Tuesday, August 17, 2004

As Joe Biden pointed out in his speech at the Democratic convention, we're not involved in a war against terror. That term is too vague. No, we're involved in a war against Islamic fundamentalism, and resolving that conflict would be simple, as easy--and as impossible--as withdrawing our troops from the Middle East and distancing ourselves from Israel.
To test my thesis, you need to think about our last fifty years in that region. When Marines were attacked in Lebanon, Reagan took the most practical, effective course to solve the problem: he got us out of there. Aside from that eminently sensible step, though, our leadership has been less wise in dealing with the Middle East. We've made a habit of propping up repressive regimes. Our meddling came back to bite our backside in Iran in 1979. Using the Shah, we had created an Islamic monster there. Now that we've left Iran alone for 25 years, the monster is finally beginning to starve because most of the Iranian people--born after the revolution--hate the conservative imams and will eventually manage to do away with them. Meanwhile we're torn between giving them time to do so and knowing the imams support al Qaida and want nuclear capability.
We've been even less fortunate in the other repressive regimes we've supported--in Saudi Arabia and Egypt. The dictatorial governments there have placated the poor, frustrated, ignorant populace by supporting Islamic fundamentalist schools that directed the people's hatred toward us and away from their undemocratic rulers. Those schools eventually spawned al Qaida and its leader, Osama bin Laden. He lists his major grievance against the U.S. as the continuing presence of our troops in Saudi Arabia. If we withdrew our troops from that region, we would cease effectively recruiting for al Qaida.
Well, not quite. We'd need to take one more step--the most impossible of all--to back away from our support of Israel. Several decades ago, Barry Goldwater explained our often foolish support of that country by pointing out that he had few Palestinians among his constituents. With the exception of Israel, the people of the Middle East would be glad to see us gone, and perhaps the Israelis would be more malleable in negotiations without us propping them up.
The difficulty in withdrawing from that area lies all on this side of the Atlantic, in our own pride, arrogance and shortsightedness. As long as we pursue our present course, I fear an eventual nuclear attack from Islamic fundamentalist.

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