Where to start this week? After almost the entire Muslim world being involved in the news since 9/11, it is a bit daunting to try to comment in around 500 words. However, I will attempt it.
First, time is usually the most important factor in understanding exactly what is happening. The immediate reaction is often wrong, slanted, or only a partial picture. Now 10 days after the 11th Anniversary of the terror attack, there seems to be a little more clarity.
Although many of the TV commentators want to blame it on hatred for America, or hatred for our lifestyle, and recommend all funds that the U.S. gives to the various nations to be withdrawn, they are suffering from their own hubris.
It is the calm, logical voices such as Mike Rogers, David Ignatius, and Robin Wright that should be heard. This area is still in revolution. Various political groups are trying to assert their power and are testing the newly elected or transitional governments. This leaves these countries open for not only demonstrations but to peaceful meetings being perverted by the radical groups. Egypt, which gets our largest funding, would collapse into chaos if we withdrew all support. It is in our interest for Egypt to go the other way – become a secure state with a functioning economy and a willingness to embrace some of the fundamentals of a free democratic society. We helped Libya become free so we need to stick to a plan there.
These countries don’t hate the U.S. — some radical elements do and they use emotional issues such as movies, cartoons, and the like to inflame the emotions of people who thought the revolutions would bring immediate change and a better economy and food on the table. It will take a while and we have to be patient and help them through it, or, at a minimum, not over react.
This means supporting the legitimate governments, being aware that our diplomats, government personnel, and facilities are going to be targets for violent attacks of all stripes — planned in advance or just impulsive. The host countries will have to step up to the plate and give us protection. And we will have to strengthen our security forces inside the compounds for the near future.
It is not going to be an easy time. Unless America wants to lose its place in the world and curl up inside our own borders — and lose all the trade and products and markets that go with that insularity — we must have a national discussion on the best way forward.
Some say it is for America to play a stronger leadership role. The current administration believes it should play a quieter, lead from behind role. Those are very different. Where are the specifics for each side? The “lead from behind” still has troops fighting the longest war in American history in Afghanistan. Does it mean that the current Administration won’t use any American force in the future? If so, when and why? And does the other view of being more forceful in the world mean we are going to have troops all over the world whenever we don’t like something? Are they already planning an invasion of Iran? (If you think Afghanistan was a problem, Iran would be worse than Afghanistan and Iraq combined.)
What is happening in the Islamic world at this moment during a U.S. presidential election could provide us with an excellent opportunity to get the two candidates to be specific about their view of our role in the world. In the past, foreign policy was not often a primary reason for voting for a candidate. And yes, this is a year when jobs are a critical issue. What we hopefully have learned is that the world is interconnected completely now. Foreign policy has a big impact on our security, budget, on our markets and, ultimately, on our success.