If Netanyahu’s political allies in the West Bank are committing terrorism, the U.S. may still defend Israeli security, but why is it cooperating with the Netanyahu regime? Continue reading
Washington clearly lacks the wisdom to manage a “war on drugs” or a “war on terror” or a “war for democracy” in a Muslim society. A more counter-productive effort in world affairs would be hard to find. But if Washington exits Afghanistan without leaving a process of effectively addressing the drug problem in place, then some very nasty scenarios that are hardly imagined today may become highly possible.
- Afghanistan is NATO-occupied, so responsibility for the flood of illegal narcotics poisoning the societies of Russia and the rest of the SCO member states lies at NATO’s door;
- the Western campaign in Afghanistan is failing;
- U.S.-Pakistani relations are in trouble;
- Narcotics and terror not only are linked but are so portrayed in Russian media.
Антинаркотическое сотрудничество России и Пакистана активно развивается. Взаимодействие двух стран “перешло в доверительную фазу”. [Golos Rossii (Voice of Russia) 3/29/12.]
В рамках ШОС, Турция будет стремиться к поддержке своей роли лидера региона Ближнего и Среднего Востока, опираясь на дружественные и родственные отношения с тюркскими и исламскими государствами. Россия поддержала заявку Турции на получение статуса партнера по диалогу в ШОС. [Panarin.com.]
The terrorist attack on innocent Afghani villagers by a U.S. soldier raises some questions that need public answers:
- How could a soldier at an army base have left unnoticed in the middle of the night?
- How could he get out with a weapon?
- How could he have taken gasoline with him without a vehicle?
From these obvious and innocent questions arise some more unsettling questions:
- How could U.S. soldiers plan and execute a terrorist attack without anyone else knowing about it?
- How many other soldiers knew about this?
- How many kept silent?
- How many officers knew?
- Is this another My Lai coverup?
By excusing, if not encouraging, Israeli shooting of protesters in other countries and in international waters, Washington is undermining the rule of international law and thus harming US national security. It is also violating its solemn duty to protect the lives of US citizens. And by equating support for the most irresponsible and criminal policies of violence-prone Israeli politicians, Washington is making the US-Israeli alliance harmful to US national security.
From the perspective of US national security, Washington’s support for extreme right-wing Israeli politicians who want to use violence against peace activists, even in international waters, is dangerously self-defeating. The US needs the international rule of law but, regarding Israel, is promoting piracy – there is no other word for military attacks on vessels in international waters.
U.N. Condemns Israeli Blockade of Gaza
Riyad Mansour, permanent observer of Palestine to the UN, said the flotilla “is necessitated by the blockade that Israel has imposed since Hamas took over the area in 2007,” calling Israel’s blockade “immoral” and “illegal.” [Xinhua, 6/24/11.]
US official reaction to Israel’s murder of Syrian protesters along the Golan border was another troubling example of Washington irresponsibly making exceptions for Israel, allowing it to get away with criminal behavior. Shooting unarmed demonstrators across international borders, like attacking ships in international waters, is criminal behavior that sets precedents that are sure one day to harm US interests.
Israel Attacks Freedom of the Press
Israel on Sunday threatened to ban international journalists for up to a decade if they join a flotilla planning to breach the Israeli blockade of the Gaza Strip.…
The Foreign Press Association, which represents hundreds of journalists working for international news organizations in Israel and the Palestinian territories, condemned the Israeli decision and urged the government to cancel the order. [Forbes, 6/26/11.]
Washington’s attitude toward the current flotilla, essentially encouraging Israel to attack and even murder US citizens, is despicable beyond belief, but it is also self-defeating. In a Mideast already plagued with violence that results in repeated harm to Israelis, why would Washington or a patriotic Israeli politician want to encourage further breakdown in the rule of international law? With Israel shooting demonstrators across international boundaries, violating international borders with its fighter/bomber jets, and attacking peaceful ships in international waters, Israel has lost all right to complain about violence used against it by its adversaries.
Author Alice Walker to Join Flotilla
If the Israeli military attacks us, it will be as if they attacked the mailman. This should go down hilariously in the annals of history. But if they insist on attacking us, wounding us, even murdering us, as they did some of the activists in the last flotilla, Freedom Flotilla I, what is to be done? [Alice Walker to CNN, as quoted by Haaretz, 6/24/11.]
If we say piracy by Israel is OK, then piracy will become standard behavior for all others who see an advantage in it. If we say that Israel can kill demonstrators who are in another country, then some adversary of the US will sooner or later follow that precedent.
International law starts with the willingness of the most powerful to follow rules even when those rules happen to be inconvenient.
Six U.S. Congressmen to Secretary of State Clinton
the measures used by Israel to protect its security “as in the case of any other nation, must conform to international humanitarian and human rights law” [Congress of the United States, 6/24/11.]
When Washington bows down to violence-prone right-wing elements in Israel, it makes the world a less civilized place, thus harming American security. This brings us back to the debate provoked last year by General Petraeus’ questioning of the impact on US national security of its alliance with Israel. Support for the security of the Israeli people may well be consonant with US national interests; support for violence-prone Israeli politicians is not. When Washington equates support for the most outrageously violent policies of the Israeli right wing with showing American friendship for Israel, then Washington makes the US-Israeli alliance harmful to US national security.
The Saudi decision to play Metternich will have ominous consequences. First is the possibility that Washington, Tel Aviv, and Riyadh have decided to push for war against Iran. That is a bit of a leap from the evidence. Let’s hope it is not the case, but even if it is not, the momentum is now moving in that direction. The temperature of the Persian Gulf has just risen, and in Bahrain a first small explosion has occurred; today more effort will be required to prevent a Persian Gulf meltdown than would have been required last week.
Aside from the danger of war with Iran, Riyadh has now split the Arab world. Note, for example, how events clearly show coordination between the crackdown in Bahrain and the crackdown in Yemen. Perhaps the old guard will win, as Metternich did after 1848, and succeed in repressing all Arabs again, but that will not turn the clock back. The Arab world has changed; millions have voted with their feet and faced down police goon squads. That is empowering.
>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>The Meaning of EmpowermentOn my daily afternoon walks, I overhear Saudis of all ages and walks of life analyzing the events that led to the overthrow of the Tunisian regime. Everywhere I go, people are hypothesizing on whether the same could happen to “them,” referring to the possibility of a Saudi Arabia not headed by the Al Sauds. Although most concur that it is highly unlikely, they are nonetheless more convinced than ever of the power of the people to bring about change.–Khuloud on Jadaliyya<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<
If repressed, the next time the people will have learned that peaceful demonstrations do not work. For an analogy, 1848 will turn into 1917. That is of course just an analogy; it should not be read as implying that communism is in the Mideast’s future but simply that political radicalization is becoming more likely by the minute. Iran, al Qua’ida, and militant Arab nationalism will all be invigorated. A new Saudi-Egyptian proxy war in Yemen should come as no surprise, and Saudi-Iranian competition in Iraq will intensify.
>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>The Logic of Saudi-Egyptian proxy war in YemenEgypt is now standing tall; no Egyptian ruler will aspire to crouching behind Saudi Arabia. Expect competition for leadership of the Arab world regardless of whether the Egyptian army succeeds in establishing a new military dictatorship or democracy is established. Egypt, however haltingly, is moving toward modernization, Saudi Arabia is looking backwards. Their interests will clash. Meanwhile, the Yemeni regime has been radicalized by the Saudi intervention in Bahrain, and many of those supporting the protesters in Yemen must surely have very bad memories of the Saudi military attack on the Houthis. Civil war now appears far more likely than it did a month ago, and it is hard to see how Riyadh will watch Saleh go down to military defeat without trying to help him. At that point, Cairo will face a fateful double decision: stand aside and give regional preeminence to Riyadh or take action; support democracy advocates who copied those in Egypt or turn its back. No matter who is in charge in Cairo, governments like legitimacy, and legitimacy for an Egyptian regime will not be found in a policy of bowing down before the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques.<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<
The other change is truly tragic. The Arab democracy revolt was unifying and secularizing: more liberty for everyone. Saudi Arabia’s military intervention, in contrast, not only splits the Arabs but risks sparking sectarian conflict. Bahraini democracy protesters are going to have a very hard time remaining united in the face of what looks very much like repression of the Shi’a. Admittedly, it also looks like repression of civil liberties, which it surely is. The key to the story may well lie in the struggle between these two conflicting dynamics: patriotic and democratic resistance to Saudi troops enforcing repression vs. the natural tendency to interpret events as Sunni vs. Shi’a. Moqtada al Sadr’s initial sectarian reaction (justice for Shi’a rather than justice for Bahrainis) exemplifies this tendency, and al Qua’ida will surely be examining the situation in a search for opportunities.
Nuclear war with Iran might be down the road, but a more likely result of the Saudi intervention in Bahrain is a repeat of the horrifying sectarian conflict provoked in Iraq by the U.S. invasion.
Everyone knows that Obama is about to test his surge strategy in the Afghan city of Marja, but how many see the real story?
The attack on Marja is the fundamental test to date of American integrity under Obama. Since the cosy days of the Cold War, the world has experienced a stunning series of intentional war crimes planned and executed by governments: Grozniy, Fallujah, Gaza. A few Pakistani cities should probably be added to that list, but since the Pakistani Army has been very effective at hiding what has been happening from Swat to Bajaur, I hesitate to name one. Will Marja become the next, or will Obama’s military demonstrate to the surprise of all that it truly is the friend of the Afghan people?
First of all, watch for news. If a battle occurs “in private,” in the absence of independent, on-the-scene reports by independent reporters, the history of the past decade would teach us to anticipate the worst.
Second, watch for follow-up. In Gaza, for example, despite the brave and generous efforts of many around the world, Israel has very effectively prevented follow-up: no reconstruction of civilian homes. Exactly what the U.S. conqueror did after destroying Fallujah would be worth knowing. Israel of course punished the Gaza population on purpose to send a clear message that its enemies would have to choose between terrorism and submission; was the U.S. in Fallujah playing the same game?
When I described Gaza last year as a laboratory for experimenting with ways to repress civilian populations, not a single person protested to me that my hypothesis was untrue. At the time, I was focused on Gaza and was viewing it as the center of things, but perhaps a more accurate view would have been to say Gaza was the latest in a string of “urban laboratories,” where a city would intentionally be destroyed. The residents of Baghdad (1258), Dresden, or Hiroshima would understand and perhaps view those of us who grew up in the post-WWII era with our belief in human progress and international law as hopelessly naive.
It is not clear how new cultural traits develop. What persuaded so many Muslims that terrorism was OK? What persuaded so many Western governments that state terrorism was OK? Did Israel develop this modern barbarism and teach the American neo-cons or did Israel watch the Russians in Chechnya and the Americans in Fallujah and think, “Wow. They got away with it!” Evil spreads easily.
So, Marja is America’s test. Will America prove to be just another barbarian conqueror or will it show that it does indeed qualify, as it so desires,to lead the world?
As with good health and a good marriage, a successful foreign policy requires an all-emcompassing view; “just the facts” is no more the basis for understanding Western-Islamic relations than is “popping pills” the road to a healthy life. Just as good health depends on a combination of nutrition, exercise, sufficient sleep, cleanliness and a good marriage requires consideration of the overall environment within which the couple lives, successful management of relations with the Islamic world will require the West to understand how Muslims perceive the world, the constraints under which they live, and the processes that motivate them. Like health and marriage, politics is a complex adaptive system composed of interacting and evolving sub-systems.
Whether one views the situation from the traditional perspective or from the complexity perspective, one can see many of the same elements – the anger, the desperation, the violence, the retribution. The difference lies in the conclusions one draws. From the traditional perspective, one will conclude that a preponderance of force will win out in the end. From a complexity perspective, however, one can see that force does not equal effect; on the contrary, the preponderance of force is precisely the problem. Force, like heat applied endlessly to a pressure cooker, does not “solve” the problem. Force is either irrelevant or, more likely, an additional cause.
To return to the health analogy, every doctor knows nutrition matters, but it is all too easy, absent the complexity perspective, to prescribe an antibiotic without the simple addition of yogurt—because the ways in which yogurt can protect the digestive tract from the ravages of a broad spectrum antibiotic are anything but simple. Similarly, it is all too easy to focus on a violent counter-attack against extremists, overlooking the destabilizing impact on society of that counter-attack.
From a complexity perspective, one can also see the other side of the coin: the absence of violence does not equate to “stability.” It does not mean that force has been applied successfully and that the problem has been resolved. Rather, it simply means that the underlying instability has shifted from the group phase (insurgency) to the individual phase (disorganized and unnoticed anger, depression, starvation, abuse of relatives, divorce, dropping out of school, crime).
Just because random instability at the individual level remains beneath the notice of the international media does not mean that the problem has been solved. In a complex adaptive system, behavior at the individual level can give rise with unforeseeable speed to a new type of behavior at the group level. The social chaos of a Waziristan does not predict revolt or terrorism, but it does set up fertile ground for the sudden emergence of a type of behavior that conventional thinkers may find highly counter-intuitive. All it takes is a catalyst, and in the current era of a highly interconnected but deeply unjust world, many would like to serve as that catalyst.
Where the conventional perspective saw Iraq a few weeks after the U.S. invasion as subjugated and the problem as solved, the complexity perspective would have seen an evil group (the regime) as removed, leaving behind a chaotic mass of individuals (the destroyed Iraqi socio-political system) from which some new form of behavior would surely emerge (in the event, a not very surprising anti-invader insurgency). Similarly, when the Pakistani Army blithely announced “victory” over the Taliban in Bajaur after a brutal and highly destructive campaign of collective punishment that turned perhaps one-third of the district’s residents into refugees, a complexity thinker could easily have foreseen the resurgence of violence that is now occurring. The invasion broke up the organized resistance but left unresolved, and in fact enormously worsened, the underlying individual instability of absent social services, corrupt government, unemployment, and injustice. Re-emergence of some form of group behavior in reaction to the unacceptable situation (in the event, a second Taliban campaign of terror) should have been anticipated.
“Take two Predators, and you’ll feel better in the morning.” Well, not quite; “different,” perhaps, but whether or not your new condition will be “better” is another question. There are far more ways things can get worse than there are for things to get better. Strong medicine is only a good bet when the full range of its likely impact is considered in advance.
A group of 150 Yemeni clerics has issued the following blunt call to defend Yemen from foreign interference:
In the event of any foreign party insisting on hostilities against, an assault on, or military or security intervention in Yemen, then Islam requires all its followers to pursue jihad.
This appears to be an example occurring before our eyes of how U.S. counter-terrorism policy enflames passions, empowers radicals, and ends up generating the terrorism it was supposedly designed to combat. A systematic survey of Yemeni clerical comment on the topic would be a useful set of background information as we watch this story unfold.
It does not take many Predator attacks to stimulate a response. Washington needs to get a few more tools in its foreign policy toolbox. Unfortunately, the excuse that “we don’t have many options,” used to justify the latest self-defeating policy idea is neither true nor an excuse. It is not true because other options do exist, including contacts with dissident groups and law enforcement. It is not an excuse because in the absence of a workable policy, doing nothing trumps making things worse.
Keep an eye on how U.S. aggressiveness affects Yemeni politics.
The biggest political story of the post-9/11 era may be the degree to which Washington’s response to the radical Islamic challenge misread the nature of that challenge, thereby empowering the most extreme Islamic elements and undermining U.S. national security. The decade of failure resulting from Washington hubris and provincialism seem, judging from the new panic over Yemen, to have taught Washington little about the process of Muslim radicalization. A few points about how that story seems to be playing out in Yemen follow. For those who have thought about the course of the Western-Islamic confrontation, it will sound all too familiar. nothing about the true dynamics underlying the
To make a very complex and poorly understood story as concise as possible, the worsening situation in Yemen seems characterized by at least the following list of underlying dynamics:
- Harsh U.S. military tactics inflame hostility;
- U.S. or proxy military campaigns in one country exacerbate violence later in another country;
- U.S. or proxy military campaigns in one country cause refugee flows that destabilize the society of other countries;
- Quick to judgment, Washington supports the very repressive regimes that were the source of the problem;
- Addressing the symptom of militant protest rather than the cause of popular dissatisfaction, Washington undermines its own interests;
- Using its military hammer to address the radicals’ talking points;
- Trusting local leaders who speak English and sport official titles, Washington fails to perceive the interests they share with local militants;
- Viewing the world through U.S. eyes, Washington fails to appreciate local regime priorities.
Again, the point here is not to claim to have “discovered” something new but to point out that, with Yemen, Washington seems in the process of making all the same mistakes that have undermined U.S. policy for a decade all over again.
Building on the abstract discussion of Muslim radicalization presented earlier, below are a few details about the Yemeni case.
War Crime Chickens Come Home to Roost. Following military attacks in December, which the Yemeni press is condemning as “massacres,” “dozens of Qaeda family members and local residents were killed, increasing anti-government sentiment.”
Military Campaigns Spread Chaos. Yemenis who fought in Iraq after the US invasion are now back in Yemen supporting radicalism there, duplicating a similar flow out of Afghanistan after the Soviet withdrawal. Militant leaders in Pakistan have also reportedly begun transferring to Yemen. Poor as Yemen may be, the Yemeni population is flush with small arms, and militants reportedly are even sending arms to Somali Al Shabaab insurgents even as Al Shabaab reportedly plans to send fighters to Yemen. Chaos in Somalia has provoked refugee flow into Yemen, offering Yemeni radicals further opportunities for recruitment.
Supporting Repression. With people angry at misgovernment and radicals quick to exploit it, supporting a corrupt and repressive regime plays right into radical hands; in Yemen, the current regime has become increasingly repressive in a quest for permanent power and “is to a great extent the problem, not the solution.”
Symptoms, not Causes. With poverty, civil war that has left 100,000 homeless, and a growing water shortage far more characteristic of Yemen than some American nightmare of jihadi armies, the US provides military aiddetermined and concerted effort” to finance a counterterrorism unit in Yemen and ominously responded to a question about sending U.S. troops as off the table “at this point.” Britain, however, has already sent a counterterrorism unit to Yemen, while the U.S. is sending special forces, so Brennan’s remark about U.S. troops was invalidated before he even made it. and bombardment. U.S. Homeland Security and Counterterrorism Adviser John Brennan has admitted to the press that Washington plans “a
Failing to Address the Radical Critique of the West. In “44 Ways to Support Jihad,” Yemeni-American imam Anwar al Aklaki made several points that Washington, by its behavior over the last decade, has only made more persuasive. He characterized the contemporary period as a period “when Muslim lands are occupied by the kuffar, when the jails of tyrants are full of Muslim POWs, when the rule of the law of Allah is absent from this world and when Islam is being attacked in order to uproot it.” Al Aklaki also pointedly addressed Western media bias, noting:
The danger of the Western media stems from the fact that it puts on the cloak of truth and objectivity when in reality it is no more than the mouthpiece of the devil. Can’t you see that the Western media is constantly trying to underplay the atrocities committed by the West…
Trusting Local Leaders. Washington has a tendency to trust distant politicians just because they happen to be able to say the right things in English and because they are in power. “It is a threat to US security to under-estimate the level of enmeshment between the Yemeni state and al Queda.” Underscoring Obama’s letter of support for Yemen a few months ago, the high-level January 2 meeting between U.S. Central Command chief David Petraeus and President Saleh suggests that Washington is moving rapidly to make a highly questionable commitment to Saleh.
Misunderstanding Regime Priorities. Washington not only ignores popular priorities (e.g., water, employment, good governance), but it overlooks regime priorities. The Saleh regime seems far more concerned about retaining power and, in particular, about winning a civil war against an ethnic minority called the Houthis (a fight in which the U.S. has no dog) than with the global contest between radical Islam and the West. The Houthi rebellion against regime repression and Saudi interference seems “more a reaction to a dysfunctional governmentdraw Iran into a conflict that so far seems provoked more by Saudi Arabia itself than by Iran, Saudi claims to the contrary notwithstanding. Indeed, Iranian media have recently emphasized the extent of Saudi aggressiveness. than an inspired, centralized, ideological movement,” but the type of heavy-handed Saudi and U.S. military attacks that have recently killed numerous civilians could certainly transform it into an anti-Western movement. Saudi aggression may also
These dynamics interact in complex ways that should be carefully studied before any decision to intervene is even considered. It is hard to imagine an al Qua’ida recruiting technique that could be more effective than having the U.S. attack villagers from the air. Supporting a corrupt and repressive regime while ignoring the demands of Yemeni reformers needlessly makes the link between opposing the West and improving the lives of the Yemeni people. Moreover, whatever Washington does is viewed with suspicion because of the history of U.S.
intervention in the region on false pretexts.
In essence, two conflict are occurring. One is a domestic struggle between a regime desiring power and people desiring better governance. The secon d is a global struggle between jihadis and the West. For the West to win, it must prevent the two struggles from becoming mixed. For violent jihadis to win, they must convince the populace that the struggle for liberty and justice means combating the West. To the degree that the West can use judicial means to combat jihadis while either remaining aloof from the domestic struggle for liberty or—better—in some way becoming identified as a supporter, it gains. To the degree that the West becomes associated in popular perceptions with a repressive regime, the jihadis become the symbol of liberty, and they gain. To a great extent, the story of the post-9/11 world is the story of Washington’s failure to maintain the distinction between these two struggles.
One pitfall for the U.S. is for the reform movement and general population to perceive the U.S. as their enemy. The U.S. will almost inevitably fall into this pit if it attempts a military solution to the problem of eliminating terrorism because military means, especially those employed by the U.S., are unsuited to attacking militants hidden in a civilian population. The true believers will gladly sacrifice the lives of innocent civilians in order to win the war against the U.S. Emphasizing judicial methods not only reaffirms American principles but protects U.S. interests by minimizing the number of enemies it will make.
Another pitfall for the U.S. is allowing a regime the U.S. is cooperating with against jihadis to exploit that cooperation in its domestic struggle to defeat reformers and retain control. If the regime succeeds in doing so by playing on U.S. confusion between jihadis claiming the patriotic mantle and genuine reformers, the jihadis may seize control of the opposition movement.
Washington is undercutting American interests both by relying on counter-productive military measures and by failing to respond to Yemeni needs. Doing nothing might be dangerous, but it would quite possibly be significantly more effective than the policy that appears to be emerging in Washington.
A consistent stance toward issues with Muslim societies is gradually emerging from the Obama Administration – emerging out of the optimistic fog of early rhetoric. The stance is simple: the U.S. has one big hammer, and that is what will be used to pound on all issues with the Islamic world.
The overwhelming emphasis Obama put on military force in yesterday’s Afghan policy speech is the cornerstone of this unfortunately shortsighted new policy. Surrender to Netanyahu’s right wing leaders of Israel’s project permanently to colonize the West Bank and collectively punish the 1.5 million helpless residents of Gaza for the presence of Hamas (regardless of whether it fires rockets at or observes truces with Israel) is the second foundation stone of this policy. Unremitting pressure on Iran backed up by enough public threats to prevent any Iranian politician who cares about his neck from advocating any compromise is the third foundation stone. And Obama—take note—smoothly tossed Yemen into the mix yesterday in a glib and false implication that Yemen was no more or less than another front in the mythical global attack on the U.S. by al Qua’ida that requires a full U.S. military response.
Of course, the policy is only “new” in the sense that it contradicts Obama’s early rhetoric of sympathetic compromise. All that is now long gone. The ugly neo-con “principles” of wars of choice, preventive war, arrogant dismissal of international law, cynical “collateral damage” (i.e., the murder of innocent civilians caught in the path of the American military machine) are back to haunt us.
Whatever the mistakes of the past, at this moment, an army of sorts is indeed gunning for U.S. soldiers, although only those actually on Afghan soil. Does that mean that today Obama has no alternative but to pour in more forces? Even if more military force may be required to prevent immediate defeat, making force the core of the proposed path to conflict resolution is hardly the only option.
- Obama could have chosen the moral high ground and declared war on Afghan narcotics with a massive economic aid program for farmers and a retargeting of Predators away from the homes of insurgents to the Afghan (Taliban and regime) heroin labs that truly do pose a threat to the world.
- Obama could also have used the power of his office and his remaining charisma to call for the Islamic world to rise up and help their Afghan brothers so as to enable American troops to depart. Thanking Erdogan for his recent efforts to find a compromise way forward in the Mideast and inviting him to lead a similar effort on Afghanistan would have constituted one big step in that direction.
- He could also have put teeth in his Afghan security policy by announcing a program to provide the new Afghan security forces he is training with salaries sufficient to support a family so those recruits could survive without accepting bribes from drug dealers or insurgents.
Sadly, he seems determined to box himself in as a war leader, and those options were ignored. Both Afghan hopes and Obama’s reputation now teeter on a precipice.
In sum, we are back where we have been for a decade: assuming blindly (without questioning) that the appropriate, indeed, the essential response by Washington to every global sign of Islamic political activism must be a military attack.
Is this an overstatement? Look at the evidence:
- Recall the experience of Gaza: Hamas won a democratic election in 2006, after making the historic decision to move from military resistance to participation in the political process only to be robbed of its victory by an Israeli-American plot to provoke Palestinian civil war. Trying once again in 2008, Hamas signed a truce with Israel and, indeed, did a rather good job of living up to its end of the bargain by ending rocket attacks. Israel did not live up to its end, however, because what Israel opposes is not Hamas rockets but the very existence of a Hamas regime and, in particular, the existence of a Hamas regime that is peaceful, integrated in the political process, and successful. I have not noticed any sincere-sounding protests coming out of Washington about Israel’s repressive behavior toward Gaza.
- Washington’s refusal to compromise with Iran to achieve a diplomatic breakthrough that seemed finally within its grasp is the second major piece of evidence that we are back where we were under Bush. Instead of accepting the Iranian foreign minister’s idea of trading Iranian for European uranium on Iranian soil as the essence of victory, Washington rushed to reject the breakthrough. International agents on the ground in Iran conducting uranium transfers would have constituted a great step in the direction of permanent international oversight.
These details do not portray Washington as searching for peace, compromise, a win-win solution for the long term. The details are consistent with a desire for total victory over Muslims who demonstrate any desire for independence. The details are also consistent with a simpleminded obsession with force as the answer. Even if the truth is that Washington simply is overemphasizing the one big tool in its hand, the question remains:
Is the military hammer effective?
One hint might be the continuing carnage in Iraq. Another might be the state of affairs in Afghanistan after eight years of U.S. military intervention. A third might be the dismal social disaster known by the name of “Somalia”—a disaster that started not with “Islamic radicalism” but with Cold War superpower competition that wrecked Somalia’s traditional political system several decades ago. A fourth might be the emergence of radical dissent in other countries, such as Yemen. And a huge fifth might be Gaza, where the most abjectly helpless population on earth nevertheless continues to resist external oppression. A rather different hint might be the conclusion in Ankara that finding a middle ground and taking the diplomatic initiative makes more sense than continuing to lean to the West and follow Washington’s lead.
Once there was a superpower that called radical political opponents “terrorists.” A bitter war was fought. Nevertheless, within one generation, the victorious terrorists and the defeated superpower had already begun to team up and remain the best of friends to this day. The superpower was of course Great Britain and the “terrorists” (yes, London actually used that word) were America’s heroic freedom fighters.
So I am not convinced that all Islamic radical political activists must automatically be labeled as enemies of the U.S. (though the U.S. certainly has the power to make them its enemies). However, even if one does so label them, it may still be the case that the U.S. needs a different approach. Battling Islamic radicalism is like battling with glass. Smash it, and it fractures into millions of very sharp splinters. Maybe the U.S. needs a better tool than a hammer.