Tug of wars

During the last two weeks, this column has outlined the shortcomings of the war on terror. Critical positions are easy, but offering viable remedies is a practice observed too rarely in Washington. This being the third and final part of the series, your correspondents will focus on what is to be done. On Jan. 20, President-elect Barack Obama will enter the White House with a global approval rating that is higher than perhaps any U.S. president before him. The Arab world, to speak in rudimentary terms, has hesitantly accepted his election as AmericaâÄôs recognition of their failed foreign policy. This has given Obama a foreign policy option that President George W. Bush never could have taken âÄî disengagement without hypocrisy. On Nov. 6, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad sent Obama a letter to congratulate him on his victory. Taking the tone of an enlightened despot, Ahmadinejad outlined his hopes under an Obama presidency. As one might suspect, the intent of the letter could really be whittled down to one sentence: âÄúThey want the American government to keep its interventions within its own country’s borders.âÄù The dichotomy between American and Iranian influence in the Middle East illustrates the foundational causes of the war on terror âÄî the war for Muslim minds. The notion that Iraq will turn into a Jeffersonian democracy on the Tigris is far outside the mindset of any rational political analyst. Whether Obama supported the war in Iraq, he has a humanitarian, if not moral, obligation to disengage responsibly. The Bush administration was right in suggesting the key to stability was obtaining the support of Muslim moderates. How his administration went about achieving this, however, was completely upside-down. In order of importance, Obama can start to garner support of the Arab world in the following ways: 1) reduce civilian casualties. This can start to be achieved by an increase in human intelligence (as modeled in Iraq) and ground forces. This does not mean a second surge. Keep in mind that when the United States increased ground forces by 30,000 troops, the Iraqi Security Forces increased by 160,000 troops in the same year. 2) Eliminate terrorist cells that are irreconcilable and pose a present threat to U.S. national security who seek haven in our present war zones. This list is far smaller than the State DepartmentâÄôs list of 42 foreign terrorist groups as mentioned in the first column. The transition since 2006 in Iraq has largely been attributed to Gen. David PetraeusâÄô recognition that 80 percent of the insurgency in Iraq was reconcilable. The Sons of Iraq are now 100,000 soldiers on our side, which was once largely composed of our enemies. Lastly, (3) become a silent partner to Muslim moderates. Overbearingly âÄúreaching outâÄù to Muslim moderates will only further alienate them from their fundamentalist neighbors. If Muslim moderates are to sustain a legitimate voice in the Arab world, they must illustrate they can do so on their own. In the war on terror, a âÄúless is moreâÄù strategy will prove most effective. In response to the 2006 election of Hamas in the Gaza Strip, the United States and Israel combined to form an iron wall against the advancement of the party. Funding to Palestine was cut, and prospects for peace in the region seem as low as they were during the First Intifada. When The United States stepped out, Iran stepped in. Funding to Hamas increased to an estimated $250 million per annum from the Iranian government. In spite of this, calculating whether the Arabian Peninsula turns theocratic or democratic (although the latter might be preferred) should not be the immediate concern of U.S. foreign policy. What is in the interest of the United States is that the region is stable, and views us as their ally. There will always be dissenters, al-Qaida or otherwise. What the Salafist brand of terrorism has made very clear, is that an ideology cannot be defeated militarily. Instead, the United States must continue to work to prosecute terrorist action as a crime and contain it via police forces. The military is simply too blunt of an instrument once reasonable stability is achieved. America and the West realized and have sustained a liberal democratic tradition after two world wars and countless revolutions. It would be naïve to suggest the developing world could adopt and defend our views in a decade. The maturing of the Middle East will no doubt be long. If the United States is to stay true to our democratic tradition, it is crucial our policies respect the sovereignty and identities of our hopeful allies. It is simply not enough for the West to say that most Muslims are not terrorists. We instead must take for view that most Arab moderates already have âÄî terrorists are not truly Muslims. If the United States wants to influence the Arab world, we must convey that our interests are mutually beneficial. Nearly every Islamist party that has risen to a position of power has done so on a platform of non-corruption and an increase in stability and welfare spending. When U.S. and coalition forces invaded Iraq in 2003, it decimated the infrastructure and communities of that country. An estimated 150,000 (realizing some estimates put this number far higher) Iraqi civilians were killed and over a million have been displaced. Needless to say, this was a colossal step backward in the war for Muslim minds. Those at St. JamesâÄô Street welcome comments at [email protected].