The War on Terror: An Alternative Approach

Sunday, January 30, 2005
As the Bush administration begins its second term, it should concentrate on reducing the likelihood of terrorism, violence, and war in the world. Accomplishing this will require a radical revision of Bush’s policies from his first term. In this brief essay I address only one part of this objective, which would be to convince the Muslim world that the United States is not fundamentally opposed to Muslim culture. The required policy changes entail overhauling our blind support of Israel in its policies toward Palestine and undermining the Muslim support for terrorism. Let me take each in turn.
The Muslim world is persuaded, with good reason, that our support of Ariel Sharon in his policies toward the Palestinians is convincing proof of our bias against Muslims. We should be exerting pressure on Israel to settle the conflict with Palestine in a fashion that would permit both political entities to thrive. Required as a minimum would be withdrawal of Israeli settlers from Gaza and the West Bank; however, integrating the Palestinian and Israeli economies is also necessary. A step in the right direction would be for the United States to grant Israel, say, $4 billion, of which $2 billion would be used to develop and integrate the Palestinian economy with the Israeli economy, an essential requirement for the Palestinian economy to prosper. Such a step is in the interest not only of the United States but of Israel, if it is going to survive surrounded by Muslim societies.
Undermining Muslim support for terrorism requires fundamental changes in our Iraq policies. Certainly the creation of a market-oriented democracy in Iraq would be a major step. Although we are still far from understanding how to convert polities and economies to democracies and market economies, we have learned some fundamental lessons the hard way. Countries without a heritage of democracy or market economies require a lengthy transition period to achieve them—a transition made much more difficult when fundamental ethnic divisions exist as they do in Iraq. Such a transition is even more difficult when imposed by outsiders, as would be the case in this instance.
Going to war in Iraq detoured this country from its ongoing efforts against terrorism in Afghanistan. The way that the occupation has evolved has convinced many in Iraq, as well as in neighboring countries, that our intentions are far from pure. The continued occupation of Iraq can only lead to continuing loss of American and Iraqi lives without accomplishing the Bush objective of creating a democracy—something that would take decades. The idea that simply having an election will turn Iraq into a democracy is based on simpleminded reasoning that runs counter to a long history of experience in developing countries. Creating a viable democracy is a lengthy process fraught with uncertainty. It is very doubtful that the United States public has the patience for such an undertaking, given the costs in lives and the increasing U.S. indebtedness that it would entail.
There is no cost-free solution, but probably the most sensible alternative would be to divide Iraq into three autonomous self-governing regions of Kurds, Shiites, and Sunnis and then to exit. Yes, two of them would undoubtedly be theocratic governments and we would have to deal with Turkey with respect to Kurdish autonomy. But those are better alternatives than an occupation that would go on for many years.