NWA Times 19 August 2006
Terrorism and Foreign Policy
With wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, Lebanon, Palestine, and Israel, the Middle East is in flames. The region is crawling with virulent private militias full of religious fanatics ready to blow up civilians on command. Iran may be developing the capability to build nuclear weapons, while Israel is far out in front in this nasty business, having possessed a sizeable nuclear arsenal since at least the 1973 Yom Kippur War when it went on full nuclear alert with dozens of deliverable atomic bombs. Iran and Syria supply the weapons that feed the war in Lebanon. As weÕve seen most recently in London, this chaos spills out over the entire world.
WhatÕs going on? On one level, the problem is bad foreign policy, mostly U.S. But on a deeper level, the problem is religious fundamentalism, mostly Islamic but also Christian and Jewish.
LetÕs talk about foreign policy. We did the right thing in Afghanistan. Al-Qaida attacked us, supported by another fanatical Moslem band, AfghanistanÕs Taliban. We needed to destroy both groups and help Afghanistan modernize and prosper. If handled properly, we could have helped that nation become a showpiece of the benefits of freedom and democracy.
But instead our own extremists in Washington used our resources to pursue a grandiose dream of invading and quickly conquering Iraq, a nation that was irrelevant to the terrorism problem, in hopes of extending U.S. influence over the entire oil-rich region. As many of us Fayetteville folks pointed out during local antiwar demonstrations prior to the U.S. invasion, this effort was a losing proposition from the start. It drained the Afghanistan campaign of the resources needed to succeed, it lost us the moral support of the world, and it provided a terrific recruiting tool for Islamic terrorists. The result is that Afghanistan remains at the mercy of the Taliban and drug warlords, while Islamic extremism is stronger than ever. ItÕs clear that we cannot succeed in Iraq, and we might not even succeed in Afghanistan.
The longer we stay in Iraq, the more that unfortunate land will suffer. A glance at the newspaper confirms that the situation has degenerated into a civil war between Sunni and Shiite religious factions. For example, on a single day recently, the newspapers reported that a Sunni suicide bomber blew up 157 civilians outside a Shiite shrine in Najaf, killing 35 of them, while 37 other people were killed or found dead elsewhere in Iraq, including 5 civilians who died when a mortar shell struck a cafˇ in a Shiite area of Baghdad. ThatÕs 72 dead in one day, and not really an atypical day. This is an enormous daily tally in a nation of only 26 million, and itÕs mostly sectarian violence--Sunni sects against Shiite sects. Which side will we take in this civil war?
ItÕs long past time to bring our fine young men and women home from a battle that is only harming Iraq, the United States, the Middle East, and the world. Hopefully, the recent victory of the dovish Ned Lamont over the hawkish Joe Lieberman in Connecticut is the beginning of a permanent change in direction for the Democratic Party and our nation, and will lead to a decision to bring our troops out of that tortured land within six months to a year. One consequence of this should be greater attention and resources to Afghanistan, where we should have focused our efforts all along.
I can understand IsraelÕs reasons for attacking Hezbollah in southern Lebanon. That group should be disarmed, and southern Lebanon returned to the Lebanese government. But due to typical military over-optimism, IsraelÕs aims have proven to be unrealistic, and their war against Hezbollah has turned out to be more harmful than helpful. Israel should have stopped their attack weeks ago, when it became obvious that they were up against a tougher foe than expected. At this late date, Israel needs to pull out, while negotiating the best deal it can.
Again, the United States is not helping. We should have pressured Israel to withdraw sooner. One of our worst mistakes has been our obstinate determination to refrain from direct negotiations with HezbollahÕs masters, Iran and Syria. The Bush Administration seems to equate negotiations with weakness, as though they were a kind of reward to the other side. But itÕs precisely oneÕs enemies that one needs to negotiate with!
Nuclear weapons will be a problem in the Middle East so long as Israel retains its nuclear arsenal. Any nation such as Iran, with aspirations to regional leadership, will be tempted to acquire nukes in order to balance the ŅprestigeÓ (if thatÕs the right word) and military power of IsraelÕs arsenal. An Iranian nuclear weapon would be very bad news. It would lead Egypt (where fears of an Iranian bomb may have already driven an experimental nuclear weapons program), Saudi Arabia, and others to initiate nuclear weapons development, and it could lead to nuclear warfare between Israel and Iran.
The way out of the nuclear dilemma is a Middle East nuclear weapons-free zone, including Israel. This idea has surfaced several times within the United Nations, is called for in at least two UN resolutions (in 1974 and 1991), and was promoted in July of 2004 by Mohamed El Baradei, head of the International Atomic Energy Agency. Israel has generally opposed the idea, and the USA has supported IsraelÕs opposition. But we cannot threaten nations such as Iran with sanctions for developing the bomb, while tolerating IsraelÕs possession of an entire arsenal.
AmericaÕs Middle East policy has been a disaster.