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At the Risk of Being a Traitor or a Fool...
by Lawrence Bush
AMID NEWS REPORTS yesterday morning about the spread of terrorist attacks and police sieges in Paris, I heard that Dunkin’ Donuts is soon to open 1,400 stores in China and more than 100 in Mexico. I immediately flashed on ISIS’s blitzkrieg in Syria and Iraq, drew some jejune analogy in my mind between the harm done by Dunkin’ Donuts and by ISIS (endless plastic and paper litter, heart-attack food around the globe, and seriously exploited workers on the one hand, and conquest, repression, enslavement, rape, and beheadings on the other). I then scolded myself for even having such antique, “anti-imperialist” thoughts...
But as the weekend wore on, the analogy became a wee bit less ridiculous.
I was struggling to feel just a shred of empathy or understanding for radical Islamists who are terrorizing the world with their repugnant, heartless actions. The alternative to that struggle is simply to rage, “Let’s kill them, they’re inhuman beasts” — yet I do not believe for a second that military action will cure this problem. It hasn’t after thirteen years in Afghanistan. Or in Iraq. Or in Syria. Or in Yemen. Certainly not in Paris. The United States and its allies have been trying to eliminate, contain, convert, deter Islamic terrorism through a few trillion dollars’ worth of warfare since 2002. It has not solved the basic problem of young, ideological Muslims feeling righteous about blowing people up.
If the way to success is not to try to kill them all, however, what is the alternative? Talk with them? Negotiate? Shades of Neville Chamberlain!
But is it not, fact, weird that there have never been negotiations (that we know about) between Islamic radical leaders and Western leaders? Is it not weird to kill and maim hundreds of thousands of people, including thousands of young Americans, without first sitting down to hear each other out? Had we sat down with the Taliban in Afghanistan in 2001 and said, “Look, you are harboring our enemy, Al Qaeda. Surrender them to us and deny them further sanctuary and we will leave you alone” — mightn’t that have been a lot more merciful, sane, and effective than warring with the Taliban for thirteen years and then withdrawing?
Yes, the Taliban are awful. Yes, they are horrible to women. Yes, they blew up those great Buddhas. So what? The Taliban and their ilk are the Catholic Church of the Crusades and Inquisition eras. They are the Maccabees of the 2nd century BCE, slaying Hellenist Jews and forcibly converting the Idumeans and other conquered peoples. They are not, in other words, unique. The human race is simply living in several different centuries across the globe. And the United States will never be able to military control all that geography and that time warp.
SO I GOOGLED, “What does Al Qaeda want?” — and got the following answers from Western sources. They are Western sources because, frankly, I’m nervous about trying to dig around at Islamic fundamentalist sites. I don’t want their attention, nor the attention of the NSA. I’ve been successfully terrorized, on both ends.
Writes Jason Burke (author of Al-Qaeda: Casting a Shadow of Terror) in The Guardian, way back in 2004: The perception of the Islamic extremists is that
a belligerent West is set on the humiliation, division and eventual conquest of the Islamic world... The militants believe they are fighting a last-ditch battle for the survival of their society, culture, religion and way of life. They are fighting in self-defense and understand, as we in the West also believe, that self-defense can justify using tactics that might be frowned on in other circumstances.... In addition, an explanation for the parlous state of the Middle East must be found. If Islam is the perfect social system, the militants’ logic runs, then something else must be to blame for the second-rate status, economically, militarily, politically, of their lands. They blame the West -- and the failure of most Muslims to practice their religion with sufficient discipline and devotion.
Writes Mary Habeck in Foreign Policy (2012), quoting CIA director John Brennan: Al Qaeda has
four separate objectives: first, to terrorize the U.S. into retreating from the world stage; second, to use long wars to financially bleed the U.S. while inflaming anti-American sentiment; third, to defend the rights of Muslims; and finally... [a] ‘feckless delusion’ and ‘grandiose vision’ for global domination through a ‘violent Islamic caliphate.’
Writes Raymond Ibrahim in The Middle East Forum (2005): Al-Qaeda’s
litany [of grievances] always includes: [America’s] unqualified support for the Israeli occupation of Palestine, the Western occupation of Afghanistan and Iraq, the deaths of one million Iraqi children due to sanctions, U.S. support for dictatorial regimes in the Muslim world, and so forth. Every message sent to the West by al-Qaeda always includes these core grievances... to demonstrate to the world that, by retaliating, al-Qaeda is merely trying to defend Muslims from unjust persecution; and to show the world exactly what injustices and humiliations the Muslim world suffers. On the one hand, they are meant to vindicate retaliation, on the other, weaken Western resolve.
Writes Doug Bandow of the Cato Institute at Huffington Post (2010):
Nearly three decades ago President Ronald Reagan inserted U.S. forces into a multi-sided civil war in Lebanon to aid the minority Christian government which controlled little more than the capital of Beirut. Once Washington joined the conflict, the U.S. embassy and Marine Corps barracks became natural targets... In 1996 United Nations Ambassador Madeleine Albright was asked to justify sanctions against Iraq which, the questioner charged, had killed a half million children. Ambassador Albright did not contest the claim. Instead, she responded chillingly: ‘we think the price is worth it.’ Muslims did not view as beautiful the assertion that Washington had the unilateral right to kill hundreds of thousands of Muslim children for its own purposes.
Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, one of the architects of the Iraq war, said of America’s presence in Saudi Arabia: ‘It’s been a huge recruiting device for al-Qaeda. In fact if you look at bin Laden, one of his principal grievances was the presence of so-called crusader forces on the holy land, Mecca and Medina.’... U.S. military operations in Afghanistan and Pakistan appear to be having a similar effect. Before being relieved as Afghanistan commander, Gen. Stanley McChrystal admitted: ‘We’ve shot an amazing number of people [at checkpoints] and killed a number and, to my knowledge, none has proven to have been a real threat to the force.’
On about a quarter of the websites I perused to understand radical Islam, by the way, there were photographs of women in bikinis, there to try to get me click through to titillating news reports and stupid advertisements. Such images are the Western cultural alternative, judging from the Internet, to the Muslim suppression of women. Ah, democracy!
THE COMMENTATORS ABOVE ARE NOT people of the left. As far as I can tell, they all (perhaps not Bandow) support U.S. military action and covert action against Al Qaeda. Yet implicit in their analyses is the fact that the United States, in its Mideast meddling, its war-making, its vastly profitable arms sales, its “globalization” of economies, and its naked-women-and-donuts culture, has some responsibility to bear for the surge of Islamic fundamentalism. We have killed tens of thousands of Arab Muslims in the course of “avenging” 9-11. We have imprisoned and tortured God-knows how many others. We have vaguely, rhetorically supported the Arab Spring, and then thrown billions of dollars in aid back into reestablished dictatorships — after invading Iraq and displacing hundreds of thousands in the name of overthrowing a dictatorship. And we have justified all of this — on those rare occasions when we even feel behooved to justify ourselves — in the name of destroying Al Qaeda.
Why are we doing this in the Middle East? Why is it our prerogative to have aircraft carriers in the Persian Gulf, to sustain an incredibly conservative and misogynistic monarchy in Saudi Arabia and an incredibly corrupt government in Afghanistan? How are the values of “freedom” that we’re allegedly exporting to such countries reflected in the daily lives of people?
And why isn’t it Saudi Arabia’s job to confront ISIS? Or Iran’s? Or Russia’s? Or China’s? For heaven’s sake, we don’t even NEED Middle Eastern oil any more, so why is the United States still playing the post-colonial cop role?
Even if one very naively buys into the values-based, humanitarian arguments for U.S. interventions — and certainly, ISIS’s barbarism has given a boost to America’s reputation for being civilized — the need for humanitarian interventions in the world mandates a higher level of international governance, rather than superpower domination. Yet the U.S. has refused to join the World Court. The U.S. has yet to renounce the Rumsfeld Doctrine of preventative war, aimed explicitly at maintaining U.S. supremacy. The U.S. adores economic globalization but despises political globalization. We seek a Pax Americana, not a peaceful collectivity that takes into consideration legitimate regional, cultural, religious, and values-based differences and interests. Under such circumstances, the morality of humanitarian interventions seems itself suspect — and will consistently breed a terroristic resistance.
ACKNOWLEDGING THE HUMANITY of the terrorists and elements of legitimacy in their grievances does not mean condoning them or surrendering to them. But it might mean more than bombing them.
What should be done about these barbarians? At the risk of appearing a fool — I’d be in good company when it comes to U.S. Mideast policy — let me float six actions:
First, Israel should be sharply pressured by its American ally, in our last act of hubristic domination, to permit the establishment of a Palestinian state on the West Bank. There is simply no security excuse for Netanyahu’s stonewalling. Israel, as a Jewish-majority state, will forever be an excuse for Arab and Muslim resentment — but the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian people for 47 years legitimates that resentment, compromises Israel’s integrity as a legitimately created modern state, and compromises American and European national security.
Second, Saudi Arabia should be renounced, denied armaments, denied American solidarity, if it does not begin to reform its terribly conservative, autocratic, punitive, and woman-suppressing system. The U.S. must be consistent in its human rights policy or its image of itself as idealistic, freedom-loving, and selfless in its interventions cannot be taken seriously. Withdrawal of support is not the same as military intervention; it is a legitimate action for any nation-state to undertake in order to influence other nations.
Third, the U.S. should offer economic and technical assistance to any Arab countries that want to participate in containing ISIS by building a security wall across Iraq. The contested region of northern Iraq is about 400 miles across. That’s about the length of Israel’s planned security wall (currently about 100 miles long). in 2009, U.S. Customs reported having 580 miles of fencing in place along the Rio Grande. Surely building a security wall across Iraq would be less costly and less disastrous than bombing, arming “moderate” militants, and all the other military efforts that are being planned. And think of all the jobs it could entail for Syrian refugees!
Fourth, the United States should announce its withdrawal not only from Afghanistan and Iraq, but from the entire Middle East, by the year 2018. We can make mutual aid treaties with Arab allies, if necessary, that ensure that we will rush to their defense in the event of invasion or coup — and then we should retreat to North America, and rebuild our country.
Fifth, we should tighten up immigration from all Muslim lands that suffer from radical fundamentalist movements, with apologies for the necessity of religious profiling, and very carefully vet people who want to enter the country. Terrorism should be treated as a policing challenge, and the policing should be energetic.
Finally, we should offer asylum to all women and children who want to flee the sexism and slavery conditions of their Muslim homelands, and give them ample assistance — our peace dividend — for resettling in the countries of their choice. Asylum instead of war — that’s what a civilized country offers.
Lawrence Bush is editor of Jewish Currents and Jewdayo. Until a few years ago, he knew nothing about the conflict between Sunni and Shia Islam. Neither did George W. Bush when he took America to war in Iraq.