Middle East Policy Council

Speech

The Mess in the Middle East

Remarks to the National Council on U.S. Arab Relations 20th Annual Arab-U.S. Policymakers Conference

Ambassador Chas W. Freeman, Jr. (USFS, Ret.)

When John Duke Anthony asked me to kick off this two-day meeting by talking about recent events and what they might mean for U.S.-Arab relations and U.S. policy, I was greatly honored.  I was also reminded of the words of a famous expert on the Middle East who, many years ago, was asked to describe U.S. policy there.  He replied, “We don’t have a policy in the Middle East; but that’s just as well because, if we did, it would be the wrong one.” 

Recent events suggest that this was a major and memorable insight.  The more that “change we can believe in” unfolds in the Middle East, the more things stay the same or retrogress.  The more policy we have, the more perverse the results it seems to produce for our country.

Over the year since we last met here in this hall, there have been momentous events in West Asia and North Africa.  Some Arab regimes have fallen to popular uprisings.  Others appear to be at risk of doing so.  Throughout the broad expanse of the Arab world incumbent governments of all kinds must now be much more deferential than before to the will of their people on both domestic and foreign affairs.  This is good news for those who favor more accountable government, as I’m sure everyone here does — at least for foreigners.  Americans concerned with the capacity of the United States to shape events in the Middle East should, however, hold the elation.  Self-determination is, by definition, a rejection of subservience.  This means, among other things, that Arab rulers are considerably less inclined to do America's bidding than in the past.  They are starting to do things they see as in their interests even when these things are not in ours. 

This is especially the case with regard to the Israel-Palestine issue, which remains central to our relations with the region.  Given our unbreakable bonds with Israel, it is not at all helpful that that country has now — as some of us feared it might — alienated those few of its neighbors with which it once enjoyed normal ties.  American policies have long put sustaining Israel’s military dominance of the region ahead of encouraging it to make peace with Palestinians and other Arabs.  Shielded militarily from the need to deal respectfully with its neighbors and those over whom it rules, the Zionist state has progressively segregated itself both morally and politically from the region and most of the international community, including a growing number of Jews here and elsewhere in the West.

Israel has nonetheless also demonstrated that its hold on domestic U.S. politics remains unbroken.  This past year, it was able to compel our president to swear allegiance to expansive Zionism and to repudiate policies endorsed by his own and previous administrations as well as the international community.  By contemptuously overriding the views and interests of the United States in this way, Israel and its American claque debased and discredited American international prestige and regional credibility.  As a consequence, the world has come together in a series of ever firmer votes of no-confidence in U.S. leadership and diplomacy on the Israel-Palestine dispute.  American military might remains unchallengeable, but the power of the United States to protect Israel from the political and legal consequences of its policies, statements, and actions has been gravely impaired.  This is a perverse result for an Israeli government and its supporters to have engineered.               

For their part, after decades of bitter frustration with a feckless, fraudulent, and ultimately fruitless American-led “peace process,” the Palestinians have concluded that they cannot count on the United States.  They have ended their deference to what they (and most of the world) now see as America’s meretricious manipulation of their affairs to their occupier’s advantage.  They have taken the initiative to rally regional and global support for their self-determination and independence from Israel.  They hope in this way to transform the struggle for Palestinian independence into a more equal contest.  Theirs will no longer be a bilateral struggle between a strong, U.S.-backed Israel and a Palestine with no leverage.  It will, they hope, become a contest between Israel and the world’s conscience.

Ironically, political reactions here to these developments promise not only to isolate the United States in international organizations but to deprive us of our residual influence with the Palestinians.  The end of U.S. subsidies to the Palestinian Authority will force Israel to assume responsibility for security and other services in the Occupied Territories that it had successfully unloaded on Palestinian collaborators funded by American and other foreign taxpayers.  Instead of facilitating the occupation by paying Palestinians to police it, Americans and Europeans are now likely to face demands to pay Israel directly to conduct it.  Europeans, at least, are unlikely to take up this burden.

The perceived need to counter Israeli and American policies is already throwing together some strange diplomatic bedfellows.  It is also marginalizing American influence on other issues of concern in West Asia and North Africa.  The regional clout of non-Western powers like China, India, and Russia will surely grow concomitantly.

If this sounds grim, I apologize.  I cannot promise that, as is the case on Saudi Channel One, amusing cartoons will follow the sermon.  I must leave it to those who follow me to provide comic relief.  I’m happy to do that.  Years ago, Ronald Reagan told me: “you know, they say that hard work never killed anybody.  But why take a chance?”  He delegated as much as he could to experts who were smarter than he was.  He set a good example I plan to follow.

This conference has been convened to weigh the implications of the trends and developments I’ve outlined.  As I look at the agenda, I see that it will also consider other legacies of past and present U.S. policies in the region, like Iran’s resentful anti-Americanism and assertive search for regional hegemony, the cancerous growth of sectarianism in the Arab world, the deepening Iraqi strategic alignment with Iran, the proliferation of vengeful anti-American radicalism, and the likely fallout from the failing U.S.-led pacification effort in Afghanistan.  In the past, denial that these are urgent problems may have sufficed to evade uncomfortable but necessary dialogue.  Neither silence nor inaction is now a viable option for Americans, Arabs, Iranians, Israelis, or others with a stake in the future of the Middle East. 

Three decades after Iran’s revolution, some or all of the world’s 340 million Arabs are following Persians into a repudiation of foreign tutelage.  The Iranian upheaval of 1979 marked the end of any notion of Iran as the political or cultural ward of Britain, Russia, or the United States.  Country by country, whether under new or existing governments, Arabs too are now asserting the right to their own self-determined national identities and policies.  Arabs are not Persians; Sunni political culture is not that of Shi`ism; and the histories of the diverse parts of the Arab world differ significantly from those of Iran.  It’s unlikely that any Arab country will follow Iran into uncompromisingly theocratic forms of governance that derive their legitimacy from broad confrontation with the West and its values.  Still, the Arab uprisings of 2011 have made it politically impossible for rulers to put the agendas of Western patrons ahead of the views, interests, and religious traditions of their own publics.                                     

This shift in mindset and popular expectations has huge strategic implications.  It foretells Arab governments and policies that seek the authenticity that only the consent of the governed and respect for their values and views can provide.  The colonial era was over elsewhere five or six decades ago.  As the Arabs insist on independence under popular sovereignty, whether exercised through one ruler or many, the last vestiges of neo-colonialism are vanishing in West Asia and North Africa as well.  In the new era, relations between Middle Eastern states will be determined by local judgments about what is right, proper, and to the national advantage, not what is ordained, championed, or paid for by an outside power, patron, or overlord.  That has been the case for Israel.  It will now be the case for Israel’s Arab neighbors as well.

Arab rulers have just had it driven home to them that they cannot rely on Americans to protect them from domestic backlash to unpopular policies.  They’ve also learned that they cannot look to America to constrain Israel.  The strategic utility of the United States to Arab governments has been correspondingly devalued.  As a result, Israel can no longer count on U.S. alliances, aid programs, or patron-client allegiances to exempt it from the consequences of its dysfunctional relationships with its neighbors.

Israelis played a major role in creating the adverse circumstances in which they now find themselves.  They must now make their own peace with Turkey, sustain their own relations with Egypt and Jordan, and find their own basis for coexistence with Iran, Iraq, and Saudi Arabia, among others.  They must craft their own modus vivendi and achieve their own reconciliation with Palestinians and Lebanese, whom they have heretofore treated with contemptuous cruelty and disrespect. 

The spectacle of members of Congress bouncing up and down like so many obsequious yo-yos as Prime Minister Netanyahu spoke to them last May is irrefutable evidence of Israel’s hammerlock on U.S. policy.   But U.S. policy no longer decides what happens politically or economically in the Middle East.  This has created a new and less certain political environment in West Asia and North Africa.  For the first time in decades, Israel must manage its regional and international relationships on its own.  Judging from Israel’s recent handling of incidents with the UAE, Turkey, and Egypt, neither its current government nor its political elite understands the new environment or is mentally prepared to cope with it.

Israel would be in difficulty even if American prestige in the Middle East had not imploded.  But it has.  Our previous reputation was so strong that Americans had to work really hard to do it in.  With a little help from our friends, we proved we were up to the task. 

The factors that went into destroying our appeal and authority are many.  They begin with the disingenuous diplomacy of the now defunct “peace process.”  The major result of three decades of American mediation has been to discredit American diplomacy.  In effect, the United States facilitated the ongoing seizure of territory by Israel at the expense of a just settlement of differences between Israelis and Palestinians and Palestinian self-determination. 

The reputation of the United States for wisdom, truthfulness, and competence was also gravely damaged by the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq.  The course of events in both countries convincingly demonstrated the limitations of U.S. military power.  The strategic fallout continues to spread.  In Iraq, the U.S. ravaged a proud Arab society.  The resulting anarchy set off a widening firestorm of sectarian violence in the Arab world.  It also catalyzed a major — and so far uncountered — extension of Iranian influence in the region.

Washington’s eager connivance in the maiming of Lebanon in 2006 and of Gaza just before the Obama administration took office added to the perception of the United States as indifferent, if not sadistically happy about the suffering of Arab or Muslim populations.  By conservative estimate, U.S. policies and military actions in the post Cold War period have directly or indirectly caused the deaths of between 250,000 and a million Muslims and displaced at least ten million from their homes.   One does not need an advanced degree to understand the origins of Muslim rage against America

America’s ideological appeal has also faded.  The abuses at Kandahar, Bagram, Abu Ghraib, and Guantánamo erased the international image of America as a champion of freedom, fair play, the rule of law, and human rights.  Inconsistencies in the U.S. response to the popular uprisings in various Arab countries seriously undercut the credibility of American support for democracy.  So has Washington’s willingness to attempt the overthrow of freely elected governments it and Israel dislike, like the Hamas-led government elected in Palestine in 2006.   There is little sympathy for Hamas in most of the Arab world, but there is now universal outrage at U.S. collusion in the ongoing Israeli effort to terrorize Palestinians in Gaza and permanently ghettoize them.  The blatant hate speech against Arabs and Muslims that now pervades American political discourse further reduces the willingness of people in the region to give a sympathetic hearing to American perspectives on events.

So too, I am sorry to say, does the mounting global perception of the United States as a country that can’t get its act together.  In the first few years of this century, many abroad came to see us as a military bully.  More recently, they have viewed our national leadership as terminally uncivil, unable to set priorities or otherwise address urgent national and international problems, economically illiterate and fiscally incompetent, ignorant and indifferent to foreign realities, and committed to the view that threats, sanctions, and military intervention are the answer to most foreign policy problems.

Of course, we’re not a bully.  We’re just a superpower with attitude.   A friend of mine who works on Capitol Hill assures me that foreigners seriously “misunderestimate” our politicians.  Seen up close, he says, they are without doubt the finest decision-makers that political contributions can lease.  If “that government is best which governs least,” he boasts, the United States has now achieved a rare perfection. We have attained a level of political gridlock in which the people’s representatives celebrate their faith in God by leaving it to Him to solve the problems their own previous misbehavior created.  We should be happy to be so thoroughly ungoverned, my friend believes.  But even he, a well-traveled French intellectual, admits that, from afar, we don’t look as good as we once did. 

The fact is that, even without the strategic albatross of all-out support for self-destructive Israeli policies, the United States now has less going for it than ever before to help it shape the strategic contours of a changing Middle East.  Yet it is in this highly adverse context that we Americans must protect our interests.  To do this, we must acknowledge the multiple failures of our policies to achieve their declared objectives.

We have not persuaded Israel to accept the recognition and reconciliation that all twenty-two Arab countries and thirty-five additional Muslim states have offered.  There has been no Israeli offer of peace to the Palestinians or anyone else in the region, only demands for unconditional acceptance of Israel as a Jewish state.  Yet contemporary Israel is a transplant in the region that needs mutually respectful relations with its other peoples to assure long-term survival.  It is now clear beyond a reasonable doubt that we Americans do not have the will or the self-confidence to help Israel achieve this.  Nor do we have the bona fides necessary to conduct the sort of shuttle diplomacy we once did.  Anyone who watched the U.S. Congress clap, curtsy, and kowtow to Mr. Netanyahu understands why we now have no credibility as a mediator. 

We have not been able to end the increasingly brutal Israeli occupation and siege in the West Bank and Gaza.  Neither is compatible with international law, Security Council decisions, Israel’s undertakings in the Camp David accords, the spirit of the Oslo agreement, the terms of the “Roadmap,” or other relevant doctrines and decisions.  We routinely deplore Israel’s policies and actions without ceasing to fund them or to prevent anyone else from halting them.  No one takes what we say about Israeli or Palestinian behavior seriously anymore.

We are now trying to scuttle our own longstanding approach to the achievement of Palestinian self-determination and independence from Israel.  The only answer we have to others’ objections to this is the power of the veto.  But there is no reason to expect the Palestinians or the vast majority of the international community that is now aligned with them against us to restrict their challenges to the Security Council or other arenas where we can block them.  They are pretty clearly ready to exclude and bypass us.

We do not know how to douse the spreading wildfire of sectarian violence in the Muslim world that we inadvertently ignited by thrusting Iraq into anarchy.  We have no coherent answer to uprisings and unrest in places as disparate as Bahrain, Syria, and Yemen or to the success of rebellion in Libya.  We do not know how to deal with democratic Islamists.  We have not come up with a way to counter Islamist terrorists with global reach.  Our current approach simply intensifies their fervor, strengthens their base among the Muslim faithful, and multiplies their supporters and copy-cats.

We have no strategy for countering Iranian inroads in the Arab world or causing Tehran to abandon its presumed nuclear ambitions.  Iraq is aligned with Iran on issues from Syria and Lebanon to Bahrain.  We are about to withdraw from Iraq without reaching any strategically advantageous understanding with Baghdad.  We are conducting our relations with Pakistan and Afghanistan in ways that maximize the risk of protracted terrorist reprisal for our slaughter of civilians and alienation of religious and tribal elements in both.  We don’t know what to do about the situations we have helped create in either or both countries.

That's a lot of "known unknowns."  It would be easy to become depressed.

On the other hand, over the past year, like all right-thinking Americans, I have learned to be happy and love national credit rollovers.  I count it a triumph that we have so far avoided a government shutdown. And I’m confident that the “Super Committee” has our fiscal situation in hand.  According to my French intellectual friend on Capitol Hill, the Supers are about to produce a comprehensive nonpartisan resolution of our fiscal dilemmas.  This will contract the economy while creating jobs and slash budgetary outlays while upping defense spending to produce the best of all possible worlds.  I really want to believe this even if it’s clearly nuts.  After all, if voodoo economics could get us into this mess, why can’t it get us out of it? 

But in the absence of fiscal sorcery and some serious changes in policy, some or all of the following is very likely in our future. 

Israel will be increasingly ostracized, boycotted, and prosecuted internationally for its scofflaw behavior, racist policies, and daily violence and intermittent pogroms against Palestinians.  The United States will suffer correspondingly from guilt by our continuing close association with Israel.  Over our objections, Turks, Egyptians, Saudis, and other Gulf Arabs will make common cause on matters relating to Palestine.  (The good news is that the Ayatollah Khamenei is aligned with Prime Minister Netanyahu and other yahoos in seeking to block a viable two-state solution in Palestine.  Iran will therefore not make common cause with Arab countries.  It doesn’t share their current and our former belief that the way to bring peace to the Middle East is through the implementation of United Nations Security Council Resolution 242 by recognizing the division of the Holy Land between Israel and a much smaller State of Palestine.)

The Palestinian issue will move from meeting rooms where we are present to conference rooms where we are not — or where our objections to measures against Israel are opposed or ignored by large, unsympathetic majorities.  The defunded Palestinian Authority will likely cease to function.  Instead of being able to rely on continuing Palestinian collaboration on intelligence and security matters, Israel will try to deal with those parts of the Occupied Territories still inhabited by Palestinians the same way it does with Gaza.  Palestinian and Arab politics will be further radicalized. 

Some Palestinian factions, long quiescent, will resume operations against Israelis in Israel as well as the Occupied Territories.  Others will return to terrorism against the soft targets represented by Israel's supporters abroad.  Not a few Israelis will conclude that the United States, not Israel, is the only secure domicile for the world’s Jews.  Jewish emigration from Israel will accelerate.   The United States will gain many desirable new citizens as a result.

The visible presence of U.S. troops on Arab soil will attract escalating local protests as well as terrorist attacks.  The U.S. will step up assassinations of alleged proponents, planners, and perpetrators of such attacks.  Collateral damage will mount.  So will popular rage against the United States and pressure on Arab governments to deny U.S. forces access to facilities and installations in the region.  Eventually, one or more Arab governments will decide that having an American military presence on its territory or facilitating transit or overflight by the U.S. armed forces is too provocative to local opinion.  Other Arab governments will follow.  The U.S. ability to rely on strategic lines of communication in the Gulf to link Asia to Europe and to project power around the world will take a big hit.

The Gulf Arabs, Iran, and Turkey will compete for the support of previously uncommitted external powers, like Brazil, China, India, and Russia.  Gulf Arab governments will find it easy to buy arms from these countries but impossible to persuade them to replace weakening U.S. defense commitments with their own.  GCC member countries will be driven toward greater self-reliance and stronger cooperation with each other.  Some will ally with Turkey, Pakistan, and Egypt.  Others will make their peace with Iran.  Military training in the United States and the ease of cooperation and habits of coordination that it fosters will decline as U.S. budgets contract, military ties to the Gulf attenuate, and the region’s military relationships diversify.

Now that I’ve cheered you up, let me turn briefly to what might be done to avoid or mitigate developments like these.   The writing may be on the wall but nothing is certain until the ink dries.  Other speakers will have creative ideas about what is to be done.  We need some new ideas to end our current wars and to restore our domestic security and tranquility.  Before other speakers step up to this challenge, let me venture a few thoughts.

In the Holy Land, it’s about time we recalled the Hippocratic oath.  This advises those with the power to intervene to “abstain from doing harm.”  To put it more realistically, we should abstain from doing more harm than we already have.  Foolishly encouraging Israelis to indulge in a belief that they can enjoy security through eternal reliance on American subsidies and protection and by sustaining a perpetual state of war with neighboring peoples not only does them no favor; it does Israel,  the United States, and the Arabs great harm. 

For a long time, we have acted as the enablers of self-injurious Israeli behavior.  This has made it possible for Israel to choose land over peace, to corrupt its democracy, to deviate from the core values of its official religion as understood by Jews abroad, to empower racism and bigotry among its Jewish majority, and, most recently, to humiliate the president of the United States while extracting twenty-nine kowtows from Congress.

No one now harbors any real hope that America can either deliver peace or help Israelis, Palestinians, and those with whom they share their region to achieve it.  We have shown convincingly that bilateral negotiations between grossly unequal parties cannot produce an equitable and sustainable result unless outside parties are willing to intervene to redress the imbalances in power.  Yet an equitable and sustainable result is an imperative not only for Israelis and Arabs but for Americans as well.  The costs of no peace are becoming too great to be sustained. 

The essential objective of stated U.S. policy has always been the achievement of acceptance for Israel in its region through self-determination for the Palestinians in their own state.  This is what the Arab peace initiative of 2002 offered.  Americans need to get out of the way and let the international community work with the Arabs to help Israel embrace peace.  

The last American with a valid claim to the status of peacemaker in the Middle East is the much-maligned Jimmy Carter.  He put the squeeze on Menachem Begin to accept the peace that Anwar Sadat had bravely offered.  There is no prospect that any elected or appointed American official could now act toward an Israeli leader with the determination that President Carter showed in September 1978 at Camp David.  Conversely, as long as the United States fawns on Israel and uses drones and hit teams to carry out extrajudicial executions in an expanding list of Arab and Muslim countries, no president will have any credibility with Palestinians, other Arabs, or the broader Islamic community.  The American-led “peace process” is over.  We blew it.

The United States must now let the international community do for Binyamin Netanyahu what Jimmy Carter did for Menachem Begin — make Israel an offer of peace it will not let its prime minister refuse.  This means ceasing to block the diplomatic tough love for Israel that only non-Americans can provide, and it means withdrawing U.S. funding and other support for Israeli policies and programs that harm U.S. interests or constitute obstacles to peace.  The combination of international pressure and diminishing U.S. support is necessary to concentrate Israeli minds on the long-term choices before their country. 

Peace has long been available if Israel would only trade sufficient land for it.  The vast majority of Israelis favor swapping land for peace.  A succession of right-wing Israeli governments has worked to obviate this possibility by creating adverse “facts on the ground.”   It is time instead to create circumstances that will empower the Israeli majority to push their country’s recalcitrant politicians into peaceful coexistence with the other peoples of the Middle East.

Most Americans would rather forget Iraq now that we’re leaving it.  But Iraq isn’t going away as an issue.  Our invasion of Iraq left Iran without a credible military challenger in the region.  Our withdrawal from Iraq leaves us with no strategy for countering Iranian aspirations for hegemony in the Middle East other than keeping a large part of our armed forces in the Arab countries of the Gulf.  Such a presence is a stimulus to terrorism.  Sustaining it is also almost certainly beyond our future fiscal capacity.  Our usual response in such situations is to ask for host nation support.  Given the loathing our policies in the Holy Land now inspire and the hatred our drone and other attacks are stoking, it is uncertain how Gulf Arab governments would respond to such a request.  Subsidies to an American military presence are likely to be highly unpopular even where exceptional levels of citizen affluence prevail. 

A better approach would be to adopt a more economic and less fatiguing strategy, like backstopping security arrangements that the GCC might contract with Turkey, Egypt, and Pakistan as well, possibly, with others, like a Syria that is no longer in the Iranian political orbit.  Among other benefits, this would share the burden of guaranteeing Gulf Arab security between the United States and other countries with an interest in the security of energy supplies, regional stability, and a global oil patch undominated by a single supplier.   Such countries include all the great powers of Europe and Asia.  Why should those who benefit from global order not share the burden of sustaining it by supporting the GCC?

In this context, the situation in Bahrain has much broader strategic implications than many seem to realize.  Bahrain is a fundamentally decent society but there are serious injustices there, as many in the Bahraini ruling family will admit.  The Bahraini opposition is now infected with the revolutionary Iranian ideology of wilayat al faqih, a self-serving and self-righteous clericalism that rejects accommodation with secular authority. 

The issues are complex.  Negotiation is difficult for both sides.  Yet, if there is no meeting of the minds, the disharmony in Bahrain, already an ulcer on GCC security, will afflict more than just Bahrainis.  It will become an open wound that neither Iran nor Shi`ite Iraq will be able to resist probing. 

It is hard to see how the U.S. Fifth Fleet could remain ashore in Bahrain under such circumstances.  The island kingdom has become a crucial arena for the widening sectarian struggle in the Gulf as well as the contest for regional influence between Saudi Arabia and Iran.  A measure of order has now been restored in Bahrain.  Substantial reform must follow if domestic tranquility is to be sustained and opportunities for external mischief-making contained.

The situation in Bahrain is an example of the strategic dangers posed by injustice that is contaminated by sectarian division.  In this and other contexts, I have to say, it’s hard to understand what’s in it for Saudi Arabia to continue to attempt to define itself by its Islam rather than by its character as the heartland of the Arabs.  Where Saudi Arabia differs from Iran and resembles the Iranian-penetrated states and societies of Bahrain, Lebanon, and Iraq is in its “Arabness,” not its adherence to one or another school of Islam.  The assertion of an Islamic rather than an Arab identity was a rational response to the challenge of secular Arab nationalism half a century ago.  It makes little sense today, when the threat emanates from within the Dar al Islam and the objective must be to discourage other Arab states from aligning with a non-Arab state against the Kingdom. 

Religious ideology is Iran’s battleground of choice.   One should never allow one’s adversary to pick the field of battle.  Only Saudis can decide who they are, but, in terms of Saudi prospects for victory in the struggle for the soul of the Arab world, Arab identity and tradition would seem to be a more promising choice of terrain on which to make a stand than religion.  There is nothing Arab about the concept of rule by mullahs embodied in the recent theological innovation of wilayat al faqih.  It is not a doctrine that Arab Shi`ites should find appealing, any more than Arab Sunnis do.The need to ensure that Shi`ite Arabs do not embrace it is an argument for expanded religious dialogue and tolerance.

Iran’s hegemonic ambitions are a serious problem for its neighbors.  There is no magic bullet to put an end to this problem.  Military action is more likely to create new problems than to solve this one.  Dealing with Iran requires a comprehensive strategy and engagement linked to a long-term effort by the GCC that is backed by the United States and others.  No such strategy or effort is in place.  The current cascade of sanctions, threats of air attack, and covert actions against nuclear facilities does not add up to a strategy.  The sanctions impoverish ordinary Iranians and rally them against foreign enemies.  The threats emphasize to them how much safer they would be if only they had a nuclear deterrent.  The cyber attacks and other covert actions against Iran retard its nuclear program but do not address its motivations for the program or halt it. 

There is no unity of purpose among those concerned about the various dimensions of Iranian behavior.  The GCC does not have anything useful to say to Iran about its nuclear programs.  Those in the region, like Turkey, who have tried to speak to Iran on this issue have been undercut rather than supported by the West.  Iran’s roles in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Palestine, Afghanistan, and elsewhere are unaddressed by American diplomacy, which is entirely focused on eliminating the presumed Iranian threat to Israel’s regional nuclear monopoly.  It is clearly time for all concerned about the diverse challenges Iran presents to confer, to deconflict their disparate policy priorities, and to cooperate.

Osama bin Laden was finally apprehended through classic intelligence and law enforcement work.  He was killed by Navy Seals but it is hard to argue that a military hit team was essential to arrest or execute him.  America seems wedded to a militarized approach to combating terrorism despite the fact that this is widening our struggle to an expanding list of Muslim countries — not narrowing it — while deepening existing Muslim animosity toward the United States.  We need to rethink our approach.  Decimating leadership structures can demoralize and disorient armies.  But we are not dealing with armies.  We are dealing with an enraged global community and an ideology that tells individuals within it what targets are legitimate objects of retribution and reprisal and that motivates them to act on their own or to seek others of like mind to join them in acts of terrorism.

Unless the causes of Muslim indignation are mitigated and the deviant ideology of those who exploit it is refuted, anti‑American terrorism will continue to flourish.  The apprehension and execution of Osama bin Laden or other prominent terrorists punishes their crimes against us but we should be under no illusion that it shakes either the motivation or the rationale of those they inspire.  To accomplish that, we need the help of Muslim allies.  We Americans are good at killing our enemies.  We are unqualified to refute Islamic heresies and unsuited to persuading those who have embraced these heresies to step aside from the path to terror.  We need Muslim help to accomplish both.

I am tempted to turn to Afghanistan and Pakistan, where many believe it’s all over but the excuses for the retreat, but, fortunately, my time has expired. 

I want to close by affirming my faith in the adaptability and resilience of the United States.  With all the problems we have made for ourselves and our friends in the Middle East, we have just about run out of alternatives to doing the right things.  Now we may get around to actually doing them, insha’Allah.  Bukra.  Mumkin.

2014 Munich-Vienna
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