Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Washington's Confrontation With Islam: Failure of a Leader

Studying the confrontation between Washington and Islam over the past two years has led me to the conclusions enumerated below, conclusions reached in August 2008. In future posts, I will examine global developments that have occurred since that time in the context of these conclusions.

1. It has, since 9/11, become conventional among political circles and in the media to discuss nuclear aggression by the West in the absence of an immediate threat as though it were just another policy option—a striking and sudden degradation of public morality. Few could have imagined in the darkness of the hideous and terrifying Cold War that we would have descended to such a depth of public insanity only 15 years after winning victory. Whatever happens to Islamic radicalism, the stain on America’s soul of treating nuclear wars of choice as legitimate policy options will for the rest of our lives undermine efforts to build a peaceful international order.

2. Whatever reasons Moslems may have had to be angry with Western governments in September 2001, in 2007-8 those reasons were amplified and intensified. The most fundamental reason may be the sudden global crisis in the cost of grain, which has put the core of human diet out-of-reach of much of the world’s population, indicating a basic breakdown of the West’s pet project of globalization. Beyond this non-negotiable need for food are Israel’s barbaric economic war against the population of Gaza, the dramatic rise in the frequency of U.S. missile strikes on Moslem countries with which the U.S. was not at war, a highly menacing U.S. campaign against Iran, the combination of U.S. support for friendly Moslem dictators combined with coldly unsympathetic and blatantly intolerant behavior toward Moslem actors taking independent stands, and the final pulverization of already stateless Somali society by a U.S.-backed Ethiopian army. Coming on top of the deepening Moslem-Western confrontation of the 2001-2006 period, the events of 2007-8 make highly probable an intensified level of Moslem resentment and resistance over the next seven years. Such resistance can be expected to radicalize, fragment, and destabilize Moslem states, undermining moderates and empowering extremists.

*** For further commentary on how this lesson is playing out at present, see this post.

3. On the part of major candidates, the media, and the public during this U.S. presidential election period, there seems to be a concerted effort to bury heads in the sand, carefully avoiding fundamental questions that should be at the center of debate. Minute tactical shifts in policy toward Iraq are discussed rather than whether the U.S. should be colonizing the Middle East in the first place. The tactics of the effort to stop terrorists with overwhelming military force are debated rather than asking if military solutions can be effective for such an intricate social, cultural, psychological phenomenon or if the so-called “War on Terror” amounts to much more than a way for the elite to trick the voters into supporting a new imperialism. America’s continuing state of denial is the most potent source of strength for the many extremists on both sides who remain determined to provoke ever more violent confrontation.

4. Washington—not just the neo-cons—remains focused on pursuing a “war on terror,” evidently desiring only to terminate the tactic of opponents attacking civilians without any consideration of why they might wish to do that in the first place. This emphasis on changing the opponent’s tactics without addressing his concerns or the concerns of the far broader mass of (so-far) moderate Moslems will ensure a flow of new recruits for Islamic extremism, fuelling this confrontation into the foreseeable future.

5. Israeli security, an American foreign policy goal now elevated almost to the level of a religion, is becoming steadily more difficult to ensure as the size, remoteness (from Israel), and power of its opponents rises, yet the Israeli policy of security through overwhelming superiority in military force remains a taboo (in the U.S.) that cannot be questioned. This pattern is increasingly likely to lead to a cataclysmic disaster for the very exposed Israeli population.

6. Al Qua’ida has gone from being the fringe organization of a few extremists to an ideology inspiring untold thousands. In the 1990’s, jihadis committed to terror could destroy an occasional building; by 2001, they could manage to kill several thousand; 2008 finds the West caught in two enormous and debilitating traps set by al Qua’ida – Afghanistan and Iraq. Whether or not some Western leaders actually welcomed fundamentalist Islamic terrorism as the excuse they had been seeking for a long-planned imperialist campaign, the fact remains that few Westerners see any good escape route from these two quagmires. In fact, each is worsening—the Iraqi conflict spilling into both Iran and the Levant; the Afghan conflict spilling into Pakistan. The physical, financial, and moral harm to the West being caused by al Qua’ida has been steadily rising for 20 years, and this trend shows no sign of changing course.

7. Shortsighted U.S. arrogance about what it is capable of doing combined with incompetence in governing what it has conquered have served to intensify Iranian hostility even as that perverse combination of arrogance and incompetence has opened the door to Iranian reemergence as a regional power. As Iranian moderates are sidelined in the international atmosphere of brinkmanship, Iran’s Shi’ite allies solidify control in Iraq, Hezbollah consolidates its political and military position in Lebanon, and Iran--often skillfully--maneuvers its way into the regional political dialogue, Tehran’s ascendancy seems likely to continue.

8. The re-emergence of the Islamic resistance in Afghanistan, this time not so much allied with the Pakistani government as in rebellion against it, combined with the failure of Pakistan’s democracy movement effectively to seize the initiative in the tribal regions and Washington’s increasing go-it-alone attitude of crude interference in the tribal regions make likely a wider regional conflict in South Asia that will re-energize the global anti-Western jihad.

9. There is always a good scenario and a bad scenario. For the future of the world, the destruction of Somalia is the bad scenario of ultimate irony – the one we truly could have avoided. As of August 2008, the evidence fortunately still does not suggest that the Somali scenario will be the future for any other part of the Moslem world, and yet the battle of Fallujah, the war against Gaza, the 2006 invasion of Lebanon, and the stream of nuclear threats against Iran are not so dissimilar. Somalia is the canary in the mine of Western-Islamic confrontation.

10. At this point, the great Iraqi question is whether or not Washington has learned enough from all the mistakes it has made in the process of torturing that poor country for its own purposes to change direction. Despite the presence on the edge of the electoral stage of Nader and McKinney and Kucinich and Gravel, so far little evidence in the electoral process of such a reassessment is visible. That the U.S. will retain control over Iraqi oil and that the U.S. will without an end date continue to base offensive military forces in Iraq now appear to be considered in Washington decisions so important they must be taken without thought…and certainly without discussion. The U.S. is well down the slippery slope of imperial overstretch.

11. It is clear that Moslem societies face numerous crises, but still uncertain is the degree to which a single unified, not to say coordinated, Islamic political fault line runs through the Islamic world, pitting defenders of the contemporary international political system and Moslem social order in a zero-sum fight to the death against those who wish to replace it with a fundamentally different approach to governance. An Islamic political fault line yearned for by Islamic radicals is, at the very least, in the process of emerging, and seven years of outright war have not halted this process. Radicals have not had the power to force the full emergence of this fissure in the Islamic world; only by tricking the West into employing its far greater energies in a way that would serve the radicals’ purpose could they hope to achieve their goal. Since 9/11, the radicals have made impressive progress, and the events of the past year must give them great satisfaction. Barring a fundamental reorientation of the West toward understanding rather than subjugation, the emergence of an Islamic political fault line seems destined to continue apace: local crises will become more tightly interconnected, more vulnerable to exploitation by outside agitators, and more difficult to solve. Leaders will become more radicalized and moderates more marginalized, undermining the security of all.

In the years since the collapse of the Iron Curtain, the world’s sole remaining superpower has, to put it gently, failed to show the vision one should be able to expect from a leader.

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