- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Several weeks ago, the Pentagon led an attempt to rename President Bush’s global war on terror as the global struggle against violent extremism. Many commentators took this effort as a sign of a policy reassessment within the administration. But the name change was stillborn by the president himself, who in a subsequent speech pointedly referred to the global war on terror more than a dozen times. And despite other conflicting signals on Iraq policy coming from the administration, the president seems persuaded to “stay the course,” at least for the time being.

The White House may truly believe we are winning this war. The White House is also driven by immediate events, principally the precarious situation in Iraq regarding security and reconstruction, the Aug. 15 deadline for drafting a constitution, a combination of a round-the-clock news cycle and the need for immediate responses to it and the obstacles in Washington to longer-term reflection. Hence, inhibitions to change are real. But such inhibitions conceal greater dangers.

Two revolutions are sweeping the Arab and Muslim worlds. Both are based on the profound conflict between conservative or extremists’ aspirations and the pressures of modernity in accommodating to the way the world is now, not as it was decades or centuries ago. Conflict in both revolutions is political, social, economic, ideological and theological. The administration has so far failed to acknowledge either revolution.

The first conflict in the Arab world is over the apportionment of political power — who shall govern and who shall not. From Iran, with its theological revolution, to Saudi Arabia and Egypt and the successions there, and especially in Iraq (and the trajectory it is following to democratization), the clash between traditional autocracy and modern government and fuller representation may be as powerful as in France in 1789 and Europe in the 1840s. The understandable attention focused on the Aug. 15 deadline for completing Iraq’s constitution helped to obscure these more powerful currents. At the same time, within Islam the clash is between conservatives and indeed radicals such as Sunni Wahhabis and Salafists, who would keep the clock permanently set in the past, and forward-thinking Muslims who desperately see the need for reformation and modernization.

At issue are many of the values that the West holds most dear: the rule of law; separation of church and state; the role of women; and the rejection of terror in advancing political agendas. Exploiting and firing these two revolutions are jihadist extremists such as al Qaeda, who are out to seize political power using terror and disruption as key tools and tactics.

On top of this highly complex and now life-and-death struggle, the United States often turns a blind eye to fundamental policy contradictions. If indeed we are waging a global war on terror, how do we win when there is no enemy army to beat? This is the heart of our strategic dilemma — how to defeat an extreme ideology by relying on traditional means largely dependent on military force.

A second contradiction is balancing support for Israel and Saudi Arabia with policies pursued by both that fuel the twin revolutions and are decidedly damaging to U.S. interests. Israel resembles a younger sibling to which the United States assumes a responsibility beyond any emotional attachment. Saudi Arabia has economic clout — as well as the world’s largest proven oil reserves. It has been an ally for decades in wars against the fascists, communists and a buffer against Iran. Yet both states use repressive tactics against dissidents and Saudi Arabia supports Wahhabi charities and groups linked with extremism. What happens when these realities can no longer be kept separate from the twin revolutions? Because it is unlikely that the Bush administration will embark on major course corrections in the global war on terror, at least until events demand change, what should be done to precipitate recognition and then response to both revolutions and contradictions?

The 2004 presidential campaign and countless hearings in Congress did not generate serious examination of these powerful and longer-term forces, their consequences and ways to resolve our policy dilemmas. Congress is on holiday until September, and unless there is an intervening crisis or catastrophe, there is no reason to think that interest will be any greater in taking a closer look.

The only answer is serious soul-searching in the White House. If indeed these revolutions are real, why are we not sensitive to them? And what happens when there are wars to be won but no armies to fight? Hoping these questions will be addressed is the thinnest of reeds on which to rest issues of such importance. Yet, for the moment, there is no other alternative. Mr. Bush — are you listening?

Harlan Ullman is a columnist for The Washington Times.

Sign up for Daily Newsletters

Manage Newsletters

Copyright © 2019 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

Please read our comment policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide