October 31, 2004

The Struggle of Ideas – Armed Liberal

The Winds of Change site is having technical difficulties and Marc Danziger (aka Armed Liberal) wrote something he wants to make sure gets out into the world before the election. I've agreed to let him guest blog it here.

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Richard Clarke and the other experts in Middle East policy have set out an excellent case - for not letting their expertise guide our Middle East policy.

Their new work is sponsored by the Century Foundation, and is called 'Defeating the Jihadists: A Blueprint for Action'. Let's take a look.

The international jihadist network of radical Islamic terrorist groups is far more extensive than just al Qaeda, and it has conducted twice as many attacks in the three years since September 11, 2001 as it did in the three years prior to that date. Defeating the Jihadists: A Blueprint for Action (Century Foundation Press, 2004), assesses the nation's successes and failures on homeland security and calls for a stronger, more effective strategy for dealing with jihadists, including al Qaeda. The forthcoming report offers a detailed action plan for neutralizing the international movement at the core of worldwide terrorism. The report also describes the nature of the jihadist threat; provides comprehensive profiles of the various jihadist groups; and offers a rationale for the effort and money that would be needed to make the plan a success. The plan presented in the report builds on the recommendations of the 9/11 Commission and serves as a road map for winning the war against the jihadists.

The report's authors are Richard A. Clarke, Glenn P. Aga, Roger W. Cressey, Stephen E. Flynn, Blake W. Mobley, Eric Rosenbach, Steven Simon, William F. Wechsler, and Lee S. Wolosky—all experts on various aspects of national security, intelligence, counterterrorism, military operations.

They divide the problem into segments:

1. Focus on Winning the Struggle of Ideas.

2. Invest in Education and Development in Islamic Nations.

3. Implement Tailored Strategies for Key Countries.

4. Defuse Sources of Islamic Hatred for the United States.

5. Improve U.S. Intelligence and Law Enforcement Organization.

6. Reinvigorate Efforts to Combat Terrorist Financing.

7. Bolster Special Forces and Improve Their Coordination with Intelligence Community.

8. Accelerate Security Investments for Ports, Trains, and Chemical Plants.

9. Strengthen and Improve Oversight of Nuclear Terrorism Prevention Efforts.

10. Improve U.S. Energy Security by Reducing Reliance on Middle East Oil.

Looking at their point, one by one, we begin to see a very different strategy than the one pursued by President Bush, and one that is likely to be close to the center of what a Kerry Administration might do.

I don't have time to go through these point by point, but let's touch on the areas where I have significant problems.

They open with "Winning the Struggle of Ideas."

I've said for quite a while that we will ultimately win this war when we win the battle of ideas. Their idea of how to do it and mine are quite different, though. The summary of their proposal looks like this:

The U.S. must erode support for the jihadists in the Islamic world through what the 9/11 Commission called the "struggle of ideas," but we cannot do it alone. Traditional propaganda mechanisms...international broadcasting, for example...are a small part of the solution. U.S. activities in Iraq, as portrayed by the Islamic news media, make it difficult for the United States government to successfully promote its values and ideas among the world’s Muslims. The messenger is as important as the message...and right now any message delivered from the United States is greeted with suspicion in the Islamic world.

Therefore, other countries, respected non-governmental organizations, and individual Islamic leaders must take the lead in appealing to Muslims to denounce intolerance and terrorist violence committed in the name of Islam. These efforts need to celebrate our common values in order to overcome misunderstandings and neutralize terrorist propaganda. The role of the U.S. government should be to stimulate these groups and then wait backstage.

As part of this struggle of ideas, the United States and Europe must demonstrably welcome Islam as a part of their cultures. On this front, the European Union should have two priorities: fighting anti-Islamic discrimination in its member countries and initiating discussions on Turkey’s accession to the European Union.

Their argument is simple: the US government can't fund or otherwise encourage radio or televison networks that will have any significant impact on public opinion, because being associated with the U.S. is deadly. So let's go their own detailed discussion of the impact of U.S.-funded media. Talking about al-Iraqiya, Al-Hurra, and Radio Sawa, they say:
...all three of these outlets have quickly achieved significant market share and at least a modicum of credibility among their listeners and viewers (see Figures 5.1 and 5.2, page 96). Polling data show that 74 percent of Iraqis watch al-Iraqiya on at least a weekly basis and 21 percent of those consider it “objective.”9 Al-Hurra, though not boasting ratings as high as al-Iraqiya’s, still claims a respectable average adult viewership of 29 percent in a dozen urban areas surveyed in North Africa, the Levant, and the Gulf region. Just over half of its viewers rate its news coverage as “very reliable” or “somewhat reliable.” Finally, Radio Sawa has staked out a weekly following of 38 percent of listeners polled in six Arab countries, including a high of 73 percent in Morocco. Remarkably, four of five listeners feel its news meets the same reliability criteria. Thus, on the basis of both market penetration and trust, these initiatives certainly appear successful at first glance.
While they next explain away these statistics as due to 'novelty' or limited by the limited availability of satellite TV in Iraq, the facts are the facts; with a very limited effort, we've got a substatial amunt of attention from the Arab world - and it's certainly not the case that there will be fewer satellite dishes in Iraq next year than this.

Back to their key point; they say: "Therefore, other countries, respected non-governmental organizations, and individual Islamic leaders must take the lead in appealing to Muslims to denounce intolerance and terrorist violence committed in the name of Islam." How, exactly, is this supposed to happen?

Well, they touch upon it in this section - a big part of the obstacle to mainstream Islamists combating terrorism is the assumed fact that disdain for the West comes about in part because we don't do a good enough job of accepting Islam.

As someone who lives a mile and a half from an Islamic Center, I'm puzzled by this. How, exactly, is the U.S. and Europe not doing a good job of accepting Islam and it's practitioners? And - more important - do they see any concern in setting the bar at we accept them - but they are free to, as they do in Saudi Arabia - freely discriminate?

The real answer - in their case - is in their point #4 - "Defuse Sources of Islamic Hatred for the United States."

They dance heavily in this part of the document; here's the key step (from the summary):

Large majorities of those living in the Middle East and North Africa evaluate U.S. foreign policy as out of step with their own world-view. On no issue is the divide greater than with respect to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Not surprisingly, the Pew Center recently found that 96 percent of Palestinians, 94 percent of Moroccans, 77 percent of Kuwaitis, 99 percent of Jordanians, and 90 percent of Lebanese believe that U.S. policies in the Middle East "favor Israel too much." Given the importance of this issue in the Arab world, there is little doubt that these sentiments fuel much of the animosity felt by Arabs toward the U.S. While our foreign policy should never be dictated by foreign publics, the effect on public opinion of specific policies..remember the importance of the third and fourth concentric circles...should be a consideration in the formulation and implementation of policy. To that end, the United States should not alter its support of Israel, but should seek to revive the Israel-Palestinian Peace Process. The United States should not withdraw from Iraq before indigenous security forces are in place, but should cease U.S. military operations against urban areas, transfer rebuilding activities to Iraqi entities, and reduce U.S. goals in Iraq so that a withdrawal can be achieved at an early date.

(emphasis added)

So, by reformulating our policies to sit better with the Arab publics - publics that have been whipped into rage by a generation of anti-American and anti-Israeli government propaganda - we have a chance of 'defusing' the sources of Arab hatred.

Dwight Eisenhower and Robert Kennedy surely took the feelings of the Southern sheriffs into account when they mobilized Federal resources to combat Jim Crow. But I don't think they are honored today for ultimately bending their policies to make them more palatable to the most intransigent opponents of integration.

Not only do I find the approach offensive and immoral, but I don't believe it will work.

It is my habit to simply believe what people say; and what the Islamist terrorists have said - and what the works at the core of their ideology support - is the notion that this is a war against the modern West for the creation of a totalitarian religious state.

This isn't a view that's somehow historically unique to Islam. The various Christian sects spent a few hundred years trying to bring the world to God through the sword. But they had this largely beaten out of them by the 18th Century - that was one the key events that made the Enlightenment possible.

Read the whole thing.

For me, it solidifies my discomfort with Kerry and his advisers, and further secures my vote for Bush. If this becomes Kerry's policy toward the Middle East, we're in trouble.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at October 31, 2004 10:38 AM
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Winner, The 2008 Weblog Awards, Best Middle East or Africa Blog

Winner, The 2007 Weblog Awards, Best Middle East or Africa Blog

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