Friday, April 09, 2004


The following was written for the April 7 edition of The Daily Star, Beirut, by the newspaper’s Executive Editor.

By Rami G. Khouri

Three important dynamics taking place before our eyes these
days revolve around American government perceptions of the
world that also impact on the lives of billions of people
around the globe. It is urgent to correctly diagnose and
appropriately respond to the issues involved, especially in
view of the expanding terrorism threats in Europe and the
upsurge in violent clashes in Iraq.

The three issues I refer to are the internal American review
of how the George W. Bush administration in its early days
responded to the threat of terror by Al-Qaeda, the
American-led global response to terror after Sept. 11, 2001,
and this week's American response to Shiite leader Moqtada
al-Sadr and other forms of anti-American defiance or
resistance in Iraq.

The common thread that runs through these three issues is how
the United States perceives and engages the rest of the world.
The US's global perception and engagement were relatively
consistent for the half century of the Cold War, but became
more complex after 1990, when the US emerged as the dominant
global power and it could project its power anywhere in the
world virtually unchecked. The first Bush administration
unleashed that force in order to reverse the 1990 Iraqi
occupation of Kuwait. A decade later, the George W. Bush
administration and its neoconservative ideologists transformed
the opportunity of American global power projection into an
operative policy. Responding to the attacks of Sept. 11 made
this transformation politically possible, both at home in the
US and with cooperative governments around the world. But what
have been the cost and consequence of this policy?

The debate about how the Bush team viewed the terror threat in
1990 is history and the potential consequences of clashes in
Iraq this week will become clear in the period ahead. At this
delicate juncture, therefore, we can gain the most from
analyzing the third of these dynamics - how the US responded
to terror after Sept. 11, and what impact this response has
had. The initial assessment does not look very good, given the
literal and figurative explosion of terror attacks and plots
around the world. The recent successful and thwarted attacks
against train systems in Europe are especially troublesome,
for they indicate the widening range of terrorists' targets,
including Turkey, Indonesia, Pakistan, Morocco, Saudi Arabia,
Spain, Germany, France and other countries. The threats
against civilians around the world - not just in the US - are
much greater now than they were three years ago, as the
terrorists seem to become more diffused, decentralized,
localized and thus much harder to stop.

Was this inevitable? Could it have been avoided? Or is this
precisely what Osama bin Laden and his kind wanted to achieve?
My own sense is that after Sept. 11, the US government wasted
a historic opportunity. It could and should have rallied a
global coalition to fight injustice and violent extremism,
through a multi-pronged strategy that simultaneously addressed
the root economic, political and social causes of terror and
also used police actions to curtail its practical, criminal
expression of bombings. US President George W. Bush and his
ideologues walked right into the trap that Osama bin Laden set
for them, by giving bin Laden the war he sought to ignite. The
global "war against terror" that Bush initiated after Sept. 11
is slowly looking more like simply a "global war" between the
forces of terror and the forces of anti-terror.

It is important to go back and assess how we reached this
point, because more or less the same people - or at least the
same sort of mentalities - on both sides now confront each
other in a more limited arena in Iraq. They both use the
weapons and emotional fuel of anger, bombs, resentment,
missiles, fear, helicopter gun-ships and suicide bombers. It
would be catastrophic for all if events in Iraq were allowed
to be driven by the same violent extremism that the terrorists
bring to the table, or by the immoderate ideology and faulty
policy that has seen Washington transform a legitimate war
against terror into an indiscriminate and unnecessary global

In retrospect, it seems that in responding to Sept. 11,
Washington made serious mistakes on the three critical levels
of diagnosis, strategy and policy on the ground. First it
badly misdiagnosed the nature and causes of terror, and the
reasons why ordinary men and women become active terrorists
who kill innocent civilians. The terror phenomenon has plagued
the world for millennia. In almost every historical case we
can carefully unravel the rhetoric and actions of the bombers
in order to understand what motivated them, and, more
importantly, why they stopped being terrorists at one point.
This was not done with any seriousness or credibility in the
case of Al-Qaeda-vintage terrorism.

Second, Washington almost certainly misinterpreted the
motivations, operational methods and aims of Al-Qaeda and
allied groups, and its response was therefore probably
distorted and not consistently effective. The response may
have even increased and stimulated global terror - not
thwarted it. Washington's main mistake was to view Al-Qaeda
through the same prism with which it viewed Cold War
communists, the only adversary it has known for half a
century. Washington identified an enemy that may not exist - a
centrally organized, globally operational ideology that sought
to undermine and overwhelm the American way of life. The
American strategy to fight terror may have been based on a
faulty, even fictitious, foundation from day one. This is
incompetence on an award-winning scale.

Third, Washington launched a global war against terror that
has relied on military and political means that have had mixed
results. Many terrorists have been arrested or killed and
their networks disrupted, but terrorism has also become a much
more active, widespread, and dangerous phenomenon. This is
almost certainly because the preponderance of military means
to fight terror does not work, and often has the opposite
effect of inciting ordinary men and women to become
terrorists. This may be happening on a global scale, has
certainly happened in the Palestinian response to Israel's
reliance on military power, and seems to be happening in Iraq
in response to the American military force.

The world should not have to pay the price as it watches these
mistakes being made over and over by the same mindsets, but in
different countries. The legitimate battle against terrorism
must be waged in a more intelligent and effective manner. The
Bush team has gone to war on the back of a dysfunctional and
misguided combination of faulty perceptions, wrong diagnoses,
inappropriate strategy and counterproductive tactics. Rarely
in world history has such immense power been so poorly used,
or has a reservoir of global goodwill to a single country -
the United States - been so mercilessly squandered.


Feedback to:

Editorial from the April 8 edition of Arab News, Jeddah, Saudi Arabia

American policy in Iraq is running deeper and deeper into
trouble. Coalition forces are not only going head to head with
insurgents in the so-called Sunni Triangle, of which Fallujah
is a major part, but they have also vowed to destroy the
10,000 Shiite militia loyal to the fugitive cleric Moqtada
Sadr. Though the insurgents may represent extreme views within
their own communities, moderate Iraqi opinion will be
alienated as the US and its allies try to crush them. We have
already seen the deaths of innocent civilians, either in
cross-fires or apparently because of missiles from US
helicopter gunships. A year after Saddam’s regime ended,
ordinary Iraqis will not accept the same number of collateral
casualties of that original conflict. George W. Bush promised
them peace and security, power, water, hospitals, education.
Most of those promises have not been kept and suddenly the
country is being plunged again into widespread violence.
Even if Coalition forces are successful in the present battles
in Fallujah against Moqtada Sadr’s insurgents, there will be
no lasting victory. Others will come forward to replace those
who are slain and public support for them will grow. Iraqis,
who once placed their faith in Washington, are now despairing.
In times of uncertainty, people understandably turn to their
immediate communities for support. They will abandon the lofty
sentiments of a pluralist, multiethnic united Iraq. The
prospect of civil conflict is now more real than at any time
since Saddam’s ouster.

It didn’t have to be this way. Had America been more informed
and more sensitive to the complexities and subtleties of Iraqi
society, it could probably have avoided what has become its
growing failure. Unfortunately Bush’s overweening confidence
in the rightness of his solution, coupled with a misplaced
certainty in the effectiveness of America’s massive military
power, always promised disaster.

The Iraqi people, for whose future American lives and money
are being spent, are now calling Washington the enemy. In the
face of this perceived ingratitude, the view will grow that
America should leave these thankless people to their own
devices. If such a policy is adopted, what is happening in
Iraq will be transformed from a disaster into a major

There might yet be salvation in a dominant role for the United
Nations. At least Iraqis might feel they were talking to
people more aware and more schooled in conflict resolution and
nation building. In order for the UN to return and take over,
however, would still require massive international military
support. That can only come from Russia, France and Germany
and the anti-war countries which Bush snubbed before the war.
Such a humiliation for America would be disastrous for his
re-election bid.


Feedback to:

By William Fisher

The plan presented recently by the foreign policy dean of the US Senate, Republican Richard Lugar, represents a refreshing and thoughtful alternative to the Bush Administration’s Greater Middle East Initiative. The Bush plan has been found unacceptable by virtually all Arab governments, who see it as a neo-colonial attempt by the US to impose political reform from outside the region. Lugar’s plan addresses this concern by proposing that Middle East Arab states become full partners with the G-8 nations in a way that “allows the nations of the region to set their own priorities for the new millennium” – including helping to resolve the Israel-Palestinian conflict though a trusteeship managed by Egypt and Saudi Arabia.

Lugar’s Greater Middle East Twenty First Century Trust would unite the G-8 countries (the US, Canada, Japan, Russia, the United Kingdom, France, Germany, and Italy) with wealthy donor countries in the Greater Middle East. Donors would “pool resources to deliver grants and would work together to define the funding criteria based, in part, on the high priority needs identified in the United Nations’ Arab Human Development Reports, which were written by Arab scholars. Vigorous two-way interaction between donors and recipients is vital: change cannot be imposed from the outside.”

To address the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the Lugar plan would expand the ‘Quartet’ currently directing the peace process -- the US, Russia, the European Union and the United Nations --into a “Sextet” by adding Egypt and Saudi Arabia, which would control the Palestinian territories under an international trusteeship. “This trusteeship”, he said, “would provide enhanced security for both Palestinians and Israelis; it could restructure the Palestinian security services, and lead a reform of the Palestinians’ failed institutions. It would turn back sovereignty at the appropriate time... (inclusion of Arab states) would give them a role in what they themselves claim is at the core of many of their own problems.”

The Lugar initiative draws heavily on the findings of the 2003 UN Arab Human Development Report. The Report, prepared by a group of Arab scholars under the aegis of the United Nations Development Programme, identifies knowledge, freedom and women’s empowerment as the most serious challenges to development. It says that the whole Arab world translates only 300 books annually, 65 million Arab adults, including half of the women, are illiterate, and only 1.6 percent of the Arab population has Internet access. It contends that this isolation contributes to the misunderstanding and prejudice that leads to violence, and that other advancements in communications, transportation, health and educational opportunities have yet to reach large percentages of the people of the Greater Middle East. It notes that fourteen million Arab adults do not make enough money to buy even the most basic necessities. Steep population increases in many Arab countries mean that as many as 50 million more Arab workers will enter the job market in the next eight years.

Lugar acknowledges that “It will be a challenge to convince (Arab nations ) to join the Trust as partners in a process that will require them to make…fundamental changes.” He says “that’s why the Trust will seek to engage all elements of societies. The Arab Human Development Report calls on the state, civil society, cultural and mass media institutions, enlightened intellectuals and the public at large to plant those values that encourage action and innovation in the political, social and economic sphere.”

He is also aware that “achieving the kind of regional transformation we seek will require many steps over a long period of time. The first step, before deciding WHAT change is necessary, must be for the leaders and the people of the Greater Middle East to agree, through vigorous and open debate among themselves and across the region, that change IS necessary. This reform in attitude cannot be imposed from outside, it must be generated from within the region, across national boundaries. And it must be seen in the context of people taking charge of their own futures.”

Some observers have characterized Sen. Lugar’s initiative as his ‘audition’ for Secretary of State. Perhaps. But the United States could do far worse. For many years, Lugar has been highly respected by both Democrats and Republicans as the wisest and most thoughtful foreign policy voice in the US Senate. His work on anti-WMD proliferation continues to make the world demonstrably safer. As Secretary, he would likely be comfortable with either George W. Bush or John Kerry – perhaps even helping to bring back the days of Democratic President Harry Truman when, as Republican Senator Arthur Vandenberg said, “politics stops at the water’s edge”. That was the era that brought the world the Marshall Plan. Finally, Lugar has for years shown he is prepared to put politics aside, question the policies and conventional wisdom of his own party, and stand up to its leaders when he thinks they are wrong.

So even if the timing of Sen Lugar’s proposal suggests he is doing a kind of dress rehearsal for the State Department – and attempting to preempt the many other aspirants for this arguably thankless job -- his ideas deserve the most careful exploration.

Their implementation, however, would face huge challenges. Would the wealthier Arab states be willing to partner with the G-8? Would they feel they would really be full partners, or ‘window dressing’ to provide an appearance of legitimacy? The governments of the Greater Middle East are divided about virtually everything; can they now agree on a country-by-country agenda and timetable for reform? And actually implement it? Does the West have the patience to embrace the slow, evolutionary approach proposed by the Arabs?

Resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian issue is an even thornier problem. For decades, Arab governments have been the Palestinians’ ‘rhetorical allies’, but most have made no real effort to resolve this intractable problem. Would they now be prepared to put their money where their speechwriters have been? How would the Palestinians react to Trusteeship? Who would the Sextet negotiate with -- the PLO and Mr. Arafat? Hamas? How would Israel feel about the idea of Trusteeship for the Palestinian territories, and its management by two Arab countries, one of which does not recognize Israel? What would be Israel’s role in reaching solutions? Would the US have the political will to exercise maximum leverage on Israel? And on and on.

Yet if the United States is be a credible change agent in the Middle East, there are few people as well equipped as Mr. Lugar – by experience, knowledge and temperament – to lead the US effort – regardless of who gets elected in November.