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Fighting terror wearing blinders

There’s an excellent book review in the Times today (Our War on Terror), in which Samantha Power reviews a number of books which, in one way or another, illustrate the problems with the American approach to fighting terrorism, particularly the disastrous Bush approach. In fact, the review is essentially a catalog of the all-wrong-all-the-time Bush anti-terror effort, but it also makes reference to some chronic American failings that are not exclusively those of George Bush, though he has raised them to high art. In this class is a failing closely allied to the classic American refusal to talk to those it considers its enemies, particularly those it feels are upstarts-the inability or refusal to try to understand the other guy’s point of view:

[Ian] Shapiro [author of CONTAINMENT: Rebuilding a Strategy Against Global Terror] argues, much as the Counterinsurgency Field Manual does, that the United States must learn to get inside the minds of its enemies, to try to see the world as they do. Take Iran, for example. A Bush administration that had stepped into Iran’s shoes might have toned down its inflammatory rhetoric, having seen that the American occupations of Afghanistan and Iraq would be, in Shapiro’s words, “as if the Soviet Union had occupied Canada and Mexico at the height of the cold war, and had its fleet anchored off Cuba.” United States intelligence capacities, he says, must be revamped so that policy makers in Washington can guard against a “propensity to confuse leaders the United States might regard as desirable with leaders who actually enjoy legitimacy on the ground.”

She makes the point that this refusal to get into the heads of our rivals often renders us powerless to deal with them. In the case of terrorists, as just one example, it makes it extremely difficult for us to exploit their differences with one another, as we persist in seeing them as monolithic.

We make it impossible to achieve our own objectives by refusing to talk to our rivals until they meet preconditions that they cannot or will not meet, and we doom our efforts to deal with other people by refusing to put ourselves in their shoes. We insist on viewing the world through the distorting lens of our own ideology.

Recently Obama and Hillary Clinton got into a dustup about his “lack of experience” versus her hard bitten grasp of reality when he committed the mortal sin of saying he would talk to other countries without setting preconditions. She jumped on him for that, and he later called her approach “Bush-lite”. Give credit to Obama for being willing to burst our self imposed foreign policy shackles.

One Comment

  1. The dif between him and her is she understands that terrorism is a problem that did not start with George Bush.

    Tuesday, July 31, 2007 at 7:39 pm | Permalink

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