OK, so the Iraq war is not making the world a safer place.  A classified intelligence report confirms what many people have been saying for years and have determined simply by following the news, reading the headlines, and examining whatever non-classified evidence is available.  Common sense itself dictates that the removal of Saddam Hussein would create a power vacuum, which, if not immediately replaced by a suitable and, most importantly, functional replacement, would suck in forces of chaos and provide a breeding ground in which they can multiply.  In addition, the Iraq War made tangible, not only to Muslims but to people throughout the world, all the policies that radical extremists use as rallying points for anti-Americanism:  the American desire for cultural and political hegemony, the American desire to control Mideast oil, the American desire to control and force rather than negotiate, the American desire to protect Israel, and the American desire to erect military bases on Arab land.  The war made manifest what Muslim jihadists had been complaining about for years.  The young recruits were and continue to be impressed. 

 

Well, what would make the world a safer place? What would help eliminate terrorism?  You can start by asking Bill Clinton.  When Keith Olbermann asked Clinton, during an interview the other night, what advice he would give to Bush in the unlikely circumstance that Bush should ask him for any, he replied,

I would say that—I would give him, actually, two pieces of advice.  I would say, first of all, I think if you can find some way, consistent with our commitment to Israel’s security, to resume the Palestinian-Israeli peace process and move fairly quickly to a Palestinian state, I think that would do more to change the image of the United States and—than anything else.  I think there’s so many Arab-Muslim countries that are frightened by this instability and all this violence, and I think you would find that Israel would actually get more credit and a more positive response from other Arab nations by doing this than ever before.  And I think we would have a chance then to stabilize a lot of other problems in the Middle East.  That’s the first thing.

 

The second thing I’d say is no American president can possibly please people all over the world all the time.  If you have an unusual political, military and economic position, you’re always going to do things that some people won’t like.  But there are two things that are important.  You should look like we prefer cooperation over unilateralism and act alone only when we feel we have to.  And you should let people know that we have no anger or animosity and we wish them the best.  And if we can do it consistent with Israel’s security, let’s get back to work on this Palestinian-Israeli peace process, because that’s half the juice that’s feeding terror all around the world.

Regardless of what you think of Clinton, he is right on the money here.  Middle East resentment over US support of Israel can be found anywhere someone cares to look for it.  It is in almost all Al-Qaeda diatribes.  A peaceful and fair solution to the conflict would and must inevitably defuse this resentment because there will be nothing to hang it on any more.  Every day that the conflict continues is another day that the Palestinians serve as the embodiment of Arab and Muslim victimization and oppression.  All past resentments, over British colonialism, over the Crusades, and over efforts to control the wealth and the resources of the land have been crystallized in this never-ending conflict, almost like an icon for jihadists to raise over the heads of the underprivileged masses.  The conflict is like a centrifuge of hatred, the force of which radiates throughout the Middle East.  But now we have a competing centrifuge—the one in Baghdad that has welled up out of the power vacuum of Iraq, if I’m not mixing my metaphors too much here.

 

There will always be those unhappy with any two state solution.  Unfortunately, there will probably always be some degree of violence and terrorist activity.  But it is inevitable that it will be substantially reduced by a reasonable compromise and, as far as I can see, the Bush administration has not exerted one iota of effort towards achieving this.

 

And what about the second point—American cooperation and good will?  What does this imply?  Diplomacy, something that George Bush said at his last press conference he has no patience for.  It implies a slower, more socio-cultural approach to problem-solving, one that is sensitive to underlying causes.  Where do young jihadists come from and how are they bred?  They are bred in schools that are run by extremists and fundamentalists.  Why do parents send their children to these schools?  Because there are no other schools, or no other schools that they can afford, if they happen to be one of the many poor in this still developing part of the world.  In some places, it is a Mujahideen education or no education.  In some places, it is Mujahideen  health care and social services or no social services.  Who handed out wads of cash to the Lebanese after their homes were destroyed?  Hizballah, quicker than you can say FEMA.  Who has helped the impossibly downtrodden Palestinians in Gaza?  Hamas has, and it has done so for many years.

 

What about American hypocrisy—do you think that this wins us any friends?  Do you think that the people of the region take us seriously when we speak of Democracy, particularly when we ally with countries such as Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, provided they play by the rules? 

And, as Reza Aslan said on Real Time, we have to think about what we say and how we say it, rather than shooting from the hip:

When Bush says, ‘You’re either with us or you’re with the terrorists,’ most people – particularly most moderate Muslims – think, ‘Well, I’m not with you.’

I’d like to add one more method for making the world safer—developing alternative energies, or, to start, developing an energy policy that is not an oil policy.  As Jefffrey Sachs said in The Guardian:

It always comes back to oil. The continuing misguided interventions in the Middle East by the United States and the United Kingdom have their roots deep in the Arabian sand. Ever since Winston Churchill led the conversion of Britain’s navy from coal to oil at the start of the last century, the Western powers have meddled incessantly in the affairs of Middle Eastern countries to keep the oil flowing, toppling governments and taking sides in wars in the supposed “great game” of energy resources. But the game is almost over, because the old approaches are obviously failing.

 

Just when one is lulled into thinking that something other than oil is at the root of current US and UK action in Iraq, reality pulls us back. Indeed, President Bush recently invited journalists to imagine the world 50 years from now. He did not have in mind the future of science and technology, or a global population of nine billion, or the challenges of climate change and biodiversity. Instead, he wanted to know whether Islamic radicals would control the world’s oil.

Yes, another gem from Bush’s last press conference.  George Bush’s imagination is limited indeed, if he is unable to imagine a world with alternative energy sources or a world in which oil, which has always buttered his family’s bread, is not the number one commodity.

 

But are we any closer to a clear vision?  Must a former president use TV talk shows to show us the way?  What now?

 

 

 


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