Blogs of War

Hizballah Cavalcade

Internet Haganah



Kremlin Trolls

Making Sense of Jihad

Selected Wisdom

Views from the Occident


American Terrorists

Anwar Awlaki

Al Qaeda


American Al Qaeda Members

Inspire Magazine

Revolution Muslim


News, documents and analysis on violent extremism

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Defining Our Interests

As Western forces rain down fire on the forces of Moammar Gadhafi, the Arab League has already come out with criticism of an intervention they virtually demanded just days ago.

There are two problems here. One is external -- the nations of the Middle East have for some time been playing a nasty double game which consists of letting the U.S. take the heat for problems they do not find politically expedient to solve on their own.

The other is internal -- the United States has for some time been playing a nasty double game in which it allows domestic political tides, the temperature of media coverage and simple, cynical expediency to dictate the direction of our foreign policy.

Both of these problems have been around for years, and the internal problem has been exacerbated by both Republican and Democratic administrations. The problem is that our foreign policy is almost always an ad hoc affair, cobbled together on the fly based on sometimes wildly inconsistent reasoning.

There are countless examples, such as our decades of support for Mubarak's police state based on the expediency of Egypt's strategic position, which we only abandoned when the torture and brutality came out of the closet; the invasion of Iraq based on constantly shifting rationales, nearly all of which could be applied to any number of other countries; our failure to define realistic goals and benchmarks in Afghanistan; our schizophrenic public stance toward Pakistan; and now our decisive action against Libya compared to relatively subdued public posturing on concurrent crackdowns by nominal U.S. allies Yemen and Bahrain.

While the brutality in Libya far outstrips what we've seen in other Middle Eastern countries roiled by protest, it's not surprising that our military action this week looks like score-settling to some in the Middle East. After Saddam Hussein, Gadhafi has been a thorn in the side of the United States for longer than anyone.

The reason that such imprecations about U.S. policy thrive is that we don't have consistent standards for our foreign policy decisions. For more than a decade, our interventions in the Arab and Muslim worlds have been driven more by politics and media optics than by principle.

It's been like this at least since Bosnia, when the media narrative about the war finally prompted a belated U.S. intervention. In 2008, I interviewed Charles Kupchan, director for European affairs at the National Security Council during the 1990s, who said the Clinton administration only acted in Bosnia when the "political calculation" became too painful to bear. I couldn't help but think of this statement when watching the Obama administration grope toward a position on the revolution in Egypt and subsequently try to reconcile that position with events in Libya.

Politicians in the Arab and Muslim world have their own reasons for sowing suspicion about American intentions abroad, and those reasons are often petty, expedient and political.

The problem is that we have no coherent response when they speak out against us, because we have no coherent doctrine that guides our foreign interventions. A consistent doctrine would also help undercut Al Qaeda and its affiliated movements, whose primary recruiting pitch exploits the ambiguity of our intentions in the world.

We have to stop predicating our involvement in world affairs on gut feelings and political calculations emanating from the White House. We must clearly define our national interest and the boundaries of what we are prepared to do in its service.

We don't have to be hidebound to this new doctrine. The world is an unpredictable place, now more than ever. We can make exceptions if we have to. But if the doctrine exists, then U.S. leaders who want to make exceptions will be forced to explain why in concrete terms. If we behave inconsistently, it will have to be accounted for.

A new U.S. foreign policy doctrine could take any number of forms. In an ideal world, it would be pragmatic enough to survive a change of party in Washington. But even small steps toward defining our national interest and the calculus that drives our interventions abroad will go a long way.

Every time a new crisis erupts, the media, the American people and the leaders of other nations are left wondering in the dark about how the United States will respond. If we want to exert leadership on the global stage, we should do so as a rational actor who lends stability to international affairs, rather than as a lightly dozing giant who only adds to volatility and uncertainty.

The new doctrine could be hawkish or dovish. It could be interventionist or isolationist. The problem is that we have never clearly articulated the arguments for either approach in a robust public debate that looks further than the top story of the hour. That debate is a necessary next step, but I fear that no one on either side of the political spectrum is interested in taking part.

Labels: , , ,

Views expressed on INTELWIRE are those of the author alone.



Tweets referencing this post:



", granular analysis..."

ISIS: The State of Terror
"Jessica Stern and J.M. Berger's new book, "ISIS," should be required reading for every politician and policymaker... Their smart, granular analysis is a bracing antidote to both facile dismissals and wild exaggerations... a nuanced and readable account of the ideological and organizational origins of the group." -- Washington Post

More on ISIS: The State of Terror

"...a timely warning..."

Jihad Joe: Americans Who Go to War in the Name of Islam:
"At a time when some politicians and pundits blur the line between Islam and terrorism, Berger, who knows this subject far better than the demagogues, sharply cautions against vilifying Muslim Americans. ... It is a timely warning from an expert who has not lost his perspective." -- New York Times

More on Jihad Joe


INTELWIRE is a web site edited by J.M. Berger. a researcher, analyst and consultant covering extremism, with a special focus on extremist activities in the U.S. and extremist use of social media. He is a non-resident fellow with the Brookings Institution, Project on U.S. Relations with the Islamic World, and author of the critically acclaimed Jihad Joe: Americans Who Go to War in the Name of Islam, the only definitive history of the U.S. jihadist movement, and co-author of ISIS: The State of Terror with Jessica Stern.


Newest posts!

Video: American Jihadist Abdullah Rashid Talks Afg...

Site News: Updated Pages

American Jihadist Omar Hammami Said To Be Killed i...

Congressional Hearing on Muslim Radicalization Pos...

Jamaat-Al-Muslimeen: Radical But Disciplined Messa...

A Glimpse At Khalid Aldawsari's Blog

New OKBOMB Documents Show Threats To Nichols' Fami...

U.S. Propaganda Video From 1980s Cheers Kids Being...

Mapping Awlaki's Current Social Network And Influe...

FBI Lab Took Nearly Three Years To Analyze Terry N...


New York Pipe Bomb Suspect Linked to Revolution Muslim

The Utility of Lone Wolves

Interview with Online Jihadist Abu Suleiman Al Nasser

A Way Forward for CVE: The Five Ds

How Terrorists Use The Internet: Just Like You

PATCON: The FBI's Secret War on the Militia Movement

Interview About Jihad With Controversial Cleric Bilal Philips

Forgeries on the Jihadist Forums

U.S. Gave Millions To Charity Linked To Al Qaeda, Anwar Awlaki

State Department Secretly Met With Followers of Blind Sheikh

State Department Put 'Political Pressure' On FBI To Deport Brother-in-Law Of Osama Bin Laden In 1995

FBI Records Reveal Details Of Nixon-Era Racial Profiling Program Targeting Arabs

Gaza Flotilla Official Was Foreign Fighter in Bosnia War

U.S. Had 'High Confidence' Of UBL Attack In June 2001

Behind the Handshake: The Rumsfeld-Saddam Meeting