“A U.S. war against Iraq would open the gates of hell in the Middle East.”
In November 2005 I traveled to the Middle East in search of answers to questions like is Osama bin Laden still alive, how much time do we have before the next 9/11 attack, and what can be done to prevent it. I learned that Osama bin Laden is indeed alive and the next 9/11 attack continues to be planned (the American Hiroshima plan has evolved to include nuclear facilities outside the United States). In the process of seeking these answers I tested a proposal to prevent the next 9/11 attack and put the United States on the path of peace. I presented specific action steps to citizens from Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Qatar, Iran and the United Arab Emirates. My conversations included people I met in the streets as well as senior executives at Al Jazeera and in the energy business. I was also able to obtain the perspective of someone close to Osama bin Laden. The following is the summary of my observations and why we must seize the remaining time that we have to prevent future Hiroshimas.
To understand the action steps for peace, it is helpful to first consider why global terrorism is currently expanding around the world. Al Qaeda and affiliated movements that are committing acts of violence are labeled “Jihad Fighters” and illustrated in Diagram A. People who are sympathetic and intellectually agree with the jihad fighters are labeled as “Supporters.” The exact size of worldwide jihad fighters and supporters are classified by the U.S. government and not officially published by Al Qaeda or affiliated resistance organizations. On a related note, approximately 90,000 mujahadeen or jihad fighters and 15,000 Soviet soldiers were killed in the 1979-1989 Soviet-Afghan war. The population of potential jihad fighters has the potential to be far greater than the hundred thousand plus jihad fighters that fought alongside Osama bin Laden in the Soviet-Afghan war.
*Prior to 1989 Al Qaeda was not attacking the United States as the CIA was helping recruit jihad fighters in partnership with the intelligence services of Pakistan, Britain, and Saudi Arabia. A 1989 graphic showing the size of jihad fighters would be larger than the period before 9/11/2001 because the intelligences services from these four countries were very successful at recruiting jihad fighters from over 40 countries. When the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan ended on February 15, 1989, most jihad fighters returned to their home countries and became supporters but did not continue acts of violence in partnership with Al Qaeda.
The increasing insurgency or “resistance” as labeled by most of the people I spoke with, lends support that the war in Iraq is being lost. Osama bin Laden and his supporters are increasing the number of jihad fighters in Iraq from around the world as well as the number of supporters. Since U.S. foreign policy is currently creating more jihad fighters and supporters, what can be done to reverse the trend? Diagram B projects the current trend in five years as well as presents an alternative five year snapshot.
|Diagram B – The Year 2010
*This remaining force dedicated to violence is reduced in size dramatically. The remaining jihad fighters can be brought to justice by international police and tried in local courts.
What are people in the Middle East saying about this challenge? Everyone that I spoke with agreed the gates of hell must be closed. This reference to the opening quote in this article is consistently communicated as the most important first step. This means people in the Middle East want the U.S. out of Iraq. Not a reduction in forces staged over several years, but an immediate end of the U.S. presence in Iraq. If the circles in the prior diagrams were balloons, the U.S. invasion of Iraq and the ongoing occupation is the primary source of new hot air making these circles bigger.
People in the Middle East will actually laugh at you if you suggest America is liberating the Iraqi people. The standard response is America is liberating Iraq’s oil, not its people. This is a no win situation for the United States. Superficial selling points, like the world is better off without Saddam, don’t go over very well with people who know that the U.S. supported Saddam while he was slaughtering Muslims. People in this part of the world have not forgotten that the U.S. sold weapons to Saddam that enabled him to stay in power and kill his people.
For people who are 50 years old and younger, they have consistently witnessed how the U.S. suppresses democracy in the Middle East. The 1953 CIA overthrow of the democratically elected Prime Minister Mohammed Mossadegh in Iran is far from being forgotten. Whether the country is Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Jordan, Iran, Kuwait or any other Middle East country, the U.S. has consistently suppressed democracy in favor of governments that facilitated access to oil fields. The people I spoke with have no delusions that things have changed and Iraq will become a democracy.
A simple question can help you appreciate the perspective of people in the Middle East. If the Iraqi government wanted all U.S. forces to leave today or even in a few years, would they? The answer is U.S. forces will remain in Iraq for many years to come and no Iraqi government will stay in power for long if it attempts to kick the U.S. military out of the country. Only the U.S. public is being fooled by associating statements about future troop reductions with ending the presence of all troops. Egyptians know this first hand as Britain made statements and did periodically reduce its forces for decades before finally leaving Egypt.
The debate on the immediate removal of U.S. forces in Iraq rarely introduces alternatives beyond total chaos or continued occupation. Alternatives that are far less costly and far more likely to work do exist. The problem for the Bush administration is these alternatives require giving up control of Iraq’s oil and water resources. For example, people in the Middle East would welcome a United Nations peacekeeping force that did not include the U.S. or Britain. This is especially true if the U.S. and Britain fund the effort and many of the peacekeepers came from Muslim nations. This one change alone would redefine the debate as one where the liberation is a liberation of people and not oil. This is absolutely achievable and would cost a fraction in dollars and most importantly lives relative to the current occupation. People from the Middle East are confident that removing the existing primarily “Christian Army” factor would help deflate Osama bin Laden’s claims that the invasion of Iraq is really a war on Islam.
Once my conversations progressed beyond the removal of U.S. forces from Iraq, the next action step was removing all U.S. forces from the Middle East. The U.S. government understood how the U.S. military presence in Saudi Arabia, which during the Gulf War exceeded 500,000 troops, was a leading reason why 15 of the 19 9/11 highjackers were from Saudi Arabia. To correct this problem that was fueling Osama bin Laden’s calls for jihad, in August 2003 the U.S. completed the removal all U.S. military forces from Saudi Arabia. This foreign policy change would have removed a major motivator for calls of jihad if the soldiers were not redeployed to other countries.
No one wants a foreign army in their backyard. Somehow the Bush administration thinks the problem can be sidestepped by hiding the U.S. bases in the desert. The citizens of the Middle East are aware of this strategy to “hide” the U.S. soldiers. The “hide” strategy fails to hide the fact that foreign soldiers are in the country to reinforce governments that suppress democracy. A major factor creating jihad fighters is eliminated when U.S. soldiers leave the Middle East. This is commonsense when you think about how you would feel if a foreign army was stationed in the U.S. to help keep President Bush in power.
The first two action steps, ending the occupation of Iraq and removing all U.S. military from the Middle East, will stop the growth of anti-U.S. jihad and support. What is needed to reduce and transform anti-U.S. jihad to a barely visible dot and ultimately eliminate jihad support? The answer continues with the U.S. reclaiming its credibility as a nation adhering to international law. Starting a war has resulted in the U.S. being perceived as a nation that does not adhere to international law. The tortures at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo Bay have destroyed U.S. credibility as a voice for human rights. The use of white phosphorus (WP) weapons to “shake and bake” communicates that Iraqi citizens are having their skin melted off their bodies instead of being liberated. The Pentagon November 2005 confirmation of WP weapons after countless denials makes people in the Middle East wonder when their fears of depleted uranium weapons will finally be confirmed. Each violation of international law helps to solidify the case that Osama bin Laden is fighting for justice and the U.S. is a force of evil.
When the U.S. supports the United Nations, endorses the International Criminal Court, and adheres to the Geneva protections without exception, credibility slowly begins to be restored. Policies that are fueling the perception that the U.S. is lawless, must be ended. Programs like extraordinary renditions, where people are kidnapped from around the world and sent to secret prisons, cannot coexist with the perception that the U.S. adheres to international law. People in the Middle East have observed that if the U.S. is bringing democracy that includes programs to torture people, they do not want democracy in Iraq.
To shrink the global terrorism dot to the point where it would be virtually non-existent, as it is in places like Switzerland, the U.S. will need to renounce its weapons of mass destruction and stop selling weapons to other countries. Current U.S. foreign policies help keep American weapons factories warm, but these policies will come back to haunt everyone. Even if the U.S. took the initial step of stopping the sale of weapons in the Middle East, the global terrorism movement would deteriorate dramatically. Jihad recruiters would face a stiff challenge if the U.S. stopped selling weapons to Israel. Israel, as the only current nuclear weapon nation in the Middle East, hardly needs addition U.S. weapons.
The combination of no U.S. soldiers anywhere in the Middle East, adherence to international law, and termination of selling weapons will successfully end the anti-U.S. jihad. The Bush administration follows a foreign policy that you have to do some bad things to produce good endings. The action steps needed challenge this point. To achieve peace we must work for justice. U.S. foreign policies in the Middle East has been blind to what Americans value at home and this over time has fueled violent movements. Some say that it is too late, promoting true democracy in the Middle East will bring into power fundamentalists. When is it ever to late to do what is right? The failure to denounce sham democracies like Egypt, are only guaranteed to bring fundamentalist groups like the Egyptian Brotherhood into power.
In summary, I learned during my visit to the Middle East that a more peaceful world is possible. We know how and only need the courage to implement the initial steps.
- End the U.S. occupation of Iraq and support U.N. “liberation” peacekeepers
- Remove all U.S. forces from the Middle East
- Adhere to international law.
- End hypocritical weapons of mass destruction policies and stop selling weapons.
One final observation that is important to always remember. Muslims in the Middle East are people like you and I. They love their children and want peace. None of the people I spoke with approved of terrorism, especially violence against civilians. This means that unless the United States makes the mistake of making the war on terrorism a war on Islam, the world can be saved from a war that will span the globe and likely last more than 100 years. Unfortunately, starting the war in Iraq, occupying the Middle East with dozens of military bases, torturing Muslims, and supporting governments that suppress democracy are perceived by many as a war on Islam. As members of humanity we must hold our leaders accountable and implement the above four steps for peace.
David Dionisi is a former US army intelligence officer and business executive. He is the author of American Hiroshima (www.americanhiroshima.info).