Felicia Muftic: ‘Smart power’ foreign policy could make the world a safer place
January 18, 2009
Tomorrow, our 44th president will be inaugurated. Much will be said about how far America has come on the race issue. It is almost as amazing in this post 9/11 era that we have elected a person with a common Muslim middle name.
In spite of Internet fear mongering and talk show hosts painting Barack Obama as a “secret Muslim,” most Americans have become familiar with his family history and are comfortable with who and what he is.
By virtue of his name, some unrealistic expectations have been raised. Either he will soften policies toward the Muslim world that will come back to haunt us, or terrorism will fade away as Obama becomes a new hero to the Muslim masses. Neither will happen.
What we can expect is that he will make the world a less dangerous place while protecting our national interests.
President Bush deserves credit for his greatest accomplishment. We have not had any attacks on the homeland since 9/11. But he is leaving Obama with a dangerous world, full of those who would do us harm. Bush bears responsibility for that, too.
Bush committed some serious miscalculations that made the world more dangerous.
The invasion of Iraq, unnecessary in retrospect, created opportunities for the rise of Iran’s power. Iran-backed Hamas and Hezbollah were strengthened and emboldened, placing Israel in even greater jeopardy on the Lebanese and Gaza borders and from an attack by Iran. Bush put the Israeli-Palestine peace process on the back burner, allowing each to go at one another unchecked with resulting violence.
Bush believed that Iraqis would embrace our brand of freedom, but he did not foresee the ethnic and tribal power struggles. The result is the unintended long-term occupation of Iraq and its shaky future.
He miscalculated our troop strength. While the surge achieved success in the short run, he shifted resources and attention from Afghanistan to Iraq, which resulted in the resurgence of Al Qaeda and the Taliban.
How will President Obama make the world a safer place? Since Obama is pledged to Israel’s right to exist and to defend itself, U.S. support of Israel will continue to be sore point with Muslims. His promise to get the peace process moving again toward a two-state solution will at least calm those waters.
During the campaign, Obama pledged to make greater use of diplomacy and economic carrots/sticks in the advancement of our national interests, to withdraw responsibly from Iraq, to close Guantanamo, end torture and rendition, and to get us less dependent on foreign oil, eliminating some irritants.
But Obama also plans to keep our powder dry, disappointing some no doubt. His nominations to national security positions reveal goals to strengthen homeland security and to beef up U.S. military capability.
Last week, Secretary of State designate Hillary Clinton dubbed the melding of the use of diplomacy, economic sanctions and aid, cultural initiatives, with military strength as “smart power.”
Winning over moderate governments or doing a smart power body check on Iran will not be enough to win our “war on terror” either. We must also win over “the street” that feeds the terrorists.
Obama’s policies will help reduce anger toward the United States that has motivated young Muslims to join terrorist organizations. For some, Obama himself will be an alternative role model.
New movements in the Muslim world are also competing with the messages of the violent jihadists.
The Internet, cable TV and study abroad have brought a different kind of learning not based upon traditional fundamentalist Islamic schooling. There is new brand of Muslim evangelists, preaching a non-politicized, inward looking approach to Islam and emphasizing the moral teachings of the Koran.
In Egypt and Saudi Arabia, these young preachers have attained rock star status, drawing huge crowds of young people to their events.
The Sufi movement in Pakistan is a Muslim sect that is peaceful, mystical and ecumenical. It supports governments that are secular not religious. In northern Pakistan, a Taliban gathering to behead someone does not bring out a crowd; the Sufi can draw several hundred thousand to one of its joyous festivals.
Turkey is a Western leaning Muslim nation.
Rick Steves, the travel guru, wrote in the Denver Post travel section on Jan. 4, 2009, “Time in Muslim places like Turkey … reminds me how travel takes the fear out of foreign ways … Things I learn about Islam in the United States fill me with fear and anger. Things I learn about Islam in Muslim countries fill me with hope.”
If Barack Obama’s “smart power” foreign policy takes the wind out of violent jihadists’ sails and gives a chance for more peaceful movements to gain influence, the world will be a less dangerous and threatening place.
Let us pray he succeeds.
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