Monday, February 2, 2015

Fear mongering should not shape foreign policy.

I grew up in a fearful world   and it is still one…only the players have changed and it is a much more complex world now that cries for new strategies. There are those who are quick to criticize President Obama as ignoring the  dangers of Islam or being feckless without a strategy, but they are vague about what they would do differently. They instead monger fear and hark to Cold War days.
 Fear is a political tool. It can be a powerful message to rally political support. It is easy to communicate and to grab emotions or to silence opposing views as being soft on something or are not living in their real world as they perceive it .
Hyping fear was not a strategy that ended the Cold War. It took patience, faith in ourselves, strength, and a cold calculation that spending the Soviet Union into financial ruin in an arms race would end it.  Yes, the Reagan strategy worked.
Times have changed since the Cold War I experienced. One size of tactics and attitudes do not fit all. It is a multi-polar world of threats, not a bi polar one. The nuclear threat still nags us, but many of our current adversaries are not in an arms race, but use low tech tactical methods and modern media. Terrorists often come from poor, oppressive countries and have little to lose. Immigrants to the West feel alienated.  Sunni and Shia are fighting for the control of Islam.  New generations have access to the internet and demand better governance and prosperity.
 In contrast, prosperity in Russia and China has given their leaders much more to lose in war now than before and more than ever, their leaders depend upon popular support. That is why President Obama’s  foreign policy uses economic sanctions as a tool and beefing up NATO as an implied threat to halt further Russian land grabs.
These realities call for smart strategies tailor made for such currents. This should not become a religious war between Christians and Islam in the same way we pitted capitalism against communism.  Insulting their religion or ginning up Muslimphobia is what ISIS hopes we do.  It empowers them, a relatively small cult of Islam, to recruit many others to their cause. As Pres. Obama said in an interview with Fareed Zakaria on CNN February 1,” we should align ourselves with the 99% of Muslims who reject the extremists.”, which explains his careful wording about practitioners of terrorism that  some on the right wrongly interpret as ignoring the threat.
There are alternatives to combat boots and occupation: Tough homeland security and building effective alliances.   Zakaria in a January 22 Washington Post column advocated a realistic counter to deal with radical Islam.    Increasing intelligence and counterterrorism (including carefully targeted drone strikes), improving integration of Muslims living in the West, and resilience, meaning  “terrorism doesn’t work if we are not terrorized, .. bouncing back and returning to normalcy” and not overreacting to ISIS beheadings.  Per that latter point, I  award the best responses to terrorist attacks: “Boston Strong” and “Je suis Charlie”.

A version of this appeared in the Sky Hi Daily News...February 5, 6 2015

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