Sunday, March 16, 2008

Washington Intensifying Its Confrontation with Islam

Bush seems to have decided to maintain his aggressive, militant
course of frontal confrontation with Islamic political actors who do not submit to U.S. leadership.

To understand the dynamics underlying contemporary global political strife, it is essential to comprehend that choices exist. Bush could try to leave office on high note by leading the world away from the law of the jungle toward mutual understanding. Annapolis was the wave of a hand in this direction, though it was clear from the start, given Bush’s refusal to invite two of the key players – Hamas and Iran, that it did not constitute a sincere effort at a new direction.

Alternatively, Bush could pull back and allow others freedom to maneuver. Since the neo-con policy of force is not working, perhaps others have better ideas. Intentionally or not, the effect of the NIE was to put Europe in the driver’s seat in terms of leading the charge against Iranian nuclear program. Beyond this, for every Islamic problem facing Bush, local initiatives to resolve the situation peacefully exist but are being blocked by U.S. policy.

A detailed strategy for resolving the Hamas-Israeli dispute was just published…by an Israeli. This prescription calls for a sustained series of small, incremental steps:

  • taking Hamas up on its offer of a ceasefire

  • bringing Egypt formally into the picture and opening the Gaza-Egypt border

  • working toward an armistice

  • working through Abbas for a formal peace agreement to be ratified by plebiscite.

Assuming the process were to work, somewhere along the line, Hamas would presumably have to be offered once again the option of working within a democratic system.

Tehran and Baghdad are at this very moment in the process of working out a modus vivendi that could theoretically bring stability to Iraq and leave al Qua’ida very much out in the cold, recognized by all Iraqi political parties as the spoiler.

All three of the winning parties in Pakistan are calling for talks and compromise with Pakistani militants; in the immediate aftermath of the election, the militants were singing the same tune.

Talk of compromise has also been in the air in tragic, abused Somalia in recent weeks, with Prime Minister Nur Adde offering talks with all sides without preconditions at the end of February.

In Lebanon, the problem is not at all about how to deal with a tiny group of militants trying to force their perspective upon a reluctant population. Rather, in Lebanon, the fundamental issue is whether or not to grant the poor their share of political power. The solution is inherently obvious: the needs and aspirations of Lebanon’s poor need to be recognized. So far, it seems that Hezbollah is the only political organization in Lebanon willing to do that, though such of course need not always be the case. Regardless, a host of Arab initiatives to achieve a compromise have been tried and might, if insulated from broader global interference, yet achieve a settlement that would end the current stalemate while avoiding civil war.

There is little indication, however, that Bush will consider these alternatives. Rather, if various disparate pieces of recent evidence are put together, the resulting pattern suggests that in the waning months of his administration, Bush means to intensify American pressure on the Islamic world, further promoting the emergence of an Islamic political fault line that will split Moslem societies even as it leads to more severe confrontation with the West. If the policy of force has not worked after six and a half years, then apply more force!

Evidence for a Washington policy of intensified confrontation exists in recent events related to Lebanon, Pakistan, and Somalia.

After a year-long but almost totally peaceful deadlock in national politics in Lebanon, Saudi Arabia has suddenly advised its nationals to leave the country immediately—just as Washington announces that the U.S.S. Cole is being sent to the region and as Israel and Hamas move away from the peaceful confrontation over the Rafah opening into Egypt into the unusually intense violence of early March. Hezbollah naturally saw that as attempted intimidation; the Saudi foreign ministry had advised its citizens not to travel to Lebanon two weeks earlier.

Gunboat diplomacy has a long history in Lebanon. As noted by the Washington Post, in 1983 U.S. battleships “opened fire on Muslim militias. Retaliation included the suicide bombing of the Marine compound in Beirut and the death of 241 U.S. military personnel, which eventually led to the Marines' withdrawal. ” Despite the fact that the Lebanese suicide bombers were retaliating, Washington has held a grudge against Hezbollah ever since.

Specific threats against Saudi nationals may have been the specific motivation. The broader context includes not only the worsening of the Gaza situation but also apparent rising Saudi-Syrian tension over how to solve Lebanon’s political crisis and, in particular, a U.S.-Saudi plan to pressure Syria.

Hinting at the approach of a crisis, Arab League Secretary General Amr Moussa noted on Jan 27 that "Foreign influence has become a source of pressure in the Lebanese issue to an unprecedented extent."

Whether any of the above parties are actively planning to launch a war or just engaging in the type of risky behavior that tends to lead to war, the Mideast situation is beginning to resemble the situation in the spring of 2006. At that time minor tit-for-tat moves between Hezbollah and Israel were going on against the background of quiet Israeli planning for a military attack on Lebanon and a rapidly disintegrating Palestinian stand-off between Fatah and Hamas.

Two differences this time:
  • Both Lebanon and Iran face upcoming elections, which introduce further potential for instability.
  • The Bush Administration is in its last year and may be tempted to “go for broke” to escape from the Mideast quagmire created by its reliance on force rather than diplomacy.

The specific evidence for this over the past few days alone includes the U.S. military strike in Somalia which came even as the Somali prime minister was calling for unconditional negotiations with the government’s opponents; the U.S. military strike in Pakistan – timed to aggravate tensions between the incoming secular administration and Islamic militants; and news that U.S. military trainers would be sent to Pakistan.

New Situation
It is difficult to see changes in the global confrontation between proponents of a Washington-centric world and those who determined to offer Moslem societies an alternative path: the confrontation is too broad and too varied to reveal its course in snapshots. Therefore, if you view it one event at a time, perceiving its reality is essentially impossible. One must step back to gain perspective. Stepping back from the rush of daily events to compare the situation today with that of 9/11 gives a picture that suggests we are in a very different and much more serious situation.

Shocking as it may have been to Americans, the death of 3,000 people on 9/11 pales by comparison to recent global events in terms of casualties: the Khmer Rouge holocaust of Cambodians, the mass slaughter of Rwandans, Sudan’s slaughter of the people of Darfur, the imprisoning of 1.5 million residents of Gaza, the killing of some 100,000 Iraqis as a result of the U.S. invasion.

It also pales in terms of its strategic significant in comparison to the global Western-Islamic situation today. On 9/11 the West was being challenged by a single non-state actor under the protection of one of the world’s weakest countries, Afghanistan. Of course, there were at the time lots of other challenges to the West coming from Moslem regions, but they were fragmented—each focused on local issues.

Al Qua’ida’s goal seems to have been to do something so shocking that it would both inspire Moslems worldwide to join a campaign of resistance against the West and trick the West into committing such atrocities that compromise between moderate Westerners and moderate Moslems would be precluded. If that was al Qua’ida’s goal, over the last six years, it has made significant though partial progress on the former and enormous progress on the latter, leaving the al Qua’ida vision in a far stronger position despite the damage done to al Qua’ida’s infrastructure.

While Moslems may be looking with horror on the endless terror they have encountered (for the impact of al Qua’ida on Moslems has been far worse than on Westerners), they are also looking with horror upon Washington’s strident rhetoric, repeated rejection of compromise, insistence on preconditions before negotiations, and most of all its consistent policy of resolving problems through military force. Grozny (about which Washington did nothing), Fallujah, Jenin, Gaza may be names that bore most Americans; they don’t bore and will not soon be forgotten by Moslems. Even less easy to forgive are the destruction of Iraqi, Afghan, Palestinian, and Somali society.

The degree to which Moslems worldwide have been unified by the events since 9/11 is one of the major questions that will be facing the next U.S. president. But there seems little reason to conclude that al Qua’ida would be dissatisfied with its global position today in comparison with its position on 9/11/2001. Al Qua’ida has succeeded in getting so many Moslems to buy into its premise that the world needs a clash of civilizations that the continued existence of al Qua’ida itself is almost irrelevant. The fight has shifted from being a competition between the West and one non-state actor into the West against insurgencies in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Palestine, and Somalia plus a host of entanglements with Iran, Lebanon, Syria, Algeria, and other countries. The broad goodwill of Moslems toward the U.S. on 9/11 has been washed away by the extreme nature of the U.S. reaction. The conflict threatens to become institutionalized. Intensification of American military confrontation is only likely to further al Qua’ida’s long-term goal.

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