- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 18, 2002

To address the root causes of anti-U.S. terrorism, to improve America's hostile image in the Middle East, and to promote democracy and increase economic opportunities, Secretary of State Colin Powell unveiled a bold new initiative, presumably crafted by Tom Thumb. The United States, said Mr. Powell, was prepared to spend $29 million for the first year of this Elzevir edition of the post-World War II Marshall Plan.
For a superpower that spends over $1 billion a day on defense, $20 billion plus on wiping out Taliban and planting the seeds of democracy in Afghanistan, and is now prepared to blow $100 billion on a war to change regimes in Iraq, $29 million was first thought to be a misprint.
Not only was the "pound-wise-penny-foolish" amount correct, but it also brought to mind a similar attempt to rub the print off a dollar bill for what is arguably one of the most critically urgent tasks for draining the swamp of terrorism $35 million to reform Pakistan's madrassas (Koranic schools) where some 5 million young boys, including contingents from most Muslim countries, have been taught to hate America, Israel and India during the past decade, all generously bankrolled by Saudi Arabia's Wahhabi clergy.
Fifteen months after September 11, there are still 750,000 Pakistani boys in some 11,000 madrassas where they are also taught that jihad (holy war) is the noblest of human endeavors. And the imams and mullahs in charge of the schools have told government inspectors and reformers to butt out.
You don't get much traction in the Mideast for $29 million. There is still little realization in the Bush administration that democracy in most Arab countries would bring the terrorists or at least their sympathizers to power in a subterfuge known as one-person-one-vote-one-time. That was almost the case in Algeria a decade ago when Muslim extremists won a free election fair and square. The army stepped in to deprive them of their victory at the ballot box and bullets have been flying ever since, along with bombs and Molotov cocktails, with a death toll of well over 100,000.
U.S. policy-makers have convinced themselves that the Muslim world's penchant for blue jeans and Big Macs means the masses are already part of the global village even though their leaders are still living in palatial nationalist cocoons. This is a dangerous optical illusion. The masses relate, not to America's globalism, but to Islam's global umma. Poll after poll, from Maylasia in Southeast Asia to Morocco in North Africa, show the masses in rhythmic tune with Hollywood's steady drumbeat of movies that portrayed the ugly American operative as licensed to kill by the CIA, NSA, FBI and NSC.
The Arab world in particular has been conditioned to believe that Israel's Mossad, with CIA assistance, organized the September 11 attacks and that the 15 Saudi hijackers were recruited by Israeli agents posing as members of al Qaeda. No less a personage than Saudi Arabia's minister of the interior (including the police), Prince Naif bin Abdul Aziz, publicly stated recently that Israel had engineered the terrorist attacks against the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. This is now believed by an overwhelming majority of Muslims throughout the world, including many of the imams who run some 2,000 mosques in the United States.
Al Qaeda has had a very good year with America's one-size-fits-all free elections mantra. Two of Pakistan's four provinces Northwest Frontier Province (NWFP) and Baluchistan fell to Islamist extremist control in last October's national elections.
Bahrain's recent elections, cited favorably by Mr. Powell, were boycotted by the tiny island's largest political group, the Shi'ite al Wefaq, because of what its leaders described as a powerless legislature. Other Islamists still managed to garner 19 seats in the 40-seat body.
Two highly-placed Saudi non-royals one of them close to ailing King Fahd said, not for attribution, that if a free election were held in Saudi Arabia and Osama Bin Laden were running as a candidate for prime minister, the world's most wanted terrorist would win in a landslide. The Saudi masses are even more conservative Wahhabis than the royal family, and Bin Laden derives his popularity from his strict adherence to a rigid interpretation of Prophet Mohammed's five pillars of Islam. In Pakistan, more than 80 percent of male adults polled believe Bin Laden is a "freedom fighter," not a "terrorist."
Jordan's King Abdullah follows public opinion closely. There is mounting evidence that genuine free elections in his country would easily give fundamentalists a decisive edge. The king, a former special forces commander, recently had to dispatch some of these same forces, along with tanks and helicopter gunships, to impose a curfew in the city of Maan, 125 miles south of Amman, normally a peaceful Bedouin town loyal to the pro-Western monarchy.
A local extremist preacher had declared the king an "unbeliever" and was wanted for questioning in the assassination of Lawrence Foley, an American diplomat. The fugitive imam, Muhammad Shalabi, had also issued a fatwa for a holy war to be unleashed if the United States attacks Iraq. He managed to slip through the army's blockade of the town, but Jordanian security forces caught the two self-confessed al Qaeda operatives, one Libyan and the other Jordanian, who had killed Mr. Foley in his carport as he was about to drive to the embassy.
A recent counterpropaganda effort by the United States came in the form of videos showing happy American Muslims content with their everyday life style. Arab governments control their national TV networks and none of them broadcast Washington's offerings. The only Muslim country that did was Indonesia. The Bush administration's video push, including $3 million to buy air time, to persuade Arabs and other Muslims that the war on terror and the threat to use force to disarm Saddam Hussein are not directed against Islam, misfired badly. So badly, in fact, that some Pentagon planners recommended suiting up for their own covert opinion-swaying campaign against the growing influence of jihad-preaching mosques and madrassas. Mercifully, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld shot the idea down.
There is a reluctance in Washington that borders on paralysis to face up to the principal obstacle to rapprochement with the Arab world in particular and the larger Muslim community in general, and that is the conviction that the United States and Israel are now as one to prevent the emergence of a Palestinian state.
Muslims represent one fifth of humanity and they are a majority in 63 countries. Islam is the world's fastest growing religion. Daily television news coverage humiliates Arabs as they watch, powerless, Israeli tanks and gunships beating up on Palestinians while the U.S. focuses on attacking another Arab state. Al Jazeera, the Qatar-based Arab television network with the highest ratings in the region, describes Palestinian suicide-bombers as "commando raids against the Israeli occupation of Palestine.
Arab commentators are convinced the Bush administration has dropped even the pretense of an even-handed Middle Eastern policy. The Israeli elections next month and the likely continuation of Ariel Sharon as Prime Minister will present Washington with its next opportunity to ditch Tartuffery and regain its reputation as an honest broker. But a regime change war on Iraq is bound to further delay the day when President Bush, as a peacemaker, can work his magic in the Middle East.
Until then, Mr. Powell's $29 million in democratic seed money to close what he called "the hope gap" and open up Arab countries to the democratic process will have all the impact of 29 pennies in Rome's Trevi fountain. A wish list is no substitute for the forceful shaping of a Mideastern settlement the present crisis requires.

Arnaud de Borchgrave is editor at large of The Washington Times and of United Press International.

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