Thursday, December 11, 2008

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.

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