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Friday, August 13, 2004

Josh Marshall poses the following questions:

'As the shrewdest thinkers on the left and the right concede on this issue, our true strategic challenges in the Muslim Middle East are not conventional military ones, but hearts-and-minds challenges. The trick is to figure out how we can solve or ameliorate that hearts-and-minds problem while simultaneously destroying the relatively small (in numerical terms) but highly lethal groups that constitute an imminent danger. Or, to put it more crisply, how do we wipe out al Qaida (and al Qaida-like groups) without generating so much bad blood in the Islamic world that the Islamic world keeps producing new al Qaidas faster than we can destroy them?'

'It's not clear to me necessarily what the best way to strike that balance is. But I think this is probably the worst way -- engaging in pitched battles with fighters who pose no direct danger to the US whatsoever in a way that does profound damage to our standing within the population that al Qaida and other similarly-inclined groups hope to do their recruiting.'

I agree that the current U.S. military strategy is the worst way to address the issue of both Iraq and Al-Qaeda. Here are some questions I'd ask before doing anything:

1.) What would someone living in, say, Egypt do to curtail the influence of extremists in their society?

2.) What would someone in Iraq do to curtail the influence and power of someone like Al-Sadr?

3.) What would someone in Afghanistan do to curtail the influence and power of the Taliban, the regional warlords, and Al-Qaeda?

4.) What does the Koran advise on the subject? What do moderate Shiite and Sunni clerics advise?

5.) Within the confines of international laws, how can this advice be applied to resolving the issue?

6.) What is it exactly that these extremist groups want? How does that differ from what moderate Muslims (both Shiite and Sunni) want? How is it similar?

I'll stop there, but it seems to my mind that The U.S. hasn't done anywhere near enough questioning to even begin fighting the "war on terrorism" effectively. The answers to these questions (and many others one could dream up, but I think these touch on most of the important points) will provide a picture of what a solution should look like. I don't pretend to know the answers to these questions, but they're the kind of questions I keep in the back of my mind while I read about these issues. I do think alot more thought needs to go into making a response to Islamic terrorism consistent with the laws of Islam, but with an eye towards the political issues that also affect the situation. I feel there are a myriad of issues involved -- personality, politics, money, religion, culture, etc. -- and that that complex calculus cannot be solved simply by bombing away at a particular threat.

One of my main beefs with contemporary international relations theory is theory. People have all sorts of pet theories to explain how the political world works. The U.S. has often made foreign policy decisions based on simplistic and highly inaccurate assumptions (one of my favorites is that all the Soviet "client" states (such as Cuba) were simply "pawns" of the Soviet Union). I'm seeing the same sort of patterns coming from the Bush white house and various influential "thinkers" of all stripes. It is very troubling that people put so little thought into their basic assumptions. That, incidentally, is the theory I apply to the Bush white house. Not that the Bush administration doesn't think, but that it hasn't done the groundwork necessary to gain a real understanding of terrorism. Until it does, my theory predicts that we'll continue to see bad policy coming from the Bush white house.

Andrew 6:28 PM : |


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