Saturday, October 21, 2006

What to do about the Middle East?

The conflict in the Middle East is one that our generation is going to have to face and deal with in the same way our parent’s generation dealt with Communism and their parent’s with Fascism.

It has bothered me that I don’t know what any solutions might be and have not heard one person articulate an adequate answer. It has been a sort of mission of mine to relieve the torment and find some kind of answer.

A few days ago I got the chance to hear a former major general of the KGB turned traitor, Oleg Kalugin, (thanks to Katie who was awesome enough to get permission so I could sit in on her counterintelligence class) speak on his life experiences and his insight into the current conflict. More recently, I got the chance to hear Dr. Khairi Abaza, a member of Egypt’s Wafd Party and senior fellow at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, give a lecture titled, “The Arab World - No Stability Without Reform.” It was a relief listening to them as they both articulated some good ideas on how to respond to the current conflict.

For this post I thought I would pour out some of the ideas that have come together in my head based on listening to these two speakers, great discussions with my roommate, and having just generally been tormented for an answer.

All these ideas just came together in my head in the past few days. This is not yet my opinion so I put it out there really only for critique. What I do know for sure, though, is that our generation is going to have to find an answer to this current conflict and must have the courage to take the right action when an answer is found. The question is not does action need to be taken the question is what action should be taken. We like to think of Hitler as having been insane but look at what he was able to do. The “insane” radical clerics, leaders of Al Qaeda, and leader of Iran can do the same.

Arabs think one thing, say another, and do another. This is not coming from me but Dr. Khairi Abaza who is an Arab. Watching the news for even a few minutes about the Middle East would seem to conflict with this picture. Arabs are shown burning American flags, blowing themselves up, rioting etc. Run into the middle of any of those situations with a green card, Dr. Abaza says one of his friends likes to joke, and things would change real fast.

This concept is fortunate as the world is now in a conflict not just of arms but also of ideas. Americans understand the fact well that ideas cannot be changed through force. This idea is part of the greatness of America. In the Middle East there is no such free exchange of ideas. Muslims go to the mosque each day and that is where they are fed their ideas. They are told a skewed view of history where the old Arab empire was a bastion of peace and freedom and the only reason they are where they are today is because of western oppression. The recent history of western interaction with them does somewhat support this: first colonization, then western backing of tyranny during the Cold War.

According to Dr. Abaza, many Arabs do not see America as bringing democracy they see us as bringing oppression for that is what we have done. In Afghanistan we did the right thing but spent hundreds of billions of dollars fighting and only a matter of millions in reconstruction. No Marshall Plan here. In Lebanon, Israel (supported by the U.S.) did the right thing in defending its people but now it is not Israel, the U.S., or pro-democratic groups that are funding its reconstruction it is Hezbollah.

This is how the radical Islamic groups work. They rebuild where we destroy and support the people with welfare. Their money pours in from oil rich Arab states. If democratic elections were held in the Middle East today the radical Islamists would win. They did in Palestine. Egypt, in their latest election, released political prisoners and allowed religious slogans in campaigns—20% of the seats went to the radical Islamists 4% went to the secularists. The people had two choices: a corrupt party that said they would give the people freedom and democracy but with no backing to do so or a party, backed by Arab oil, that supplies the people with welfare and new housing.

Democracy is an end but reform must come first. The Arabs need the same tools that the colonists had in the American revolution. There needs to be a free press so the people can hear other ideas besides what they are being told in the mosque. The system of democracy is not enough; everything that comes along with it that we have in America needs to be established as well. America needs to support the pro-democracy groups like Iran supports Hezbollah. According to Dr. Abaza the groups are already in place they just need our backing. We may have to destroy like in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Lebanon before we can build up but we also need a Marshall Plan. Germany and Japan were bastions of radicalism and were totally devastated. Look where they are now. Similar results are possible in the Middle East.

Bush is the first to pursue this idea of spreading democracy and freedom. These ideas are new and are still being articulated. We are moving in the right direction, but what is said in words needs to be shown to the Arabs by action.

Military action was needed in World War II but the Marshall Plan was as well. The answer is not only to attack other cultures but also to show them the good parts of ours. We need to look like a friend. This is a battle of ideologies. While military action is needed, we need to go further and also win the minds of the people and that cannot be done solely through the use of force.

The Republicans are on the right track but need to go further. The Democrats idea of foreign policy is whatever Bush says is wrong or, at best, that the status quo is all right. These are dangerous ideas and antithetical to peace in the Middle East and therefore U.S. interests. Let us not throw away the idea that democracy is a good end for the Arab world and therefore for U.S. interests, but, instead, also realize that there are other means needed to that end as well.


At 12:58 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yay! He posted!


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