Monday, July 09, 2007

an unrealistic prescription

Occasionally it is useful to remind yourself that the de facto Bush Administration isn't the only thing with absurdly simplistic policy prescriptions for the Middle East and on the so-called war on terrorism. The head honcho of the Aspen Institute, Walter Isaacson, weighs in with his earnest ideas in the Washington Post today. So, how does Walter do?

First, he compares the risk from terrorism to that from the Soviet Union in the late 1940s. The USSR - a major industrialized state, with a dozen countries under its control, that had just won a major war, was armed to the teeth with huge conventional armies and was quickly catching up to the US on atomic weapons, who posed a serious threat to the survival of the United States and our allies. Terrorists - a disjointed hodgepodge of people who control parts of Afghanistan, who do kill a few people here and there for various reasons, and who do not pose a threat to the existence of the United States and our allies.

Not a promising start, Walter.

Walter goes on to make some suggestions for presidential candidates to explore. Among them:

"· A new defense pact, supplementing NATO and with the same armed potency, that would serve as a Middle East anti-terrorist alliance. It would be open to all nations allied in the struggle against radical Islamic extremism and terrorism, including moderate Arab countries such as Egypt and Jordan. Like NATO, it would train joint military forces capable of making war or keeping the peace."

Okay Walter. How about some details. Who'd join? If it has the same "armed potency" as NATO, that would imply you'd need a bunch of the actual NATO members. So what's the point? And NATO has a trigger, an armed attack on one being an attack on all. Same for this new entity? How do you define it? How do you actually make it work? Who gets to define who are radical Islamic extremists or terrorists? if Egypt for example said an opposition party were terrorists, do we all agree? A weak proposal.

"· A new type of Marshall Plan that would provide small-business loans to help create a stable middle class across the Middle East. At the Aspen Institute, we have been working at the behest of the Overseas Private Investment Corp. to launch such a program in the Palestinian territories, with the cooperation of Israeli and Palestinian business leaders."

So, how is that Palestinian program working? Oh yeah, real well. Also this makes the false supposition that a "stable middle class" will reduce terrorism. But the evidence clearly shows this is WRONG WRONG WRONG. The big one, Osama Bin Laden? Hell, he wasn't even middle class, he was rich. And most of the 19 terrorists that perpetrated the attacks of 9/11 were middle class Arabs. And what about the recent half-assed car bomb plots in Britain? Many of THOSE guys were doctors, for pete's sake. No, poverty is not the cause of anti-western terrorism in the Middle East, although it may create hostile attitudes towards the local government.

"· An organization for public diplomacy in the digital age. This is a field in which America, with its values and media savvy, should be triumphing, but instead it is failing astonishingly. The outmoded structures of the Broadcast Board of Governors, Voice of America, Radio Free Europe and the like -- built for an analog broadcast era -- should be swept away for a coherent agency empowered to create an honest and open information strategy built for the age of blogs, social networks, digital streaming and satellite. It should be led by people with the integrity of Edward R. Murrow (who was tapped by President John F. Kennedy to run the sorely missed U.S. Information Agency) and the creativity of the inventors of Google and MySpace."

Sure, public relations. But the problem is that a PR program won't work if you don't have something good to sell. It doesn't change the fundamental bases for the hostility towards the United States among many terrorists, namely our armed presence in the holy land of Islam, Saudi Arabia. Remember, Bin Laden's goals for Al Qaeda were basically to get the US out of Saudi Arabia. As long as we are supporting repressive Arab regimes - and nowadays, blundering around Iraq killing civilians and suporting a feeble puppet regime - our best public relations won't make much diference. The hell of it is, many Arabs are already well aware of the attractive elements of America - democracy (more or less), economic opportunity, and all that. It is our government's POLICIES that many of them hate. Not America per se.

Isaacson also calls for a Peace Corps like group of "doctors, engineers, teachers, administrators and municipal workers" to help countries with hospitals, schools, and all that. Maybe he's never heard of the US Agency for International Development, that used to do this sort of thing when it had a budget. That didn't help much, why would this? Naive. And good luck attracting a cadre of trained professionals like this who are willing to go live in some small Arab town or village. I'm sure lots of them are fluent in Arabic, intimately familiar with the social, economic, and political milieus of Arab countries and are anxious to live in places where they would stand out like sore targets, I mean thumbs.

He did say something about "A tough, sensible and nonideological energy policy that tackles the security problems that arise from being so dependent on foreign oil and the environmental problems caused by the emission of greenhouse gases. (Fortunately, these security and environmental needs coincide more than they conflict.)" That's OK. It should be the number 1 issue for candidates in 2008, period.

Isaacson closes with some vague call for a global mission statement. Ooh, mission statements -- that'll show them.

Surely your average college freshman could come up with something better than this. This isn't a "vision to match the threat". It doesn't even identify the threat correctly. I think the corporations that pimp I mean sponsor the Aspen Institute are wasting their money.


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