Building Civil Societies…Not State Predators

The Washington debate over the relative merits of brute force vs. state building is, in practice, vacuous. The real choice is between brute force and society building, an endeavor in which the members of the society must be central…and free to talk back to their foreign friends. The building of a centralized and powerful state structure divorced from society is the birthing of a monster.

The debate in the U.S. about how to resolve social instability in Muslim lands that may lead to terrorist attacks against the West frequently centers on the presumed choice between “state building” and military attacks on those identified as enemies. This raises a host of issues, not the least of which is figuring out whether or not Western victims actually are enemies, but that is another story. Here, I want to focus on the concept of “state building.” Bluntly stated, the above debate is so simplistic that it hardly has any value at all (even though on the surface the existence of a debate between war and state building appears to represent a huge step forward from the utterly brainless idea of blowing up everyone who expresses the slightest desire for independence or equality).

The only way “state building” will in fact represent a meaningful advance in U.S. thinking is if the concept is defined well enough to contribute to functioning societies. To put it differently, arguing about “more” or “less” state-building is vacuous. The distinction of value lies not between state building and military force but between effective steps to stimulate the rise of self-sufficient, stable, effective societies and steps that hinder such a process. Both war and the building of repressive state represent steps backward.

The missed point in most U.S. commentary on state building is the dangerously erroneous assumption that having a state is better than not having one (an assumption particularly unexamined in Washington and one that leads directly to assuming that anyone who has managed to seize power—say, via assassination—is a better person to work with than someone, e.g., Sam Adams, who “just” represents a patriotic movement demanding justice). It may in a given case make sense for Washington to deal with a local leader, but to assume that a Saddam or a Saleh deserves automatic respect while a dissident leader merits nothing more than dismissal would be a potentially costly (though hardly unusual) example of unprofessional behavior on the part of a foreign policy decision maker.

The assumption that a state is automatically better than the absence of a state would have been rejected instantly by a large number, probably a large majority, of the august men who created the U.S.A.: in no uncertain terms they placed rights (of both individuals and the 13 colonies) ahead of state power. Had the New England colonies insisted on giving priority to centralized state power, it is doubtful that a unified country would ever have come into being.

A discussion of “state building,” if not clearly defined, is dangerous because it is all too easy for Westerners to assume that means “a Western-style state” or at least “a centralized state.” There is no consensus in many non-Western societies that such a political system is desirable, not to mention any ability to create or manage it for the good of the population (a point sometimes realized all too clearly in a Washington insistent on obedience).

Without both a social consensus that a centralized state is the goal and the ability to manage it for the good of the people, the infusion of aid may amount to empowering whatever predatory mafia may happen to agree to sell itself to the patron. Washington is not the only patron vulnerable to such errors:

The republics of Dagestan and Ingushetia are flashpoints, and Chechnya, newly pacified after years of war, is again experiencing a spate of terrorist attacks. Moscow’s strategy of buying off corrupt local elites in the region has not purchased stability. Islamist radicals thrive on official corruption, interclan warfare, and the heavy-handedness of the police and security services. [Dmitri Trenin, “Russia Reborn,” Foreign Affairs Nov-Dec 2009, 69.]

A better phrase would be “civil society building.” What pre-modern societies often do need is a hand in improving civil societies that, under the stress of interaction with the modern world, have ceased working. Somali civil society, for example, began to fail in the 1980’s after years of superpower interference succeeded only in substituting a nasty dictatorship for old decentralized, clan-based decision-making processes. Similarly, Afghan society was derailed by decades of superpower interference seeking to design modern centralized state structures from the top down. In neither case were the new state structures, when they existed at all, (e.g., tax collection agencies, health care provision agencies, police) effectively connected to the underlying social building blocks of clans, tribes, ethnicity, and religion.

Even after accepting that the focus should be on civil society rather than central government, a danger still remains. Civil society cannot be “built” from the top down or from the outside in. Yes, a supportive global community can help protect a Somalia or Yemen or Bangladesh or an Afghanistan from external threats, but “society,” by definition, is composed of links among the members (Robert Putnam’s bowlers). Incentives can be offered, but the “bowlers” have to decide on their own to bowl together.

Example of how everything can go wrong include when a strong central state imports modern weapons and then gasses the Kurds or uses helicopters to attack villagers in punishment for participating in traditional religious ceremonies that have been banned by a repressive centralized state (as Yemen’s President Saleh is accused of having done). This video of the aftermath of a U.S./Yemeni regime military attack on a dissident Yemeni movement in December 2009 is not an example of “building civil society.” Since the military structure of state government is easier to build than, say, a health care system, and easier to misuse for private purposes, it moves almost inevitably to center stage when a modern, centralized regime is imposed on a premodern, decentralized society. Creating a powerful state before a powerful national civil society has arisen to prevent centralized state abuses of power is exactly the wrong way to go about creating stable, peaceful societies.

So if the creation of potentially oppressive state structures is a key mistake to be avoided, what might be some ways to do things right?

Sponsor civil society dialogue. Demand that any central government desiring Western support first accept the idea of a national dialogue to be followed up by real steps to address dissident demands. One could imagine, for example, conferences to which all dissident groups would be invited. Of course, a predatory regime will use this occasion to identify dissident spokespeople. Therefore, the West needs to be proactive in making its own contacts with those individuals, raising their international visibility, and warning the regime that their disappearance will be taken very seriously. Washington’s first step regarding Yemen should have been to sit down with the leaders of the Houthi and southern dissident groups, not the provision of arms to the regime. Dissident groups should learn that they have peaceful choices. The same argument of course applies to Hamas. It’s not about approval; it’s about stimulating the marketplace of ideas instead of the marketplace of militias. The U.S. should present itself as the defender of peaceful political participation, not as the defender of pet regimes.

Use international peacekeepers to protect civil society, not the regime. In contrast to the Somali model, where an African peacekeeping force supports the government, station international peacekeeping forces in all regions of the country but with direct links in each region to the regional political structure. The goal of the peacekeepers would be to prevent the military suppression of dissident groups in return for agreement by the dissident groups to refrain from violence, thus both offering incentives to behave peacefully and marginalizing those who refuse. In the Somali case, even the most extreme of the groups, al-Shabab, is composed of various sub-groups. In Afghanistan, the heterogeneous nature of “the Taliban” has been widely reported.

The regime, enamored of its own power and privilege, will of course argue that this would “promote disunity.” Precisely so. In a pre-modern society, disunity is the goal. No consensus exists on the form that unity should take. That is the whole point. Until civil society has achieved consensus, confederacy is wiser than centralization. Moreover, the artificial imposition of unity from the outside will almost always go wrong: from Polk’s misunderstandings of Mexican politics through the Vietnam War escapade to the abysmal ignorance of the neo-cons about the complexities of global Islam, history has shown that Washington does not have the eyesight to perceive the George Washingtons or Abraham Lincolns of traditional societies.


Obama: Charting a Challenging Path Forward

President Obama’s speech in Egypt may have contained more than a trace of certain traditional Washington biases, but on the whole it was a tremendous reaffirmation, urgently needed, of American values, often phrased eloquently, well informed about the history and perspectives of Muslims, willing to criticize both America and Islam, laying a path forward that Obama himself will find it a true challenge to stride. One can only hope that he was sincere and that he will have the courage to stay the course. As Obama said, this is just one speech; nevertheless, to me this speech says that America is over its temper tantrum. Analytically, I have reservations for sure, but emotionally…for the first time in a decade, I feel proud to be American.

Obama provided an excellent summary of historic Western mistreatment of Muslim societies phrased gently but stating the key Muslim complaints in a way that clears the air:

tension has been fed by colonialism that denied rights and opportunities to many Muslims, and a Cold War in which Muslim-majority countries were too often treated as proxies without regard to their own aspirations.

And for the bigots in America who were listening:

Islam is a part of America.

Then, he made a key political point that has an acceptable message in that it certainly suggests moderates worldwide need to cooperate. I would have clarified that this “violent extremism” includes Grozniy, Jenin, Gaza, Fallujah…well, you get my point. Nevertheless, so far, so good:

The first issue that we have to confront is violent extremism in all of its forms.

But once he turns to specific policy issues, things begin to break down. Obama’s emphasis in his remarks on Afghanistan was overwhelmingly on destroying extremism, with only brief discussion of social conditions, no hint of the possibility that social problems are at the root of discontent, and no recognition that any of those fighting in Central Asia are other than threatening extremists that need to be slaughtered. More seriously, he gave no recognition to the possibility that it is the very presence of American military that is provoking the deepening tragedy. Obama’s words suggest to me a future of merciless war that will destroy the region and leave those who survive embittered…and with good reason.

In Ankara, I made clear that America is not — and never will be — at war with Islam. (Applause.) We will, however, relentlessly confront violent extremists who pose a grave threat to our security — because we reject the same thing that people of all faiths reject: the killing of innocent men, women, and children. And it is my first duty as President to protect the American people.

The situation in Afghanistan demonstrates America‘s goals, and our need to work together. Over seven years ago, the United States pursued al Qaeda and the Taliban with broad international support. We did not go by choice; we went because of necessity. I’m aware that there’s still some who would question or even justify the events of 9/11. But let us be clear: Al Qaeda killed nearly 3,000 people on that day. The victims were innocent men, women and children from America and many other nations who had done nothing to harm anybody. And yet al Qaeda chose to ruthlessly murder these people, claimed credit for the attack, and even now states their determination to kill on a massive scale. They have affiliates in many countries and are trying to expand their reach. These are not opinions to be debated; these are facts to be dealt with.

Now, make no mistake: We do not want to keep our troops in Afghanistan. We see no military — we seek no military bases there. It is agonizing for America to lose our young men and women. It is costly and politically difficult to continue this conflict. We would gladly bring every single one of our troops home if we could be confident that there were not violent extremists in Afghanistan and now Pakistan determined to kill as many Americans as they possibly can. But that is not yet the case.

And that’s why we’re partnering with a coalition of 46 countries. And despite the costs involved, America‘s commitment will not weaken. Indeed, none of us should tolerate these extremists. They have killed in many countries. They have killed people of different faiths — but more than any other, they have killed Muslims. Their actions are irreconcilable with the rights of human beings, the progress of nations, and with Islam. The Holy Koran teaches that whoever kills an innocent is as — it is as if he has killed all mankind. (Applause.) And the Holy Koran also says whoever saves a person, it is as if he has saved all mankind. (Applause.) The enduring faith of over a billion people is so much bigger than the narrow hatred of a few. Islam is not part of the problem in combating violent extremism — it is an important part of promoting peace.

Now, we also know that military power alone is not going to solve the problems in Afghanistan and Pakistan. That’s why we plan to invest $1.5 billion each year over the next five years to partner with Pakistanis to build schools and hospitals, roads and businesses, and hundreds of millions to help those who’ve been displaced. That’s why we are providing more than $2.8 billion to help Afghans develop their economy and deliver services that people depend on.

If Obama learned no lessons from Iraq or Somalia or Gaza or Lebanon for application in Afghanistan, at least he does seem to have applied those lessons to Iraq itself:

Unlike Afghanistan, Iraq was a war of choice that provoked strong differences in my country and around the world. Although I believe that the Iraqi people are ultimately better off without the tyranny of Saddam Hussein, I also believe that events in Iraq have reminded America of the need to use diplomacy and build international consensus to resolve our problems whenever possible. … I have made it clear to the Iraqi people that we pursue no bases, and no claim on their territory or resources. Iraq‘s sovereignty is its own. And that’s why I ordered the removal of our combat brigades by next August. That is why we will honor our agreement with Iraq‘s democratically elected government to remove combat troops from Iraqi cities by July, and to remove all of our troops from Iraq by 2012. (Applause.) We will help Iraq train its security forces and develop its economy. But we will support a secure and united Iraq as a partner, and never as a patron.

And finally, just as America can never tolerate violence by extremists, we must never alter or forget our principles. Nine-eleven was an enormous trauma to our country. The fear and anger that it provoked was understandable, but in some cases, it led us to act contrary to our traditions and our ideals. We are taking concrete actions to change course. I have unequivocally prohibited the use of torture by the United States, and I have ordered the prison at Guantanamo Bay closed by early next year. (Applause.)

On Israel, Obama still voiced no recognition that we might have unbreakable bonds with Israelis without having such bonds with a racist, warmongering Israeli regime. If Obama wishes to visit Buchenwald, then he should also demand to visit—without Israeli handlers—Gaza. Here, he missed a real chance to put his money where his mouth is.

America‘s strong bonds with Israel are well known. This bond is unbreakable. It is based upon cultural and historical ties, and the recognition that the aspiration for a Jewish homeland is rooted in a tragic history that cannot be denied.

Around the world, the Jewish people were persecuted for centuries, and anti-Semitism in Europe culminated in an unprecedented Holocaust. Tomorrow, I will visit Buchenwald, which was part of a network of camps where Jews were enslaved, tortured, shot and gassed to death by the Third Reich. Six million Jews were killed — more than the entire Jewish population of Israel today. Denying that fact is baseless, it is ignorant, and it is hateful. Threatening Israel with destruction — or repeating vile stereotypes about Jews — is deeply wrong, and only serves to evoke in the minds of Israelis this most painful of memories while preventing the peace that the people of this region deserve.

Obama’s words, while refreshing for a Washington politician, continue to evade the truth about Palestine, referring to “the pain of dislocation” rather than admitting honestly that they were the victims of a campaign of ethnic cleansing. Saying that the settlements must “stop” rather than “be eliminated” also amounts to surrendering to Netanyahu since such a stance would make inconceivable the realization of “the legitimate Palestinian aspiration for dignity, opportunity, and a state of their own.” Moreover, calling on Palestinians to abandon violence before demanding an end to the violence of the Israeli occupiers puts the cart once again before the horse and reveals the continuing pro-Israeli bias. Nevertheless, calling the Palestinian situation “intolerable” represents a huge rhetorical victory for Palestinians, perhaps a sufficient step forward for one speech.

On the other hand, it is also undeniable that the Palestinian people — Muslims and Christians — have suffered in pursuit of a homeland. For more than 60 years they’ve endured the pain of dislocation. Many wait in refugee camps in the West Bank, Gaza, and neighboring lands for a life of peace and security that they have never been able to lead. They endure the daily humiliations — large and small — that come with occupation. So let there be no doubt: The situation for the Palestinian people is intolerable. And America will not turn our backs on the legitimate Palestinian aspiration for dignity, opportunity, and a state of their own. (Applause.)

For decades then, there has been a stalemate: two peoples with legitimate aspirations, each with a painful history that makes compromise elusive. It’s easy to point fingers — for Palestinians to point to the displacement brought about by Israel’s founding, and for Israelis to point to the constant hostility and attacks throughout its history from within its borders as well as beyond. But if we see this conflict only from one side or the other, then we will be blind to the truth: The only resolution is for the aspirations of both sides to be met through two states, where Israelis and Palestinians each live in peace and security. (Applause.)

That is in Israel‘s interest, Palestine‘s interest, America‘s interest, and the world’s interest. And that is why I intend to personally pursue this outcome with all the patience and dedication that the task requires. (Applause.) The obligations — the obligations that the parties have agreed to under the road map are clear. For peace to come, it is time for them — and all of us — to live up to our responsibilities.

Palestinians must abandon violence. Resistance through violence and killing is wrong and it does not succeed. For centuries, black people in America suffered the lash of the whip as slaves and the humiliation of segregation. But it was not violence that won full and equal rights. It was a peaceful and determined insistence upon the ideals at the center of America‘s founding. This same story can be told by people from South Africa to South Asia; from Eastern Europe to Indonesia. It’s a story with a simple truth: that violence is a dead end. It is a sign neither of courage nor power to shoot rockets at sleeping children, or to blow up old women on a bus. That’s not how moral authority is claimed; that’s how it is surrendered.

Now is the time for Palestinians to focus on what they can build. The Palestinian Authority must develop its capacity to govern, with institutions that serve the needs of its people. Hamas does have support among some Palestinians, but they also have to recognize they have responsibilities. To play a role in fulfilling Palestinian aspirations, to unify the Palestinian people, Hamas must put an end to violence, recognize past agreements, recognize Israel‘s right to exist.

At the same time, Israelis must acknowledge that just as Israel‘s right to exist cannot be denied, neither can Palestine‘s. The United States does not accept the legitimacy of continued Israeli settlements. (Applause.) This construction violates previous agreements and undermines efforts to achieve peace. It is time for these settlements to stop. (Applause.)

And Israel must also live up to its obligation to ensure that Palestinians can live and work and develop their society. Just as it devastates Palestinian families, the continuing humanitarian crisis in Gaza does not serve Israel’s security; neither does the continuing lack of opportunity in the West Bank. Progress in the daily lives of the Palestinian people must be a critical part of a road to peace, and Israel must take concrete steps to enable such progress.

On nuclear weapons, he laid a respectful foundation for serious negotiations with Iran and hinted at but careful avoiding admitting that Iran had a point in feeling it should be allowed to have what Israel has. Repeating the mantra that for Iran to try to catch up with Israel would “cause” a nuclear race shows the gap between pretense and reality that remains in the Washington perspective. However, Obama clearly ended the nonsense seen in recent days in the U.S. media that Iran “may” have a right to nuclear technology. Fine; that issue is over. One can certainly find words to argue about, but essentially Obama has opened the door to talks; it now seems up to the new Iranian administration that will take office after June 14. Iran has won its point that there should be no discrimination against it. Now, will it offer utter, convincing transparency (perhaps in the context of a little transparency by Israel)?

it is clear to all concerned that when it comes to nuclear weapons, we have reached a decisive point. This is not simply about America‘s interests. It’s about preventing a nuclear arms race in the Middle East that could lead this region and the world down a hugely dangerous path.

I understand those who protest that some countries have weapons that others do not. No single nation should pick and choose which nation holds nuclear weapons. And that’s why I strongly reaffirmed America‘s commitment to seek a world in which no nations hold nuclear weapons. (Applause.) And any nation — including Iran — should have the right to access peaceful nuclear power if it complies with its responsibilities under the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. That commitment is at the core of the treaty, and it must be kept for all who fully abide by it. And I’m hopeful that all countries in the region can share in this goal.

On democracy, Obama steered a fine line, first observing flatly:

No system of government can or should be imposed by one nation by any other.

And then adding the caveat that we reserve the right to interfere (rhetorically or otherwise?) to oppose dictatorships imposed from inside. The world will see how this is implemented in practice. If Obama meant what he said, it is bad news for his dictatorial host and a clear offer to work with Hezbollah if it A) wins and B) plays by the rules once in power. Hamas also now seems to have a conditional pass to join the party. One wonders if Fatah got the message.

That does not lessen my commitment, however, to governments that reflect the will of the people. Each nation gives life to this principle in its own way, grounded in the traditions of its own people. America does not presume to know what is best for everyone, just as we would not presume to pick the outcome of a peaceful election. But I do have an unyielding belief that all people yearn for certain things: the ability to speak your mind and have a say in how you are governed; confidence in the rule of law and the equal administration of justice; government that is transparent and doesn’t steal from the people; the freedom to live as you choose. These are not just American ideas; they are human rights. And that is why we will support them everywhere. (Applause.)

Now, there is no straight line to realize this promise. But this much is clear: Governments that protect these rights are ultimately more stable, successful and secure. Suppressing ideas never succeeds in making them go away. America respects the right of all peaceful and law-abiding voices to be heard around the world, even if we disagree with them. And we will welcome all elected, peaceful governments — provided they govern with respect for all their people.

This last point is important because there are some who advocate for democracy only when they’re out of power; once in power, they are ruthless in suppressing the rights of others. (Applause.) So no matter where it takes hold, government of the people and by the people sets a single standard for all who would hold power: You must maintain your power through consent, not coercion; you must respect the rights of minorities, and participate with a spirit of tolerance and compromise; you must place the interests of your people and the legitimate workings of the political process above your party. Without these ingredients, elections alone do not make true democracy.

A very well written critique of Obama’s speech by Chatham House Mideast analyst Rime Allaf includes these key lines:

Unfortunately, the double standards of American foreign policy, especially in the Middle East, have remained at the crux of official rhetoric. Many will have heard a patronizing address, with an American president preaching, again, about what they must do and about the facts they must accept. The reference to Iran’s nuclear ambitions, for example, would have resonated more strongly had President Obama dared to speak of Israel’s extensive nuclear arsenal. Remorse about Iraq, instead of dubious claims of achievement there, would have earned him some credibility.

Radicalizing Islamic Societies

Excerpt: A pattern of brutal military intervention in Muslim societies to defeat radicalism that instead further radicalizes those societies is becoming increasingly clear, but powerful politicians remain (intentionally?) blind to the process. Pakistan and Somalia provide the latest evidence…

Text: On the heels of Ethiopia’s retreat from Somalia, the radical Islamist al-Shabab took over the town of Baidoa. It is noteworthy that it was al-Shabab, whose rise to power was stimulated by the U.S.-sponsored Ethiopian intervention, rather than the more moderate Islamic Courts Union—which Ethiopia entered Somalia to defeat—that is on the offensive. Foreign boots on the ground significantly worsened the situation in Somalia, from the perspective of moderates, opening the door wide to radical Islamist rule.

A similar pattern is becoming evident in Pakistan, this time following and evidently resulting at least in part from central government boots on the ground in tribal regions where the mostly Pathan Pakistani army is traditionally not viewed as exactly “our boys.” That view may be a bit stronger in the aftermath of a central government attack with tanks, jet fighter-bombers, and helicopter gunships in August that left some 400,000 refugees in Bajaur and repeated attacks in Swat Valley.

Whatever people’s feelings may be, the Taliban appear to be more than holding their own and, at the same time, to becoming increasingly radical. Warfare has a way of doing that. If some other approach to dealing with the Taliban had been tried, would they nevertheless have become equally violence-prone? It is up to officials suffering from their own addiction to violence to make that highly suspect case.

In Swat, where the Taliban are on the rampage murdering officials and publicly threatening others, the ruling party has admitted that it has lost control. The Taliban has just “summoned” several dozen officials to report to its sharia courts to be tried for opposing Taliban rule. Major General Abbas admitted that the military could not currently stop public Taliban radio broadcasts threatening the murder of officials but would take control “soon.”

Apparently not seeing this pattern of alien boots that run roughshod provoking the rise of radicalism, US Defense Secretary Robert Gates said Tuesday the United States will “go after Al-Qaeda wherever Al-Qaeda is.”

Manufacturing an Islamic Political Fault Line

H. Nayyar and Zia Mian begin their highly useful essay “Pakistan and the Islamist Challenge” on the Foreign Policy in Focus website with the pointed words:

Ten years ago, the political thinker and activist Eqbal Ahmad wrote that “conditions for revolutionary violence have been gathering in Pakistan since the start in 1980 of the internationally sponsored Jihad in Afghanistan.” He argued that “revolutionary violence in Pakistan is likely to be employed by religious and right-wing organizations which have not set theoretical or practical limits on their use of violence.” He then warned that Pakistan “is moving perilously toward a critical zone from where it will take the state and society generations to return to a semblance of normal existence. When such a critical point of hard return is reached, the viability of statehood depends more on external than internal factors.”

Their conclusion does not suggest that either Pakistan or the West has learned much in the horrible decade since Eqbal Ahmad made the above-quoted remarks:

Put simply, to effectively meet the Islamist challenge, the Pakistani state must finally accept and fully exercise its responsibility to maintain peace, provide justice, foster democracy and participation, and make available in an equitable manner the resources necessary for economic and social development.

Pakistan’s neighbors and the world will need to help rather than compound the problem. The threat of use of military force by India, yet more U.S. missile attacks or commando raids into Pakistan’s tribal areas, and deepening or widening the U.S. war in Afghanistan, as U.S. military leaders and President-elect Obama have proposed, will only make things worse.

Whichever organizations Ahmad had in mind a decade ago in his reference to “religious and right-wing organizations which have not set theoretical or practical limits on their use of violence,” he got it right, and it is important, if we are ever to start going down the road to resolving the crisis laid out so concisely in the conclusion of the Nayyar-Mian article, to understand that those words are not at all synonymous and to understand that the operative words concern the limits they set on the use of violence. So-called “left-wing” organizations (remember when they existed?) sometimes used to have the same addiction to violence, and it was no less bad for being left-wing.

The real import of this valuable article, however, lies not in its review of conditions in Pakistan, though that, given the ill-considered plans of the Obama Administration, more than suffices to make it an important piece for all U.S. decision-makers to read. The real import of the article is that both its introductory quote of Eqbal Ahmad and its concluding recommendations for resolving a problem that has only gotten steadily worse since Ahmad’s remarks a decade ago apply not just to Pakistan but to the whole Western confrontation with Islam.

Can a better statement of how to resolve the Gaza problem be written than:

Put simply, to effectively meet the Islamist challenge IN GAZA, THE ISRAELI [changed by WM] state must finally accept and fully exercise its responsibility to maintain peace, provide justice, foster democracy and participation, and make available in an equitable manner the resources necessary for economic and social development?

And what about Iraq and Somalia? Consider:

Put simply, to effectively meet the Islamist challenge IN IRAQ AND SOMALIA, THE AMERICAN [changed by WM] state must finally accept and fully exercise its responsibility to maintain peace, provide justice, foster democracy and participation, and make available in an equitable manner the resources necessary for economic and social development.

Madam Secretary of State, if you are confused about Somalia, you could start by reading the above sentence.

The comment also applies to others:

Put simply, to effectively meet the Islamist challenge IN KASHMIR, THE INDIAN [changed by WM] state must finally accept and fully exercise its responsibility to maintain peace, provide justice, foster democracy and participation, and make available in an equitable manner the resources necessary for economic and social development.

The following remarks I made in 2007 about an emerging Islamic political fault line are unfortunately even more true today, despite the departure of the Bush Administration, decline in Iraqi conflict, relative quiescence of bin Laden, and retreat of America’s Ethiopian proxy army from Somalia.

An Islamic political fault line is forming from Bangladesh to Somalia. If a unified upheaval does in fact erupt from one end of this region to the other simultaneously, it will present a far more serious threat to the global political system than anything we have seen since the end of the Cold War. Those who dream of a clash of civilizations could, in that case, get what they want.

The threat to the global political system is two-fold: first, instability per se, which will generate all manner of suffering for those immediately involved and financial harm to people everywhere; second, undermining of civil liberties and good governance everywhere, both in regions of violence and even in those Western countries that may be fortunate enough to escape violence within their territory. Populations will panic, governments will overreact, politicians will exploit the fear to gain personal power, and democracy everywhere will fall under attack.

The vicious little invasion of Gaza only underscores the general point. It may well be that certain individuals understand all this perfectly well and are delighted that they have, by refusing to “maintain peace, provide justice, foster democracy,” caused a level of chaos that they find profitable. Whether, in any specific case, that is true or not, it remains the case that for those of us who do not seek profit from chaos, an understanding of the causal link between social conditions and violence is the first step toward a solution. General recognition of this linkage in the West could very quickly cut the ground out from under bin Laden and all the other advocates of violence.

Islamic Affairs Crossword Puzzle (Elementary)

The subject of this blog is deadly serious without a doubt; this New Year’s Day, perhaps we should lighten up just a bit.

Try the Mideast affairs crossword puzzle shown to the right (see below for puzzle). This one should be a snap for any reader of this blog. Something more challenging will follow in a few days.

To play interactively, click here.

Ominous Somali Crossroad

Somalia’s long struggle for survival in a hostile world seems about to get worse unless the world, which to date has exacerbated local problems, can carefully nurture the faint ray of light offered by negotiations among moderates occurring amidst general reorganization. [See also “Does Anyone Care About the Somali Disaster?”, Dec. 5; “The Other War Washington Is Losing,” Nov. 26]

That forgotten “other war” in Somalia is about to get even worse…but a ray of light actually exists in Somalia’s long night. (Ethan Zukerman in an excellent review comes down on the very plausible side of getting worse.) At the moment, both the Islamic opposition and the internationally-recognized rump regime supported by the Ethiopian intervention force are reorganizing. The ray of hope is that moderates from the Islamic Courts Union and the rump government are talking and might be able to form a centrist regime.

Unfortunately, although Ethiopia has recently talking about withdrawing, it is actually reinforcing its army in Somalia, which is likely to spark more violence and undermine movement toward compromise. The Ethiopian intervention is what has been fueling the rising extremism over the past two years. More of the same is not likely suddenly to have the exact opposite impact. On the opposite side, the hard-line Islamist faction that emerged in response to the Ethiopian intervention, the Shabab, just declared an Islamic state in territory they control.

Therefore, the ray of light is likely quickly to be darkened: yes, a moderate middle of national reconciliation is emerging, including the prime minister of the rump government and a faction of the old ICU. Conversely, both the Ethiopians and the extreme Islamist faction are consolidating their positions even as peacekeeping efforts appear to be fading. Outside forces with the power to make a difference are happy to exploit Somalia for their broader goals but otherwise reluctant to get involved in any serious effort to restore peace to a society that outsiders have been abusing for so long.

This evidently delicate situation will require careful international handling–sensitivity to local conditions and willingness to listen to local grievances–to avoid intensifying the collapse of Somali society and to preserve what little movement toward peace now exists.

If Obama sincerely intends to “change,” the sudden fluidity in Somalia would make this an opportune moment for shifting Washington’s stance from hard-line reliance on military solutions in support of one side to a neutral search for a solution acceptable to a majority of Somali society.

Confrontation with Islam: Endless War or a Way Forward?

A group of extremists exists in the West that simply wants to control global oil, deeming that the best way to remain rich and get richer. Indeed, so long as the oil lasts and so long as pursuing such a goal does not provoke the explosion of a degree of global resistance too fierce to handle…Pursuing such a goal locks one into certain forms of behavior, which would be well exploring. But those in the West who put their bets on oil empire are only concerned about the short-term (while they, as individuals, remain alive), and the oil will admittedly last that long. As for provoking global resistance, which is certainly a good part of the explanation for 9/11-style violent jihad, these Western extremists are evil enough to welcome the resultant chaos as the excuse for their militarism and have the hubris to feel they can defeat all comers. So much for the details; the bottom line is that this group of extremists, like some on the Islamic side, is beyond rational discussion.

For the rest of us, however, i.e., for those who would like to maintain as much as possible of our comfortable lifestyle but grant that others also have a right to some portion of the globe’s treasures, and who consider such things as justice, democracy, civil rights, and peace to be pluses in life, a possible way forward exists. It is a narrow, rocky path through a darkly shadowed forest thick with growling wolves of temptation, for sure. No guarantees will be proffered. But those rightwing U.S. and Israeli militarists still howling for nuclear aggression against Iran can offer no guarantees either, except the certainty of a globe-circling cloud of apolitical and cancerous radiation.

So, given the failure of war to end the confrontation with Islam, perhaps it’s time now to take a new path. A number of concepts are relevant to the new path. One is empowering moderate neutrals rather than enemies. Another is working with and through intermediaries who may understand some things we don’t or may be able to get points across to adversaries who would reject the same arguments coming from American lips.

Can we have any rational expectation that such an approach would be more effective than the endless bombing of wedding parties, Predator strikes on friendly countries, incarceration of whole populations, and arrogant public threats against adversaries that serve mostly to turn them into dangerously powerful folk-heroes?

Yes. On several fronts of the global confrontation, evidence exists that an alternative path could bear fruit. (My thanks to two blogging colleagues, Richard Norton and Nasir Khan, for some of these arguments.)

Turkey, under its current moderate, Moslem leadership, is now well positioned to serve as intermediary with Iran. From the field: Obama’s Turkish Partners#links And, given the Obama camp’s interest in drawing down U.S. forces in Iraq and the need to find new supply routes to Afghanistan, Washington and Tehran may have some real mutual inducements to reaching agreement.

Mumbai, apparently an effort by extremists to provoke tension if not outright war between India and Pakistan, could with care be turned into an opportunity to bring moderates on both sides together in a determined effort to resolve some mutual issues. “Look how the extremists are manipulating you!” just might be an effective argument. It is certainly true that Indian intransigence on Kashmir remains an enormous obstacle. Nevertheless, last week’s electoral rejection of Hindu nationalist warcries offer a ray of hope.

On the Northern Pakistan/Afghan front, the Taliban seem, rather than some implacable and monolithic adversary that must be fought to the death, to be a complex and fragile coalition brought together by the common desire to get the U.S. Armed Forces off their backs. There may be room to compromise with those portions of this coalition that do not advocate throwing acid in the faces of girls or conducting a violent global jihad. Karzai has called recently for both a timetable for victory and a compromise solution. Even the redoubtable Mullah Omar seemed, according to secondary reports, to have been hinting at a negotiating position recently: peace in return for a Western pull-out schedule.

Somalia has already gone some distance down the path of compromise. The combination of public Ethiopian talk about pulling out its intervention forceand internal negotiations to form a government of national unity have set the stage. Sincere support for compromise from Washington might produce the needed leverage to achieve success.

In the Levant, Lebanon has taken some domestic steps forward in recent months with the aid of Qatar. Movement is afoot between Lebanon and Syria, and perhaps in Syria’s relations with the West. Obama seems about to continue the traditional mistake of allowing those committed to the Israeli military-industrial complex and its shortsighted policy of security through overwhelming military superiority to manage U.S. policy toward Israel, but perhaps he will realize that a superpower should run its own policy. Imagine the reaction in the U.S. if Obama were to put U.S. Iran policy in the hands of individuals committed to Ahmadinejad or U.S. Russian policy in the hands of a faction committed to Putin! Just possibly, the recent clear U.N. denunciation of Tel Aviv’s mistreatment of the whole population of Gaza combined with the pogrom by Israeli settlers living on Palestinian land in the West Bank–so egregious that it was even denounced by Israel’s own leaders–will prompt a move toward some degree of U.S. even-handedness toward the Israeli-Palestinian dispute.

Does all this still amount to faint hope? Perhaps, but first steps toward peace can build momentum for peace just as we have seen first steps toward oppression building steps toward war.

Does Anyone Care about the Somali Disaster?

With the Ethiopian army that intervened in Somalia two years ago to help the U.S.-supported group push out of power Islamic activists now possibly about to pull out, it is not clear where this leaves big oil or Washington opponents of Islamist governance. The limited progress toward a compromise that would bring Islamists and non-religious political groups into a coalition regime offers some hope of a breakthrough that could serve as a model for similar political disputes in Lebanon, Afghanistan, and Pakistan. But, no surprise, opposition to compromise continues, and details about the sensitive agreement in principle to address the issue of holding politicians responsible for atrocities are yet to be settled.

Ironically, though not surprisingly, according to BBC,

Ethiopian intervention, backed by the US and others, seems to have bolstered precisely the elements of the UIC, al-Shabab, that are most at odds with Ethiopia’s interests and may very well have fatally undermined any chance Somalia’s Transitional Federal Government (TFG) had of gaining legitimacy.

Violence, as usual, has undermined moderates and empowered extremists. Whether or not this is to be deplored of course depends on one’s viewpoint. Somali chaos has, for example, been a godsend for Westerners looking for somewhere to dump their industrial poisons, not to mention for those who want an excuse to establish a military presence.

Lots of effort is being put into Western involvement in Somalia, but little evidence of a sincere desire to resolve the issue is apparent. The degree to which the West wants a solution, and the degree to which the West is in control of events are both very much open to question at the moment.

The Other War Washington Is Losing

While Americans argue about whether or not they are losing the war in Iraq and seem to be reaching agreement that they are losing the war in Afghanistan even as it metastisizes into Pakistan, there is another war that America seems also to be losing: Somalia.

According to Chicago Tribune reporting, the war in Somalia is:

a policy time bomb that will be inherited by the incoming Obama administration: a little-known front in the global war on terrorism that Washington appears to be losing, if it hasn’t already been lost.

Kudos to the Chicago Tribune for reminding this navel-gazing country that its financial crisis did not cause the world to stand still – or cause Washington to review its own behavior.

I have previously referred to the logic that American foreign policy and the on-going financial crisis just might be connected. I would welcome evidence about how this is actually playing out.

Somali Insurgent Offensive Vs. U.S.-Supported Ethiopians

While all eyes are focused on the complex dance of Lebanese clients and their international patrons, the U.S. confrontation with Islam continues apace in Somalia. As in Lebanon, resolution of local issues is complicated by the larger competition between external forces (in Somalia, al Qua’ida and the U.S. rather than Iran, Syria, Saudi Arabia, the U.S., France, and Israel, as in Lebanon), which enflames the fighting, intensifies antagonisms, and imperils local efforts at conciliation. Unlike Lebanon (since the retreat of U.S. forces in 1983, the retreat of Israeli forces in 2000, and the retreat of Syrian forces in 2005), the Somali situation is further enflamed by the participation in the fighting of foreign ground troops.

Sheikh Hassan Dahir Aweys, a Somali insurgent leader, announced plans to expel U.S.-backed Ethiopian troops from Somalia by force despite on-going indirect peace talks in Djibouti –
talks that were undermined before they could even get started by a U.S. missile strike that killed not only an insurgent leader but two dozen others.

Indeed, opponents of the Ethiopian intervention force fighting in Somalia since December 2006 seem to be on the offensive this week, making good on their promise to avenge that missile attack and enhancing their negotiating position vis-à-vis traditional enemy Ethiopia in preparation for reconvening the talks on May 31. The Islamic Courts Union reportedly seized the agricultural center of Jilib on May 17.

The U.S. missile attack was the fifth since early 2007 on Somalia, attacks which have highlighted a U.S. policy that, according to Lynn Fredriksson, Advocacy Director for Africa, Amnesty International USA, has placed short-sighted counter-terror concerns at the forefront of U.S. involvement in the region, while human rights and humanitarian concerns are routinely pushed aside.” According to Ms. Fredriksson, the attacks have led to “civilian casualties, destruction of civilian property and livelihood, and the widespread belief that the U.S. protects the Somali Transitional Federal Government (TFG) and backs up Ethiopian forces, without genuine concern for civilians.”

The UN has warned that half the population faces famine. Troops fired on “tens of thousands of rioters” demanding food earlier in May.

U.S. missile attacks on insurgents may not slow their military activities but do seem quite effective against negotiations. Meanwhile, an additional 50,000 Somalis have been displaced so far this year, for a total of over 10% displaced out of a population of 8,000,000.