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Who are the U.S. allies in the war on terror?

January 11, 2010 Leave a comment Go to comments

By Shoshana Bryen

WASHINGTON, D.C. –Now that President Obama has acknowledged that the United States is, indeed, at war, the relevant questions are, “against whom and with what allies?”
Mr. Obama said, “We are at war with al Qaeda.” Our allies include our Western-thinking coalition partners, of course. But our allies are also supposed to be the governments of countries in which al Qaeda has rooted itself. Those governments are supposed to see the problem of radical Islam the way we do and are supposed to want it gone the way we do. Both the President and Gen. Petraeus said in interviews last week that we only plan to “assist” the Yemeni government in ousting al Qaeda itself. But what if the government of Yemen or Afghanistan or Pakistan or Somalia decides they have to live with al Qaeda permutations for the long term while the United States will soon be leaving? What if they think they ultimately have more in common with local al Qaeda offshoots than with us?  What if they are more comfortable with tribal loyalties and radical Islamic thought than they are with secular, Western democratic norms? Then they will not be very good allies.
It is already clear that all four governments (and others, including Lebanon) have mixed views about what we call Islamic radicalism, and the administration has been public in its criticism of the Pakistani and Afghan governments. The President has gone to great lengths to separate a form of Islam of which he approves from al Qaeda, which he considers a distortion if not a perversion. The distinction may not be so neat.
Al Qaeda and other jihadist organizations defy simple definition. They have no bylaws, membership cards, lapel pins or secret handshakes. People can set up their own franchises that may have tighter or looser ties to Osama bin Laden or Ayman al Zawahiri-or none. Some radical Islamic groups, including Hamas, Hezbollah and the Muslim Brotherhood, provide services to people the government cannot, or doesn’t care to reach, making them part of the scenery.

Others, including al Qaeda in Iraq, alienate the local population. Groups can be larger or smaller, tighter or looser. They can cooperate for tactical or strategic ends (think Taliban and al Qaeda and where one begins and the other ends) and what they lack in common definition, they make up for in common worldview.
They believe the United States and Israel are the primary enemy, with other Westerners close behind. They believe in the expansion of violent, radical Islam to subjugate their own people, destroy infidels and expand the realm of Sharia law. They are misogynistic and homophobic. They are McCarthyite in their demonization of “the other” and Hitlerite in their propaganda. They undermine weak governments and then thrive in the chaos with money and arms provided by Iran, Saudi Arabia, Syria and others. They react not to what we do, but to their own view of the Islamic future. It is a mistake to believe poverty drives them; they can be and often are personally middle class or even wealthy. It is true that poor people may have fewer resources with which to differentiate propaganda from truth, but many jihadists are worldly, well-traveled and still think it best to seek heaven in bloody tatters.
Certainly not all Muslims share the mindset. Millions have happily integrated the 21st Century and millions would if given the chance. But many people who would never consider blowing themselves up are sympathetic to the principle of Islamic expansionism, many others believe they have legitimate grievances against the West. And many weak governments find it unwise to antagonize them, or don’t want to antagonize them and use their weakness for cover.
As this war continues, and it will, the United States should be careful how much it expects from the governments of Yemen, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Somalia and consider how much we are on our own in their countries.

Bryen is senior director of security policy of the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs.  Her column is sponsored by Waxie Sanitary Supply in memory of Morris Wax, longtime JINSA supporter and national board member

  1. carol ann goldstein
    January 12, 2010 at 7:04 pm

    The following are comments I have made recently which I believe are petinent to issues raised by Shoshana Bryen:
    I ask Shoshana Bryen to be concerned about the security of all residents of Isreal and Palestine. I have read accounts of the regular abuse and attacks on Palestinians and their property by settlers with no actiion taken by the Isreali police and IDF against thest settlers. All people should have the right to live in peace and safety.

    The blockade of the Gaza Strip and the security barrier are barriers to peace and create a miserable life for the Palestinians locked in Gaza and the West Bank.

    It was President Bush and his cabinet who decided to reduce the effort in Afghanistan and start a war in Iraq. One must examine US foreign policy since WWII in the Middle East, and European colonialism in Asia, Africa and the Middle East as the roots of the current terrorism around the world.

    We must not forget that September 11, 2001 happenend on President Bush’s watch. We must not forget that President Bush and VP Cheney refused to testify under oath and publicly before the commission that investigated the 9/11/2001 attacks; Bush and Cheney testified secretly and not under oath as they demanded. We must not forget that there was no investigation of who was responsible for the 9/11/2001 attacks; everyone on the planes was killed and it was assumed that the 19 Middle Eastern Muslim men on the passenger manifests were guilty of the attacks – it was not that long ago that the appearance of Jewish names on a passenger manifest would have been deemed them guilty of whatever crime happened.

    The actions of Israel will not bring peace and security and will only create more hate and violence. Israel claims to be a democracy, a land of equality and a strict observer of human rights- the actions speak louder than the words and should be a concern of the various Jewish groups who continually blame everyone instead of looking in the mirror and doing a soul searching of the Israeli nation.
    There is no military solution.

    I believe there should be no double standards. The ZOA complains about “the activities of George Galloway, a radical Israel-bashing member of the British Parliament”. However there are a number of American individuals who have been part of the US government who appear on tv and radio talk shows, write books and articles, appear at various events as speakers, are members of conservative think tanks and have websites;
    these individuals use these methods to get their message of hate and fear out – a message that is anti-Palestinian, anti-Arab and anti-Muslim. These individuals should be investigated along with George Galloway. Some of these individuals are:
    William Kristol
    Richard Norman Perle
    Douglas J. Feith
    Daniel Pipes
    No country, race, religion or nationality should be demonized by anyone or any group. We should be encouraging tolerance not spreading hate and fear.
    There should be a civil discussion of issues in an effort to find a solution. No country or person is perfect and each needs to be receptive to constructive criticism. So Israel, Mr. Galloway, William Kristol, Richard Norman Perle, Douglas J. Feith and Daniel Pipes each need to examine any problems that need to be fixed.

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