Our country has been waiting for a creative yet realistic approach to foreign policy. One Middle East expert, Ilan Berman, has developed a moderate, non-polemic approach with his new book, Winning The Long War: Retaking the Offensive against Radical Islam. Having also authored Tehran Rising: Iran's Challenge to the United States, Berman serves as Vice President for Policy at the American Foreign Policy Council, and consultant to both the CIA and the Department of Defense. His suggestions merge military, diplomatic, economic, theoretical, and legal strategy into an easily readable blueprint that outlines the "vastness" of our national security plan in an ultimately bipartisan manner.
Berman urges the United States to shift its focus from military force to "nonkinetic" areas of the global conflict such as ideology, strategic influence, economic warfare, and democracy promotion. This is not a call to lay down arms, but to expand upon them by developing strength in ideological warfare. To compete in this type of war, we must first understand "who" we are fighting, and also know that certain opportunities are on the horizon to make up for having lost territory in the war of ideas with radical Islam.
The Sunni jihadists have long been running a successful ideological campaign. Nevertheless, al-Qaeda has suffered "a catastrophic reversal of fortune" in Iraq, and Osama Bin Laden "has transitioned from being the unitary head of a terrorist organization to being merely an ideological leader of a 'jihadist' movement." This movement has decentralized and is slightly less popular since their extremist tactics have killed more Muslims than Westerners since September 11, 2001. The once popular Sunni jihadist regimes have now has lost ideological credibility in the Middle East.
In this way, Berman acknowledges that the moderate Islamic populations are "undecided." Bin Laden's network has failed to engage in modern politics. "In nearly eight years since September 11, al-Qaeda's radical, exclusionary worldview; its brutal, indiscriminate tactics; and its lack of a positive political agenda have progressively turned away potential recruits and alienated sympathizers across the Muslim world," he writes. American strategy must therefore "bring these deficiencies to the fore." Similar to reaching voters on a political battlefield, why not connect with the "undecided voters" of the Islamic world?
Berman gives specific points for an ideological offensive against the more organized Shi'a movement based in Iran, where both ideological and economic support for terror groups are centralized in state power. In Iran, the giant edifice of extreme Shfa ideology is only three decades old, where "Thirty years after coming into power, the majority of Islamic Republic's original revolutionaries are in their late sixties and early seventies." This generational divide suggests that more than half of all Iranians have little connection to the Islamic revolution. It is now time for us to help Iranian nationalists use their generational and cultural divide against the oppressive Shi'a movement that has taken over that country. Berman suggests that we reach their cultural roots to do so.
Original Iranian mythology, or "national narratives," indicate no core loyalty to Islam, and were written before the Muslim conquest in 651 CE. Berman points out the myth of Kaveh. This myth was written before the Common Era by Persian bard Alboqasem Firdawsi (also spelled Firdausi), whose Shah Namaha (Book of Kings) is still known by children on the streets of Tehran.
In this popular myth, Kaveh the Blacksmith loses eighteen of his sons to the cannibal dragon king, Zahak, a tyrant whose appetite demands human sacrifice. Grieving the loss of his sons, Kaveh organizes a revolt and unseats the dragon king. This story once euphemized the feeling amongst Persians who were losing their culture to Islamic conquest. By shedding light upon this tale of oppression and other national narratives, Berman states, the United States might provide confirmation to Iranian citizens that we wish to understand the roots of their culture while their own government does not.
Yet this type of approach requires an official means to deliver the message, and since the U.S. Information Agency was dismantled in 1999, Islamic extremists get far more channels to spread ideology that has muddled centuries of cultural heritage. Berman suggests that the USIA be brought back to fight that ideology.
Through radio programming and educational exchange, the USIA's functions were to inform and influence foreign publics in promotion of our national interest while also broadening dialogue between Americans and their counterparts across the globe. It was used as a tool to suppress communist ideology--a fundamental tool during the cold war. Nothing has been done to re-establish the agency, despite the attacks of 9/11. As a result, one fundamental platform for diplomacy has therefore vanished.
Despite Berman's want to shape foreign perceptions of the United States through cold war tactics, he reminds us that our strategic blunder started with the treatment of the Muslim world like the Soviets, where advertising the superiority of American values has had little effect.
"If it hopes to achieve what military planners term 'battlefield dominance' in the war of ideas, the United States will need to harness its tools of strategic influence into a coordinated strategy that engages the Muslim world while simultaneously discrediting and marginalizing the message of the extremists attempting to hijack it," Berman writes. Pointing to another non-militaristic approach to national defense known as "economic area denial," he concludes: "Perhaps most significant, however, has been our failure thus far [to] make the international economy as a whole inhospitable to exploitation by terrorist groups and radical regimes."
Congress (with its Fiscal Year 2004 Consolidated Appropriations Act) expects corporations to commit to terror-free investments. As a result, few U.S. firms do business directly with state sponsors of terrorism. Yet corporations still fail to avoid Islamic investments in the West (Sharia finance), where Muslim investors are required by Islamic law to give 2.5 percent of their earnings to charity. "Since Muslim scholars have identified organizations that carry out jihad to be acceptable of such alms," the book notes, "there is a very real risk that the charitable donations so generated could provide material assistance to terrorist organizations."
This calls for the regulation of U.S. companies who aren't careful about who advises them in the ways of Sharia finance. Economic area denial is a method that Berman hopes President Obama will execute further, since he had promised to do so during the 2008 presidential election.
Much like tools of ideological warfare, Berman calls for policy makers to look at successful cold war strategy with regard to foreign aid. He cites the Marshall Plan after the Second World War, when Foreign Aid had served as a tool to compete with communism in Europe and Asia, thus solidifying the fate of open societies in Europe. Berman argues that our $5 billion in aid to Pakistan has not been used to compete with Hezbollah, al-Qaeda, and other radicals. "As such," Berman writes, "Washington has every reason to put its money where its mouth is, and leverage its economic investment into a tool of real ideological competition and change."
Winning the Long War also points out that we have overlooked the many economic weaknesses in Iran. Among them is their demand for natural gas. Since Khomeini adopted socialized Shi'ism, the Iranian government keeps the demand for petroleum up by keeping the prices at rock bottom. As a result, federal subsidies eat up $45 billion each year. The United States can make Iran's deep dependence on refined petroleum even worse by disrupting its trade relations with providers in the west. Such bold economic warfare would hopefully replace military action rather than precede it.
"Weaponizing International Law" is the title of the book's fifth chapter, which calls for the UN to come to a workable definition of what constitutes terrorism. "Reaching consensus on the status of groups such as Hezbollah and Hamas has been particularly difficult," Berman notes. But the UN charter after World War II requires the international community to practice civilized warfare. "The message is clear: if you want to be a government, you have to act like one."
In the wake of Israel's May 2000 withdrawal from Lebanon, Hezbollah focused on military targets rather than civilian targets in order to gain global legitimacy. Bush had failed to take note that even though it is impossible to change the extreme ideology of Hamas, it is possible to change the ways in which they seek to attain power. This is another opportunity that the Obama White House must explore and advance upon, Berman hopes.
In the final chapter Berman discusses strategic democratization, arguing that placing such importance on the so-called spreading of freedom prevents the growth of open societies and "wreaks havoc upon existing alliance structures and distorts the economics of American engagement abroad.... In order for democracy to thrive in the historically inhospitable soil of the Middle East, the people on the Arab and Muslim streets must perceive that they have real choices about exactly who governs them and what shape that government will take." In the case of Egypt and the Palestine Authority, dangerous regimes such as the Muslim Brotherhood and Hamas took power through elections that the Bush White House failed to detect as "one-timers" that were filled with irregularities. According to Berman, strategic democratization cannot be attached to merely one political goal such as an election. "Rather, it needs to be sustained in nature, and calibrated to empower not only the initial successes of its reformers, but the preservation of these victories over time as well."
Berman's matrix of sound strategies may perhaps be applied to the present day without starting another war. His ideas criticize our previous leadership, but also squarely challenge our present leader to anticipate what's coming next. No matter what your politics are on issues such as national security, you will find that this book actually offers a non-apologist, non-obstructionist view of how the United States may go about winning the long war.
I might be too hopeful a citizen, but Berman's thoroughly less militarized approach to the war on terror may help re-establish not only this country's safety, but also perhaps its honor.