Defeating Terrorism

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”’This article is excerpted from the introduction of the author’s book, “A War We Must Win,” to be published this summer.”’

We must defeat terrorism not only because we cannot tolerate the threat of terror as a way of life, but because, regardless of its source or cause, it is and will always be an unacceptable means of resolving political discord.


The events of 9/11 left us astounded, outraged and with a determination to eradicate the scourge of terrorism. But, following the collapse of the Taliban regime in Afghanistan, we began to falter and lose sight of who the real terrorists were, ignoring the root causes and fixating instead on more visible targets that did not represent any imminent danger, such as Iraq. We have, as a result, undermined our relations with many friends and allies whose support we still need to fight this heinous phenomenon. Now that the war in Iraq coming to an end, and with Saddam Hussein’s regime virtually history, the challenge before us is not just how to reconstitute Iraq as a free nation, but what measures to take to bring about the end to international terrorism.

Like most Americans, 9/11 stunned me, yet I was not all that surprised. As a student of the Middle East and a witness to the unfolding of the Arab-Israeli conflict for more than three decades, I have long since come to one inescapable conclusion: Resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian crises is the sine qua non to the successful fight against terrorism. We must arrest this intractable and bloody conflict because of its explosive nature and its impact on the Arab-Islamic psyche fed by a perverted brand of Islamic fundamentalism.

Those who still claim that no connection exists between the international terrorism led by al-Qaida and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict simply do not understand the historical underpinnings of today’s Arab/Islamic terrorism — its evolution since the 1967 war. Since the end of that conflict, anti-Americanism has been fueled by the belief that the United States has not been evenhanded in its Middle East policy; what is viewed as America’s exploitation of Arab resources, such as oil; the support by successive American administrations of corrupt Arab regimes that ride on the backs of their people; our interference in Arab and Muslim’s internal affairs, and our military presence in the region, which is viewed as another form of colonialism. That said, even if the Arab perception of America as meddling in Arab affairs accurately reflects U.S. foreign policy, there still no justification for 9/11.

And the question remains: What is the most effective way to combat terrorism? I suggest that, try as they may, officials in the Bush administration have been unable to divorce the Israeli-Palestinian crisis from international terrorism and hence their mounting difficulties in effectively combating it. The proposed road map for peace offered by the administration, which provides reciprocal steps by Israelis and the Palestinians first to ease tensions between themselves and then gradually move toward permanent settlement culminating in the establishment of a Palestinian state by 2005, lacks decisiveness and clarity on two necessary requirements: (1) The New Palestinian Authority, led by Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas, must speak out against violence, openly, publicly, clearly, and in Arabic, and then support these words by decisive, consistent action visible to the whole world; and for its part (2) Israel must come to grips with the folly of its settlements’ policy, by freezing existing ones, prohibiting the building of new ones, and accepting the principle of uprooting settlers from most of the settlements. Unless the United States publicly demands action on these two prerequisites, the road map for peace will not be worth the paper on which it is written.

Meanwhile, however limited or extensive the short- and long-term repercussions of the war against Iraq are for our international standing, especially in the Arab/Muslim world, we must spare no efforts to avoid another war, unless the Bush administration is prepared to defend itself against the widely-held Arab belief of there being an American/Christian crusade against Islam. How we deal with other countries — such as Iran, Syria, North Korea, and Libya — with weapons of mass destruction and that sponsor, or at a minimum, provide refuge and assistance to terrorist organizations will be carefully watched by every nation. Are we going to wage war on each of these countries, or are we going to use our stature and leverage to compel them, by diplomatic means and with the support of international community, to change their ways and abandon terrorism and weapons of mass destruction to advance their national interests?

The notion that the Arabs/Muslims admire the power of the fist is correct as long as it is one of their own leaders or armies that stands up to us or to Israel. They do not admire it when they are repeatedly humiliated by those they consider to be part of the “Imperialist and the Zionist conspiracy.” Moreover, whereas the war against Iraq might inhibit other rogue states from supporting or harboring terrorist groups, organizations like al-Qaida may feel emboldened by the events in Iraq.

And what about our so-called friends and allied states such as Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Pakistan that are the breeding grounds of a terrorism that Iraq, even under Saddam Hussein, pales in comparison to? If we really want to end terrorism, has not the time come for us to demand these nations prohibit the media (in each country, fully controlled by the state) from filling people’s heads with unceasing anti-American propaganda? And when will we demand that these governments put an end to the virulent anti-Americanism preached in mosques day-in-and-day-out and advocated by teachers and found in books read in tens of thousands of schools?

The majority of the recent crop of terrorists came from the Middle East — mainly from Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Lebanon and Yemen. There is no reason to assume that the next generation will spring out from somewhere else. The war on terrorism is a war we cannot afford to lose. To win, we must find a lasting solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict and as well to many other violent conflicts, capture and kill al Qaida leaders and operatives, and rid rogue states of weapons of mass destruction, especially nuclear weapons. But in the end avoiding unilateralism and establishing a collective international order by which international terrorism can be resolved are what is most necessary if we are to succeed at all.

”’Alon Ben-Meir is the Middle East Project director at the World Policy Institute, New York. He is also a professor of International Relations at New York University.”’