Sunday, November 01, 2009

The War of Civilizations... Continued

[ This is a belated posting of what I wrote for Friday]

The week in blood


It's been another dreadful week in the war of civilizations. On Sunday, 153 people were killed and more than 500 wounded in back-to-back car bombings in Baghdad. On Tuesday in Kabul, five UN staffers and three Afghans were killed in an attack on a UN guesthouse. And on Wednesday in Pakistan, 100 people - mostly women and children - were killed and 160 wounded in a shopping district bombing in Peshawar. The week also saw 24 American service personnel killed in Afghanistan, making 58 fatalities for the month - the deadliest since 9/11.

This is a war of civilizations in the sense that Muslim extremists with imperial ambitions are engaged in a zero-sum struggle against the values associated with modernity - liberty, enlightenment and tolerance.

For now, the battle is being played out mostly in Muslim-majority lands, though New York, London, Madrid and Israel's cities have also been killing fields. Western elites have tended to deny, downplay or reject outright the systemic nature of the Islamist menace. Under these circumstances, there has been no real will to mobilize Western publics for the sacrifices ahead.

IN THIS context, a policy review by the Obama administration is now under way, aimed at developing a strategy for Afghanistan. The mission is to keep the country from again becoming a staging area for attacks against Western targets.

Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, who commands the 100,000 US and NATO forces on the ground, is asking for an additional 44,000 troops in order to create a string of Taliban-free zones. But regardless of how many more troops are inserted and how they are deployed, no one suggests the Taliban can be defeated militarily or politically.

This week also saw Washington stunned by news of the poignant resignation of Matthew Hoh, a 36-year-old State Department Foreign Service officer and former Marine captain, out of exasperation over the Afghan war.

"I have lost understanding of and confidence in the strategic purposes of the United States' presence in Afghanistan," he wrote to his superiors. "I have doubts and reservations about our current strategy and planned future strategy, but my resignation is based not upon how we are pursuing this war, but why and to what end."

Hoh continued: "If honest, our stated strategy of securing Afghanistan to prevent al-Qaida resurgence or regrouping would require us to additionally invade and occupy western Pakistan, Somalia, Sudan, Yemen…"

Hoh's well-founded fear is that a troop presence in xenophobic landscapes fuels indigenous support for the Islamists.

While each front in this global war has its own set of historical, ethnic and religious circumstances, any approach that requires permanently holding territory, combined with an open-ended commitment to nation-building, will prove so costly as to sap what little resolve the American and other Western publics have for the fighting.

Arguably Osama bin Laden launched the 9/11 attacks to draw the US into an Afghan quagmire that had chastened the British Empire in the late 1800s and contributed to the collapse of the Soviet Empire in the late 1900s. Then-president George W. Bush wisely avoided falling into that trap, but tragically fell into another: Iraq.

AN ALTERNATIVE approach, workable in many theaters, is to employ advanced technologies, preemptive strikes and overwhelming firepower to make it hard for the enemy to organize attacks against Western targets. Of course, this would mean disregarding the whinging of the UN Human Rights Council's Philip Alston, who this week took the Obama administration to task for its policy of targeted assassinations of terrorist chieftains.

Israelis have demonstrated that it is possible to defend their country with precisely the means Alston finds so distasteful against an enemy that is driven by an unfortunate - some would say perverted - reading of Islam. Like other Islamist groups, both Hamas and Hizbullah have no compunction about launching attacks from behind their civilian populations. Yet contrary to the mendacious assertions of the Goldstone Report, our army has protected us without losing its soul.

IT IS too early to say whether the attack on two members of a California synagogue early Thursday was the work of a Muslim extremist. But Thursday's shootout between FBI agents and the imam of a jihadi sect in Detroit can legitimately be tallied together with the week's litany of mayhem - in a war some deny is taking place.

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