Last night, Ron Paul was savaged for daring to point out that sometimes our foreign policy interventions cause more long-term problems than they solve in the short term. I would have thought this was an obvious point, but it caused spluttering and outrage on the podium. Yes, we did nothing - nothing - to deserve 9/11 - and Paul should have said so forthrightly. But we are very foolish if we believe we can simply ignore the issue of blowback in this long war. In fact, in the battle against Jihadist terror, the point seems to me to be more relevant than in most wars. One indispensable element of our long-term success is winning over Arab and Muslim populations to the cause of democracy, secularism, moderate Islam and global integration. The more Arabs and Muslims feel alienated and attacked by the U.S.. the more support terror will get, and the more power al Qaeda gains. My hope for the Iraq war was that by removing a dictator, providing democracy, and ensuring stability and development, the US could reverse this tide by one bold gambit. I was naive, of course, and under-estimated both the resilience of anti-Western sentiment among Arabs and Muslims and also the competence and honesty of the Bush administration.
The bottom line, however, is that the actual war as it has been waged in Iraq has not just failed in its basic purpose - to get rid of WMDs that did not exist - but it has actually been a major victory for al Qaeda in moving Muslim opinion their way. It is not just a defeat for the US; it is a huge win for the enemy. Josh Muravchik explains the damage:
Asked whether one of the goals of U.S. global policy is “to weaken and divide Islam,” 79 percent answered in the affirmative, including 92 percent of Egyptian respondents. Asked whether the U.S. aimed “to spread Christianity in the Middle East,” 64 percent said yes.
The poll then asked for the "primary goal" of the U.S. war on terror. Offered three choices, 36 percent said it was “to achieve political and military domination to control Middle East resources.” Thirty-four percent thought it was “to weaken and divide the Islamic religion and its people.” Only 19 percent thought the reason was “to protect itself from terrorist attacks.”...
In addition to such paranoia, the poll pointed to other delusions. Asked to identify the perpetrators of the 9/11 attacks, for every three respondents who pointed to al Qaeda, four pointed the finger at the U.S. or Israel.
As for the roots of this hostility to the U.S., the poll cast doubt on some common assumptions. It is often said that the publics in Muslim countries are angry at U.S. support for the regimes that oppress them. But asked if they favored pushing the U.S. “to stop providing support to such governments as Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and Jordan,” only a modest plurality agreed. The one country that registered strong agreement with this proposition was the one democracy, Indonesia. By contrast, in Egyptthe only country surveyed that was also mentioned in the questiona narrow plurality opposed pushing the U.S. to cut aid. So much for the idea that Egyptians are hostile to us because we support their government.
A second explanation of anti-Americanism that the survey cast into doubt is the war in Iraq. There is no question that the war has fueled rage at the U.S.: when respondents were asked whether they approved of attacks on U.S. troops in Iraq, slightly more than half said yes, slightly more than one-quarter said no, and the rest were undecided.
The question serious supporters of a real war on terror must now ask is: will continuing the fight in Iraq help reverse this trend or cement it for decades to come? Is the war making us less secure and the world much less safe? Would withdrawal or continued engagement makes things better? At the very least, it seems to me, this question should be on the table in the Iraq debate. And yet the Republicans - with the exception of Ron Paul - don't even want to talk about it. Until they do, they are not a party serious about national security.