Thursday, September 14, 2006

The war against al Qaeda

Juan Cole has an essay on the war against al Qaeda, particularly the greater battle for the hearts and minds of the Middle East and Muslim world. Will the Muslim world be with us or against us?

It is a mix of good news and bad news; the good news is that al Qaeda themselves have not recovered from their military defeat in Afghanistan, and are a mere shell of their former selves, but the bad news is that there are plenty of new organisations taking their place.

Bad news: the world, especially the Muslim world, hates America's foreign policies (and by extension, the rest of the West). Good news: when American foreign policy stops being greedy, self-centred and evil, so does the hatred. They don't hate us because they hate our freedoms. They hate us because we kick them in the teeth.

More bad news: Iraqis, once "the bulwarks of secular Arab nationalism", are no longer so. Instead, Iraq is ripping itself apart, split between various extremist forces, many of whom are viciously religious.

Good news: many Arab governments, and Pakistan, are decidely more cooperative with the West, presumably because they fear the rise of religious extremists as well.

Bad news: the anti-democratic, and incompetent, actions of Israel and the USA against Hamas and Hezbollah, has lead to a weakening of Arab secularism and a strengthening of fundamentalism. Foolish foolish foolish. When the historians write the story of these years, Bush and Olmert will be counted as the best allies bin Laden could ever have.

More bad news: the popularity of the US in Turkey, formerly one of America's best allies, has plummeted, primarily because the US is protecting Kurdish "freedom fighters" who are blowing up bombs in Turkey. So much for the war on terror.

To the extent that small terrorist groups benefit in their recruitment and in motivating recruits from deeply negative attitudes to the United States, these polling numbers are extremely disturbing. The main things driving a polarization between Muslim publics and the US are not al-Qaeda or terrorism, however. They are Iraq, Palestine and Lebanon. It is the policy. The policy can provoke anger and engender threat, and that is why it had better be a damn good policy. It can also make for friendships, which is what we should be aiming at.

It wouldn't take much now to settle the Israel-Palestine thing, and the time is ripe to have Israel give back the Golan to Syria and the Shebaa Farms to Lebanon in return for a genuine peace process. The Israelis are not made more secure by crowding into the West Bank or bombing Gaza daily. South Lebanon has demonstrated the dangers of ever more sophisticated microwars over rugged territory. It is time for Israel, and for the United States, to do the right thing and rescue the Palestinians from the curse of statelessness, the slavery of the 21st century. Ending this debilitating struggle would also be the very best thing for the Israelis themselves. In one fell swoop, the US would have solved 80 percent of its problems with the Muslim world and vastly reduced the threat of terrorism.

Alas, it seems that Bush and the other neo-cons don't have a realistic grasp of politics and diplomacy, and instead see everything in terms of the Shoot Out At The OK Corral. Two sides shoot at each other until one side is beaten, at which time the other side dictates everything.

It's a seductive view of global politics for those with the mental sophistication of a hyena and the morals of a virus, but it is horribly risky, and even if it does work, it is hugely more expensive in both money and lives than diplomacy. Wingnuts and extremists on the Right will tell you that you can't use diplomacy with people like Bush bin Laden, and they are right, but that's not who we should be negotiating with. Bin Laden is a killer and a terrorist, and the only negotiation with him should be over whether he surrenders peacefully for a trial, or dies resisting arrest. But there are millions of Arabs, Muslims and other people who can choose to either help us, or hinder us. We can't kill them all, not without destroying ourselves in the process, and even if we could, we shouldn't or we become worse than the monsters we are fighting. Even bin Laden has never suggested that Muslims should commit genocide on the West.

Teddy Roosevelt understood both the need for diplomacy and force, and that force was to be kept in reserve, to give diplomacy credibility. Bush is no Teddy Roosevelt, who spoke softly but carried a big stick: Bush yells loudly, bragging "bring it on", making promises he can't keep, claiming victory before the battle is decided, and when he uses his big stick, it is invariably ineffective, counter-productive, and horribly, horrible expensive.

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