January 15, 2004

The (Long) Road Ahead

"Berlin, the city that was the cockpit of the Cold War, now hosts foreign policy conferences in which Moscow is rarely mentioned. Instead, events in Ankara, Tehran, Jerusalem or Baghdad are analyzed, celebrated or deplored in terms of their impact on global stability. Conceptually the Middle East today drives U.S.-European relations as directly as the Soviet threat once did.

But a transatlantic strategic consensus on combating terrorism and other threats arising from the Middle East is yet to be reached. Disagreement on Iraq is only the most urgent and salient point of dispute when it comes to a region that many European governments fear can only get worse and the Bush administration feels must be made better.

This psychological gap is important: Europeans decades ago charged into the developing world with a mixture of bold determination and romanticism that presaged the Bush administration's effort to remake the Middle East. But they bogged down in colonial wars and economic quagmires and can expound at length now on why the "utopian" U.S. effort to implant democracy in Iraq and beyond will meet the same fate.

President Bush and his aides hope to counter both complacency and cynicism with their "Greater Middle East Initiative," a package of political, military and economic programs that the White House will assemble and display at high-level international gatherings." [emphasis added]

Jim Hoagland, writing in the WaPo, and helping to remind us of the mammoth scope of our undertaking in the Middle East by comparing the Berlin meetings to similar conclaves during the Cold War.

If this "Greater Middle East Initiative" is serious and well thought out (I haven't seen a document as such), if it indicates a generational commitment (as some in the Administration have previously indicated), if we de-Rummify some of our more, say, 'spontaneous' communications with our Euro-allies--it might, just might, be possible to forge a common policy alongside Europe towards the Middle East--one on par with the relatively united stance of the Western alliance regarding containment of the Soviet Union.

Here, however, the goals wouldn't be containment of Islamic radicalism. We are not dealing with rational Soviet Politburo actors but apocalpytic terror movements that are decidely irrational. Containment, therefore, is simply not an option. [UPDATE: A readers opines that groups like al-Qaeda are actually very rational. Permit me to be clearer--I meant that, unlike the old U.S.S.R., with all the attendant notions of mutually assured destruction and the like--al-Q are not capable of being rationally deterred. In addition, check out the U.K. intelligence operative quoted in this LRB piece who opines that al-Qaeda is "an irrational force that must be combated, unlike a typical European terrorist organisation, the Baader Meinhof, for example, who always had one eye on their press coverage and popularity ratings."]

Nor is hunkering back into some form of paleo-isolationalism and hoping that the outside world doesn't pay us another nasty visit.

So what are the goals?

They are, in no particular order, peaceful progress towards promoting counter-revolutionary tendencies in Iran; stabilizing Iraq (as a unitary non-theocratic state); admitting Turkey into the E.U. (this would help constrain any potentially nefarious behavior from Ankara), robust counter-proliferation efforts (the goal should be a WMD-free zone a couple decades out, however utopian this may seem now); increased democratization of key governments (not at the barrel of a gun and at a realistic pace) like Saudi Arabia and Egypt; forging a just two-state solution for Israel-Palestine (yes this means most settlements need to be dismantled--as well as portions of the security fence--and that the Palestinians finally need to overhaul their security apparatus and do their damnest to put an end to the scourge of suicide bombings); getting the Israeli-Syrian track resolved; resolution of the Pakistani and Indian divide over Kashmir; increased state-support for moderate madrassas; better monitoring of financial flows to dubious charities serving as fronts for terror outfits; continued eradication of groups like al-Qaeda and staunch opposition to all radical jihadist groups and, finally, well thought out initiatives on preserving/distributing scarce water resources, fostering economic development and related issues.

Yeah, it's not a project that gets resolved in a couple election cycles folks. But these are the types of policy goals that need to be accomplished over the next 20 or 30 years if we want to vastly reduce the prospects of terror attacks (of course, you can never fully eliminate terror, which, incidentally, has been around for a helluva long time) on our shores and throughout the West. To get to this stage, of course, one needs to help the Middle East towards real participation in a global community characterized by open borders, free trade, political liberalization and robust economies.

As you might surmise, to use Chuck Hagel's phrase, "we need friends" to get all this done. And, all told, that probably (at least initially) means refurbishing (though the extent of the damage has been hyped) relations with key European allies.

In other words, the so-called Atlantic community must, in cohesive, purposeful and united manner, begin to approach the myriad critical issues facing the global community in the Middle East/Persian Gulf/South Asian region.

To do this, however, we need serious partners in places like Germany and France who, while conscious of the breathtaking scope of such a project, don't dismiss it as the product of fevered, naive and bufoonish American idealism.

In this vein, as some commentators have pointed out, it will be important to avoid what some are calling the "trap of Kaganism," or, put differently, the in vogue tendency to overly dichotomize the differences between the U.S. and Europe.

"At a conference at the Diplomatische Akademie last weekend on the subject of Europe’s Common Foreign and Security Policy in the context of the EU’s impending further enlargement, a speaker warned of falling into “the trap of Kaganism.” “If you are a big hammer,” he said, presumably referring to the United States, “all your problems look like nails.” As for Europe: “If you have only carrots, all your problems look like rabbits.” Imagining a “European” Theodore Roosevelt, he said: “Speak softly, and carry a big carrot.”

The point is, as the U.S. has shown in Iran, Syria and Libya--it's not just a brutish, militaristic hegemon solely looking to "hammer" in nails (this is a myth largely concocted and propagated by opinion leaders like Soros, Kerry, Krugman and Dowd).

Likewise, the oft-derided Euro-weenies have, here and there, been known to put boots on the ground (Balkans, Afghanistan, Ivory Coast, and so on).

Bottom line: we need to cut through the sometimes artificial divides, agree on long-term policy goals for the Middle East, and role up our sleeves and ramp up the collaborative efforts.

The simple truth is, if most of the policy goals described above aren't met, it will make it much more likely that a good portion of a major American or European city will be vaporized in the next, say, 15 or so years.

And, of course, that much more blood will be spilled in the Middle East--from Haifa to Kashmir. In other words, we don't really have a choice but to engage.

The linkage between the necessity of pursuing the many critical goals outlined above in the Middle East (call it region-building) and the maintenance of our basic security and the concomittant preservation of our Western liberal order is one of the key points I don't think Dean and Clark really get.

Or at least not from the foreign policy pronouncements I've seen to date emitting from their campaigns. Instead, they're more consumed by either, scandalously and irresponsibly, making it appear that Bush might have had foreknowledge of 9/11 (Dean, who eventually retracted the statement) or, quite insultingly (at least to our collective intelligence), stating that no 9/11 type attack would happen under his watch (Clark, in a breathtakingly arrogant statement--when you really stop and think of it).

Seriously, I know this is an election year, but can't the political discourse be a bit more elevated?

Worth noting too, that on an innate, basic level (more effective, often, in terms of actual implementation [see Reagan] than a hyper-intellectualized one)--I think Bush does get the stakes.

Remember, the greatest figures in history are often those who engaged in large-scale, bold, and risky gambits. Sometimes such projects (often utopian projects like Marxism) led to horrific trauma and visited great cruelties on the world.

But other times such projects served hugely benevolent purposes (see the reconstruction of Europe after the two World Wars).

That is the direction we need to strive in today--albeit in a much different region that never went through the Enlightenment and similar critical historical junctures--epochs that are part and parcel of our cultural pedigree here in the West.

Hence the task will be all the harder. But it cannot be side-stepped, kicked down the road, or otherwise avoided.

That, finally, is the real lesson of 9/11.

Posted by Gregory Djerejian at January 15, 2004 08:55 AM
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