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August 31, 2010

American Strength Can't Fly on Autopilot or Gauzy 'Victory'
Posted by David Shorr

So I'm listening to Minority Leader Boehner this afternoon and President Obama tonight, trying to put my finger on the essential difference in approach. Here it is. One doesn't think Americans even need to ask what victory means in a war, or what it costs. For the other, American military, economic, strength and international influence are not preserved simply by proclaiming them and assuming the nation's assets are givens, fixed, threatened only by self-doubt. As I listened to the president, I heard an underlying theme of a country facing critical choices: where to draw the line for the American military mission in Iraq, where are the biggest threats to US national security, the steps needed to put our own house in order. 

In a nutshell, these decisions won't make themselves. Nor will America renew itself, Mr. Boehner, by clicking its heels and saying 'there's no place like the USA - there's no place like the USA.' We're actually going to have to do things, and stop doing some other things, and drop the fantasy that slashing taxes, regulation, and government will magically produce prosperity. Which makes these the most ironic and un-reality-based lines of Boehner's speech:

Using campaign promises as a yardstick to measure success in Iraq and Afghanistan runs the risk of triggering artificial victory laps and premature withdrawal dates unconnected to conditions on the ground.

After years of hard fighting – which has come at a high price – we cannot afford to underestimate the impact our domestic debates and political hedging have on decisions made by friend and foe alike.

When it comes down to it, this argument (and I use the term loosely) says that the United States must make limitless commitments, cast aside any questions about the results (or potential blowback), because of our darkest visions of those who want to harm us. Um, who isn't watching conditions on the ground??

There was one very direct point - counterpoint between Obama and Boehner -- their contrasting statements on support for the troops.

Boehner: When we support our troops, we support them all the way – there is no such thing as supporting our troops, but not their mission.

Obama: As we do, I’m mindful that the Iraq war has been a contentious issue at home.  Here, too, it’s time to turn the page.  This afternoon, I spoke to former President George W. Bush.  It’s well known that he and I disagreed about the war from its outset.  Yet no one can doubt President Bush’s support for our troops, or his love of country and commitment to our security.  As I’ve said, there were patriots who supported this war, and patriots who opposed it.  And all of us are united in appreciation for our servicemen and women, and our hopes for Iraqis’ future.

Like I say, Boehner declares any question of the worthiness of a military mission null and void. Helluva a way to run a democracy. I've said it many times before, the real valor of military service is the willingness to do whatever the country asks of you. To say that the nation must take its orders from the service of men and women in uniform gets it kinda backwards.


Iraq Has Made Realists out of All of You...
Posted by Patrick Barry

Or so it is said sometimes in my office (typically in reference to people of my generation.) 

Tonight the President attempted to give meaning to a war America has fought for the last seven years, a conflict that raged on the streets of Baghdad and Fallujah, but also in the corridors of public discourse. And frankly, it's impossible to reduce Iraq's complexities to a 15 minute address, though I credit Obama for the attempt and I understand why he made it.  However, there was one line that irked me a bit:

"And we must project a vision of the future that is based not just on our fears, but also on our hopes -a vision that recognizes the real dangers that exist around the world, but also the limitless possibility of our time."

C'mon, Barack! You should know better! 

And I suspect he does. Of course our time contains limitless possibilities, but what differentiates possibility from reality are the decisions we make. Decisions that carry consequences as much as benefits. 

I think Iraq has made everyone sensitive to trade-offs, to an extent. Anne Applebaum, an unabashed Iraq war supporter, wrote a column in yesterday's Post that dealt with the possibilities lost by the Iraq war with refreshing candor. But reading it, I also felt immensely dissatisfied. After all, wouldn't it have been nice to have that conversation before the war, instead of after it had begun to wind down? But of course, that's not the conversation we had.

This is what Obama meant when he said he wanted to "end the mindset" that got us into Iraq. He meant the mindset that described benefits in the rosiest terms, minimized costs, and absolutely ignored lost opportunities. I'm hopeful that the generation that came of age during the Iraq war has fully internalized this lesson. But judging from the way politicians and pundits so easily propose attacks on Iran, or demonize Muslims, or reduce counterterrorism to a game of global frogs and lilypads, all without even the slightest nod to the consequences, I'd say we still have a long way yet to go. 

The War In Iraq - Let's Never Do That Again
Posted by Michael Cohen

So President Obama will tonight declare that the US war in Iraq has come to an end - more than 7 years after George Bush confidently declared "mission accomplished" and the end of US combat operations. Obama's words will, hopefully, close the chapter on what must be considered one of the most disastrous military conflicts in the history of US foreign policy.

As has been long chronicled here at DA, the toll of the war has been steep: more than a trillion dollars in direct and indirect costs to the United States, enormous repetitional damage to America's image in the world and attention diverted from other more important and solvable domestic and international challenges. Above all, there is the human toll and the more than 4,000 American soldiers killed and tens of thousands wounded both physically and psychologically.  For Iraqis, the costs have been far more severe: an estimated 100,000 Iraqis have died in violence since March 2003 and millions more have seen their lives disrupted and dislodged. Even today, while terrorist and sectarian violence has declined it remains a frightening fact of life for ordinary Iraqis. While the invasion of Iraq has been a disaster for the United States, for the Iraqi people it has been a calamity of unparalleled proportions.

Matt Duss over at Wonk Room has more on this here.

Not surprisingly, most Americans have come to the determination that the war in Iraq was a terrible mistake. For policymakers and national security analysts one would imagine they would take away from the war a recognition that avoiding the strategic mistakes that led to the war must be paramount.

But of course that has not been the case. Among policymakers and the uniformed military the lessons derived from this conflict have been focused on on a far different set of conclusions: the failure of military tactics. As the argument often goes, the US armed forces were hamstrung by a lack of resources and manpower utilized, a mishandled post-war military occupation and, in particular, a failure to more effectively utilize counter-insurgency COIN tactics. 

Indeed, counter-insurgency advocates have used the supposed "success" of COIN tactics in 2007 and 2008 in stabilizing Iraq (which coincided with a surge of 30,000 troops) to assert that the military "gets" COIN and can ably transfer the lessons learned in Iraq to other theaters of war - like Afghanistan

But this is a dubious and dangerous narrative. First, it tends to place agency for stabilization in Iraq on the shoulders of the US army and not the Iraqi people themselves. While the surge and COIN tactics effectively coincided with changes already occurring in Iraq, it is highly misleading to argue that a change in US tactics saved the day. Indeed, had the US adopted counter-insurgency tactics two years earlier - at the height of horrific sectarian cleansing in which an estimated 3,000 Iraqis were being killed a month - does anyone really think it would have "worked" then.

Second, to argue that the surge saved the day is akin to congratulate oneself for closing the barn door long after the horse has escaped and the barn has burned to the ground. Yes, Iraq stabilized in 2007 and 2008, but what matters more then what happened at the end of the war is what happened at the beginning. 

Indeed, a focus on military tactics glosses over what should be the incontestable lesson to be derived from the war in Iraq - that the US must, at all costs, avoid fighting any similar sort of war in the future.  The central problem with the Iraq War is not how the United States chose to fight it, but rather that the United States chose to fight it at all. 

The insistence that there was a “right way” to invade and occupy Iraq is perhaps an issue of importance for military tacticians, but for policymakers in Congress and the executive branch it is a distraction from focusing on the disastrous strategic judgments that led America down the path to war - virtually all of which were made before one US soldier stepped foot into Iraq. 

These include the rosy assumptions that American troops would be welcomed by a already fractured and ethnically divided Iraqi society as "liberators"; the failure to consider worst case scenarios or the potential consequences of military invasion; the lack of a clear political objective for the conflict; the notion that America could go it alone in Iraq without strong support of key Allies and the American people; and perhaps above all an overestimation of US military prowess in nation-building and the political will among Americans to see such a fight through to the end.   The war in Iraq ignored the fundamental Clausewitzian idea that "No one starts a war -- or rather, no one in his senses ought to do so -- without first being clear in his mind what he intends to achieve by that war, and how he intends to conduct it."

What unites all these mistakes is not a failure of tactics - but a failure to address the strategic question of what was the US national interest vis-a-vis Iraq and whether other diplomatic or more limited military force packages would have been effective at advancing those interests. A war fought to intimidate future enemies via the use of American military power has ended up having the exact opposite effect - demonstrating the inherent limitations of US power. 

At virtually no point in pre-war planning did the Bush Administration consider other measures to invasion and occupation of Iraq - and among Democrats and the national security community not nearly enough effort was expended in offering alternatives to war.

The historical record suggests that the Bush Administration had no interest in debating these issues at the time - and in fact when to great lengths to obscure them during pre-war planning. But for future policymakers the importance of considering other means of judging and advancing US interests - and weighing alternatives to the use of force - should be the most important takeaway from the war in Iraq.

Yet far too little of the public dialogue about Iraq has addressed this essential question: it's a phenomenon being repeated in Afghanistan where last year's Presidential review focused not on escalation vs. de-escalation, but basically accepted the latter as a fait accompli. The notion, oft expressed by Barack Obama on the campaign trail, that the US must devote more resources to the "good fight" in Iraq has revolved largely around a singular element and tool of American power - it's armed forces.

The Afghanistan debate has dwelled on the issue of military tactics (counter-insurgency vs. counter-terrorism) and the behavior of the US military in the latter half of the war; rather than the misjudgments made at the beginning of war, namely whether the US military could actually achieve the ambitious goals of political leaders - or even if the national interest demanded it. 

These are the precisely the sort of questions that should define the use of American military power - and the war in Iraq provides a searing example as to why. 

If there is one lesson that President Obama, members of Congress and the American people should keep in mind, as the last US combat troops leave Iraq - it is that America must never make the same mistake again.

"Missing Imam" Breaks Silence on Park51 Controversy
Posted by Shadi Hamid

I will be blogging throughout the week on the Park51 "mosque" controversy. My first post can be seen here.

People across America have been asking themselves, usually with baffled looks on their faces: where in the world is Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf? One of the oddities of the Park 51 controversy is that the one person best positioned to explain and defend the mosque is the one person who appears intent on not only not speaking, but also not even being in the country to coordinate the project's message.

He has now broken his silence and granted an interview to The National. If anything should cast doubt on Imam Rauf's leadership qualities, it is his apparent inability to say something even mildly interesting about one of the more scary but oddly fascinating episodes in recent memory, one that he happens to be at the center of.

He has managed, instead, to give a remarkably sedate interview, consisting of little more than a string of platitudes (radicalism is bad; moderation is good; trust in the wisdom of the American people). American Muslims - the vast majority of whom knew nothing about this project three weeks ago - shouldn't have to pay the price for his, or anyone else's, inability to articulate a clear message regarding the vision for Park 51. As it turns out, Park 51 has presided over one of the most mismanaged media campaigns that I can remember. The project still has no spokesman. Its twitter account has been a study in how not to run a twitter account.

And despite repeated calls for him to return and lead, Imam Rauf refused to cut short a U.S. State Department tour in the Middle East, where he was speaking to audiences about - what else - how Islam and Muslims are thriving in America. Many of us had heard last week, when Imam Rauf gave a Friday sermon in Doha, that he was considering canceling the Dubai leg of his trip and returning home. He hasn't. The "missing Imam" is still missing.

August 30, 2010

The National Security Implications of Park51
Posted by Shadi Hamid

Over the course of the week, I'll be offering some thoughts and reflections on the Park51 “mosque” controversy here at Democracy Arsenal. I’ll also continue tweeting my less formed observations here, which I did, for example, when I had the rare privilege of seeing Imam Rauf speak in the flesh the other day. The “missing Imam” had finally appeared. In this post, I’d like to delve deeper into the national security implications of the debate.

As I’ve mentioned previously, many of my liberal colleagues are making the case that failing to build the mosque will empower extremists. When I first started hearing this argument, I found it a bit odd. After all, we do a lot of things that, either indirectly or directly, empower extremists in the Muslim world, but rarely do we let that stop us.

The things we do that really undermine “moderates” – sadly becoming one of the most misused words in the American political lexicon – rarely garner headlines. No one in the U.S., for example, really seems to care about the upcoming, critical Jordanian elections, although the result of that, if it goes as expected, will almost certainly have a more pronounced effect on radicalization (at least in Jordan) than the anti-mosque movement could ever hope to have.

That said, I was perhaps too quick to dismiss arguments such this one from Jonathan Chait:

The key fact is that we are fighting a war for the hearts and minds of non-radical Muslims, and the Park 51 uproar is helping drive potential allies into the arms of the enemy.

Yes, a narrative is being built. And while the narrative - that America is at war with Muslims - was already there, there’s something particularly disconcerting about this episode. One of the few remaining arguments I still have left in my rapidly depleted defend-the-U.S-arsenal is that Muslims arguably have more freedom to practice their religion in America than perhaps anywhere else in the world. I guess that one’s not gonna work anymore.

Marc Lynch, in this post, gets us closer to understanding of how the whole thing is playing in the Arab media. It’s certainly something to keep an eye on. Just because our image in the Middle East is perilously negative – the U.S. has lower favorability ratings under Obama than it did during Bush’s final year – does not mean we should let it become even more so. 

But I think the greater worry should be directed a bit closer to home. The anti-mosque hysteria may, in fact, undermine moderates and moderation abroad, but it is more likely to do so at home, where American Muslims, at least up until now, have been uniquely well-integrated. What’s so troubling about the developments of this summer is that they are casting doubt, in a rather striking way, on the argument – and the reality – that American Muslims have, for the most part, escaped the problems of their European counterparts.

August 28, 2010

Carnage in Congo -- A Long-Range Witness' Recollections
Posted by David Shorr

A front-page piece by Howard French in today's New York Times triggered memory banks from an earlier life. For French, covering the new UN report on the history of atrocities in the Democratic Republic of Congo is a return to the story's bloody 1996-97 climax, which he covered for the Times. In the mid- to late-1990s, the protracted crisis in Central Africa's Great Lakes region was a big focus of my job -- first with Search for Common Ground and then with Refugees International (RI) -- so I figure I should similarly go back in time.

First a little background. During the Rwandan genocide of 1994, the exiled fighters of the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) swept through the country, halted the killing of fellow Tutsis, and took control of the capital. RPF leader Paul Kagame has been president of Rwanda for ten years and its primary power figure for longer. In the genocide's aftermath, the surviving Hutu perpetrators fled to neighboring Congo and Tanzania, along with hundreds of thousands of their ethnic compatriots and faimly. For the next two and a half years, the massive refugee camps were a source of continued violence and instability, with the Hutu genocidaires using the camps as a rear base for operations against the new Rwandan government and a populace off of which they could feed parasitically.

Given the international community's failure to find a solution to the problem, the Rwandan Army (RPA) had good reason to cross into Congo and forcibly break up the camps, which it did in November 1996. If the RPA had limited its aims to disrupting the genocidaire forces (Interahamwe and ex-FAR) and draining the resevoir of instability on their border, neither the UN, nor Howard French, nor I would be writing about them today. Which brings us to the part of the story where my recollections come in.

Washington-based Refugees International has a long history of rapidly getting its staff to the scene of humanitarian crises and using its real-time findings to press for life-saving action by the US and other governments and UN agencies. Under RI's then leaders Lionel Rosenblatt and Dennis Grace, RI made the Rwandan refugees our priority focus in 1996-97. As the UN report details, the Rwandan army and Congolese rebels who overthrew Mobutu Sese Seko did a lot more than break up the refugee camps. The November 1996 operation was just the beginning of a vengeful drive that indiscriminately chased and massacred Hutu militia and civilians alike over the course of many months and hundreds of miles.

At RI, we did what we could to make sure the refugees were not forgotten, even as they became more widely dispersed and more remote and difficult to reach. We kept signs posted in our office that counted the weeks since the RPA operation against the camps. My colleagues Paula Ghedini and Kirpatrick Day travelled to the region during the height of the crisis and told us the tragic things they saw. In the spring of the following year, Kirk caught up with many of the refugees in Kisangani, far from Congo's eastern border where they started their harrowing trek. We colleagues back in the office then helped convey their reports to people in Washington, New York, or Geneva who were in a position to do something about it (I still have a small archive of our work). Legendary UN official Sergio Vieira de Mello was an ally at UNHCR, along with his aide Augustine Mahiga. As I remarked upon her death, Alison DesForges not only was the primary documenter of the genocide, but was equally tenacious when the Rwandan heroes turned into villains.

Which is a long way of saying that a lot of the substance being brought to light by the UN investigation was known at the time, at least in outline. And reported by the news media. In addition to Howard French, there was his Times colleague Nick Kristof as well as the Washington Post's John Pomfret, leading shit hole reporters of their day (like Christiane Amanpour, but for newspapers). One of the most chilling reports came from Kristof and began as follows:

As he strode confidently down the red-clay road that parted the jungle, the young rebel soldier was perfectly candid about his mission. ``We're capturing the Rwandan refugees,'' he said placidly. ``We're catching them and killing them.'' Asked to repeat that, he elaborated without embarrassment. ``Every day we kill them,'' he said with a shrug. ``They fled, so they must be bad people. So we catch them and take them back to our commander, and then we kill them.''

There's the essence of it: collective guilt and summary justice. My main recollection of that time is about the difficulty for the United States government and the rest of the international community to keep a fixed gaze on terrible events taking place so far away. I'll never forget one meeting I attended between NGOs and US officials just after the RPA operation against the camps had been initiated. Everyone in the room knew there were two halves to the story of what had just happened. At one end of the string of camps, Goma to the north of Lake Kivu, a stream of refugees were driven back into Rwanda to be reintegrated into their homeland, a good thing basically. At Bukavu to the South, there was no such gateway for repatriation, and the refugees were at the mercy of the RPA and its Congolese allies. The tone of the meeting, unfortunately, was more relief over the former than worry over the latter.

August 26, 2010

Who's Being Insensitive About the Ground Zero Mosque Debate?
Posted by Michael Cohen

Over at AOL News, it's all Cordoba House/Ground Zero Mosque all the time. In today's piece, I point out the folly in arguing that Muslims are being insensitive by placing an Islamic Cultural Center two blocks from Ground Zero:

Over the past few weeks as the furor over the Cordoba House project near ground zero has grown, opponents of the plan have seized on a novel argument to avoid the charge that they're seeking to constrain the religious freedom of American Muslims.They argue that while religious groups have the right to build a place of worship anywhere they please -- and the government can't lawfully block such an effort -- the project shouldn't go forward because it rubs raw the sensitivities of the families of 9/11 victims.

Case in point is a recent op-ed by, of all people, Karen Hughes, who not only served in the Bush administration State Department with a special responsibility to conduct outreach to the Muslim world, but also sent the imam behind the project, Feisal Abdul Rauf, overseas to tell the Islamic world what it was like to be a Muslim living in the United States.

Nonetheless, Hughes argues that "I believe that most Americans who oppose locating a mosque near Ground Zero are neither anti-freedom nor anti-Muslim; they just don't believe it's respectful, given what happened there."

On the surface, this all seems very reasonable. Build the center, just away from ground zero, out of respect for the victims' families. But dig a little deeper and an uglier truth emerges.

Hughes' argument is predicated on the notion that American Muslims somehow bear collective responsibility for the behavior of the 19 Muslim men who carried out the 9/11 attacks and the relative handful of al-Qaida operatives who helped conceive and support the plan.

Read the whole thing here.

August 24, 2010

Build the Mosque; Help Defeat Al Qaeda
Posted by The Editors

HTBAT This post is by Matthew Alexander and originally appeared on the Huffington Post.

The debate over the mosque in lower Manhattan has caused our country’s political volcano to erupt.  Republicans and Democrats, among them Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, have argued that the designated site for the Cordoba House, a Muslim community center and mosque, is too close to hallowed ground.  President Obama defended the mosque supporters’ Constitutional right to build it where they choose.

But there is a much larger rationale for building a Muslim community center near the former site of the Twin Towers:  It can be used as a weapon to defeat al Qaeda.

Since Sept. 11, 2001, our counterterrorism strategy has focused on stopping terrorist attacks.  That’s an important goal, but only part of the equation. A comprehensive strategy should include a greater focus on removing the root causes of terrorism. The only way to deliver a sustainable defeat to al Qaeda is to both destroy its leadership and cut off its ability to recruit.

Building a Muslim community center near the site of Ground Zero will bolster our ability to do the latter.  Imagine an al Qaeda recruiter attempting to sway a potential charge by citing an imaginary American war against Muslims but having to face the counterargument that Americans built a Muslim community center near the site of the Twin Towers.

The Cordoba House would be a powerful symbol of U.S. tolerance and freedom that will stand in direct contradiction to al Qaeda’s narrative that Americans hate Muslims.  As a symbol, its construction demonstrates that the U.S. is not at war with Islam and that Muslims are welcome in America.  It communicates a message of moderation that stands in stark contrast to al Qaeda’s bankrupt ideology.

As I discovered as a high-level interrogator of al Qaeda members in Iraq, symbols like this matter.  Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo Bay and the policy of torture and abuse handed al Qaeda its number one recruiting tool. Those who think al Qaeda will not be able to spin this controversy to their advantage are disastrously mistaken – but it can be a victory for America as well.

The political uproar over the Cordoba project, and in particular the use of harmful, bigoted rhetoric by some opportunists, leaves America facing a choice.  It can project one of two symbols: One of integration, acceptance and positive affirmation of American values; or one of intolerance, rejection, and animosity.  The former will work to undermine al Qaeda as part of a long-term strategy to defeat them. The latter will bolster Islamic extremists’ arguments that America is an intolerant country hell-bent on war with Islam, aid recruitment efforts and add support for more terrorist attacks.

The choice is obvious.  Let’s build the Cordoba House.

Matthew Alexander is a former senior military interrogator who led the interrogations that located Abu Musab al Zarqawi, the leader of al Qaeda in Iraq. He is the author of How to Break a Terrorist: The U.S. Interrogators Who Used Brains, Not Brutality, to Take Down the Deadliest Man in Iraq.

New Brookings Policy Brief on Radicalization of Islamist Groups
Posted by Shadi Hamid

I have a new Brookings policy brief suggestively titled "The Islamist Response to Repression: Are Mainstream Islamist Groups Radicalizing?" You can read it here (PDF). While the Obama administration tries to resolve conflicts and crises in Iran, Palestine, and Iraq, there are some troubling developments taking place in Egypt and Jordan, two of our most strategically vital Arab allies. Egypt, for one, might be on the brink. And, well, Jordan might also be on the brink, though of what no one can be sure. Both countries have critical parliamentary elections coming up at the end of the year.

So what's the problem? Over the last 15-20 years, and particularly since 9/11, mainstream Islamist groups have moderated their policies and rhetoric. But just as they've been adopting democratic precepts and modernizing their election platforms, they've found themselves facing mounting legal restrictions, widespread electoral fraud, and mass arrest. If we want to persuade Islamists to channel their grievances through peaceful, democratic means, this may serve as the most useful encouragement. Any number of studies have warned that the marginalization of nonviolent Islamists can have a radicalizing effect. But has it?

In the paper, I try to gauge how Islamists are responding to these new, unprecedented challenges while exploring implications for U.S. foreign policy and regional security. Here is the relevant section for U.S. policymakers, who, one hopes, are keeping a close eye on developments in both countries:

With much-anticipated elections in both countries scheduled for 2010 and 2011, the Obama administration as well as the U.S. Congress have the opportunity to weigh in and address the question of Islamist participation, something they have so far avoided doing. Doing nothing has consequences, as evidenced by Jordanian Islamists’ announcement in early August that they would boycott the November parliamentary polls due to the likelihood of fraud. The briefing concludes with several practicable steps the United States should take, including:

  • Publicly affirm the right of all opposition actors, including Islamists, to participate in upcoming elections. The Obama administration should begin by clarifying U.S. policy toward political Islam by clearly affirming the right of all nonviolent political groups to participate in the electoral process. This should be coupled by a consistent American policy of opposing not just the arrests of secular activists but Islamist ones as well. By treating both groups equally, the United States can counter the (largely accurate) claim that its support for Arab democrats is selective. In Jordan, the United States should pressure the government to reach out to opposition groups and issue guarantees to that the elections will be relatively free.
  • Empower U.S. embassies to begin substantive engagement with Islamist groups. The Obama administration has emphasized its belief in engaging a diverse range of actors. Yet it has failed to reach out to many of the largest, most influential groups in the region. As Islamist groups work to reassess their strategy and resolve internal divisions, American officials need to be aware of how such developments might affect broader regional interests. At a later stage, open channels of dialogue may allow the United States some influence over strategies Islamists adopt, particularly regarding participation in elections.
As they say, go read the whole thing

August 23, 2010

Will Moving the Park 51 "Mosque" Empower Extremists?
Posted by Shadi Hamid

Some liberals are arguing that failing to build the Park 51 "mosque" will somehow empower extremists. Jon Chait's coverage of the "ground zero mosque" controversy has been excellent. But I'm not really sure what to make of this claim of his:

The key fact is that we are fighting a war for the hearts and minds of non-radical Muslims, and the Park 51 uproar is helping drive potential allies into the arms of the enemy. It is madness.

Elsewhere, Ruth Massie, a supporter of Park51, puts it this way:

It would be giving in to bigotry and intolerance to demand that it be moved and I think in the end, it makes us less safe because we need to show the world that we are a tolerant, open society.

I don't really understand this. Will the mosque/community center send a powerful message that America is a land of freedom for Muslims, even 2.5 blocks from the site of the 9/11 attacks? There are good arguments in support of Park51. This, I suspect, is not one of them. No one ever decided to join a terrorist group in Egypt because they were reading New York Times articles about civil liberties abuses against Muslims in Alabama. If this is about helping diffuse Muslim anger abroad, then I wish supporters of this odd hypothesis would clarify the causal mechanisms involved. Arabs aren't angry at us because American Muslims get racially profiled in airports. They're angry at us because our policies in the region, um, are pretty bad. 

So let's not pretend that we can build a better relationship with the Muslim world by "cultivating moderates" like Imam Rauf, or that America can lead by example by peppering fuzzy mosques all over Manhattan. Arabs aren't concerned about our lack of freedom in America. They're concerned about the lack of freedom in their own societies, something which we haven't been particularly helpful with.

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