By Craig J. Cantoni
August 9, 2006
According to my dictionary, a terrorist is someone who creates a state of intense fear. Thus, B-52 pilots in Vietnam, the crew of the Enola Gay over Hiroshima, allied bomber crews over Dresden and this former artillery captain were all terrorists. Collectively, we’ve terrorized more civilians than all of the Islamic suicide bombers combined.
Of course, President Bush is not referring to past and present American soldiers when he uses the word “terrorist” in just about every speech. He’s referring to America’s enemies, especially the Islamic fanatics and fascists in the Middle East.
The purpose of this article is not to draw a moral equivalence between the terror inflicted by our liberal democracy and the terror inflicted by Middle Eastern fanatics and fascists. It is to suggest that the indiscriminate labeling of all our enemies as terrorists masks the complexities of the Middle East, misleads the American people into believing that we are facing a monolithic enemy, and muddles our foreign policy and national defense strategies.
At the broadest level, there are at least three categories of enemies in the Middle East:
1. The Anti-Western Values Category: This includes individuals, non-state groups and nations that hate us and want to harm us, even though we have done nothing to provoke their ire, other than to have a different way of life and religious beliefs. The left-wing of the Democratic Party is unwilling to admit that this category exists.
2. The Understandable Resentment Category: This includes individuals, non-state groups and nations that hate us and want to harm us, because we have meddled in Middle Eastern affairs by supporting unpopular regimes or by taking sides in the longstanding enmity between Sunnis and Shiites, Arabs and non-Arabs, and sectarians and non-sectarians. The neocon wing of the Republican Party is unwilling to admit that this category exists.
3. The Anti-Israel Category: This includes individuals, non-state groups and nations that hate us and want to harm us, because we support Israel. Because of domestic politics, most Democrats and Republicans are afraid to question that support.
Of course, the preceding are not discrete categories. Individuals, groups and states can be in more than one category, thus making the strategy for dealing with them much more complex. But for discussion purposes, let’s stick with the categories and see how the strategies might be different for each.
The strategies for dealing with those in the first category, the Anti-Western Values Category, are to annihilate them, isolate them, convert them, democratize them or develop impregnable defenses against them. However, none of these strategies is perfect, given our own politics, and given their high birth rates, religious fervor and brutal methods. Also, as our experience in Iraq shows, attempts at democratization can exacerbate the 1,400 years of enmity between Sunnis and Shiites, and can create a backlash among pro-Western moderates and shift them to the Understandable Resentment Category.
Speaking of the Understandable Resentment Category, the first step in dealing with those in the category is to admit that their resentment is warranted. Volumes have been filled with the sordid details of Western meddling in the Middle East, including Europe’s ham-handed carving up of the Ottoman Empire after the First World War, and, later, our support of such despotic regimes as Saddam Hussein’s Baathist government.
Iran is a good example. Not only did the CIA help to depose Iran’s popular leader, Prime Minister Mossadegh, in 1953, but we then supported the very unpopular Shah of Iran. The Shah was so unpopular that Iranians took to the streets in some of the largest mass demonstrations in world history. To rub salt in the wound, we also helped to arm Iraq in its war against Iran. These mistakes empowered Ayatolla Komeni and other radical clerics, enabling them to demonize us as “The Great Satan” and to co-opt pro-Western elements in Iran.
Contrary to what American nationalists say, it is not unpatriotic and weak-kneed to admit that we have brought a lot of anti-Americanism on ourselves. Nor is it hyperbole to suggest that if another nation had done to us what we’ve done to other nations, we’d be demonizing it and wanting to blow it off the face of the Earth.
The first step in reducing resentment is to admit our mistakes; the second is to stop making mistakes. Given our politics, it is suicidal for politicians to take the first step. And given our continued meddling in the Middle East and elsewhere, it doesn’t appear that we will ever take the second.
Now for the last category of enemies: those who hate us because we support Israel.
One of the most important national security issues facing the USA is whether our support of Israel endangers us more than it helps us. However, because it is political suicide for politicians to raise the question, there is not a national debate on the issue. Thus, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict remains a conundrum.
A possible way out of the conundrum is to put the responsibility for solving the conflict where it belongs: on Europe instead of on ourselves. After all, it was Britain that issued the unilateral Balfour Declaration in 1917, paving the way for a Zionist state in Palestine, although the vast majority of British Jews at the time were against the formation of such a state. It was the Bolshevik Revolution that fueled the desire of Russian Jews for their own homeland, although, ironically, many Jewish intellectuals were Bolsheviks. It was European anti-Semitism that increased the Jewish desire for a homeland. It was Europe’s carving up of the Middle East that exacerbated Arab hostilities. And it was the Third Reich’s goal of racial purity that led to the Holocaust, which in turn became the top justification for a Jewish homeland.
It is the epitome of gall for Europeans to blame us for problems in the Middle East that were either caused by Europe or exacerbated by Europe. And it is the epitome of foolishness for us to accept the blame and thus put a target on our backs instead of putting it where it belongs: on the backs of Europeans.
Unfortunately, it is not politically possible to shift the responsibility to Europe. Nor does it appear that we are going to stop creating resentment in the Middle East. That leaves us where we are today, with one strategy, a strategy of labeling all of our enemies as terrorists and treating them accordingly.
Take it from this former terrorist: That is not a winning strategy.
An author and columnist, Mr. Cantoni can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.