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April 26, 2005

Posted by Derek Chollet

Last Sunday, the Washington Post’s Jim Hoagland reported on a shift of Bush Administration policy that, if true, would mark an important and long overdue change in the way our government approaches the war on terror.  The core of this would be to broaden our policies from fighting a “Global War on Terror” (GWOT, if you live in the bureaucracy), to a “Global War on Extremism” (or GWOE, which one cannot utter without sounding like Elmer Fudd).  The GWOE would seek to fight not only active terrorist networks like Al-Qaeda but meet the broader challenge of the millions of potential jihadists that we are losing everyday in the war of ideas.  As Hoagland explains:

“The policy directive is set to delineate three essential tasks in GWOE: The Department of Homeland Security keeps the lead in defending U.S. territory against terrorist attack; the State Department will be in charge of counter-ideology against Islamic extremism, tasked with broadening and greatly strengthening the weak ‘public diplomacy’ campaign of the first Bush term; and the Pentagon will destroy or disrupt ‘networks’ of terrorism, wherever they exist.”

If this proves right, it’s about time.  The fact that we don’t have such a policy already is a testament to the weakness of our current approach – and the current Administration’s failures.  According to Hoagland, new thinking along these lines has been bottled up for over a year inside the bureaucracy. 

While such a policy shift would be welcome, there’s at least one huge problem: the State Department’s “public diplomacy” is not just weak, it’s a shambles.  The world’s greatest communications power has been out-communicated by a guy in a cave.  And we found out last week that Rice’s pick to run this effort, Bush confidante Karen Hughes, won’t even show up for her job until this fall.  This is ridiculous.  Suzanne is right to recommend that she leave Texas and get to work.

And what should she do when she gets on the job?  Rob Satloff -- who has probably thought more about the possibilities of "public diplomacy" in the Middle East than anyone else, and after having lived there recently, actually has an idea of what might work -- has some recommendations.

But reshuffling inside Washington’s bureaucracy – important as that may be – will only help us fight the GWOE if it leads to meaningful policy outcomes.  And I believe that one of the most important would be for the government to lead and fund a major effort to develop a new generation of experts that will enable us to better understand Islam and the greater Middle East.  People have been arguing this point since 9-11, but the fact is that right now, we still don’t have the minds to win potential jihadists’ hearts.

Stanford’s Peter Berkowitz and Mike McFaul have been all over this problem and have ideas to solve it.  They point out that in the departments of political science at Harvard, Princeton, Stanford, Chicago or Yale universities, there are no tenured professors who specialize in the politics of the wider Middle East.  As they explain, “programs in and outside of universities aimed at comprehending and combating Islamic extremism [do] exist, but they are woefully underdeveloped and changing at a snail's pace. Everyone now recognizes that we lack ‘human intelligence’ -- covert agents, spies and informants -- in the Middle East. But we also suffer from shortages of NSA linguists, academic scholars, and senior policymakers trained in the languages, cultures, politics and economics of the wider Middle East.”

The government, working with foundations and the private sector, needs to take the lead in addressing this pathetic fact.  If the Administration fails to act, Congress should as it shapes next year’s budget.   


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Bush declaring war on "extremists" is like Hitler declaring war on the SS.

"Some people call you extremists - I call you my base." The home-grown American Taliban are far more dangerous to American democracy than any bunch of "extremists" anywhere else.

Christian. Jew. Moslem. Hindu. All nouns. Put "fundamentalist" in front of them, and they become adjectives. And then there's no difference between any of them.

The only difference between Osama Bin Laden and James Dobson is Dobson's too ignorant to be able to learn Arabic.

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