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CENTCOM’s Tunnel Vision

Richard Smith

Amidst growing concern over the Obama administration’s Middle East policy, a recently leaked United States Central Command (CENTCOM) ‘Red Team’ report augments contemporary fears. The investigation suggests that the United States ought to push Islamist terrorist organizations closer in alignment with their respective government armies, rather than increase their isolation, as current foreign policy aspires.

The five page report makes a variety of recommendations, and most notably calls for integrating Hezbollah into the Lebanese Armed Forces, as well as assimilating Hamas into the Palestinian security forces, which is controlled by its rival group Fatah.

Leaked shortly after General Petraeus relinquished his post as CENTCOM chief to take over as commander in Afghanistan, the report labels these groups as major political entities in the Arab world and, embracing defeatist perspectives, argues that they cannot be destroyed. Furthermore, integration would supposedly allow the U.S. to shake off allegations that the Americans only assist a sector of the Palestinian and Lebanese populations, as opposed to the entire nation.

Hezbollah supporters are pictured burning an American flag.

CENTCOM Red Team reports are commissioned in order to provide an alternative perspective to current foreign policy trends and suggest differing methods of engagement. It is unlikely that these views are widely held in the armed forces, or that the report will force a shift in U.S. foreign policy. And yet, military and political analyst Mark Perry contends the report ‘reflects the thinking among a significant number of senior officers at CENTCOM headquarters — and among senior CENTCOM intelligence officers and analysts serving in the Middle East.’

Of course, critical reflection is an essential and valuable element of the democratic process. However, the conclusions of this report display a worrying level of myopia in terms of American strategic interests as well as the situation in the Palestinian Territories and Lebanon. Both are deeply fragmented entities, and top-down, forced integration from an external power traditionally causes as many problems as it solves. The likelihood of a return to civil war, a tragedy with which these regions are all too familiar, would be virtually inevitable should these recommendations be implemented.

The United States has no obligation to assist the full spectrum of Lebanese and Palestinian society, and rewarding religious extremism would be tantamount to shooting itself in the foot. Integrating Hamas and Hezbollah undermines the sovereignty of government and could well engender further fracture, should new groups emerge and clamour for their own representation. Perhaps it is most valuable to go back to basics and emphasize what is written in the founding charter of groups such as Hamas: “The so-called peaceful solutions, and the international conferences to resolve the Palestinian problem, are all contrary to the beliefs of the Islamic Resistance Movement …. There is no solution to the Palestinian problem except by Jihad.” The CENTCOM Red Team should be under no illusions about the intention of these groups to make peace – they have none.

Extremism is the enemy of all those who desire a resolution to the Middle Eastern conflicts. Only by acknowledging and rejecting it will this goal be brought to fruition. The United States and the rest of the free world spent much of the Cold War trying to second guess the goals of the USSR. Today, the U.S. is fortunate that its enemies have the arrogance to honestly and openly assert their intentions. Instead of ignoring this, the U.S. would be wise to take heed. While appeasing terrorism may work in the Red Team’s imagined world, it will not suffice in the reality of today’s disastrously war-torn Middle East.