From his secure undisclosed location somewhere within the borders of Pakistan or Afghanistan Osama bin Laden again outlines to the world his vision of the Apocalypse through the magic of audiotape. He calls for a ‘Long War’ against the Western world and delivers a long list of litanies against the West in an attempt to rally Muslims to his cause. Osama bin Laden is in the Clash of Civilizations business and he sounds almost desperate in his zeal to bring one about. In this endeavor he has many in the West on his side.
Osama bin Laden attempts, in his latest audio rendition, to associate himself with any and all sources of possible grievances that he imagines Muslims may have. His mantra is, "Hate the West at all costs". He wants very much to be part of the global rise in Islamist extremism. He wants to channel local grievances in Muslim countries against Government oppression into an unified global movement against the West. He wants to combine the disparate acts of desperate men into a coordinated attack on the West and Western values. He wants his long war between Islam and the West where the ultimate casualty is reason. However, his murderous lunacy is laid bare when he suggests that Muslims in Sudan should oppose international peacekeepers who may be deployed in an attempt to end the genocide in Darfur. Muslims of the world take heed: Osama bin Laden would rather that hundreds of thousands of Muslims were slaughtered than support peacekeepers from the West.
We, and I mean the larger we, should deny Osama bin Laden his long war. We who are the American Government and people, the Muslim Governments and their people and the rest of the Western World have been culpable indirectly and in some instances directly in the rise of global Islamist extremism in general and the rise of Osama bin Laden in particular. Bin Laden is the evil stepchild of Pakistan’s seriously misguided Inter-services Intelligence Agency (ISI). With American Government support through the CIA, the ISI nurtured, armed and trained bin Laden and the rest of the Arab forces in Afghanistan in the 1980s to fend off the Soviet Union. We should also thank the ISI for their generous support of the Taliban and any and all extremist Islamist factions it could find around the world. The United States participated in the support of bin Laden and the rise of al Qaeda with full knowledge and understanding that this support of these radicals would lead to trouble for the United States in the future. When asked in 1998 after the bombing of the U.S. embassies in Africa if he had any regrets in sanctioning U.S. support for bin Laden and the Taliban, the ever confused and factually challenged Senator from Utah, the inimitable Orrin Hatch, replied that "It was worth it". I wonder if the Senator still feels that way now.
Osama bin Laden wants a long war with the West and in this wish he gets ample support from this Administration. This is a war of attrition that the United States cannot win. It is a war that will only lead to continued growth of extremism in both the East and the West. The logic of this long war is easily exploited by bin Laden on one side and by the ideologues on this side. The "us" and "them" rhetoric that it encourages is simplistic yet powerful in its ability to bring about the triumph of hate. Now is the time for men and women of reason to stand up and speak out against this slide into madness. We are caught in a twisted version of Hegel’s Master/Slave dialectic and we must break out if we are to triumph over it.
It seems to me that there is an alternative to this "us" and "them" logic and the dream that if we bomb Iraq, Iran and Syria somehow reason and Democracy will flower in place of extremism. Our current path, far from fostering Democracy and peace with the United States, is creating anger and resentment in the Middle East and the rest of the Muslim world. We are planting the seeds of future extremism by our actions today. We have neither the bombs nor the will enough to kill the new extremists faster than they are being created. So, I propose a different approach. I propose an approach that recognizes that the vast majority of the grievances in the Muslim world is not against the West but against the corrupt Governments that rule there. The United States is a target because of the support it provides these Governments and not because "they hate us for our freedom". Save the extremists and corrupt Governments that unwittingly fuel each other, all peoples of the world want freedom and security, so the notion that somehow the United States is hated because we are "free" is utter nonsense.
We can shorten bin Laden’s "Long War" and defeat him and his ideology by engaging in the new "war on terror" which should have the following components in equal measure:
- We should end active support of regimes in the Muslim world that oppress their peoples, deny them fundamental freedoms, and officially sanction extremist teachings. Examples of such regimes include, first and foremost, Saudi Arabia (the head of the snake, if you will), Egypt and Pakistan. We give billions of dollars each year to these Governments to prop them up. In return, these Governments engage in the systematic abuse of their citizenry. Like any addict, they thrive on economic and military aid from the United States. Their elite line their pocketbooks on the backs of their people. Is anyone surprised why their peoples are attracted to violent ideologies that target these Governments and what they see as their far away master? It is time for the United States to cut these addicts off and demand better treatment of the masses. If anyone thinks that my suggestion is naive, I assure you that the withholding of a few billion dollars of aid to Egypt will have the effect of focusing the mind of Hosni Mubarak in a hurry. The benefit of shifting policy is tremendous. It has the effect of liberalizing these countries and the more important effect of cutting the legs of the oppression that breeds hate toward the United States.
- We should support massive educational and economic development projects in Muslim countries. We should really drain the swamp instead of paying lip service to draining the swamp. There is no extremist ideology that can survive if the masses do not suffer from ignorance. Alleviating poverty and illiteracy are the two most important factors in combating extremism and the terrorism that so often follows.
- We should take the fight to bin Laden and al Qaeda. No amount of education, economic assistance or other acts of compassion will rescue the few who will continue to stoke hatred wherever and whenever they can. We should deal with these individuals with impunity. We will be vastly aided in our effort to hunt down and destroy the remnants of al Qaeda by our other efforts at improving the lot of the masses. Bin Laden and al Qaeda will find themselves increasingly isolated and without support as our efforts to drain the swamp start to take effect.
- Lastly the people of the Muslim world must join the struggle. They must join not in an "us" versus "them" sense. They must respond to actions by the United States to try to open up their Governments by not joining the ranks of the extremists but by putting internal pressure on their Governments. They must choose not between Islam and the West, but between Extremism and common sense.
The policy I have outlined above is obvious and has been suggested many times before – there is nothing new here. We do not need radical new ideas though, we simply need ideas that make sense. But I doubt that the current Administration in the United States has the will or the desire to change course to this new policy. They believe in bombs and not books. This is the "stay the course" Administration so any course correction is unlikely to occur. They have already set their course on the attack on Iran and I doubt anything as important as the dismantling of al Qaeda and Islamist Extremism will deter them from their chosen course. In any case, the efforts I outlined above require that the U.S. Administration have credibility with the Islamic world. This Administration has none. The change in policy may come when a new Administration comes to power in a thousand days. But as Arthur Schlesinger Jr. points out in his appeal today in The Washington Post, it promises to be a long Thousand Days.