All Writings
July 18, 2004

Defeating Terrorism 4

To prevent new catastrophic attacks, and ultimately defeat terrorism, the next administration must develop a comprehensive strategy comprised of 10 distinct critical domestic and international policy agendas which it must act on simultaneously. The following is the fourth of 10 policy papers:

Multilateralism: Critical to Defeating Terrorism

Regardless of how powerful the United States may be militarily, and how far we can project our power, the war on terrorism cannot be won unless we act multilaterally. To do this, we must help change the economic and political conditions of scores of other nations, especially Arab and Muslim countries, thereby making it possible for them to join the anti-terrorist campaign in earnest. Although multilateralism should not prevent us from taking unilateral action when imminent danger to our national security is positively identified, multilateralism must be the strategy of choice. For only it allows us to maintain our credibility and ensure the continuing support of the international community in our fight against terrorism.

There are three schools of thought about America's military and political leadership in the world as it battles international terrorism: The first school of thought, to which many Democrats subscribe, believes we need to act multilaterally while advancing the humanitarian causes that should be part and parcel of the war on terrorism. This line of thinking supports our right to attack preemptively and unilaterally when imminent danger is established and only after all other options to defuse a conflict peacefully have failed. The second school of thought, generally supported by Republicans, believes in a unilateral leadership that relies on the use of power, including that of the military, to achieve national objectives. Conservative Republicans who support this policy insist that the United States cannot mortgage its national security interests and depend on other players, including international institutions, to resolve issues with national security implications. The third school of thought borrows from the other two, but argues more forcefully for an America that is the ultimate world leader and arbiter by virtue of its vast wealth and military, cultural, and technological power. According to this view, we must act as we see fit on our own behalf and on that of other nations because if we do not take the lead, no one else will. The neo-conservative Republicans who argue for this strategy have no illusions about America's rise to ultimate supremacy, which, from their perspective, places it in a unique historical position to assume the leadership of the world with or without the support of other nations.

Irrespective of the philosophical debates about America's global role, the scope, pervasiveness, and the political and economic conditions that nurture terrorism make it simply impossible to defeat unless the United States makes multilateralism the vehicle and the foundation of its strategy. The war in Iraq provides, of course, a vivid example of the hazards of going it alone. The Bush administration's decision to abandon multilateral efforts has embittered even those nations that would have supported us against Saddam Hussein. Bent on removing the Iraqi despot at any cost, in the name of battling terrorism and destroying weapons of mass destruction, the administration's unilateralists quickly gave up on our major allies and their demands for more time in deciding on which options to pursue with Iraq, along with a larger role and one with real authority in determining how to proceed. Instead of making a supreme effort to persuade our allies to support us, the administration turned to regimes that were "bribed"-in terms of aid–or threatened into joining the so-called the "coalition of the willing" which provided symbolic support of our policies. As a result, the United States was unable to dispatch sufficient troops to Iraq to consolidate the territories under its control, making it impossible to maintain security which has in turn made American troops and Iraqi citizens vulnerable to attacks by insurgents that continue to cause casualties. In addition, the administration was more than willing to abandon international institutions like the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) and circumvent international law as these were seen as obstacles to the U.S. strategic design when in fact our actions would have been far more legitimate had the UN embraced them. The administration further failed to understand that bullying other nations to take our side, especially Western democracies, caused many of them to find it politically necessary and even beneficial to oppose us, lest they be viewed by their citizens as being subservient to Washington. The sad reality is that the administration ignored the basic lesson of the Cold War– that we are strongest when we work together with our allies in safeguarding common values. Now, especially when the European community, led by France and Germany, no longer feels the need for the security blanket we provided that justified our predominance, it wants a voice of its own. These nations are prepared to share the risks,. but they also want to be part of our decision-making process. By acting unilaterally, the administration has squandered our influence and left them feeling no responsibility for the outcome. The new view, caused by American dominance and unilateralism, and played out in Iraq, is that we have fueled rather than curtailed international terrorism. Our policies are seen by Western nations as a threat to European cohesiveness and possibly to their own national security interests as evidenced by the terrorist attack in Spain, which may, of course, be only the beginning of such attacks.

In this context, it is well to recall what former President Clinton stated:"Unilateralism in the world that we live in is not a viable option." In combating international terrorism, which by its very nature impacts other nations in one form or another, nothing undermines our moral and practical authority to lead more than the prevailing perception that we are willing to ignore international norms that govern other nations and act anywhere and at anytime with impunity. This is why we must now change course and conclude that no matter what means we employ, we cannot defeat terrorism singlehandedly. Iraq, as it turned out, neither was nor is the major battleground in the war against terrorism. No connection has been established between Saddam Hussein and al Qaeda (a fact recently confirmed by the findings of Senate Intelligence Committee). If anything, the Iraqi war has galvanized anti-American sentiment throughout the Arab and the Muslim worlds and has done more damage to U.S. credibility and interests in the region than can be realistically assessed at this juncture. What we can say, however, is that because of the war in Iraq, international terrorism is on the rise, and the need for a real strategy in which multilateralism is central is more urgent than at any time before. Here is why:

Terrorists and terrorist cells exist in scores of countries. Despite setbacks in Afghanistan and elsewhere, al Qaeda remains extremely potent because of its ability to adjust and even transform itself depending on the specific political environment. As the leading terrorist group, al Qaeda is institutionally solid, with a world-wide network of clandestine human and financial resources. Although it has decentralized operations since the fall of Afghanistan, the organization has kept close ties to ruling elites, especially in Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states. Intelligence estimates suggest that al Qaeda and other terrorist organizations loosely affiliated with it have actually expanded their network and established new cells or increased those already existing in scores of countries in every continent, often with the support of local communities. The war in Iraq and its aftermath have galvanized terrorist groups into providing logistical and financial support to one another. For example, greater cooperation has been in evidence among al Qaeda, Hizbullah in Lebanon, Gama'at al Tawhid in Iraq, the Palestinian Islamic Jihad in Israel, and several similar organizations, including the International Islamic Front for Jihad, which encompasses other groups such as the Afghan Arabs. In addition to shifting to decentralization and the development of leaderless cells constantly looking for targets of opportunity, al Qaeda has been hard at work recruiting Muslims and Arabs citizens of Western nations with clean records, among them well-to-do and professional Muslim women. The biggest problem for the United States is not so much the terrorists we can kill or capture or the terrorist infrastructure that we can destroy, but the hundreds of thousands, really, the millions of both poor and well-to-do but idle young men and women in Saudi Arabia, and the very poor Pakistani, Egyptian, Indonesian, Malaysian, or Yemenite children who have no place to go but to religious schools funded by Saudi Arabia. Such schools teach nothing more than Wahabism (the Saudi brand of Sunni fundamentalism) and hatred for America and the Jews.

I've sketched this brief picture of the expansiveness of international terrorism today only to point out that a multilateral campaign against terrorism is the only possible way we can diminish and eventually defeat it. How many more counties can the United States conquer almost singlehandedly without suffering even more the terrible consequences of unilateralism? Iraq has shown conclusively our limitations and our inability to secure territories that we have presumably liberated. It is true that scores of nations cooperate with us in the fight against terrorism; there is a difference, however, between the cooperation of necessity and a total commitment to eradicate terrorism on their own turf. With the best of intentions, some of these countries like Egypt, Yemen, Pakistan or even Canada, do not have the means to wage an all-out war against terrorist groups on their own soil, and there is very little we can do to pressure them to do much better. The problem is not only limited to financial constraints; even more critical are the political considerations. Neither the leaders of Saudi Arabia or Pakistan, for example, can wage war on terrorists inside their borders without risking a major political backlash that could topple their governments, especially when domestic support for al Qaeda is widespread. The populations of most Muslim and Arab countries are factional and tribal, with limited or no loyalty to their central governments. Neither we nor these governments can successfully fight terrorism alone. We must carefully consider the particular socioeconomic, political, religious, and cultural conditions and history of each country and only then construct a long-term strategy that addresses its particular problems and this with the support of other nations with a vested interest in the country. For example, a multilateral approach may entail a group of Arab and Western nations focusing on North Africa, while NATO may focus on another country or countries, and UN-designated nations deal with still other countries. Yes, American leadership remains indispensable, but we should not be omnipresent. We must learn to share the burden, responsibility, and authority with other nations to make such efforts truly multilateral. Indeed, terrorism and the proliferation of WMD are impossible to contain short of a comprehensive multilateral strategy designed and coordinated by nations who are prepared to send their men and women in harm's way to defend international security.

Dealing effectively with rogue nations. Part of the campaign against terrorism involves dealing effectively with states that have resisted international norms of conduct either in their efforts to pursue WMD or by sponsoring terrorists groups to serve their own domestic or regional agendas. For the purpose of this discussion, three nations come to mind: Iran, North Korea, and Syria. Without engaging in polemics about the true nature of these states and their real intentions, it is safe to say that all three have serious grievances against the United States, and we too have major complaints against them. It s clear that thus far we have been unable to resolve our differences by ourselves with these states, especially critical here are Iran and Syria , for they play a large role, perceived and real, in international terrorism. Because they border on Iraq to the north and the west, one would think that we would have made reconciliation with these two nations a top priority in the wake of the Iraq war. Surely, Iran's alleged pursuit of nuclear weapons and its involvement in terrorist activities and its efforts to undermine the Arab Israeli peace process are of great concern to us. And Syria's continuing support of various Palestinian terrorist groups, although they are held under a tight leash, keeps the tension between the two combatants quite high, thus preventing any meaningful dialogue. Among other grievances, Syria would like the United Sates. to pressure Israel to give up the Golan Heights, which Syria lost to Israel in 1967, while Iran wants to recover several billions for fighter jet planes its government paid to the United States before the fall of the Shah in 1978, but which were never delivered. These may be difficult problems but that does not exempt us from trying to resolve them. Because Syria and Iran occupy critical land masses in the Middle East, they obviously have a very serious stake in the region, especially in how the events in Iraq unfold. Both nations would like to resolve their differences with the United States but without being humiliated in the process. Obviously, neither state admits any wrong doing, nor should we try to prove them wrong publically, for as long as they feel undermined by us, they will have compelling reasons to undermine our efforts as well. We need to understand that both nations can also aid us tremendously in our war on terrorism. We can offer them full diplomatic relations in exchange for coming clean on WMD and their support of terrorism. To facilitate such an exchange, we should embark on a multilateral approach probably using England, France, and Germany to help us begin an open-ended dialogue that would move toward addressing mutual grievances. If Syria and Iran refuse our offer, then they can expect condemnation and sanctions supported by the international community, something neither government can survive. The main thing to keep in mind throughout is that as long as we maintain enmity with two critical players in the heart of the Middle East, our hopes of ending terrorism and transforming the region into a sea of democracy and freedom will be nothing more than wishful thinking. In the case of North Korea, we have so far made no offer that Pyongyang could not refuse. Here we must focus on ending North Korea's nuclear program and with that its prospects of becoming a modern nuclear pedlar selling nuclear material and technology which could end up in the hands of al Qaeda or other terrorist groups. We must offer North Korea a chance to dismantle its nuclear program in a verifiable way in exchange for peace, economic aid, and integration into the international community. This, after all, is what the North Koreans have been after, and what South Korea also wishes us to do. How could such an offer undermine our interests or prestige? If North Korea accepts, then we will have resolved our conflict with it once and for all. But if its leadership refuses, then we can lean on China, Russia, Japan, and South Korea to support a more coercive diplomacy, because these nations will have understood that we made every effort to avoid confrontation.

In waging war on international terrorism, we do not have the option of going it alone. This war is simply unwinnable unless we employ every resource at our command and internationalize the effort because the war is a global one. As the world's most powerful nation, we have an obligation certainly to our safety and national security, but also to the safety and security of many other nations. As Zbigniew Brzezinski former National Security Advisor to President Carter said about Bosnia: "Since the United States is the only power in the world that can stop the ethnic cleansing, the United States is responsible if ethnic cleansing continues." We have by chance and choice linked our security and well-being to many nations, whether in Europe, the Middle East, or Asia. Acting legitimately means acting in concert with other nations for the good of the international community. We have interests in every corner of the globe, and thus we can hardly separate our interests from those nations that our actions affect. Our power gives us the opportunity to lead and persuade other nations to follow our path; it does not give us a licence to bully then into submission. To enhance our legitimacy, we must lead by example and not violate international norms under the pretext of national security while demanding from other nations full adherence to our policies. We must particularly strengthen international organizations, especially the UNSC and NATO, not only because international security is the domain of the global community but because the war on terrorism cannot be won without the full, consistent participation of these security organizations. We must first push for reforming the UNSC by enlarging the number of permanent member states to possibly include Germany, India, Brazil, and Japan, thereby making this organization truly representative of the international community and empowered to act when necessary. We must also strengthen NATO by offering the necessary political, financial, and technical support to make it a viable institution ready, willing, able, and fully- equipped to meet the challenges of the future. Only when we give these institutions greater authority will they take their responsibilities seriously and play constructive role, as they should, against international terrorism or any other threat to international security.

In the post-9/11 era, the next administration faces an historic choice: to pursue unilateral policies and safeguard its narrow national interests, or combine its unprecedented power with moral authority by seeking a multilateral approach to international security issues. The first path will further isolate us and make us increasingly vulnerable to terrorists attacks and WMD, while the second will not only strengthen our national security, but contain and eventually defeat terrorism.