US needs Arab help to beat al-Qaeda

Posted in United States , Terrorism , Broader Middle East | 12-Nov-03 | Author: Robert Dujarric| Source: FT.com

During his recent trip to Asia, President George W. Bush sought support for the Iraq occupation. He also embraced the Philippines' fight in Mindanao as America's, having made clear in past months that he considers Palestinian terrorists to be enemies of the US.

These developments, and the war in Iraq, show that the Bush administration has failed to differentiate between tactics and objectives.

The recent attacks in Baghdad and the downing of an American helicopter show the price that the US is paying for having expanded the scope of the global war on terror. Just because most Islamic terrorists use similar methods to al-Qaeda's does not mean they share its goals. Germany, Britain and the US all bombed civilians during the second world war, but they were not on the same side.

Hamas, Islamic Jihad, Hezbollah and others, repugnant as they are, are not the enemies of the US. The Filipino Muslim insurgents are local thugs of no strategic import. The Kashmiri terrorists are only one facet of the complex dispute between India and Pakistan.

Having realised that only al-Qaeda was the enemy, Washington should have maximised the number of American allies. Even though al-Qaeda is militarily very weak, liquidating it requires the assistance of as many countries as possible.

Getting Britain and Australia on board was a first step; but not a sufficient one. What were needed were countries that knew al-Qaeda's breeding grounds.

The most obvious partners were Iran, Iraq, Syria and the Palestinians. Their leaders are, or were in the case of Iraq, despotic but they are only minor tyrants compared with those the US took as its allies against Adolf Hitler (Joseph Stalin) and the Soviet Union (Chairman Mao).

Iran was a natural ally against al-Qaeda and its Taliban supporters. The Taliban had persecuted Afghanistan's Shia minority and killed Iranians. In exchange for its support, Tehran might have asked for a zone of influence in Afghanistan, which would have facilitated the task of the US military in that country.

Saddam Hussein might also have become America's partner. His brand of Arab nationalism was incompatible with Osama bin Laden's zealotry. In exchange for lifting sanctions, Mr Hussein might have provided the US with intelligence on al-Qaeda.

By attacking him, however, the US diverted most of its military capability away from the war against al-Qaeda, opening a mile-wide avenue for anti-US terrorists to kill Americans and to undermine the anti-terrorist coalition.

Syria, which President George H.W. Bush enlisted during the first Gulf war, might also have been a useful associate. The US could have used Syria's regional knowledge and influence in its efforts to dismantle al-Qaeda.

The Palestinian Authority, and the various other factions within its territory, should also have been enlisted by America. In exchange for US pressure on Israel to remove settlements and agree to a territorial compromise, Americans might have been able to gather useful data from the Palestinians about the murky world of Arab terrorism.

Such unsavoury allies would have tried to cheat and at times the US might have had to threaten them. But most alliances are like that.

Working with Stalin during the second world war was infuriating for Roosevelt and Churchill but it helped destroy Hitler and his regime with fewer losses of American and British lives.

Opening bridges to these countries, or at least eschewing a broadening of the scope of the war against Mr bin Laden, would have been far more effective than the current policies, which have multiplied the number of America's foes.

The wisdom of Carl von Clausewitz, the 19th-century military strategist, that "war is the continuation of politics by other means" appears to be wholly lost on US policymakers.

Wars should be fought to achieve a political purpose; but unfortunately most Americans, inside and outside the administration, have been guided by emotions or misguided ideologies rather than by a clear-minded political analysis of the war that started on September 11 2001.

The writer is a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute and co-author of the forthcoming book, America's Inadvertent Empire (Yale University Press)

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