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Archive for September, 2004

[Originally published in the Valley News.]

During this year’s presidential campaign, President Bush and his supporters constantly tell us that this country needs his leadership to successfully fight the War on Terrorism. We are now three years past 9/11 and can ask the question: How successful has that war been to date?

Al-Qaida’s major goals are to humble and destroy the Western world, beginning with its leader, the United States. The motivation for this is fairly straightforward: Al-Qaida members resent the stationing of U.S. troops on the holy ground of Saudi Arabia; they hate American policy for what they see to be its rigidly biased support of Israel over Palestine; they want to bring an end to American and Western support of the repressive regimes that rule and exploit Arabs and other Muslims; and they want to put the control of the politics and natural resources of the Muslim world in the hands of its people and in accordance with the dictates of Muslim law.

Certainly, one of the best ways for al-Qaida to accomplish some or all of those goals is to start and then perpetuate a holy war between Muslims and the West. However, for al-Qaida to be successful, the West, and particularly America, would have to respond in the right way: We would have to be inadvertently complicit with al-Qaida.

Al-Qaida has pushed the notion that Arabs hate American values. The Bush administration, curiously enough, has sporadically pushed the same line. But a May 2004 poll conducted for the Arab American Institute by Zogby International, an organization that conducts polls in the Arab world, shows the opposite. It found that, despite their dislike of U.S. foreign policy, many Arabs still admire American values, culture and products.  Arabs don’t hate America, they hate our current policies.

Since 9/11, we have (quite justifiably) invaded Afghanistan. For less cogent reasons, we then invaded Iraq and in doing so, disrupted our own efforts against al-Qaida in Afghanistan and Pakistan. In Iraq, we found no weapons of mass destruction and no relationship between Iraq and al-Qaida or 9/11. We did, however depose Saddam Hussein, a goal shared by al-Qaida, which would like to depose all secular Arab leaders.

In the process of conducting this war and in its aftermath, we have been unable to restore any order to Iraq. That chaos has strengthened Arab hatred of and armed resistance to our policy. Our laissez-faire approach toward the hostility in Fallujah and, to a lesser extent, Sadr City has recreated conditions that existed under Taliban-controlled Afghanistan, where foreign fighters are sufficiently safe to train angry, disenfranchised Iraqi youth for insurgent operations against U.S. troops. If we are lucky in post-invasion Iraq, the inherent chaos there will lead to some sort of stability, probably through a theocracy like the Taliban – a situation that will likely favor Islamic extremists. If we are unlucky, we will see continued ethnic, confessional and political chaos.

The balance of outcomes since 9/11 would seem to favor al-Qaida. We have severely reduced our pursuit of terrorists in Afghanistan. In our effectively unilateral invasion of Iraq, we have completely disrupted our traditional alliances and alienated our important allies, relationships that will become increasingly critical in the coming struggle with terrorism. With the exception of a reluctant Britain, our major allies in Europe are gone, to be replaced by the “coalition of the willing” of former Soviet-dominated European, lesser European and Third World countries, and alliance of the unimportant. Through our invasion of Iraq, we have probably enhanced al-Qaida recruitment. We have deposed one of the secular Arab rulers they hate. We have effectively increased Arab and Muslim hatred of our policies. In their optimistic moments, al-Qaida could even say we are helping out by slowly creating the basis of a new holy war.

Finally, we have weakened ourselves by creating record national debt and sharply dividing our country through the implementation of a radical foreign policy that so far seems to be unsuccessful and has only increased our problems with radical terrorism..

The one thing that could mitigate all these disasters would be the emergence of a democratic, free-market Iraq. Iraq has never known democracy and is deeply divided religiously and ethnically. The country is physically large and has lived for the past 30 years under a dictatorial form of state socialism – hardly a blueprint for a successful transition to a republic. Besides that, Muslims think the Koran provides a perfectly good model for governance (which by our standards is hardly democratic). We might better have concerned ourselves with those tangible institutions of government and commerce that can ultimately lead to democracy. Democracy, unlike carpets, is not something to simply be installed.

We need to fight terrorism, but not this way.  The invasion of Iraq had nothing to do with radical Muslim terrorism.  We have implacable enemies who have done and are doing us tangible harm and who are planning more.  They are probably lurking in Afghanistan and Pakistan and we need to eliminate them, yet we have given them a bye.  We need to reestablish and strengthen our traditional alliances.

By any truly objective standard and despite all the campaign rhetoric, it does not appear that we are even leading in, let alone winning, this “War on Terrorism”.

Haviland Smith is a retired CIA station chief who served in Beirut and Tehran and as chief of the counterterrorism staff. He lives in Williston, Vt.

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