Wednesday, February 4, 2009

DI Reprint: 02-04-09 (Part 3 of 3)

Shadowboxing the Bush Doctrine
Part three of a three-part series

"We seek a new way forward, based on mutual interest and mutual respect," proclaimed newly inaugurated President Obama to the world. Specifically, Obama prefaced this statement by addressing "the Muslim world." If Obama can turn his words into policy, then the next four years will be a stark contrast to the last eight. The neocons at the helm of the Bush administration were too focused on their Middle East domino-democracy theory to consider whether their grand plan was respected or in the interest of the people whose countries they occupied. If Obama wants to win the war against the "far-reaching network of violence and hatred" referenced in his speech, then he will have to reclaim the respect our country has lost in the global community, especially in the Muslim world, since our invasion of Iraq.

The cycle of violence and charged rhetoric promulgated by the Bush Doctrine cannot be easily undone. For seven years we have forced our agenda on the world without asking. Our war on terror has pushed the attacks from our shores to the streets of Kabul and Baghdad. The Bush Doctrine has set in motion a cycle of violence that needs to be completely thrown off course, not just held in abeyance, if we are to be safe from the Sword of Damocles that demented men such as Osama bin Laden hold over the free world. If we continue down our current path, there may never be an end to the acts of reprisal, and we may never regain our moral standing in the global theater.

The perfect example of the cyclical war that could continue between the United States and the militant jihadi organizations can be found in the Holy Land. Hamas terrorizes Israel through rockets; Israel bombs Gaza, so Hamas lobs more rockets - rinse and repeat while civilian deaths mount. Israelis insist they are just defending themselves, but killing Gazan civilians only leads to more street-level support for Hamas' defiance of Israel and galvanizes Hamas' recruitment efforts. Israel's pre-emptive and disproportionate responses aren't going to end the cycle of violence; it only adds fuel to the fire.

The United States' foreign policy toward the Middle East must rebrand itself. If Obama's administration aims to truly "reject as false the choice between our safety and our ideals," then it's time we stop paying mere lip-service to the ideals of freedom, equality, and tolerance in our foreign policy. The Bush administration promised democracy and freedom in Afghanistan; now, we are considering giving the Taliban back at least a portion of control in the government. As soon as the neocons could fabricate WMD in Iraq, we abandoned a poor and war-torn Afghan populace to their own fate.

We heralded our policy as progress and a battle against evil; meanwhile, we continue to pay the oppressive Saudi government billions. We consider an Egyptian government that has been in "a state of emergency" for decades, led by an "elected president" who aims to pass on the office of president through nepotism, a democratic ally in the region. We snuffed out the democratically elected government in Iran, ushering in the Islamic Revolution.

If we want the people of the Middle East to believe that the United States is more than the "Great Satan," then Obama must follow through on his promise to promote mutual respect and mutual interests. We must supplant hypocrisy with accountability. The Bush administration chastised - even threatened military force - against Iran and Syria for supporting terrorism, yet we continually fail to hold Saudi Arabia and Pakistan accountable for the Salafi and Wahhabist factions within their borders that provide aid to such terrorist groups as Al Qaeda. Why should the Muslim world trust us when we left the Afghans to the warlords, arm Israel's use of disproportionate force, and turn a blind eye to some corrupt governments while admonishing and sanctioning others?

In the end, however, change in the Middle East must be a homegrown movement; it cannot be forced upon the region. Appealing to the virtues and elements that are established in Islamic jurisprudence or a Qur'anic Sura will foment support faster than forcing Western enlightenment philosophy onto the region. Islamic scholars have written volumes on the importance of acting just and fighting corruption. The Prophet Muhammad wrote one of the world's first constitutions in Medina. Democratic principles should be repackaged as the Islamic concepts of ijma (consensus) and shurah (consultation). The rhetoric must be refocused on local terminology and should embrace Islamic values and culture instead of promoting a clash of civilizations.

Hopefully, Obama will heed his own words, "our power alone cannot protect us, nor does it entitle us to do as we please. Instead … our power grows through its prudent use; our security emanates from the justness of our cause."

Originally published in The Daily Iowan

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

DI Reprint: 02-03-2009 (Part 2 of 3)

Shadowboxing the Bush Doctrine
Part two of a three-part series

The parallels between the Bush Doctrine and Al Qaeda's Islamist jihadi doctrine extend beyond military tactics and strategies. The "war on terror" is more than a physical battlefield; it is an ideological war as well. The no-compromise military strategy used by the Bush administration and Al Qaeda also extends to their rhetoric, once again creating a never-ending cycle of conflict.

The national-security strategies of 2002 and 2006 detailed then-President Bush's long-term and short-term goals regarding the "war on terror"; conversely, Al Qaeda detailed its goals through a series of letters and speeches to the American public. Both sides made it clear through their rhetoric that the final battles in the "war on terror" will be for the minds of the people. Bush commonly referred to this ideological struggle as the "battle of ideas."

The rhetorical tactics, weapons if you will, used in the "battle of ideas" are strikingly similar. The core elements of both parties are dualism, a duty to defend, protection of core values, and triumph through cultural expansion. It is at the point of intersection between these four themes that the rhetoric and propaganda are at their most powerful; it is within this nexus that the "battle of ideas" is being waged.

In a game of persuasion, the advocate must portray her or his side as the morally just or empirically valid position in order to present the most persuasive argument. Without the vilification or invalidation of the adversary, the audience may weigh both sides of the debate equally, a fatal proposition for winning a rhetorical exercise. The "battle of ideas" follows the same road map. The Bush administration and Al Qaeda are quick to condemn the beliefs and actions of their adversaries. Each presents an argument designed to efficiently demonize its "evil" enemy. Thus, the rivals are quick to classify the "battle of ideas," usually by way of historical analogies, as a part in the eternal struggle between good and bad, light and dark, and heaven and hell. Thus, any action taken on behalf of the "good fight" is just; conversely, any action taken against the "good" is malicious and wicked. The brilliance of the duality scheme is that there is no in grey area; neutrality is just as sinful as opposition.

The process of vilification is a prerequisite for the subsequent self-appointed label of "Great Defender" employed both the Bush administration and Al Qaeda. Without a malevolent adversary threatening the core values and people of their respective society, the need for a "Defender" is nonexistent, and the use of a first-strike defense policy is unjust. Both organizations present their cases to the world that they were attacked first; war was brought to their soil, and thus, they must respond to save their respective societies. However, each side is careful to represent itself as more than a legally - be it based on Shariah or the U.N. charter - justified defender. A legal right has a logical and legally defined course of action and conclusion, whereas moral obligations are nebulous appeals to subjective reasoning leaving more room for broad interpretations of what is "necessary" and "warranted" in the face of evil. Water-boarding, extraordinary rendition, and attacking noncombatants are presented as defensible means to a just end, ignoring the fact that they are illegal and no less "evil" than the initial terrorist attacks or economic sanctions that lead to the deaths of Muslim children.

While the Bush administration and Al Qaeda substantially differ on political, sociological, and economic policy, they agree on the fundamental pillars of society. For both organizations, the principles of freedom, justice and human dignity are worth defending even if it means the use of force and a great loss of life. In the end, both adversaries are fighting to "defend" the same core principles of society. Unfortunately, they wage war to defend the principles as interpreted by their respective societies, rather than a global community. Thus, the freedom Al Qaeda fights for means the subjugation of American values. It's not human dignity we "champion" as argued in the 2002 national-security strategy by President Bush, but American dignity. Torture and killing civilians does nothing to further dignity, freedom, or justice within America, the umma, or globally.

Whether it is categorized as "expanding liberty," "advancing freedom," "bringing democracy," "establishing justice," "defending the oppressed," or "enjoining the good," both doctrines present victory to be reliant upon the abrogation of their adversaries core values with their own. If cultural domination is the death blow, then the self-imposed "moral defender" label turns out to be nothing more than a pretext for cultural expansion and homeland propaganda aimed at ensuring popular support for aggressive military policies. In the end, the Bush administration's rhetoric justifies the ridiculous accusation that we are waging a "war on Islam" rather than defending our right to live free from terror.

Originally published in The Daily Iowan

Monday, February 2, 2009

DI Reprint: 02-02-2009 (Part 1 of 3)

Shadowboxing the Bush Doctrine
Part one in a three-part series

In the days after Sept. 11, 2001, then-President George W. Bush and his neoconservative administration developed a modified version of the international anticipatory self-defense doctrine under the precept of self-preservation. The so-called "Bush Doctrine" was designed to eliminate all current and future threats to American military personnel and civilians. However, the "war on terror" as implemented by the Bush administration was not a viable option to accomplish the very goal it continually espoused, protecting the American public from future terrorism. Seven years later, Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri remain at-large; Al Qaeda continues to kill American soldiers in Afghanistan and Iraq; and the threat of harm to American civilians abroad still exists, as demonstrated by the recent Mumbai terrorist attacks.

For the last seven years, the Bush administration has waged a war on its own reflection. While the media and the White House went to great lengths to portray our "war on terror" as an unambiguous battle of good versus evil and a straightforward example of self-defense against provocation, a more in-depth examination of the strategies and tactics employed by both the United States and the jihadi Islamist factions reveals significant similarities between the quintessential adversaries. Militarily and rhetorically, the two foes employed strategies that were mirror images of each other creating a never-ending cycle of violent acts of reprisal.

At their cores, both the Bush Doctrine and the jihadi military doctrine are self-defense strategies; both doctrines are modified versions of an anticipatory self-defense doctrine. The Bush Doctrine is a modern adaptation of the Caroline doctrine; Al Qaeda reinterprets classical jihad jurisprudence to justify its military operations. The common revision in both doctrines is the reshaping of the "threat" element of anticipatory self-defense. A state must face an imminent threat that leaves the state with no time for deliberate or alternative means of defense to justify the use of preemptive military action. Without a threat, an "act of self-defense" is unwarranted. The jihadi defense doctrine requires Muslims must be attacked because of their faith for aggression to be justified.

In order to justify the use of force, both the Bush Doctrine and Al Qaeda's doctrine argue that the threshold is not an "imminent threat" but an "emerging threat." No longer must the United States or the umma, the worldwide community of Muslims, be a victim of an attack to justify the use of defensive measures, a threat of violence is sufficient to justify force; a first-strike policy is portrayed as a defensive response. Thus begins the bloody tit-for-tat cycle of violence in the "war on terror"; reports of a pre-emptive strike by one adversary are viewed as an emerging threat by the other. Unlike the Cold War, in which the threat of an armed response created a stalemate, the "war on terror" uses the threat of an armed response as justification for using "defensive military force."

Perhaps the acts of pre-emptive force could be better contained and force a tenuous Cold-War-like impasse if both doctrines didn't also espouse "guilt by association." Al Qaeda, and other jihadi Islamist factions, continually equates the actions of Israel against the Arab world with those of the United States. This amalgamation is evinced by the recurrent label of "Zionist-Crusader coalition" by bin Laden when he references the United States. The "guilt" is also extended to any of America's allies, as evinced by the bombings in Madrid, London, and Baghdad. No country that aids the United States in their "war" will be safe. According to the speeches of bin Laden and al-Zawahiri, you are either with them, or against them. Sound familiar? Bush said, "We make no distinction between terrorists and those who knowingly harbor or provide aid to them." Rightly, the Bush administration made clear that the United States was willing to defend itself and its allies from terrorist activity. In other words, the United States is willing to defend its "umma" from outside threats.

It is not my intent to argue that the rationale or morality at the foundation of these doctrines is the same. Clearly they are not equivalent. Rather, my comparison rests in the means by which each doctrine intends to achieve victory. Both doctrines are designed to reject compromise and reconciliation; victory is attained only through vanquishing the Great Adversary. If both doctrines espouse a determination to continue their struggle, their jihad, as long as the enemy or threat of harm exists, we must examine whether the means will ever achieve the desired end. Punching your reflection in the mirror isn't going to destroy your mirror image; it will only shatter and fragment the glass. The Bush Doctrine may have kept America's shores safe over the last seven years; however, it failed to secure long-term stability and protection from terrorist threats.

Originally published in The Daily Iowan