Leave the Muslim world alone
Bush's moralistic Middle East crusade has backfired, creating more enemies than it destroys. It's time for a tactical retreat.
By Gary Kamiya
Salon.com - Breaking news, opinion, politics, entertainment, sports and culture.
July 17, 2007 | It is long past time for America to grasp that Bush's decision to pound the Muslim world into submission -- not just in Iraq, but in Lebanon and in Palestine -- is not the solution, it is the problem. We have turned an entire region, and the adherents of one of the three largest religions in the world, against America and everything that it represents, including democracy. As if in a nightmare, our actions have multiplied the demons of apocalyptic religious terrorism they were intended to destroy.
By green-lighting Israel's war against Lebanon and trying to suffocate Hamas, Bush has succeeded in deepening Muslim hatred of the U.S., without achieving any results on the ground. By invading and occupying a country in the heart of the Arab/Muslim world, the U.S. gave Osama bin Laden and his fellow jihadists a greater gift than they could ever have dreamed of. Invading Iraq to defeat jihadist terrorism was like pouring a can of gasoline on a fire. Now that the fire is raging out of control, continuing to fight it is simply pouring more gasoline on it.
Jihadists need their American boogeyman as much as Bush needs his Islamist boogeyman. By fighting them in the wrong way and on the wrong terrain, we have inadvertently allowed them to claim the heroic mantle of nationalism and anti-Americanism. When the U.S. occupiers leave, Osama bin Laden and his ilk will groan in despair.
At this point, the smartest thing we could do would be to leave the jihadists alone and let their neighbors deal with them. Better still, send them birthday cards.
According to military sources cited by the New York Times, every month 60 to 80 foreign fighters enter Iraq to fight for al-Qaida in Mesopotamia. These men, who represent a fraction of the insurgents in Iraq, are the ultimate bad guys, the true believers who would gladly blow up anything American if they could. Yet even these ardent jihadis are not, contrary to neocon claims, an eternal fact of life in the "pathological" Arab world. They are drawn by the presence of U.S. occupiers on Arab soil. Remove the occupiers and their numbers will drop. If Iraq breaks apart after the U.S. departs and descends into a hell of sectarian violence, the brutal logic of numbers will prevail. The jihadists are all Sunnis, and Iraq is going to be a Shiite-dominated country. The Shiites can deal with al-Qaida in Mesopotamia far more efficiently than we can.
A good general recognizes when the conditions are not favorable for a battle -- and this is one war that we simply can't win. But in the long run, a U.S. defeat in the Middle East will be a victory.
For Bush and the neocons, such an acknowledgment of obvious reality is tantamount to treason. Their mantra is "we must take the fight to the jihadists over there so we don't have to fight them over here." In a July 12 press conference in which he discussed interim Iraq benchmarks, Bush repeated this theme: "As president, my most solemn responsibility is to keep the American people safe. So on my orders, good men and women are now fighting the terrorists on the front lines in Iraq."
Yet it is precisely because we are fighting Arabs and Muslims "over there" that the American people are less safe. That is a conclusion reached not by leftist appeasers but by Bush's own intelligence agencies. Almost six years into his war on terror, al-Qaida is as strong now as it was just before the 9/11 attacks, according to a U.S. intelligence threat assessment.
This finding should come as no surprise. It echoes what American intelligence has been saying for the last year. The last National Intelligence Estimate, which came out in 2006, concluded that the Iraq war had greatly strengthened jihadists around the world. The latest NIE, of which the "threat assessment" forms a part, is not out yet, but it will no doubt reach the same conclusion.
After 9/11, it was understandable that Americans wanted to lash out at the enemy that had wounded us so grievously. But foreign policy should not be driven by raw emotion. The painful truth is that using American troops, or Israeli proxies, to fight Muslim radicalism is a self-defeating proposition. In effect, Bush challenged the entire Arab-Muslim world to fight a guerrilla war against us. As any student of military history knows, this was a really bad idea. If you have a choice, you don't want to fight a guerrilla war on the enemy's turf, and you definitely don't want to fight a guerrilla war against people who are willing to kill themselves.
To borrow a concept from the realist school of great-power politics, the Muslim world is outside of our sphere of influence, at least military influence. We are simply too despised there, our goals too dubious, our allies too problematic and our methods too destructive. It is not possible to surgically separate the jihadists, who are our real enemy, from the nationalists and anti-Americans, who make up the bulk of the region's population. Most Arabs and Muslims despise the jihadists. But by attacking the Muslim world, we have turned them into anti-American heroes.
What holds true for jihadists is doubly true for complex militant organizations like Hezbollah and Hamas. Most of the world's Muslims see these groups, which Bush and his neocon brain trust lumps in with al-Qaida, as legitimate national liberation or resistance movements, and are enraged that the U.S. has tried to starve or bomb them into submission. American support for Israel's war on Lebanon last summer greatly weakened our already abysmal standing in the region, and strengthened al-Qaida and its ilk.