Thursday, June 11, 2009

The Confrontation: Winning the War Against Future Jihad

By Walid Phares

Palgrave, $16.95, 296 pages (paperback)

President Obama pledged a “new beginning” in his outreach to the Muslim world, but we are unlikely to hear the Islamists promise anything of the kind in return. Humility and compromise are inadequate tools in the ongoing confrontation between the Free World and our authoritarian, theologically motivated adversaries. What we need is a far-reaching, comprehensive and vigorous strategy for victory.

This is the thesis detailed in “The Confrontation,” the third volume in a series by Walid Phares that seeks to describe the Islamist threat we face and prescribe means to contest it. The book came out last year and is newly available in paperback.

Mr. Phares’ first two books in the series, “Future Jihad” and “The War of Ideas,” traced the historical roots and ideological and other causes that led to the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks and what became the war on terrorism. In “The Confrontation,” Mr. Phares argues that to prevail in this struggle the West must reconceptualize it in a way that goes beyond the idea of war, with its implied emphasis on the military instrument of national power, and adopt the same kind of broader strategic outlook that the enemy does.

As the author defines the conflict, it is “waged by the global jihadists; targeted at civil societies and human rights around the world; aimed at world domination; and threatening international peace and security.”

A proper perspective of the struggle begins with understanding and accepting that the long-term Islamist objective is to subjugate non-Muslim societies to their religio-social vision. The people pursuing this leaderless jihad constitute a much larger group than simply terrorists, and include such diverse elements as radical clerics, Islamic charitable organizations, Middle East research centers, financiers, members of the media, industrialists and established governments.

These groups are not centrally controlled - it would be wrong to characterize this as a monolithic conspiracy - and they sometimes conflict over tactics or personalities, but they share the common vision of an Islamic world.

In pursuit of this goal, they utilize a vast array of powers - violence, economic and financial power, propaganda and indoctrination, diplomacy and intelligence, among others. This is why the expression “war on terrorism” is inadequate - it vastly understates the scope and nature of the threat and points away from the necessary full-phase response required to prevail.

To defeat the threat requires a similar, broad-based response, something more akin to the national strategy adopted for the prosecution of the Cold War. Mr. Phares is calling not for war but for a full-phase engagement of the challenge at every level. The bulk of the book describes how this strategy could be implemented. The most important aspect of the struggle is recognizing it for what it is.

This is made difficult by the fact that a significant number of Middle East scholars and policy advisers in the West work in programs underwritten by regional governments, foundations and private interests. Getting an objective view of the Middle East untainted by financial interests is difficult - policymaking these days is the equivalent of utilizing cancer research funded by tobacco companies.

A key concept in the struggle is “petro-jihadism,” which highlights the role of energy in the continuing struggle. It is a historical accident that fossil fuels were found beneath the deserts of oppressive theocratic states, and this happenstance accounts to a large degree for the magnitude of the threat. The income derived from the energy industry allows such countries as Saudi Arabia and Iran both to secure their regimes internally and to export their alien ideologies by a variety of means.

There is no better argument for alternative energy than the beneficial effect such technologies would have on U.S. national security. If cold fusion or some other inexpensive and unlimited energy source were invented tomorrow, the Middle East could return to being the cultural and political backwater it was for centuries. “Going green” is, thus, one means of preventing the Islamists from turning the world map the same color.

Recognition of the threat must be accompanied by a will to fight it. Mr. Phares argues that if the people of the Free World “don’t believe that they are in the middle of a global confrontation with their nemesis, they will fail to resist, and so they will lose the will to survive.” He recommends an alliance structure similar to that of the Cold War period, which would be difficult to erect because it would require an explicit identification of the states that could not be members because they are part of the problem.

That was less of an issue in the days when communist states proudly proclaimed their commitment to the spread of global revolution. On the other hand, the real problem may be that when Islamic states call for the same thing the rest of the world is not listening.

“The Confrontation,” along with other books in the series, is a useful riposte to the “apologist” doctrine that asserts that Western actions are the cause of the conflicts with the Muslim world and that it is up to the West to change its behavior. This is a thesis that the Obama administration seems to have accepted at least in part.

Mr. Phares presents an ambitious plan, but it only matches the aspirations of the adversaries the civilized world faces. Time will tell whether we are up to the test of countering this threat and preserving our freedoms.

James S. Robbins is senior editorial writer for foreign affairs at The Washington Times and senior fellow for national security affairs at the American Foreign Policy Council.

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