Terrorism

9/11 Three Years on:

 Can America's foreign policy be salvaged?

By Adel Darwish

 London- 11 September 2004:

        The third anniversary of September 11 coincided with another atrocity in Beslan school in Southern Russia; this time it was most savage , even by the bloody standards of terror attacks. The terrorist showed that what ever drug they were on – managed to reverse the biological programming of the human instinct  to always save children to secure the survival of the human race. This shows how ideology can brainwash groups and  individuals to participate in destroying the human-race in part or in total.

            This ideology, or a mode that motivates terrorists was what  American decision makers failed – and still do- to understand on 11 September  2001; in not selecting to shoot  down second, third and fourth hijacked aircraft after the first one hit the one of world trade centre twin towers. The Americans were still applying the old rules to totally new game when they thought the hijackers, like in previous incident wanted to survive. They were wrong.

In the three years that passed since the start of the Third World war – the war against terrorism-, there is a  paradox about the United States. A  sharp contrast between its policies success, achieving  certain limited objectives in areas like  the Middle East and its strategies' abject failure there, if not world wide.
       While American  aims and interests in a region like the Persian Gulf and Levant have done quite  well over  five decades ; its current  plans have ended in disaster.
            American foreign policy mistakes – or rather errors as they keep reoccurring – over three or four decades have resulted, and perhaps lead to a combination of factors that created September 11.

Unlike old colonial Britain and imperial European powers , the Americans seem to be slow learners in digesting their foreign policy error. The catalogue includes  misjudging the mode in  Iran in 1970’s leading to letting down the Shah and the subsequent Islamic  revolution and humiliating mishandling of the hostage crisis. Then trying to mend it with farcical plans like the Iran /contra arms' sale debacle of 1985-1986. Meanwhile the CIA  engaged itself in a game of assassination and exchange of car bombs by proxy in Lebanon, resulting in the loss of personnel, prestige and friends. During the same period Washington  misevaluated Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein's intentions and, after aiding him in his war against Iran,  gave him confused signals leading to his invasion of Kuwait, then letting him survive the 1991 war's end, and betraying those who rose up against him at U.S. urging, during the period from1988 to 1991.

America also miscalculated the level of its support for Islamists waging a war against the soviet union in Afghanistan, supplying them with weapons later used against American and western interests. Since the so called Mujahedin in Afghanistan, were mainly drug dealers and terrorist whose governments in the Middle East were only too happy to give them a one way ticket to Afghanistan, the long term outcome was inevitable when chicken came home to roost.
     The US also mismanaged the Israel-Palestinian peace process which led to abject failure and many deaths, as the Americans were too reluctant to put enough pressure on Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat to take on the extremists, or engage in reform and democratise; while also failed to put pressure on a Likud government lead by Bibi Netanyahu who was unwilling to implement agreements reached by the help of, and blessed by America..
     At the same time American policy analysts underestimated the radical Islamist terrorist threat which led to September 11 – in fact they overruled requests by friendly intelligence services in the region to deal with Islamists living in the west providing money and training later for the hijackers .

 Although many of the lessons were learnt – like the late realisation for the need to implement democracy in the Middle East instead of supporting dictators just because they were on America’s side – Washington continued with unclear and often wrong policy like getting  involved in the mistaken 2003 war on Iraq and the ensuing bungling, like the disastrous decision to disband the Iraqi army. This lead to creating a front for many terror group to target Americans in Iraq which was previously closed to Islamic terrorists.

Almost in every single case, there was a conception that proven to be  wrong and a plan that did not work - and often there was no plan 'B' , instead of taking an overall view and change course. One factor was rushing to events  without giving much thought, or thinking of exit strategy, while ignoring the historic background to the problem. Other factors included  of Islamic belief and culture and  of  a system in the Arab world and Iran where problems are based not on misunderstandings or insufficient Western concessions but rather on the needs of ruthless dictators and lying ideologies, which America has been trying to correct in the past three years.

          But for the war against terrorism to succeed, president Bush must define what constitutes a victory in this war, otherwise it will be hard for the generals to define to their soldiers the aim of the war they fight.

     America should build on its successes, especially in winning the cold war – without fighting major armed conflict, but through economic prosperity and clever strategy with allies. Washington should also remind its allies in Europe and in the region how it helped the outcome of WW2, rebuilding of economies, economic aid plans in post war years and prevented  a whole-sale  radicalisation ( which we are in danger of seeing if the media war is not own and if no settlement was to be found soon to the Israeli Palestinian conflict). America  preserved stability where needed; kept the Palestinian -Israeli conflict from spinning out of control into an Arab Israeli war ( like 1948 or 1967).

Most important it kept oil flowing - and even succeeding in persuading the Saudis to change oil output to stabilise prices;  stopped an Iranian or Iraqi conquest of the Gulf Region. In addition, America should remind its friends that  other forces in the region opposed to U.S. policies have been repeatedly contained.

But it is equally important to remind Arabs  that Israel was on America's side at each critical juncture. Meanwhile the Arabs, with a few exceptions, were not, especially during the Cold War. Arabs  could have offered the United States real and energetic support against the USSR in exchange for policies  helping their nations, like taking a more balanced approach to Israel, help with technology and economics. Instead  they remained neutral or supported Moscow, giving Washington no real incentive to change its approach.
     The same point applies to U.S. peacemaking efforts  after Egyptian peace drive,  Arab leaders remained intransigent  - hostile to Egyptian efforts or passive. The same passive reception was evident in the  Arab world after September 11 in a war against terror, or persuading media they control to portray the war as another crusade against Muslims. God knows why American diplomacy has so far failed to make those points to Arab government, at least to get them to press Arafat, thus help sorting out the Israeli Palestinian Issue. 

     The same applies to  US diplomacy in Europe – where a united American European Arab front, could have helped contain, or even topple Saddam Hussein with fewer losses and lesser pain. While it is true to say many opinion formers in Washington who do not understand the Middle East and European or Middle Easterners  who do not understand America have not done very well; it is equally true that America can pool efforts to score successes in the war against terrorism.

    Pursuing a more active role in the Palestinian Israeli dispute and returning to the road map as well as implementing democracy and reaching stability in Iraq – which cannot be achieved without European and Arab and Muslim help- and in Afghanistan would be a major won against terrorism, as full democracy and prosperity in two Muslim nations would have been the result of the Osama bin Laden’s wished clash between America and Islam.


© Adel Darwish 2004


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