Sirens of America’s defeat

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Across the land, Loreleis are singing a song so sweet that Americans will be smiling when their country is defeated by its Osama bin Laden-led enemies. Each Lorelei warbles the same lyric: “Muslim militants hate us for what we think and how we live, not for what we do in the Islamic world.” Theirs also is a shared refrain: “Improve U.S. public diplomacy and Muslims will learn U.S. policies benefit them.” Yes, friends, the Loreleis claim we can talk our way out of war, but not, I would argue, until pigs fly.

Examine recent siren-song performances by September 11 commission chief Lee Hamilton and Robert Satloff of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. Mr. Hamilton’s recent op-eds are typically and unrealistically hopeful. Citing a poll from Indonesia showing more support for America than bin Laden after massive U.S. post-tsunami aid, Mr. Hamilton, administration officials, neocon pundits and the reality-avoiding Democratic leadership have become tsunami dreamers, arguing the poll means the tide of war can be turned in our favor by humanitarian aid and sweet talk. It cannot.

Muslims and most other people expect generosity, compassion and reconstruction help from America after natural disasters. U.S. aid in these situations is anticipated and appreciated — witness Mr. Hamilton’s poll — and Muslims and others would be shocked if Americans did not behave as Americans always do when calamities strike outside the United States.

Unfortunately for Mr. Hamilton and the bipartisan tsunami dreamers, U.S. relief efforts will do nothing in the long term to lessen Muslim hatred for U.S. foreign policies. U.S. generosity and compassion do nothing to mitigate the hatred engendered by such things as the U.S. presence in Iraq, Afghanistan and the Arabian Peninsula; protection for the Saudi and other Muslim police states; and unqualified support for Israel. Mr. Hamilton’s arguments flow from the feckless public-diplomacy recommendations of the September 11 commission, a unit which history will remember for making easier al Qaeda’s next attack in America.

Mr. Satloff’s variation on Mr. Hamilton’s tune praises the September 11 commission — the starting point for all Loreleis — and proceeds to explain how easy it is for America to talk its way out of this war. We must punish those who merit it, says Mr. Satloff, but, more important, we must “nurture” the Middle East’s “hardy band of real-life, flesh-and-blood democrats.” As Mark Twain said of James Fenimore Cooper’s fantasy-prone prose: Isn’t that a daisy? And, if you listen closely, you will hear the strains of “Happy Days are Here Again” as Mr. Satloff calls for a Muslim New Deal.

Mr. Satloff’s song, dressed as a letter to America’s new public-diplomacy master Karen Hughes, is more sinister than Mr. Hamilton’s. Mr. Satloff asserts that nothing is wrong with U.S. policies in the Islamic world. We have not triumphed, he says, because U.S. public diplomacy has had a “vacuous strategy” and an “absence of leadership.” Mr. Satloff claims Mrs. Hughes will solve the problem because “you actually support his [President Bush’s] policies, especially in the Middle East.” (Read: Mrs. Hughes will ignore the obvious and base public diplomacy on the canard that our Muslim enemies hate freedom.) With Mrs. Hughes in charge, Mr. Satloff’s song concludes, predictably, that “our traditional diplomacy seems right on track.” To be sure Mrs. Hughes keeps seeing things this way, Mr. Satloff, like Oz behind the curtain, advises her to “Never read polls” because “polls tend to distort and exaggerate.” In other words, Mrs. Hughes, you must never try to gauge what Muslims are thinking.

Expecting natural-disaster relief and a flood of sunny thoughts from Mrs. Hughes’ office are sure signs that bin Laden still has our governing elites well and truly buffaloed. America’s “Muslim problem” is not that Muslims do not understand our policy, but rather that they believe they understand it precisely, that it is meant to destroy their brethren and faith, seize their oil, occupy their sanctities and arm Israel to batter Palestinians. These perceptions are not true, I trust, but they are reality for tens of millions of Muslims.

Mr. Hamilton, Mr. Satloff and other Loreleis sing songs that soothe America’s drift to the abyss of civilization conflict. They stand four-square for the policy status quo, and so help guarantee that terrific amounts of our blood and treasure will be spent before Americans see through their comfortable but toxic, perhaps fatal smokescreen. As the pain increases, however, Americans will know they have been slicked by the Loreleis and will demand changes in U.S. foreign policy that will, at long last, complement the heroic war being fought by U.S. military and intelligence services. These service’s efforts are, and will continue to be, essential, but they cannot prevail absent policy changes designed to slow the now-steady growth of our enemies’ numbers.

Michael F. Scheuer resigned from CIAin 2004 after a 22-year career. He is the author of “Imperial Hubris” (Brassey’s, 2004).

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