Wednesday, August 11, 2004

How to win the War on Terror

Matt Yglesias makes the point that all of us on the left know: Killing 1 terrorist but generating >1 more in the process is a losing strategy. This is why this brilliant Wesley Clark piece from a few months ago should define our Middle East policy for the next several decades. In the short term, you work with your allies to contain the terrorist threat and foil their plots. Don't go invading any countries unless absolutely necessary (i.e., invade Afghanistan but not Iraq). In the long term, you slowly bring Arab moderates over to your side, decreasing the base of angry young Muslim men that al-Qaeda draws from. This takes decades, but when you're fighting an enemy that doesn't need government cover and whose numbers increase when you shoot them, it's the only strategy that can work. Let me just quote portions of the last 2 paragraphs from Clark:

Among our greatest assets during the Cold War were immigrants and refugees from the captive nations of the Soviet Union. Tapping their patriotism toward America and love of their homelands, we tasked them with communicating on our behalf with their repressed countrymen in ways both overt and covert, nursing hopes for freedom and helping to organize resistance. America's growing community of patriotic Muslim immigrants can play a similar role. They can help us establish broader, deeper relationships with Muslim countries through student and cultural exchange programs and organizational business development.

We can't know precisely how the desire for freedom among the peoples of the Middle East will grow and evolve into movements that result in stable democratic governments. Different countries may take different paths. Progress may come from a beneficent king, from enlightened mullahs, from a secular military, from a women's movement, from workers returning from years spent as immigrants in Western Europe, from privileged sons of oil barons raised on MTV, or from an increasingly educated urban intelligentsia, such as the nascent one in Iran. But if the events of the last year tell us anything, it is that democracy in the Middle East is unlikely to come at the point of our gun.

Update: Clark's mostly talking about generating democracy while I'm talking about fighting terrorism -- two things that have been illicitly conflated by lots of people. But since his strategy aims at improving America's image abroad, which is helpful in both pursuits, I think the conflation is legitimate here.


anonymous said...

I wouldn't classify myself as one on the left, but the points that Yglesias and Clark make seem right to me. I find it highly dubious that a robust democracy will develop in Iraq because of our war efforts, or that America is much safer now. (But I also find it dubious that progress in the Middle East will come "from privileged sons of oil barons raised on MTV.")

Neil Sinhababu said...

Whenever I read that MTV line, I can't help but think of the Clash song "Rock the Casbah." The video, as I recall, had an Arab and an Israeli doing funny dances and going to a rock concert together.

By order of the prophet
We ban that boogie sound
Degenerate the faithful
With that craazy Casbah sound
But the Bedouin they brought out
The electric camel drum
The local guitar picker
Got his guitar picking thumb
As soon as the shareef
Had cleared the square
They began to wail