US President Barack Obama is now offering dangerous regimes an “outstretched hand” in the hopes they will “unclench” their fists. He seeks to shut down the maximum security prison holding hardened terrorists in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. In an attempt to mend fences with the Muslim world, Obama even called America “one of the largest Muslim countries in the world.” In many ways, the new president appears eager to reverse just about all of George W. Bush’s foreign policies.
Yet the remarkable protests that took place on the streets of Teheran after the June 12 election that, according to the Islamic Republic of Iran, earned Mahmoud Ahmadinejad a second presidential term are a direct result of the Bush doctrine. Indeed, the former president repeatedly made it clear that he sought to undermine the theocracy in Iran and support the people. One might also argue that the defeat of Hizbullah in Lebanon’s recent elections was also the direct result of Bush era policies.
All of this underscores the fact that despite Bush’s low approval ratings at the end of his second term, most of his policies will endure.
While he may not have intended to prove this point, Ilan Berman does just that in his excellent new book, which presents a map of where America has been and what it must now do to win the war against Islamist extremism. The book lays out a must-read plan for tackling some of America’s thorniest foreign policy challenges. Winning the Long War also confirms that nearly all of the policies we are now pursuing are extensions of policies started under Bush.
Berman begins with the basic problem of how to properly identify the problem of violence and extremist ideologies plaguing the Muslim world. The Bush administration initially failed in this regard, calling it a generic war against “terror,” but later identified America’s ideological foes as “a fringe form of Islamic extremism” or even “Islamic militants.” Now, however, according to Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, attacks by Islamists are to be termed “man-caused disasters.”
This is a step backward. The Obama administration must ultimately understand that the enemy cannot be defeated until it is named. Berman suggests “radical Islamic extremism.” Once the administration finds the will to define the enemy and its ideology, he rightly points out that Washington must continue to search for “themes and messages that could discredit al-Qaida’s ideology,” as well that of Iran. This was a strategy that began under the Bush administration and must be taken to the next level under the Obama administration.
Berman rightly notes that the US must find Muslim moderates who can “amplify America’s message to the Muslim world about the bankruptcy of al-Qaida’s worldview.”
He suggests that Sudanese ideologue Hassan al-Turabi – who famously provided a safe haven to Osama bin Laden during the 1990s – could fill this role. This is a mistake; Turabi was largely responsible for the spread of radical Islam for a decade. Still, Berman’s larger point is critical. A Muslim moderate with credibility in Islamist circles is needed to disseminate an alternative message.
Berman also notes that the strategy of democracy promotion that began under the Bush administration needs to continue, but “should not be pegged to the attainment of any one particular objective.”
Indeed, he correctly points out that “democracy is a process as well as a destination.” Nevertheless, the Arab world is experiencing a dramatic deficit in democracy, and it must be the continued goal of Washington to help the region liberalize.
Berman, however, warns that Washington must choose wisely about where it promotes democracy. Indeed, Hamas’s victory in the Palestinian legislative elections of January 2006 is an example of where Washington might have thought twice. More importantly, he warns against welcoming Islamist parties into the democratic process. He counsels Washington to force these factions to prove their commitment to democracy and to institute “constitutional protections” as well as “political checks and balances that make the subversion of the current system, if not impossible, then far less likely.”
Berman also encourages the Obama administration to continue to support the exceptionally successful efforts of the US Treasury in combating terrorism finance – an initiative that grew exponentially in the Bush years, thanks to visionary figures such as undersecretary Stuart Levy.
The writer, however, may place too much stock in the UN’s terror finance body, the 1267 Committee, which is so full of leaks that terrorist targets are often alerted to their impending designations in advance, leading to “asset flight.” The UN also refuses to designate Hamas and Hizbullah, leading critics to charge that the international body’s policies are inherently anti-Israel.
Berman’s area of expertise is Iran. Not surprisingly, his book demonstrates remarkable prescience on this front. He noted, well before the current unrest, that “too little attention has so far been paid to how the United States can effectively empower more democratic alternatives to the current regime in Teheran, even though internal conditions there have never painted a more hopeful picture of Iran’s potential for change.”
Winning the Long War is a quick read. It is written in a crisp, sharp and accessible style. It is an excellent review of the challenges we have faced since the fall of the World Trade Center towers in 2001, and a succinct synopsis of the prevailing diplomatic and military thinking on how ultimately to win the war.
As Berman observes, winning this war will require “building on the successes of the past eight years,” whether the current administration wishes to acknowledge this or not.
The writer, a former US Treasury intelligence analyst, is deputy executive director of the Jewish Policy Center and author of Hamas vs Fatah: The Struggle for Palestine (Palgrave Macmillan).