Thursday, August 23, 2007

The Terror Index and Rope-a-Dope

Another study, surveying 100 top experts on foreign policy, concludes we are less safe than before and are losing ground in the war on terrorism. Blah Blah. If we think the Administration cares, we are seriously deluded.

But then, what is there we can do? Even this writer, convinced from the start that we were short on constructive approaches and long on the wrong kinds of power, has to concede that we have been put in a box. We can't just lay down our arms. Too many people hate us at this point. The metaphor of the "tiger by the tail" has never been more apt. The fact that the Bushies will go down in history as the ones who locked us in this box is no consolation.

On the radio today, a discussion of this problem produced a long series of single-issue advocates. One guy wants us to distance ourselves from Israel. Another proposes pouring money into good works. Another suggests the problem is Arab overpopulation. Lots think it was all about oil, and we are seen as pillagers. Some fault inflammatory rhetoric. Others fault appeasement. All of this proof that the problem is probably too complex to solve.

This column will not suggest yet another single-issue approach. In what follows, keep in mind that this writer agrees with all of the above, and is convinced, like 86% of the experts surveyed by the Foreign Policy Institute, that we are headed for more 9/11's down the road. But there is one theme that gets too little attention, and it probably fuels the passions over all the other issues. We have a long and dishonorable history of stomping on the political aspirations of people in that part of the world. From the Pahlavis, to the Sauds, to Algeria and Egypt, and of course Saddam (when it was convenient) we have supported despots who thwarted their own people. No wonder the people hate us. Maybe it is time to see what happens if we actually let them govern themselves. In other words, let the lunatics try running the asylum.

Now of course, it seems clear that if we let them do that, much of that region will wake up tomorrow under Islamic dictatorships. Anyone who has read this column knows that there is no love for religious zealots here. To the contrary, they are really REALLY scary, plus they don't seem to have any sense of humor. But it may be time for us to take a gamble, and let them have their way, at least in their corner of the world. Let Algeria, Egypt, Iraq, and Saudi Arabia, among others, go Islamist. With the exception of Pakistan, which has nukes, none of the predominantly Islamic countries can harm us (which is why we can't adopt this approach with Pakistan). Having gotten what they want, and faced with the prospect of having to govern, it is quite possible, even likely, that their bloodlust will abate and they will be forced to moderate their behaviour, if not their rhetoric.

We will still have to deal with the threat of terrorism, (and must not relax our vigilance, such as it is) but as the Islamists find themselves, not outcasts, but part of the world order, they will have to decide whether they can afford to keep trying to destroy that order. They will have to feed their people, employ them, and all that good stuff. That will keep them quite busy, and they will begin to realize the world order is not such a bad thing to belong to, if you want to eat more than dates and camel jerky.

One nice corollary for us is that fundamentalists do not do very well at things like science and technology and progress. If they fail to feed people, there is a very real risk some of the people will get even more resentful, but their ability to do anything about it will diminish over time as those societies retreat to the dark ages. They will get less and less able to build really nasty weapons, let alone launch them, and they will become even more dependent on us to buy their oil (assuming they haven't dynamited their own wells, as some of the loonier ones have threatened to do). If we couple this with a strategy to become oil independent, we will end up with a far stronger hand than we could ever achieve by building military bases in their deserts and Green Zones in their cities.

The downside? There will be a few more 9/11's, most likely, but that is probably true no matter what we do. The upside is that as we engage these societies on many levels, other than bombing them, they will eventually hate us less and the 9/11's will stop. If, on the other hand, we stick with our current policy, we are guaranteed endless 9/11's for as far as we can foresee.

Think of it as rope-a-dope. The big strong guy keeps throwing haymakers at the clever nimble guy, until he exhausts himself and the nimble guy punches him out. In the current situation, we are the big strong guy, and we are losing. It is time to pull a little rope-a-dope ourselves. Back off. In fact, get out of the ring, let them have it to themselves for a couple of rounds. And then approach them, cautiously, with a hand out in friendship.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Two questions remain - will the opponents of Israel be emboldened to go on the offensive. And what to do with N Korea and Pakistan. Will China - an important interlocutor in both cases - think of itself as a member of the world community of nations or will nationalist ambitions continue to guide their policy.

August 23, 2007 10:30 PM  
Blogger Carlos Zapato said...

You raise very important issues. N. Korea seems to be a different matter altogether--they do not have a cultural imperative to spread the Word. It seems all we have to do it not trigger their paranoia too much and they will leave us alone. Pakistan is very interesting: Musharraf suddenly has viable political opposition, and not just from Islamists. The courts have stood up to him and forced him to open things up. That may depressurize the situation a bit, but I am the first to admit that Pakistan scares me more than all the others put together. If there is an Islamist takeover there, we face a real chance of WWIII.

As for Israel's enemies, every strategy is fraught with risks. But it seems to me that only by bringing all parties in from the margins can we hope to begin to de-radicalize them. Simply keeping them down militarily is doomed to failure.

August 24, 2007 12:22 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

we are too worried about israel. they can take care of themselves and we have made the whole world our enemy by always taking their side even when they do terrible things like kill palestinian school children.

August 24, 2007 4:56 PM  
Anonymous erics said...

What can we do to inch toward improvement? As you state, being more energy independent is something within our grasp. A pure electric car, not a hybrid, is much cheaper to make. Lets see if we can make one for $5K. Then those solar panels on the roof can charge the battery that the car would use. On top of that, since almost no one can afford solar panels, have the state rent your roof, they put the solar panels, you get to use them to charge your all electric car. And the state charges you a fee to run your car. If we can make the car cheap enough, people will buy it just as a commute car, just for those short trips which is probably 90% of total miles.

August 24, 2007 10:29 PM  

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