The Magazine

The Audacity of Shallowness

What would the Democrats do?

Aug 20, 2007, Vol. 12, No. 46 • By REUEL MARC GERECHT
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First prize should still go to al Qaeda and its affiliates in Europe, since radical Muslim Europeans can travel to the United States essentially unchecked under the visa-waiver program. What is frightening about al Qaeda in Pakistan is that so many Pakistanis have British citizenship and therefore can enter the United States much more easily than Pakistani passport holders. But after Europe and Pakistan, Al Qaeda in Iraq is the most terrifying. It draws perhaps the most bloodstained Arab recruits. Yet the best Obama can suggest is that we will attack Al Qaeda in Iraq from someplace besides Iraq. How exactly will we do this? Where will we find the intelligence, the stealth (ask Sen. Clinton's husband about America's success at striking bin Laden from afar), and the regional support to pull this off?

In any case, it's obvious to Obama that "there is no military solution to Iraq." The senator's commendable emphasis on fighting al Qaeda around the world is subordinate to what he really wants most: to get out of Iraq (the "first priority when I take office"), regardless of the consequences. Obama's thinking about Islamic extremism and the internal dynamics of Iraq is thus predetermined by the larger need to leave Mesopotamia. Obama is not alone in this priority. A growing number of Republicans share it, as do almost all Democrats--a possible exception being Sen. Clinton, the wife of a president who was intermittently at war with both Saddam and bin Laden through his two terms.

Obama says of Iraq that we are in "a U.S. occupation of undetermined length, at undetermined cost, with undetermined consequences." But this is the case also with Afghanistan. Unless we plan on losing, we are probably going to be there for a long time. U.S. soldiers are going to die there for years. Afghanistan's politics, which are easily as complicated as Iraq's, are going to remain a corrupt mess no matter what America does on the battlefield. Does Obama really think that two brigades pulled from Iraq are going to make all the difference in Afghanistan, whose brutal topography swallows up manpower as effectively as the jungles of Vietnam? Does the senator doubt that the American occupation of Afghanistan angers millions of devout Sunni Muslims, especially those most likely to answer the call to holy war?

And Obama's contradictions don't end there. He seems upset by the ethics of President Bush's leadership since 9/11, which has allowed Americans to do unlawful and ugly things to Americans and foreigners. And yet, here is Obama recommending "A Shared Security Partnership Program to forge an international intelligence and law enforcement infrastructure to take down terrorist networks from the remote islands of Indonesia, to the sprawling cities of Africa." But guess what lies in between Indonesia and Africa: Middle Eastern security and intelligence services, which reflexively torture and to which the Central Intelligence Agency is now wed. Middle Eastern countries historically have taken down terrorist networks by inflicting large amounts of pain. Is Obama going to fortify our relationships with these services? Obama wants to cut off military aid to Pakistan if Musharraf doesn't become more aggressive in his fight against Islamic extremism. Will he cut off intelligence cooperation too? How about with Saudi Arabia, which Obama rightly cites as the font of Islamic extremism? If Obama cuts off funding to Muslim Middle Eastern countries that torture and fuel extremism, he'll have no one left for his partnership.

The Clinton administration started rendition in part to avoid the problems we see at Guantánamo. The odds are high that every single person rendered by Bill Clinton was treated worse than anyone abused at Abu Ghraib. Neither Obama nor Hillary Clinton has told us clearly that such cooperation will end. Do Obama and Sen. Clinton think that President Clinton was an immoral man for allowing terrorist suspects to be tortured? As immoral as George Bush?

Senator Obama wants to spend big money battling radical madrassas "that have filled young minds with messages of hate." He wants to see secular schools in their place. But Obama also wants to tell the entire Muslim world that we are not fighting a war against Islam. So an American president will attempt to dictate school curricula to the Muslim world's poor and devout? In Turkey, secular schools are found in even the remotest, poorest village, and they have been losing ground to unofficial religious schools for at least two decades. Turkey's Muslims are making a voluntary choice--no one coerces them to embrace a greater Islamic identity. Will a President Obama stop them?