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February 27, 2007

Barack Obama knows the Difference between Sunnis and Shias
Posted by Shadi Hamid

Everyone has a list of things they'd like to see in a president. There's the usual: honesty, charisma, "gravitas," good looks, moral grounding, faith. If you're a Democrat, you tend to tack on other considerations: intelligence, knows how to write prose, has read at least 5 books within the last 5 years without any prodding from Karl Rove, has an American passport and has used said passport to travel to a foreign country (Canada doesn't count), and doesn't hate gay people and/or want to throw them off cliffs.

Well, I'm going to add another qualification for 2008 and I think it may actually be among the most important: understands Islam and Muslims. And you get extra points for actually having lived in a Muslim country. If you've studied at a madrasa, even better. Take a look at this clip from 2002 where Obama explains his opposition to the Iraq war. I don't want to set the bar too low, but he clearly grasps the difference between Sunnis, Shias, and Kurds and understands that a war could splinter the country into different ethno-religious factions.

This, for me, is why Barack Obama is such an attractive candidate. He's the only candidate who has any "natural" understanding of the region. He should hype this part of his resume and say it straight-up: "we're fighting a war on terror, one that is taking place mostly in the Muslim world. We're fighting a long and difficult struggle against the forces of Islamic extremism. At the same time, we're trying to convince 1.4 billion Muslims that we're not out to get them. We need a president who understands this region of the world and who is familiar with the aspirations, fears, and sensibilities of our Muslim friends abroad. I am that person. If you grant me your support, I will restore our moral leadership in the eyes of the very people who have come to distrust us most. I will reach out to the Muslim world like no president before me, and I will begin to rebuild the bridges that my predecessor burned."


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I agree with you that Obama has promise as a divergence from the US heretofore myopic foreign policy. Intelligent, knowledgeable and intelligent are good. With a couple of caveats.

1. 'The Best and the Brightest' (see David Halbertson) let us down in the 60's. Intelligence coupled with arrogance can be dangerous. He's not arrogant? He might become so if we all simply adore him without citizen guidance and restraint.

2. US voters have been conditioned to vote for style over substance. "I vote the man". But positions are important. On Iraq, Obama has submitted S.433 which seeks to micro-manage the Iraq war by setting force levels and not ending it. On domestic policy where in the US so many people are sinking into poverty he has no strong position. And so on.

So let's accept Obama as a bright hope and do our best to influence his platform.

Shadi, the 'war on terror' is BS. There is a US 'war OF terror'. Think carpet bombing of villages, cluster bombs, random shooting, kidnapping, imprisonment and torture, and lots of dead women and children. Please, at least, if you must use it put it in quotes. That's what progressives do. (Says me.)

You are so ignorant if you think the war on terror is BS. Are you really that sheltered from the rest of the world? Radical Islam is no small thing that is just going to go away. If you had even the slightest understanding about Islamic extremists, their history (past and present), their ideology, and their vision for the future, you would be thinking very differently than the way you are thinking now. PLEASE WAKE UP

Ferhan, unfortunately you are partly correct. There really are islamic extremist who want one thing or another and are willing to commit extreme violence in their attempts to get what they want.

And also the war on terror is BS, a sham.

So which enemy is more important? The deadly extremists who have to hide to avoid utter destruction? Or the deadly extremists who control one of the world's most powerful governments and the world's most powerful army?

It might depend on which enemy is closer to you at the moment....

Shadi Hamid, I absolutely agree - which is why I'm hoping Wes Clark will enter the race. On top of a natural intelligence and understanding, he also has the advantage of actually having done stuff, something which Obama lacks.

So the "war on terror" is a war on people's visions for the future? Or, what is it, exactly? I mean, we've had some pretty important people say that it has no meaning. Like: " I don't think I would have called it the war on terror. . . . So 'war on terror' has a problem for me, and I've worked to try to reduce the extent to which that's used, and increase the extent to which we understand it more as a long war or a struggle or a conflict, not against terrorism but against a relatively small number, but terribly dangerous and lethal, violent extremists." That was Donald Rumsfeld.

Don, you say that "the 'war on terror' is BS." I'm not sure what to say to this because, objectively speaking, terrorists do exist and they do, in fact, wish harm upon our country and citizens. I understand your opposition to the Bush administration's version of "the war on terror," which apparently considers Iran - and not al-Qaeda - the source of all extremism and terror in the Muslim world. When I use the term, I'm referring more generally to "fighting terrorists" and not the specific manifestation it has taken on under the Bush administration's (mis)guidance.

Shadi, I think essentially everybody else refers to WoT as Bush's WoT. When you use the phrase to mean a hypothetical WoT that might actually do something useful, people who read your words are likely to be confused.

It's like if you talked about "the war in iraq" but you meant a war where we set up a successful democracy and then pulled out for a total cost under $200 million.

It's like talking about the vietnam war but you mean a war where we established a democratic government and didn't approve any coups and we never put many troops in.

It's like talking about the Bush administration, but you mean a Bush administration that's honest and competent.

People will get confused, and they won't get unconfused very fast just because you tell them what you mean by the words. "The Bush administration can be a wonderful force for good. They can lead a unified Congress in the search for cheap alternative energy. They can lead the UN to encourage peace wherever there is conflict. They can...." No matter how many times you explain to them that you aren't talking about the Bush administration but about some fantasy ideal Bush administration, they'll have a hard time remembering when they see you do it again.

Similarly when you talk about some imaginary War on Terror instead of the actual one.

The reason why Shadi is right to talk about the "War on Terror" as if it's not Bush's failed one is because this new one has to start right now. Iran is a sponsor of terrorism, and we can't discount the fact that Iran's radical Shi'ite leadership is prepared to foster and support groups that would deal grievous harm to America. But we're responsible, first and foremost, for dealing a blow to radical Sunni terrorism, which is much more extensive and has a hell of a lot more heads than just Al-Qaeda-- it tends to take specific forms in particular countries, and it menaces us everywhere, including not just the Middle East, but all across Europe, India, Australia, China, Russia, the Philippines, much of the Far East... well, most of the world. We need a President that both fully understands the scope of this conflict and is prepared unambiguously to fight it. We need a very sharp, very aware thinker. I love Obama, but I'm not sure he's got what it takes. Hillary Clinton or John McCain might, and if Al Gore or Wesley Clark shows up in the race then I guess the Democrats are better off. But I'm really worried Obama isn't battle-tested enough to know what he's doing. I do totally agree that his links to the Islamic world will make him an asset in explaining to Muslims, "Look, we're not out to get you". I'm not sure there's any officially declared candidate I'd trust to do that, other than him. So on that front, I'm rooting for him with everything I have. We need someone who can say that, and say it convincingly.

Dr. Lateef, I don't mean to be rude, but -- you're crazy.

The last thing we need is to stir up a war with the arab world or the muslim world. If we get a reasonably cheap alternative energy, we can ignore that whole part of the world the way we ignore africa. Or we can be nice to them, or whatever we want.

Just because Bush was all incompetent at homeland security and one big terrorist attack got through doesn't make muslim terrorists an existential threat. The real threat is china. They have a brand-new economy. They have a lot of people. They are starting to gear up their military production in response to our threats. They have collected a whole lot of our debts. They could do us a lot of harm if they want to, and each year they get more powerful and we get less powerful. They don't have to be our enemy -- they get to choose that, unless we insist. But they are potentially a great big threat, which the muslims are not.

Look at it this way -- if the extremist muslim methods work, why don't we have an extremist christian group blowing things up with the idea that it will let them rebuild the Holy Roman Empire? Is it that there aren't enough extremist christians? No. Is it that they can't get the money? Hardly. Is it that they can't figure out how to rebuild the HRE without resolving disputes between catholics and protestants? That hasn't stopped al qaeda, has it? Face it -- the major reason christians aren't trying the same thing is that they don't think it will work. And they're right.

Our looming existential threat is china. Not anything muslim. You want us to waste ourselves chasing ghosts and shadows while china keeps modernising.

And our major challenge is alternative energy. Handle that and most of our chronic problems will just go away -- we'll face new problems, the problems of success. And if we don't handle that we're going to be hurting. In 20 years we won't have the oil to run our wonderful tanks and planes, we'll have to stage fuel-efficient wars. Twenty years isn't that long when you figure it will take at least 10 years to stabilise iraq.

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The best prospect for getting the Europeans/others involved at this stage remains the same as it was before the war: working through the UN. (Setting aside of course, for purposes of this discussion, the self-imposed political restraints that make this administration extremely unlikely to work in this vein.) Specifically, other-than-US troops on the Buy Flomax Online ground, whether through NATO, in non-combat roles, or whatever, is not happening without a Security Council mandate. Secondly, greater international participation in contracting for redevelopment is essential to de-Americanize the crisis, but this also is unlikely to happen without some international oversight and coordination of the reconstruction effort, at the very least as a perceived Buy Glucophage Online objective venue for discussion and planning, and the UN is the only institution with the experience and capactity to run such a program. In addition to the carrot of contract prospects, the international community is likely to respond favorably to moves toward greater accountability by the US. It is very unlikely and probably even undesirable that this accountability will come in the form of some US commitment to international supervision of "security" practices: detention, interrogation, and military actions generally. However, the administration of reconstruction monies is an area that is in desperate need of transparency and tough effective oversight, and subjecting reconstruction financing and contract awards to a system of inspections and accountability in which other nations can participate has great value as a signal to the rest of the world that the US is willing to play by the rules and to cooperate with other nations. Again, the institution best suited to take on the task of providing some international accountability in contracting is the UN.
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America is not going to give up anything that smacks of command over military operations, and is not going to do anything that looks like capitulating to international pressure to change the actions of the military. However, I think there is great potential for the US to get some help with some practical problems as well as some much-needed international cover by allowing the UN and the Europeans into the game in a way that relinquishes some authority without Buy Prilosec Online making the current administration looking like it's selling out to the French and Germans.

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