societies with no good way of restoring order afterwards. This is not to say we didn’t have plans to restore order, but rather I am suggesting that such a task cannot be accomplished in a way consistent with American values.
American’s love democracy, but Iraq and Afghanistan have shown that democracy and freedom only work in a country when its people are dedicated to these ideals and are educated enough to govern themselves. We often take these facts for granted because for the entirety of our history we have met these criteria for democracy. But the fact is that most around the world do not understand why liberty and democracy are preferable to domination and autarchy. You can lead a horse to water, but you cannot make him drink…
So perhaps the only way to combat evil in the world is by spreading American ideals of liberty and democracy through education. In the meantime America undoubtably needs to defend itself when endangered and do what it can to encourage freedom and democracy, but we must do this knowing that the only thing that will bring real change in the dark places of the world is if people who live there light their own lanterns to crusade against the darkness.