How We Should Conduct Relations with Islamic Countries Going Forward
Any solution to reducing extremism must incorporate our relationship with all predominantly Muslim countries, not just one or a few. There are 45 predominately Muslim countries in the world — from Morocco in the northwest of Africa, to Syria and the United Arab Emirates, to Azerbaijan on the Caspian Sea, to Indonesia in the Indian Ocean, and more. Our relationship with each of these added together shapes the global Muslim community’s view and posture toward the United States. Successful relations with Turkey and Morocco, for example, positively affect the perception of America in Syria (as well as among Muslim immigrants in Europe and elsewhere). Negative relations with Palestinians adversely affect our dealings with Muslims in Egypt. It is all deeply interconnected.
As noted in the Pew Global Attitudes Project , a crucial illustration is Indonesia, where in 2000, 75 percent of Indonesians viewed Americans favorably. This number fell to 15 percent after the invasion of Iraq, with 80 percent of Indonesians saying they fear an attack by the United States. However, Indonesian’s approval of the U.S. climbed significantly after extensive U.S. aid to rebuild after the devastating 2004 tsunami.
Other than defense itself, America's principle obligation to the countries of the world is to be a good and enlightened neighbor—so that America’s citizens and their institutions and enterprises can interact safely, productively and successfully with other countries' citizens, enterprises and institutions.
There are specific policies and priorities that should characterize our relations with predominantly Islamic countries. If pursued, we believe these behaviors will increase global wealth, reduce terrorism, and set the stage for productive relations for generations to come. As Robert Wright wrote, “America's fortunes are growing more closely correlated with the fortunes of people far away; fewer [foreign policy efforts] have simple win-lose outcomes, and more have either win-win or lose-lose outcomes.” (“An American Foreign Policy that Both Realists and Idealists Should Fall in Love With,” The New York Times, July 16, 2006)
First, we should bring our very best efforts to bear to resolve hotspots on the frontiers of Islam— Palestine, as we have discussed, but also Kashmir and others. These hotspots are a much bigger contributor to the total problem than is understood or acknowledged. If ignored, they will continue to provide a powerful source of grievance and hate — and a powerful motivation for terrorists and the people they are trying to win over.
Anything the United States can do to incent these governments toward being more representative, and to improve the economic lot of their entire citizenry, is a powerful tool to combat terrorism.
But in almost all cases, we should seek first to work with those countries that invite us, and provide incentives that motivate other countries to seek us out. We should primarily use a carrot and not a stick. Many of these governments are making positive steps toward more representative government and economic progress. They should be rewarded for what they have accomplished and encouraged to do more. The tools to accomplish this include economic development and trade support, as well as assistance on issues of governmental reform.
An excellent example is Turkey. Turkey has made bold strides in the twentieth century to become both democratic and secular. In furtherance of this, the nation is currently seeking admission into the European Economic Union, but may not succeed. Many of its citizens regard membership in the EU as a referendum on the acceptance of Muslim countries into the West. It may very well be central to the successful progress of U.S. anti-terror policy to seek to facilitate Turkey’s EU candidacy.
As mentioned, 41 of the 45 predominately Muslim nations in the world were former European colonies or subsumed as Soviet states. This status impaired the growth of leadership and political infrastructure. Most have not transitioned to bona fide democracies and most are still in economic disrepair. 20 of these 45 are oil exporting nations. As we have said, significant resource wealth generally retards economic and political progress.
After World War II, the United States used its economic prowess to stave off world chaos with the Marshall Plan in Europe, one of history’s most magnanimous and astute initiatives. As part of this plan, the U.S. spent over $200 billion (in today's dollars) to help rebuild European economies which were in real danger of being taken over by the Soviet Union, or plummeting into economic and social chaos, or both:
“The public outcry that would have been raised had Germany (been bombed with the atomic bomb) would likely have been similarly muted (as with Japan), and for the same reason: the two countries were not only terrorist states but expansionist terrorist states, and their grim fates (for fire-bombing was in many ways a horror equal to nuclear attack) were never considered by the vast majority of the world’s citizens, and certainly not by those who had suffered most at their hands, as anything other than just. All of which made it only more remarkable that the United States should have decided, when Germany and Japan finally lay prostrate, to rebuild both countries and make them viable nations once more. The generosity embodied in the Marshall Plan for Europe and the similar measures overseen in Japan by General Douglas MacArthur stand as the greatest acts of not only civilian but military generosity in the history of the world, as well as the greatest vindication of the argument that the tactics of terror must never be met with like behavior; for both Germany ... and Japan responded to this unprecedented decency by rejoining the community of constructive, civilized nations. …Postwar reconstruction … can … be viewed as the clearest demonstration of the most important of all lessons to be learned from the history of warfare-- the enlightened self-interest embodied in the embrace of former enemies…” (Caleb Carr, The Lessons of Terror, Random House, 2002, pp. 196-7)
If we make it our policy to focus on building up Muslim nations, as opposed to making war, terrorism will begin to recede.
Our support should be carefully directed so as not to simply enrich the corrupt. Measures should be in place to gauge the effectiveness of these overall efforts. A scorecard for success in building up and thus combating extremism would be a simple one to create. We could measure the growth in the size of the middle class and the breadth of inclusion of people in the political process in each of these countries. These are readily quantified. If the number of citizens legitimately participating in governmental decisions—especially through bona fide elections — in a given year is greater than the previous year, and if the size of the middle class rises from one year to the next, the underpinnings of terrorism in those countries will begin to abate.
It has not been a mistake to push for democracy in the Middle East. The mistake was pushing for it militarily in Iraq — and without first addressing more fundamental issues. We should instead have done such things as nurtured the fledgling democracy in Afghanistan, encouraged the continued movement toward democracy in Morocco, continued to positively engage and support Turkey in its democratic efforts, and done the like in a number of other countries.
There are risks, of course. In some nations, there has been movement toward democracy but the outcomes have been worrisome. In Palestine, a true election was held, but the citizens voted for extremists. This was to be expected, because the incumbents had not succeeded in staving off military humiliation and creating a path out of economic distress. The citizens of Palestine are among the poorest in the world. Unless we help to equitably relieve and resolve the egregious conditions in the region, we cannot reasonably expect a different outcome. In Egypt, where any movement toward truly free political contests would result in large gains for the Muslim Brotherhood, the situation is similar. Egypt has been highly repressive towards any party that has a genuine chance of unseating those in power. Its citizens are politically restrained and excluded, and poverty is pervasive, so no other result is likely. Yet large-scale efforts to decentralize wealth and economic opportunity could create a more moderate outcome. U.S. priorities should be clear—the true decentralization of power and economic opportunity—even though these electoral risks exist. And most Islamic political parties—including those in Jordan, Kuwait and Morocco—are peaceful.
Many people have mistakenly suggested that the terrorism in the Middle East is somehow related to the intrinsic characteristics of Islam. Some believe there exists an inherent antagonism within Islam against Christians and Jews. We attribute that misperception primarily to fundamentalists and splinter extremists. Though multiple interpretations of the Koran are possible, it is crucial to note that there is not a structurally irreconcilable conflict between Islam and Christianity, or Islam and Judaism. Note the treatment of Jews and Christians under of the Prophet Muhammad, born 552 AD, and under Islam in the years immediately after:
“...Jews throve under Muslim rule, especially after Islam expanded into Byzantine lands, where Orthodox rulers routinely persecuted both Jews and non-Orthodox Christians for their religious beliefs, often forcing them to convert to Imperial Christianity under penalty of death. In contrast, Muslim law, which considers Jews and Christians ‘protected peoples’ ( dhimmi ), neither required nor encouraged their conversion to Islam…Muslim persecution of the dhimmi was not only forbidden by Islamic law, it was in direct defiance of Muhammad's orders to his expanding armies never to trouble Jews in their practice of Judaism, and always to preserve the Christian institutions they encountered. … warning that 'he who wrongs a Jew or a Christian will have me as his accuser on the Day of Judgment.’” (Reza Aslan, “No god but God,” Random House, 2005, pp. 94-5, 101)
Heated rhetoric doesn’t mean that the people of these countries are permanently pitted against America. In our revolutionary war, a number of Americans used the term "Great Satan" and worse to describe England and its leaders. This type of propaganda is often part of an attempt to shape a distinct identity and to articulate a new order.
The United States must set an example for the Islamic community by its own conduct. Practicing the values of freedom, friendship and justice that are the spirit of America and rejecting repressive regimes, coups, torture, illegal detention and the murder of civilians sends a stronger message than any act of force or coercion.
As we have seen, in some instances, our dependence on foreign oil has compromised our judgment and values in dealing with certain foreign governments. Over the long term, we should be making intelligent, concerted investments in alternative fuels. It is not unreasonable to think that the trillion dollars we are spending on Iraq would be sufficient to have brought us to energy independence if spent on alternative fuels development instead.
Even with the efforts outlined above, we need to be prepared for setbacks, difficulty and backsliding, and keep our spirit of goodwill and resolve in the face of them.