Michael Totten writes in Commentary:
Senator Barack Obama said something at the presidential debate last week that almost perfectly encapsulates the difference between his foreign policy and his opponent’s: “Secretary of Defense Robert Gates himself acknowledges the war on terrorism started in Afghanistan and it needs to end there.” I don’t know if Obama paraphrased Gates correctly, but if so, they’re both wrong.
If Afghanistan were miraculously transformed into the Switzerland of Central Asia, every last one of the Middle East’s rogues gallery of terrorist groups would still exist. The ideology that spawned them would endure. Their grievances, such as they are, would not be salved. The political culture that produced them, and continues to produce more just like them, would hardly be scathed. Al Qaedism is the most radical wing of an extreme movement which was born in the Middle East and exists now in many parts of the world. Afghanistan is not the root or the source.
Naturally the war against them began in Afghanistan. Plans for the September 11, 2001, attacks on the United States were hatched in Afghanistan. But the temporary location of the plotters of that strike means little in the wide view of a long struggle. Osama bin Laden and his leadership just as easily could have planned the attacks from Saudi Arabia before they were exiled, or from their refuge in Sudan in the mid 1990s. Theoretically they could have even planned the attacks from an off-the-radar “safe house” in a place like France or even Nebraska had they managed to sneak themselves in. The physical location of the planning headquarters wasn’t irrelevant, but in the long run the ideology that motivates them is what must be defeated. Perhaps the point would be more obvious if the attacks were in fact planned in a place like France instead of a failed state like Afghanistan.