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News and views on Israel, Zionism and the war on terrorism.

May 21, 2003

America's Next Move

The war on terror will be won not only on the battlefield but in schools.

Max Boot after discussing the difficulties the US is having in winning the peace offers this as the solution
There is only one solution to this problem, and it is called liberal democracy.

Spreading freedom in the Arab world is no easy task, of course, but if democracy could take root in eastern Europe, east Asia and Latin America, there is no theoretical reason why it shouldn't work in the Middle East.

This will ultimately be up to the local people, but America can give them a helping hand, as it has helped other democrats from Poland to the Philippines. The West should heed the eloquent plea issued last week by the Egyptian dissident Saad Eddin Ibrahim to "assist the democratic transformation of the region".

Many people, including apparently Ibrahim himself, seem to think this means emphasizing the Israeli-Palestinian "peace process", but that would be a big mistake. The vaunted "road map" leads nowhere. Or rather it leads precisely where the Oslo process did: to mutual recriminations.

Those who think that Israeli concessions can buy peace from Islamic Jihad and Hamas (or even from Yasser Arafat's own al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades) make the same mistake as those who think that US or British concessions can buy peace from al Qaeda.

The fundamental problem in the Palestinian Authority is the same as in the rest of the Middle East: lack of liberalism. Developing democratic institutions isn't as sexy as pushing a "peace process", but it must be the West's primary emphasis in the region. Sometimes this will involve forcible regime change, as in Iraq. More often, subtler measures are called for.

Here's one example. Saudi Arabia is notorious for spreading Wahhabism, the most intolerant, hateful breed of Islam, around the world. It spends an estimated $3 billion to $4 billion a year on activities that give rise to terrorism. Many poor parents in the Islamic world send their children to Saudi-funded madrasah schools, which preach Wahhabism, simply because they have no alternative education system.

Riyadh can afford to do this because it's rich (GDP: $241 billion). But America is much, much richer (GDP: $10 trillion). Why doesn't the US use a few odd billion dollars to pay for secular schools in the Islamic world that teach the skills needed to succeed in the modern world?

This is the kind of unconventional strategy that America must pursue if it is to win this long war against Islamist terror. Military success is important, but it's not enough.

(Max Boot is Olin senior fellow at the influential American government think tank the Council on Foreign Relations and author of "The Savage Wars of Peace: Small Wars and the Rise of American Power.")