Top 5 Tasks Remaining in 2004 in the War on Terror
US Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld worried in a memo last fall that the US lacks a “metric” or a means of measuring success in the war on terror. If he does not have one, then I certainly do not. But as someone who has studied the Middle East and the Muslim world for over thirty years, and who first lived there 38 years ago, I have a good idea of what would help.
5. The US must work harder to stabilize Pakistan and to achieve peace between India and Pakistan. A stronger Pakistani democracy will lessen US dependence on one man, Gen. Pervez Musharraf, against whom two major assassination attempts have recently been launched. The Kashmir issue is a major source of terrorism, and is now a nuclear flashpoint. The safety of all Americans is imperilled by the continued boiling of ethnic conflict there. If India and Pakistan were at real peace with one another, their borders and roads would open. Truckers could take merchandise from New Delhi to Islamabad, and thence to Kabul and Tashkent. A Central Asian cross-continental trade between Korea and China in the East, Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan in Central Asia, and Pakistan and India in South Asia could reinvigorate the economies of the region, benefitting Afghanistan and helping stabilize it. In contrast, allowing the Kashmir issue to remain unresolved threatens terrorism, war, and possibly even a nuclear exchange.
4. The US must invest more heavily in stabilizing and rebuilding Afghanistan. The Taliban are resurgent, the government weak and divided, and most of the country in the hands of regional clan leaders. The standard of living is among the lowest in the world. The Bush administration forgot to ask Congress for an Afghanistan appropriation for 2003, and some savvy Senators ensured it got at least $300 mn. Worried about the 2004 elections, the Bush administration has now pledged $1 bn. for reconstruction. But Bush spent $166 bn. and climbing on Iraq! Instability and extremism in Afghanistan are proven threats to the safety of Americans, whereas Iraq never directly hit the US. Letting Afghanistan fall apart or limp along as a fourth world nation is most unwise.
3. Iraq must be given a stable and united government. Allowing it to split up into three parts would guarantee future terrorism. The Sunni Arabs would be left poor and without a petroleum income, and would watch as the Kurds (1000 wellheads) and Shiite Arabs (500 wellheads) got rich. They would have every reason to try to take Kirkuk, where they are about a third of the population or more, by force, to get its 100 wellheads and its pipelines. If they failed, they would be left without a visible means of income, and would quickly become poorer than Jordanians. Their resentments would fuel massive terrorism in the Middle East that would almost certainly eventually touch the US.
2. The US must capture Osama Bin Laden, Saad Bin Laden, Ayman al-Zawahiri, Saif al-Adil, and other top al-Qaeda leaders, of both the older and the younger generations. This task was far more important for the immediate security of those of us who live in the US than conquering Iraq, and it was highly irresponsible to undertake the latter before accomplishing the former.
1. The US must step in to settle the Israeli-Palestinian dispute. The festering violence in the Mideast produces anti-Americanism and anti-American violence throughout the region. Most Americans have bought Likud party propaganda about the nature of the conflict.
In fact, Israelis are gobbling up Palestinian land at an alarming rate, and have more than doubled the number of their settlers in the West Bank and Gaza since they signed the Oslo Accords (which had implied that they would give back most of the Palestinian territories and allow the Palestinians their own state). Muslims all over the world identify with the Palestinians, and feel humiliated that the Israelis can piecemeal destroy their hope of living in dignity as a people with impunity (indeed, with the de facto acquiescence of the US).
That a small number of Palestinians has replied to the Israeli assault on them with violence against Israeli civilians is both morally wrong and bad political strategy. It does not change the fact that the Israelis are the ones who are gaining territory at the Palestinians’ expense. It also does not excuse a series of Israeli war crimes in the Occupied Territories, which include using US-supplied F-16s to fire missiles into a civilian, occupied apartment building in order to assassinate a Hamas leader (both the pilot and Ariel Sharon should be tried for this heinous act and others like it, which killed many civilians, including a baby).
Americans all know how much US citizens identified with the little band at the Alamo back in the 1830s, and how much they despised Mexico for opposing them. For the Muslim world, Palestine is the Alamo, and the Israelis and the US together play Santa Ana. Would it have done any good for the president of the Mexican Republic to have sent performers across the border to explain how well Americans were treated in Mexico, or to point to Mexico’s progressive laws? A Public Relations campaign could never have made Santa Ana popular after he abolished states’ rights and attacked San Antonio.
September 11 was deeply intertwined with the expulsion of the Palestinians from their land and the resentments it has fostered. The idea that the hijackers did not care about the Palestine issue is pure propaganda. The occupation of Jerusalem by the Israelis is a constant, recurring theme in al-Qaeda communiqués. We Americans are friends of Israel and will stand by it in the face of aggressors who want to destroy it. But Israel does not own the West Bank and Gaza. The UN never granted them to it. They are mere spoils of war, and territorial conquest is forbidden in the United Nations Charter. We don’t need any more US buildings blown up because our government is coddling cuckoo settlers who are stealing other people’s land to fulfill some weird religious power fantasy.