Apparently Obama believes that Islamic jihad is a result of U.S. foreign policy failure. This is an assumption that he shares with virtually everyone of any influence in both parties. They all think that this is a problem that we can make go away by doing something or stopping doing something else. The possibility that it might be a problem that doesn’t stem ultimately from our actions and cannot be ended by our actions never seems to occur to anyone.
“CNN exclusive: Obama on foreign policy” — Fareed Zakaria interviews Barack Obama for CNN, July 13:
ZAKARIA: Do you believe, when looking at the world today, that Islamic extremism is the transcendent challenge of the 21st century?
OBAMA: I think the problems of terrorism and groups that are resisting modernity, whether because of their ethnic identities or religious identities, and the fact that they can be driven into extremist ideologies, is one of the severe threats that we face.
I don’t think it’s the only threat that we face.
ZAKARIA: But how do you view the problem within Islam? As somebody who saw it in Indonesia … the largest Muslim country in the world?
OBAMA: Well, it was interesting. When I lived in Indonesia — this would be ’67, ’68, late ’60s, early ’70s — Indonesia was never the same culture as the Arab Middle East. The brand of Islam was always different.
But around the world, there was no — there was not the sense that Islam was inherently opposed to the West, or inherently opposed to modern life, or inherently opposed to universal traditions like rule of law.
The problem today is not an opposition of “Islam” to the “rule of law.” It is the resurgence of the Islamic supremacist ideology that has led to a global attempt to replace non-Muslim legal systems with Islamic sharia law — an attempt that is making great headway in Europe and is also going on in the United States, both by violence and by stealth.
And now in Indonesia, you see some of those extremist elements. And what’s interesting is, you can see some correlation between the economic crash during the Asian financial crisis, where about a third of Indonesia’s GDP was wiped out, and the acceleration of these Islamic extremist forces.
I.e., poverty causes Islamic jihad. This is an extremely widespread view, although it has been debunked many times. See, for example, here.
It isn’t to say that there is a direct correlation, but what is absolutely true is that there has been a shift in Islam that I believe is connected to the failures of governments and the failures of the West to work with many of these countries, in order to make sure that opportunities are there, that there’s bottom-up economic growth.
So the “shift in Islam” doesn’t have anything to do — or anything significant to do — with imperatives within Islam itself. It is all because of the “failures of the West to work with many of these countries,” although we are pouring billions into Egypt and Pakistan and they are still hotbeds of jihadist sentiment.
You know, the way we have to approach, I think, this problem of Islamic extremism … is we have to hunt down those who would resort to violence to move their agenda, their ideology forward. We should be going after al Qaeda and those networks fiercely and effectively.
But what we also want to do is to shrink the pool of potential recruits. And that involves engaging the Islamic world rather than vilifying it, and making sure that we understand that not only are those in Islam who would resort to violence a tiny fraction of the Islamic world, but that also, the Islamic world itself is diverse.
Wouldn’t it also be useful to understand that there is an expansionist and supremacist imperative shared by all orthodox sects and schools of Islam, and that some Muslims will most likely continue to act upon that imperative no matter how much we demonstrate our understanding of Islamic diversity?
And that lumping together Shia extremists with Sunni extremists, assuming that Persian culture is the same as Arab culture, that those kinds of errors in lumping Islam together result in us not only being less effective in hunting down and isolating terrorists, but also in alienating what need to be our long-term allies on a whole host of issues.
Who is really lumping them together? Is anyone really doing that? This is, of course, an accusation that CAIR and co. commonly level against those who speak about the violent and supremacist elements of Islamic theology and law. That Obama would repeat it does not make it appear likely that he will ever come to understand that such violent and supremacist elements actually exist, or formulate a policy that will effectively neutralize them.
ZAKARIA: If U.S. forces in Afghanistan captured Osama bin Laden, what would you do with him, and you were president?
OBAMA: Well, I think that, if he was — if he was captured alive, then we would make a decision to bring the full weight of not only U.S. justice, but world justice down on him. And I think that — and I’ve said this before — that I am not a cheerleader for the death penalty. I think it has to be reserved for only the most heinous crimes. But I certainly think plotting and engineering the death of 3,000 Americans justifies such an approach.
Now, I think this is a big hypothetical, though. Let’s catch him first. And the fact that we have failed to seriously go after al Qaeda over the last five years, because of the distraction of Iraq, I think we are now seeing the consequences of that in Afghanistan.
That’s not the only problem we have in Afghanistan. We have not dealt with the narco-trafficking that’s taking place there. We have not provided farmers there an option beyond poppy. I think the Karzai government has not gotten out of the bunker and helped organize Afghanistan and government, the judiciary, police forces, in ways that would give people confidence.
So, there are a lot of problems there. But a big chunk of the issue is that we allowed the Taliban and al Qaeda to regenerate itself when we had them on the ropes. That was a big mistake, and it’s one I’m going to correct when I’m president.
ZAKARIA: […] Now, why not support the Clinton plan, which envisions a divided Jerusalem, the Arab half being the capital of a Palestinian state, the Jewish half being the capital of the Jewish state?
OBAMA: You know, the truth is that this was an example where we had some poor phrasing in the speech. And we immediately tried to correct the interpretation that was given.
The point we were simply making was, is that we don’t want barbed wire running through Jerusalem, similar to the way it was prior to the ’67 war, that it is possible for us to create a Jerusalem that is cohesive and coherent.
I was not trying to predetermine what are essentially final status issues. I think the Clinton formulation provides a starting point for discussions between the parties.
And it is an example of us making sure that we are careful in terms of our syntax. But the intention was never to move away from that basic, core idea that they — that those parties are going to have to negotiate these issues on their own, with the strong engagement of the United States.
And if you look at the overall tenor of that speech and what I’ve said historically about this issue, you know, Israel has an interest not just in bunkering down. They’ve got to recognize that their long-term viability as a Jewish state is going to depend on their ability to create peace with their neighbors.
The Palestinian leadership has to acknowledge that the battles that they’ve been fighting, and the direction that they’ve been going in and the rhetoric they’ve been employing, has not delivered for their people.
Good luck with that. (And is he really characterizing the jihad terror attacks against civilians as “battles”?)
And it is very hard, given the history of that region and the sense of grievance on both sides, to step back and say, let’s be practical and figure out what works. But I think that’s what the people of Israel and the people in the West Bank and Gaza are desperate for, is just some practical, commonsense approaches that would result in them feeling safe, secure and able to live their lives and educate their children.
Yes, that’s what they want in the West Bank and Gaza: safety and security. That’s why they elected Hamas.
ZAKARIA: You’ve also said that the chief beneficiary of the Iraq war has been Iran, which now poses a significant strategic threat to, or challenge to, the United States in the region.
If we were to leave Iraq entirely, would that not cede the field to them and allow Iran to consolidate its gains in the region and in the country?
OBAMA: I don’t think so. Look, first of all, I have never talked about leaving the field entirely. What I’ve said is that we would get our combat troops out of Iraq, that we would not have permanent bases in Iraq.
I’ve talked about maintaining a residual force there to ensure that al Qaeda does not re-form in Iraq, that we’re making sure that we are providing logistical support and potential training to Iraqi forces — so long as we’re not training sectarian armies that are then fighting each other — to protect our diplomats, to protect humanitarian efforts in the region.
So, nobody’s talking about abandoning the field.
ZAKARIA: That might be a large force.
OBAMA: Well, it — you know, I’m going to make sure that we determine, based on conditions on the ground, how we effectively carry out those limited, temporary missions.
But what is going to prevent Iran from having significant influence inside of Iraq — or at least, so much influence that Iraq is not functioning — is to make sure that the government has stood up, that it has capacity, that the Shia, the Sunni, the Kurds have come to the sort of political accommodation that allows them to divide oil revenues that are now coming in quite handsomely, that ensures that, in fact, we’re serious about ending corruption in some of the ministries, that provincial federalist approaches to governance are being observed.
The stronger the Iraqi government is on its own — not with us, but on its own — the less likely that Iran is going to exert its influence.
And again, this is — you know this better than I do, Fareed — the assumption that, because many in Iraq are Shia, that they automatically are going to align themselves with Iran, ignores the fact that you’ve got Arab and Persian cultures that are very different. And there’s — if Iraqi Shias feel that their government is actually functioning, then I think their identity as Iraqis reasserts itself.
So why did Maliki go to Tehran and pledge friendship and cooperation?