Tuesday, December 07, 2004

Right diagnonis, wrong medicine

December 7 2004

Right diagnosis, wrong medicine

TWO reports published this week underlined the reality that the US is losing its self-proclaimed war against terror as a result of misguided policies and deep flaws in its approach to the Middle East and in the handling of the situation in Iraq.

The first was comments by Michael Scheuer, a former American intelligence agent who used to chase Osama Bin Laden and author of the book Imperial Hubris: Why the West Is Losing the War on Terror. He argued that the US-led war against terrorism is failing because of Washington's policies in the Middle East and the American claims that more than two thirds of Al Qaeda's leadership are destroyed are hollow. If anything, he says, Al Qaeda has grown in concept to a global movement with far-reaching influence through the Internet.

The other was a "strategic communications" report, written by the Defence Science Board for US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. The report says the war on terror and the invasion and occupation of Iraq have increased support for Al Qaeda, made ordinary Muslims hate the US and caused a global backlash against America because of the "self-serving hypocrisy" of the Bush administration over the Middle East.

We don't know whether Scheuer and the authors of the Defence Science Board collaborated with each other. Both have almost identical views and conclusions. But then, there need not be any collaboration to come up with the reality -- two and two always make four no matter who does the calculation.

Scheuer, a former Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) officer who once led the hunt for Bin Laden, observes that Al Qaeda's domination of the Internet in the Muslim world was leading to the US losing its battle for the hearts and minds of Muslims worldwide.

Scheuer, who wrote the book under the name "Anonymous" with CIA permission and quit the CIA because the agency would not allow him to give media interviews, was speaking to a group of journalists in Washington.

Lost chances

According to Scheuer, the US had at least eight chances to kill Bin Laden before Sept.11, 2001, but did not use the opportunity because of apathy or inaction by American decision-makers.

Today, Bin Laden's Al Qaeda enjoys wide support around the world, he says.

Asked whether the US-led war on terror could be won, he replied. "No. It can't be won. We're going to eventually lose it. And the problem for us is that we're going to lose it much more quickly if we don't start killing more of the enemy."

Among the points raised by Scheuer, Al Qaeda is winning the propaganda war, especially the Internet, with regular political, military and religious discourses and justification for many of its actions. The core of the movement was made up of true believers and it was controlling the debate in the Islamic world. It also had suspected success in infiltrating US military and security services, he said.

Another problem the US faces is the wide support that Bin Laden enjoys among the Muslims and Arabs that make it difficult for governments to take effective action against Bin Laden, he said.

The US-led war against and occupation of Iraq is unpopular in the Muslim world and is blocking American efforts to mobilise world opinion against Bin Laden without seeming to support US policies in the Middle East -- especially backing Israel -- the West's need for low oil prices, he said.

"Unless we change or at least consider changing our policies in the Middle East, the room for Bin Laden or Bin Ladenism to grow is virtually unlimited," Scheuer said.

Not against culture

He rejected Western claims that Bin Laden targeted the United States and Europe because he hated Western culture.

"They're attacking us because of our unqualified support for Israel. They're attacking us because we've helped cement on their heads tyrannies in the Arab world ... for the last 40 years," he said. "They're attacking us because we're in the Arabian Peninsula and it happens to be a holy place for them."

According to Scheuer, Al Qaeda served both as an organisation and as an umbrella for groups with similar ideals worldwide, adding Bin Laden's command and control goes very little beyond Al Qaeda itself.

"His goal is to more or less get everybody moving in the same direction -- moving them away from, kind of a away from, a more nationalist orientation ... and get the focused on the United States," he said. "And frankly he's been only 60 or 65 per cent successful in that."

Compare Scheuer's assertions with the findings of the Defence Science Report.

On "the war of ideas or the struggle for hearts and minds," the report says, "American efforts have not only failed, they may also have achieved the opposite of what they intended."

"American direct intervention in the Muslim world has paradoxically elevated the stature of, and support for, radical Islamists, while diminishing support for the United States to single digits in some Arab societies," it says.

Rejected repeated assertions by American administration officials that those hostile to the US hate "American freedoms" the report affirms: "Muslims do not 'hate our freedoms', but rather, they hate our policies. The overwhelming majority voice their objections to what they see as one-sided support in favour of Israel and against Palestinian rights...."

Muslims also resent the American alliances with unpopular regimes, says the report.

"Thus when American public diplomacy talks about bringing democracy to Islamic societies, this is seen as no more than self-serving hypocrisy. Moreover, saying that 'freedom is the future of the Middle East' is seen as patronising ... in the eyes of Muslims, the American occupation of Afghanistan and Iraq has not led to democracy there, but only more chaos and suffering. US actions appear in contrast to be motivated by ulterior motives, and deliberately controlled in order to best serve American national interests at the expense of truly Muslim self-determination."

The most vital flaw of the American approach to Iraq was underlined by Patrick Cockburn, who, a correspondent for Britain's Independent newspaper, he has written regular reports from Iraq throughout the occupation.

In an interview carried on the website counterpunch.com, Cockburn puts his finger on the pulse when he states that the US has already lost the war to win the hearts and minds of the people of Iraq.

Rejecting the American theory that the US military needed to pacify the town of Fallujah in order to set the ground for elections in January, Cockburn says:

"This connection between the attack on Fallujah and the elections is one of the weirdest things I've heard. You go and smash up a city, you turn all of its population into refugees, you kill quite a number of them -- and somehow they're going to come out and vote? I think that was always kind of an absurdity."

"There should be no mystery about the nature of the resistance in Iraq. The situation is very simple, as it would be in most countries of the world -- when you have an occupation by a foreign power, you have resistance. And that's exactly what's happened in Iraq."

Widening support base

The Defence Science Board implicitly agrees with Scheuer that the way the Bush administration conducted foreign policy after the Sept.11 attacks benefited Bin Laden and Al Qaeda.

"American actions have elevated the authority of the jihadi insurgents and tended to ratify their legitimacy among Muslims." The result is that Al Qaeda has gone from being a marginal movement to having support across the entire Muslim world, says the report, again an affirmation of Scheur's finding.

"Muslims see Americans as strangely narcissistic," the report goes on, adding that to the Arab world the war is "no more than an extension of American domestic politics". The US has zero credibility among Muslims which means that "whatever Americans do and say only serves ... the enemy."

Another fundamental flaw in the American approach is that it has divided the Muslim world in perception to "bad Muslims" and "good Muslims."

"Americans are convinced that the US is a benevolent 'superpower' that elevates values emphasising freedom ... deep down we assume that everyone should naturally support our policies. Yet the world of Islam by overwhelming majorities at this time -- sees things differently. Muslims see American policies as inimical to their values, American rhetoric about freedom and democracy as hypocritical and American actions as deeply threatening."

However, the report also implicitly points out the infamous "neoconservatives" in the Bush administration do not realise that their direction is misguided.

It cites a report made in May by Paul Wolfowitz, the deputy defence secretary and one of the most known neocons, in which he observes: "Our military expeditions to Afghanistan and Iraq are unlikely to be the last such excursion in the global war on terrorism."

Biased policy

Ironically, no where in the report is any suggestion that the administration should address the core problem -- its biased approach to the Middle East conflict and open-ended support for Israel.

Instead, it suggests that in order to correct the situation, the US must make "strategic communication." This should include the dissemination of propaganda and the running of military psychological operations. More importantly, it says, "presidential leadership" is needed in this "ideas war" and warns against "arrogance, opportunism and double standards."

"We face a war on terrorism," the report says, "intensified conflict with Islam, and insurgency in Iraq. Worldwide anger and discontent are directed at America's tarnished credibility and ways the US pursues its goals. There is a consensus that America's power to persuade is in a state of crisis."

The US administration is ignoring the fact that the "image problem" that the US is suffering is linked "to perceptions of the US as arrogant, hypocritical and self-indulgent" and calls for a huge boost in spending on propaganda efforts as war policies "will not succeed unless they are communicated to global domestic audiences in ways that are credible."

As "Al Qaeda constantly outflanks the US in the war of information," the US should adopt more sophisticated propaganda techniques, such as targeting secularists in the Muslim World -- including writers, artists and singers -- and getting US private sector media and marketing professionals involved in disseminating messages to Muslims with a pro-US "brand."

Well, both Scheuer and the Defence Science Board are accurate in their assessment of the situation, but wrong in their suggestions as to how to address it. As noted, Scheuer suggests "killing more of the enemy" while the Defence Science Board recommends a propaganda campaign.

Well, Scheuer as well as the Washington strategists who drew up the Defence Science Board report with fair accuracy have opted to turn away from the minefield of tackling the American bias in favour of Israel as the root of all problems that the administration faces. No killing of militants and/or "propaganda" will work to convince the world Muslims today that Washington has any good in mind for them unless it deals with a firm hand to put an end to Israel's intransigence and arrogance and its refusal to accept international legitimacy as the basis for a solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict, be it on the Palestinian, Syrian or Lebanese fronts. And that would only be a beginning of the treatment to address the American ailment.