Jihad, Unintended

December 1, 2005 Topic: Terrorism Tags: JihadIslamismMujahideenIslam

Jihad, Unintended

Mini Teaser: To err is human. Not to learn from one's mistakes--and to jeopardize the nation's security in the process--is unforgivable.

by Author(s): Dimitri K. Simes

Mr. Brzezinski remains preoccupied with the danger of U.S.-Russian cooperation against radical Islam because it might give Moscow undeserved legitimacy, especially in dealing with Chechnya, and prevent the United States from further containment of Russia within its own geographic neighborhood. Yet without working together with the Putin government, how can the United States hope to safeguard Russian stockpiles of nuclear materials, continue to work with Moscow to secure Soviet nuclear materials in other countries, or persuade Russia to sacrifice its economic stake in nuclear cooperation with Iran?

Mr. Holbrooke wants the United States to support independence for Kosovo, whether the democratic Serbian government accepts it or not. But what if ignoring Serbian objections discredits the moderate and pro-Western politicians now leading the country and results in a rabidly nationalist government there, reopening the Balkan can of worms? What if Russia takes the predictable position that what is good for Kosovo should be good for other unrecognized but de facto independent states such as Nagorno-Karabakh or the Transdniester Republic? What of separatist regions like South Ossetia and Abkhazia, which share borders with Russia and where local populations overwhelmingly do not want to be a part of Georgia? In the latter case, the United States would face a series of unpleasant choices. Would the United States, in the name of principle, compel a pro-American Georgian regime to abandon its desire to restore the country's territorial integrity? Or would Washington side with Tbilisi, especially if it decides to use force to recapture these regions? If the latter, the United States could find itself embroiled in a major dispute with Russia that could effectively end cooperation on other matters of vital importance to the United States. And how would the United States force a resolution granting independence to Kosovo through the UN Security Council over probable Chinese objections, without offering guarantees that Taiwan will never become a separate, independent state? Or argue that Kosovo deserves full independence without setting a dangerous precedent that the Kurds of Iraq and Turkey may seek to emulate? The potential for trouble seems serious and real.

As the world's only superpower, the United States can have a profound influence-deliberately and inadvertently-on the international system and many of its component parts. Yet America is not unlike the Sorcerer's Apprentice in its ability to set in motion forces so momentous that it may lack the power to stop or divert them. Because there is no sorcerer to rescue us from the unintended results of our actions, we have a special responsibility to consider our policies very carefully.

In the case of the War on Terror, we have already made several key errors and cannot turn back the clock. It is a reality that terrorists who openly view the United States as their enemy are working very hard to arm themselves with nuclear weapons. But we can still take this problem much more seriously than we have, by making it an organizing principle of U.S. foreign policy. Policies that unacceptably increase the risk of attacks, or weaken our already incomplete efforts at non-proliferation for secondary gains, should be reassessed.

President Bush recently equated Islamic radicalism with "Islamofascism" and drew parallels between the War on Terror and World War II. If senior administration officials truly believe those comparisons, they should establish American priorities accordingly. Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Winston Churchill were both idealists deeply committed to democracy and Western values, but they also understood the importance of defeating the Nazi menace-and this realization shaped their other policy decisions. In protecting U.S. national security, idealistic claims are not a substitute for realistic and honest analysis, nor for courage on the part of policymakers to act upon it, domestic pressures notwithstanding.

Essay Types: The Realist