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Conference of the Middle East Policy Institute

by Maike Buss Wednesday, Jun. 22, 2005 at 3:55 AM

The conduct of the western allies promotes what they wanted to prevent: the formation of a defensive worldwide Islamic front against the West. The three holiest places of Islam are now occupied by Americans or Israelis.


Conference of Middle East Policy Council in Washington

By Dr. Maike Buss

[This article published in: Zeit-Fragen June 2005 is translated from the German on the World Wide Web,]

The Middle East Policy Council has the goal of promoting exchange between America and countries of the Middle East by conferences and publications. It is financed and organized by private persons and firms from both regions. A teacher-training program informs American teachers about the Islamic culture and religion so they can give balanced instruction on this theme. In times of belligerent confrontation, these forums are very important because they encourage dialogue and oppose one-sided polarizations and prejudices.

At the beginning of 2005 the Middle East Policy Council in Washington organized a conference on the theme “Iraq, Afghanistan and the War on Terror” with four prominent experts. The entire event was encouraging because it was marked by differentiated approaches to the theme and quiet discussion. Europeans left the conference venue with the hope that these voices from America would also be heard in the European media. One thing was clear at the end of the conference: Many Americans in high ranks in politics, military and administration are worried about the war policy of their country.

Michael Scheuer, CIA specialist for Usama bin Ladin and Afghanistan and author of critical books on U.S. foreign policy, took early retirement. He commented on the Iraq war: “We couldn’t give Usama bin Ladin a greater gift than the Iraq invasion…From the view of many Moslems, the three holiest places of Islam are now occupied by Americans or Israelis.” The sites are in Saudi Arabia, on the Arab peninsula and Jerusalem.

This fact makes Moslems angry at America whether they now sympathize with bin Ladin or not, Scheuer said. The U.S. upgraded bin Ladin’s position in the Arab world with the Iraq war. “Whether good or not, bin Ladin is the only credible Islamic leader with international stature in the whole world. The reason for that is a leadership vacuum into which he could easily penetrate. With the Iraq war the Islamic opposition against America intensifies which bin Ladin alone – without a war – could not have created. Scheuer holds a mirror up to his country. One need not think bin Ladin would attack America on account of its values, society or beer. The reason is American policy and its concrete acts.

Chas. Freeman, former American ambassador and acting president of the Middle East Policy Council, emphasized that the Islamic world is intensively directed against America because the US and Israel control important holy Islamic sites. Usama bin Ladin considers the al-Saud-rulers as a front-regime of the Americans who indirectly control the holiest places of Mecca and Medina to the advantage of unbelievers. The conduct of the western allies promotes what they presumably wanted to prevent: the3 formation of a defensive worldwide Islamic front against the West.

With the help of the Tschechnya example, the British journalist Anatol Lieven showed how the Russian invasion radicalized the Tschechnya population. Before 1994 the fundamentalist groups in Tschechnya were weak. “The Russian intervention of December 1994 drew these groups to Tschechnya and gave them their chance. “ Without this event, Lieven said, these groups would never have gained the influence and power they have today in the country. Lieven urges America to learn from these experiences and not commit the same error as the Russians. He also shows how fundamentalist groups suddenly attract impoverished Moslems estranged from their own culture because they find identity and meaning there.

A passing remark by Chas. Freeman stresses the importance of a realistic picture of the situation for understanding the other side. “The question is what is going on in Iraq. Perhaps the conflict is between analyses rooted in reality strongly disparaged these days in Washington and a hallucinatory optimism which is the alternative.” He expressed frankly the anxiety of many persons that the American secret service and politics increasingly manage reality, use it for their goals and hardly listen to reports about reality. Michael Scheuer’s “early retirement” is a clear sign of that management.

W. Patrick Lang, pensioned colonel and former Defense Intelligence Officer (DIO) for the Middle East, discussed this important aspect. He said there are two groups in the government. One tries to create an understanding of reality as it is and as it can be seen with an ethic of proof and strict rules. The other group of politicians came into government with an idea how the desired future has to appear and what world they want to produce – and work constantly on that. “In their heads is information that is often simply only an instrument to create the prerequisites for the future world they long for and regard as right.”

Lang described the problem of ideologues that is not ready to observe reality as it is but wants to bend it as they desire. This is a dangerous development for America. The lecturers emphasized that the inaccessibility of the politically responsible for the voice of reality has constantly grown in the last four years. Lang appeared concerned about this development and stressed that past political leaders knew the importance of good intelligence service work that helps politics succeed. He referred to the increasing pressure, for example on the CIA, to provide the government with information that supports its policy, not information hindering its agenda (cf. the Iraq war and the allege3d existence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq and their imminent use).

Lang criticized the attitude of his country toward other cultures and the inability to understand cultural differences. For example, there are very different opinions than the government in assessing the al-Qaida group. He believes this group is not an international movement of conspiracy but an historical phenomenon that appears periodically again and again in Islamic history. Lang noted critically that recruiting American soldiers for Iraq is becoming increasingly difficult because the security situation is problematic. Soldiers hardly leave the military bases since they expect being attacked in ambushes.

The chaotic situation in Iraq, according to the security expert, was foreseeable. “Should we be surprised about that? Yes, we should be surprised that we have actually been so dumb and that we continue with our ignorance?” When a friend of his recently went to the president to tell him things were not going well in Iraq, he was thrown out. His comment is deeply moving. “What did that mean? It means that we still hold to our fantasy that we actually believe we understand how these people should be and that we can organize them with minimal expense because they want to be in truth as we are.”

Lang criticizes the arrogance of the leading political elite of his country. However he looks back to the last hundred years and insists self-critically that America ran aground again and again in refusing to accept other cultures on earth that are different than Americans want them to be. Until we accept that diversity, we will have one failure after another. If we continue this foreign policy, we will actually need an army of 800,000 men and a marine corps (USMC) with 250,000 men. We will shed our blood and our wealth forever at these places. We have attempted this again and again for 100 years in the 20th century. The failures in the Philippines and China and my own failure in different places are examples of these attempts. Why for heaven’s sake we return to this `dead dog’ surpasses my understanding.”

Reassessing American foreign policy and setting it on another foundation have been necessary for a long time. The statements of Patrick Lang show his concern about the persistent and growing irrationality of his country.

Important themes were probed in the lively and courteous discussion. The speakers had only 10 minutes for their contributions. One discussant, Clay Swisher, objected that American relations to Arab and Moslem countries couldn’t be discussed without speaking of the important consequences of American-Israeli policy. “The United States should ask what this policy looks like, whether it is consistent with American values of life, liberty and ownership and whether it is something that should be taken into account more than a footnote. More serious debates and reflections are vital.”

Daniel Byman, assistant professor at Georgetown University, admitted the questioner was right and said America should absolutely abandon the uncritical attitude toward Israel. Michael Scheuer argued that being led by the tail like a dog is bad for a superpower. This damages America very much in the Islamic world. He added that Israel manages to control the debate in America over policy toward Israel. “Whether these persons from AIPAC (“American-Israel Political Affairs Committee – a lobby group) send a list of rules on reviewing my books or whether they know the fact that you are an anti-Semite if you criticize America is an enormous hidden action.” Scheuer emphasizes the importance of carrying on an op-en debate in the country over these questions and discussing whether Americans are ready to sacrifice their lives for Israeli interests.

Another questioner, Dr. Robert Hickson, emeritus professor at different military academies, discussed the strategic duties of military officers and their moral responsibility. When he discussed the question of war with many high-ranking military personnel before the Iraq war and raised critical questions, he saw that many of them had no backbone (They seem to be spineless primates – invertebrate primates”). For example, he did not ask about the consequences of the war and its moral principles and limits. He also lacked love for his own soldiers and a sense of responsibility for their well being, not only for fulfilling their own legitimate mission.

In his answer, Patrick Lang admitted the questioner was right in his observation that the leading people of the secret service and the military on the even of the Iraq war did not fulfill their obligation and offer any resistance. All responsible persons must act so they do not only protect their own personal interests – for example not to be dismissed – but fulfill their duties toward the people of the United States and the constitution. “When someone is unwilling to stand up and take responsibility for his own opinion, he becomes another faceless bureaucrat.” Lang criticized the failure of professional ethics in the military when officers in Afghanistan and Iraq reported what was demanded from above although they knew better.

Chas. Freeman also took up this theme and emphasized that civilian leaders today are deaf to insights of the military and even punish different opinions. “We must admit that the problem goes beyond the military.” Michael Scheuer referred to Robert Hickson’s question and said it goes directly to the heart of America’s problem. “In the military and secret service, there is no readiness to say to the ruler that he is naked.” The discussants agreed that there are only a few examples in recent times where the military withdrew from its positions out of protest against U.S. foreign policy.

The conference was encouraging despite many negative reports. Many viewpoints were heard that were not usually represented in the American public. Experts with much insider knowledge tried to inform their own country about mistakes and warn about fallacies. They did this in a calm atmosphere supported by mutual trust in contrast with the warmongering of the media and the Bush administration.

Anonymous (Michael Scheuer), Imperial Hubris, Why the West is Losing the War on Terror, 2004

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