Sep 30th 2008

Neither candidate mentioned terror war in simplistic debate

by Sol Sanders

Sol W. Sanders, (solsanders@cox.net), is an Asian specialist with more than 25 years in the region, and a former correspondent for Business Week, U.S. News & World Report and United Press International. He writes weekly for World Tribune.com and East-Asia-Intel.com.

There were moments in what was intended as a highly touted debate on U.S. foreign policy by the two presidential candidates where one despaired of any cogency at all.

Sen. Barack Obama's insistence that Iraq and Afghanistan were separate entities, that Iran fit neatly into still another separate compartment, and that all that was needed was additional troops deployed to Afghanistan to solve that issue were bizarre. Obama, the candidate who spends a good deal of his time decrying a decision to take on Sadam Hussein's campaign to conquer the Persian Gulf, then demands a greater effort to attack what is obviously an even more difficult strategic and tactical environment in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Pillorying the Bush Administration, and thereby Sen. John McCain, as responsible for a fiasco in Iraq whatever the view history will take, is not what is advertised as a forward looking mentality.

The war against terror was not mentioned.

A question on security and 9/11 went largely unanswered.

Neither candidate made clear the obvious: the U.S., dragging along the rest of a reluctant democratic world kicking and screaming, too fearful and preoccupied with other problems, is still engaged in an extended struggle with radical Islam.

That struggle is exceedingly complex: it involves fundamental intellectual issues, such as the very nature of Islamic belief and how it adapts to modern criteria of personal freedom and democratic government. It involves the psychological battle for the muddled minds of psychotic individuals caught in the frictions of traditional primitive tribal values and modernity. It involves, and this is where the debate floundered completely, an understanding that this is a universal struggle that not only concerns the 1.5 billion Muslims in their traditional environments but their progeny around the world. And until now, the voice of the silent majority of Muslims who abhor violence and its perpetrators has not been heard.

There was little or no acknowledgement of the changing environment of this continuing struggle.

Yes, there has not been another attack on the U.S. homeland such as 9/11. But whether this is, indeed, a result of the still unrevealed discoveries and defusing of plots, the measures taken to reinforce American security, or the incapacities of the Islamofacists, is not yet clear.

That there have been plots such as that in the U.K. which was to be an attack on transatlantic airliners that have been thwarted. That measures have been taken to firm up surveillance of airports and airlines, and to some extent ports, have been put into place. That the structures of Al Qaida in Iraq and Afghanistan-Pakistan have been crippled is obvious.

But there is, unfortunately, growing contradictory clear evidence that the infestation of terrorism throughout the Muslim world is growing.

It may well be, as some have theorized, that there is no longer an overall plot headed by Osama Ben Ladin, if he is still alive. But there has been a proliferation of smaller Islamicist terrorist groups all across the globe inspired by the "successes" of Al Qaida - from Western Europe to Morocco and Algeria to Egypt to Pakistan to India to Indonesia to the Philippines.

Given the vulnerability of free societies, particularly the U.S. and Western Europe, with their concerns for freedom and personal liberties of even the accused, the possibilities for these groups however amateurish for effective terrorist action are virtually unlimited. Recent incidents such as the Marriott Hotel bombing in Islamabad or the bombings in several Indian cities are only the latest manifestations of the fury and nihilistic fanaticism of those still plotting. Their cult of death is one the rest of the world which celebrates life has difficulty combating.

Furthermore, there are over-arching trends that are perhaps even more important that the individual incidents themselves, bloody and hurtful as they are:

There is growing evidence that having failed, at least for the moment, in Iraq the radical Islamicists from all over the world have mobilized and moved into the difficult frontier areas of Afghanistan-Pakistan to concentrate on the destruction of Pakistan.

Indian Muslim radicals, until now partially unrecognized out of New Delhi's state of denial, have now begun to initiate the kind of domestic terrorist activities that could destabilize a government virtually unprepared for them.

There is growing evidence of radical Muslim organizations in Bangladesh, in an atmosphere where a military takeover of a bankrupt civilian government has now failed, and where progress toward stability is at best questionable.

There is growing radicalization and exploitation of older ethnic or territorial disputes all over the world - whether in Russia's Dagestan and Ingushetia [and, of course, the long smoldering Chechenia] or Indian Kashmir or Sudanese Darfur.

There are growing social and religious controversies with the growing Muslim population of Western Europe - in part, producing new and extremely valuable operatives for the Islamic radical movement able to operate in Western environments for the international radical Muslim networks. These social and political issues which are extremely difficult of resolution, whether the introduction of sharia concepts into Western society or the simple act of women wearing a partial veil, are in their way threats to traditional European state-church relations which had long thought to have been resolved.

It is far from clear as McCain insisted that the "lessons" of Iraq can be applied "whole hog" to the Afghanistan problem. Indeed, the very fact that it is so intimately tied to the internal problems of Pakistan would indicate that it is true only in the broadest sense.

Part and parcel of the overall problem is the growing power of an Iranian state, the world's number one sponsor of terrorism in the name of Islam, as it moves toward developing nuclear weapons. McCain's proposal to mobilize U.S. allies for economic warfare outside the confines of the UN Security Council - restricted as it is by the Russians and the Chinese - presupposes a cognizance of the peril which thus far Paris, London and Berlin have only exhibited at best in rhetoric. German trade with Iran, for example, is snowballing at a time of such peril.

Obama may have now modified his earlier positions on trying to deal without preconditions with the Iranian mullahs and other pariahs but his initial naïve reaction - which McCain properly identified - of indiscriminately lumping together the wolf and the lamb in Georgia suggests a predisposition to untenable amateur positions in statecraft.

As always unforeseen events are likely to dictate the challenges of the new president of the U.S. Just as the financial crisis has discombobulated programs for the economy, the next few weeks even preceding the election would likely do the same for foreign policy stratagems and policies. But, for the moment, neither candidate has exhibited the kind of perspicacity a world facing an overarching threat to its values as well as its safety has a right to expect.


Copyright: WORLDTRIBUNE.com


Below a YouTube video clip of the first Presidential Debate 2008,

subject: Lessons From Iraq/Afghanistan


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