Posts Tagged ‘Europe’

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The Islamic State group has unleashed a new set of coordinated terrorist attacks in the heart of Europe and seeks to provoke deeper fear, hatred and militarization.

Unfortunately, it is succeeding.

As we tend to the victims and their families and reassure the shaken, the trumpets of war and exclusion are already elevating their sound in both Europe and the U.S. And maybe rightfully so, as it is indeed cathartic to lash back at those who have hurt us in despicable, devilish ways.

We in the West have a long history now of combating modern terrorism, dating back to at least the 1970s, continuing through the years after the 9/11 attacks, to the recent attacks in Paris and now Brussels. And we have learned some hard lessons. We should remember a few of them as we approach the precipice of a new phase in our reactions to the current threat.

First, violent reactions to terrorism must be focused, discriminate and carefully planned.

A general resort to war has been almost completely ineffective in Iraq and other regions, and overreaction fuels the resentments and recruitment of more terrorists. Excessive violence undermines more of our friends than our enemies. The best counterterrorism operations have been clearly targeted as law enforcement, not war, and when necessary, killing those who have committed and abetted the worst of the crimes.

We must also articulate our values and live up to them. Terrorism shines a spotlight on our societies and the frequent mistreatment of people, including immigrants. We are not responsible for the terrorists, but we aid their hatred when we act in hateful ways.

During the past decade, the rhetoric of intolerance in the United States, especially in Texas, has given false evidence to terrorist claims about our alleged tyranny of Muslims and other minorities. As we fight individual terrorists, we must flagrantly display how much we value, love and cherish the millions of good people who happen to share the same religion, ethnicity and background. We are not fighting a religion or a race. We are fighting criminals, and some of them are white Christians, too.

Finally, and most important, we must show patience. Quick reactions have almost always failed to produce their promised results. Time is on our side, and we should use it to investigate, understand and plan before we react. We are better off absorbing another terrorist attack and preparing more effectively to interdict the terrorists, rather than overreacting and creating a multiplying effect of new terrorist threats down the road.

Despite the fear and suffering, the basic security of our society is not imperiled as it was by Soviet missiles during the Cold War. We are best served by addressing the core sources of criminality rather than locking down to anticipate the next fire. We must play the long game because that is our greatest interest and our greatest advantage.

The fear of terrorism is real and legitimate. Strategic leadership, however, must do more than react to fear. Strategic leadership involves deep analysis, historical perspective and policymaking for the long term.

We must use all of our capabilities, but we must use them wisely and effectively. Feel-good reactions are self-defeating and play into the terrorists’ hands. Courage comes in careful planning, close attention to our values, and considered timing. In the end, we will be judged by how we react more than how we have suffered.

This article originally appeared in the Dallas Morning News, 22 March 2016

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The Middle East has entered a period of rapid change. Two long-standing dictatorships, in Egypt and Tunisia, have collapsed in the wake of widespread protests. Libya’s Muammar Gaddafi confronts a rebellion that has split his repressive regime, and elicited international military support. Leaders in Syria, Yemen, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, and other countries are contending with angry crowds each day. The governments in Syria and Bahrain have been especially brutal in their deployment of violent force against demonstrators, but it appears unlikely they can squash the movements in their countries. The Iranian government, which confronted its own internal “green” revolution in 2009, is nervously observing all of these events, contributing in the case of Syria to the forces of repression.

What should the United States and its NATO allies do about all of these events? The air attacks against Gaddafi’s forces in Libya and the proposed economic sanctions on Syria have been the policy options of choice. They reflect a commitment to support participatory change in the region, penalizing those who most violently stand in the way. At the same time, the United States and its NATO allies have encouraged calibrated, orderly change. In the case of Egypt, this meant encouraging dictator Hosni Mubarak to resign, but also supporting a transitional military government in his place. In Yemen, the U.S. and its allies have requested dictator Ali Abdullah Saleh’s resignation through a negotiated power transition that involves multiple groups.

 

Mixed Results

 

So far, these mixed actions have produced mixed results. The public demonstrations have continued, and if anything, spread throughout the region. The protesters are not necessarily pro-Western, but they appear free from the religious extremism and terroristic impulses that frighten foreigners. The young men and women in the streets, it seems, simply want more control over their governments. They want to focus on developing their societies, not attacking foreigners or institutionalizing a hateful ideology.

Unfortunately, the forces of repression have remained resilient in the shadow of the protests. Gaddafi continues to field a formidable army against the rebels in Libya. Syria’s military appears loyal to dictator, Bashar al-Assad, and comfortable firing upon unruly civilians. The Saudis have sent military aid to the embattled regime in Bahrain. Iran, one of strongest military powers in the region, is sending armed support to its allies. Most unsettling, regional instability has contributed to Israeli insecurity, and preparations for Israeli military action if popular energies turn on the Jewish state, as they have in the past.

The next steps for American and allied policy-makers are not clear. Cautious policies that encourage participatory reform within an orderly framework seem most sensible. Mixed policies that are attentive to particular national circumstances, and unpredictable developments, are necessary. Even the most powerful foreign actors have very limited influence in the Middle East right now.

 

Information Openness

 

There is, however, one step that American, Canadian, and European leaders should consider. The repressive forces in the Middle East assert their power through the control of information. They systematically misinform and isolate their populations. They continuously circulate self-serving propaganda. New social media and the Internet have challenged the rulers’ monopoly on information in recent years, but restrictions on communication remain considerable in many of the regimes. The United States can help to change that with a determined and focused policy of information openness.

A policy of information openness would draw on similar efforts in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union during the Cold War. On that model, the American, Canadian, and European governments should coordinate the following activities:

1. A firm and unequivocal statement that they oppose political censorship in all cases. They should pledge to condemn all government efforts to control the free circulation of news in the region.

2. A serious effort to sponsor alternative news sources for citizens in the Middle East. This means aid, direct and indirect, for circulators of news inside the region. It also means the creation of new external organizations (including radio, Internet, and social media) led by Middle East emigres to inform citizens of the region. Foreign societies must do more to send fair information into the region.

3. A commitment to partnerships with Middle East-based groups that also support the free flow of information. In this sense, American, Canadian, and European governments should forge more supportive connections with Al-Jazeera and its counterparts.

4. An intensive set of government-sponsored training programs for journalists from the Middle East, and Westerners who are interested in becoming serious contributors to the circulation of news in the region. Language-training, skill development, ethical instruction, and help with the formation of support groups is crucial for the expanded exchange of information in the unstable circumstances of the contemporary Middle East.

The United States and its allies have their own problems with the circulation of fair and informative news in their societies. We are far from perfect. Nonetheless, the Western experience with a free press is one of the strongest hinges for political participation, innovation, and stability on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean. The time has come to make support for a free press the centerpiece of Middle East foreign policy.

 

This blog originally appeared at http://globalbrief.ca

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About Jeremi Suri
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Jeremi Suri holds the Mack Brown Distinguished Chair for Leadership in Global Affairs at the University of Texas at Austin. He is a professor in the University's Department of History and the Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs. Professor Suri is the author and editor of nine books on contemporary politics and foreign policy. Professor Suri's research and teaching have received numerous prizes. In 2007 Smithsonian Magazine named him one of America's "Top Young Innovators" in the Arts and Sciences. His writings appear widely in blogs and print media. Professor Suri is also a frequent public lecturer and guest on radio and television programs.

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