Friday, August 28, 2009

Trapping American in a Muslim Quagmire

What follows are just some thoughts, designed to provoke more thoughts, about the state of what one might call the Western crusade against Islam. Is it? And who is winning? And, should the West think about other methods, or even other goals?

Despite the change in administrations, Washington continues to fight a war against, if not Islam, then at least the specter of anti-American Islamists, and perhaps against Muslim reformers. Lots of questions follow. For one, is American behavior (aiding Muslim dictatorships, allowing Israel to oppress Palestinians and dominate the region militarily, and using the military as the key weapon against a networked opponent) making the situation worse?

According to Harvard terrorism specialist Jessica Stern:

Bin Laden has described his goal as bringing America into conflict with Muslims along "a large-scale front" which it cannot contain and al Qaeda strategists report that they want to expand what they call the "jihadist current," eroding American power and prestige and separating the United States from its allies.

If that’s the enemy’s goal, it is doing quite well. The U.S. still has a monstrous 300,000-man force in Iraq (half mercenaries more-or-less outside the law, half uniformed soldiers under the legal authority of Congress) and another 120,000 (more than half mercenaries) in Afghanistan (according to the Pentagon).

Afghanistan is clearly the hotspot of the moment, so how are we doing over there, nine years into the war? According to CSIS analyst Anthony Cordesman, who may or may not draw reliable policy conclusions but is the man to go to for the basic analysis of current military realities:

Over the last seven years we have had almost no coherence in our strategy, in our civil-military planning. It took us more than half a decade to begin to seriously resource the war. Most of the aid money has gone outside the country and wasted, or been corrupt. We found ourselves only seriously beginning to create Afghan forces, in terms of actual flows of money, in 2006. Our troop levels have never approached the troop levels we’ve had inside Iraq....We have not provided any transparent or honest reporting on the growth of threat. The closest we have are metrics which came out in a Department of Defense report issued in July, that does not show the expansion of the threat area anywhere in the document. And up till January we were still reporting as if there are only 13 out of 364 districts threatened by the enemy. That was flatly dishonest. It did not reflect any of the maps which showed the penetration of threat influence.

Admiral Mullen recently had some further choice words.

Iraq remains a mess of feuding tough guys. Somalia is a disaster. Palestinians remain in their concentration camp; Washington did not even have the grace to thank Hamas for rooting out an al Qua’ida cell! And Pakistan? Why do I get the impression that the disarray in the Taliban is being taken by Islamabad as an opportunity to sit back and relax?

Then there’s that new front in Yemen…(well, I seem to recall something going on there with Nasser, so not really new). Anyway, the point is that Side A feels mistreated by Side B and, guess what? Washington thinks force is the answer! It’s not being applied by the U.S. or even Ethiopia (as in Somalia) but, this time, by the feared forces of Saudi Arabia.

Meanwhile, Iran has made three moves that could be taken as conciliatory gestures on the nuclear front in the last week (not counting the effort by one official to invite talks that his masters promptly squelched), and the IAEA has just issued a report that seems at first glance quite positive. Is anyone going to take advantage of this opportunity to try to break some ice? Well, no, Netanyahu is on a diplomatic crusade in Europe to freeze the Western stance into a solid glacial front, and the great leaders of the Western world are tripping over themselves to line up behind him, with Obama positively on his knees.

Hastening to open his mouth without doing his homework,

“Based on what we have seen in press reports … it seems clear that Iran continues to not cooperate fully and continues its enrichment activities,” US State Department spokesperson Ian Kelly said, according to Reuters.

Perhaps the State Department spokesperson should read press reports from sources not approved by Israel or even read the IAEA report itself before making public comments. But I do understand. I have read the IAEA report and must confess that, yes, the evidence does confuse the issue. So perhaps the department spokesperson was wise to reach his conclusions without bothering to take the evidence into account.

Be that as it may, based on the evidence considered here (and I did not even mention the brutal tactics of U.S. soldiers that result in a steady stream of innocent deaths or the radicalization of Sunni Lebanon or the convenient pretense that Russian injustice toward Moslems of the Caucasus does not exist, just to cite three further examples), it does appear that bin Laden is moving smartly toward his goal of “bringing America into conflict with Muslims along ‘a large-scale front’ which it cannot contain.”

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