Thursday, June 16, 2005

Ideological Strategic Update

Charles Bird, at ObWi, cuts n'pastes an unwonted strategic analysis of internal ideological struggles within the Muslim world. Quoting from Christopher's Henzel's "The Origins of Al-Qaeda's Ideology: Implications for US Strategy" from Parameters (the Army's War College magazine), Bird highlights the US's role as rhetorical useful outsider:
Zawahiri argues that because the terrain in the key Arab countries is not suitable for guerilla war, Islamists need to conduct political action among the masses, combined with an urban terrorist campaign against the secular regimes, supplemented with attacks on “the external enemy”—i.e., the United States and Israel—as a means of propaganda that will strengthen the jihad’s popular support. Zawahiri wants his Salafist readers to keep in mind that the Arab establishments are the real targets, even if “confining the battle to the domestic enemy . . . will not be feasible in this stage of the battle.” Highly visible attacks against external enemies, and the inevitable retaliation, Zawahiri explains, will rally ordinary Muslims to the radicals’ cause, strengthening the main struggle, the one against the current regimes of the Muslim world.

According to these authors, US strategy should
exploit its ties to the existing regimes of the Sunni world in order to combat jointly the revolutionary Salafists. The US struggle against al Qaeda and similar groups will be chiefly a matter of intelligence and police work, with perhaps a role for special forces working with local partners in ungoverned areas. Only the existing Muslim regimes, in coordination with American investigators and spies, can defeat the cells of al Qaeda and similar groups moving among the Sunni world’s masses. The United States needs to support and to engage with these undemocratic regimes even more closely if US security services are to be granted the liaison relationships with local authorities that are essential to the real war against terrorism. Washington should set aside, for now, its ambitions for democratic revolution in the region, at least until the Salafist revolution is contained.
Despite the fact that this article was written in Spring 2005, the author doesn't seem to acknowledge the degree to which public diplomacy, at least, has embraced democratic revolution--and not just diplomacy aimed at the Mideast, but political symbolism aimed at true-believing Bush-supporters.

The fascinating part of CB's post is the tension between the the US's role as outsider symbol and as agent for reform in this debate. As an outsider, we want stability: we want to be able to negotiate trade agreements and to avoid the internal conflicts from spilling over into attacks on us here. This tack looks basically like more of the same from the last century: propping up basically corrupt regimes, while attempting to aide reformers within the existing power structures. Once we tip over into agents for reform, we run the risk of legitimizing as a vanguard the Salafists (or other radical parties) for those moderate-tending-nationalist elements within the population.

I don't believe that the ME will never modernize, will never experience an Age of Reason, but I do think that such processes take a ridiculous amount of time and a certain degree of stability. I also tend to think that occupation by a foreign power is one of the less promising venues towards the kind of slow internal reform that as outsiders to this process we're hoping for. But this is perhaps where I'm baring my Jacobin roots: I presume that most people want to be rational and self-determined citizens, or that over time, they will want to be. I even tend to agree, temperamentally, with CB's hope that freedom is on the march--but I disagree about its pace.

This is why I think that the contradiction between dealing, as we seemingly must, with corrupt regimes while holding out a promise of republican values is a particularly dangerous line to walk. It's dangerous to our troops who are conveniently located within a local radius of resentment, and it's dangerous for our domestic politics, which have become increasingly schizophrenic--and on both sides of the aisle.

Probably all important states that consider themselves moral entities as well as political (and economic) entities run into this problem. (One of my roommates recently wrote an article about James I's limited engagement to the Great Protestant Cause, when push came to shove.) It seems to me that one of the particular dangers we're facing right now is that few--within the US or out of it--trust the current administration. This is not the doing of domestic opponents; it's the result of a unsettlingly dishonest push to war. The effect of this general mistrust is the almost-automatic downgrading of any idealistic pronouncement from administrative sources.

The US chose to act, but the way it chose to act and the people who chose to act have changed the nature of the action. We're now there in the Mid-East as occupier--and we're dirty with hypocrisy, corruption, profit, and overwhelming firepower. We don't have open to us the hands-off rhetoric that Henzel advocates, nor can we credibly advance a morally consistent engagement.

Since CB likes responses to his posts to have practical suggestions, here's mine. Let's launch a big, ugly national reconsidering--investigations, Senate resolutions, public uproar and outcry. Perhaps it would give a temporary solace to the extremist elements of the Muslim underground, but I think it would give some real comfort to the moderate elements of the Mideast population who are currently wondering what the hell we think we're doing. Guantamano makes everyone paranoid, the drumbeat of self-justification makes everyone uncomfortable, the enforcement of the hypocratic foreign-policy line (above) forces cognitive dissonance on everyone. Let's force all of this into the open. That's what democracies do, after all.

Direct TV access into the sausage plant! Let's go!


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