When Mr. Donald Rumsfeld aboard his Air Force jet en route to Riyadh in the beginning of this month, was telling reporters ” it’s not going to be a cruise missile or a bomber that’s going to be the determining factor (…) but a scrap of information from some person in some country that’s been repressed by a dictatorial regime… that’s going to enable us to pull this network up by its roots and end it…” William Safire was just wondering in his column (N.Y. Times, Oct.1): ” How do we get the best intelligence within Afghanistan about the whereabouts of the bin Laden terrorists?” And answering: “From local villages, of course, some of whom know where caves and camps are”. Then: ” How do we encourage frightened Afghans to be our commando units’ eyes and ears? First, by identifying our antiterrorist cause with that of mainstream Muslims around the world.” Thereupon, Safire stated: “We are failing to do that now”.
The matter may even grow more delicate with the progression of the campaign against the Taliban, if the rumors about the existence of conflicting views inside the Bush administration reveal to be confirmed. The fact that the Defense Secretary was the man chosen to build the anti-terrorist coalition underlined the increasing ascendancy of the military view on the administration. The Pentagon was struck at the heart. To get its revenge seems a matter of military honor. That’s why yielding to the diplomats over this topic sounds unlikely. How would the State Department react at that growing importance of the hawks? After all, building up a coalition around the US is a political matter. It requires all the subtlety and the finesse of the diplomacy. How the American allies are going to react to such a pressing demand from the Pentagon?
The problem is perhaps not with the Europeans, albeit some of them are frightened by the quickness of the American reaction, but rather with the Arabs and the Muslims throughout the world. That’s why Mr. Colin Powell took the unusual step of inviting the Senate Foreign Relations Committee to lunch, on the same day the Defense Secretary was in Saudi Arabia before heading to three other key partners: Egypt, Oman, and Uzbekistan.
Uppermost in that lunch’s discussion, it was said afterward, was the stability of Pakistan and whether its president, Gen. Pervez Musharraf, could withstand pressures from his Islamic population once American military operations began. Some senators believe that Musharraf’s control is perhaps overrated. The fact that Pakistan is a nation that has tested nuclear weapons and whose stability is crucial to all of South Asia adds a strain to the American worries.
“There was an overlay of concern about making the Islamic world afire”, the committee’s chairman, Senator Joseph R. Biden, confided to the reporters. ” We asked: are you really sure you are not going to be creating more Osama bin Ladens by what you will do?”
It was – and still is – the question. But it does not concern the sole Pakistan. Many Arab and Muslim allies of the USA are worried. During his visit to Washington, Sheik Hamad Bin Khalifa, emir of Qatar, made clear that ” Arab countries would not support an effort by the Bush administration to broaden its campaign to target groups such as the Palestinian Hamas and Islamic Jihad movements and the Lebanese Hizbuallah organization”, considered by” many Arabs as legitimately resisting the Israeli occupation”. Later on, Saudi Arabia’s interior minister, Prince Naief said his country ” disapproves of America’s attack on the Taliban”. A former CIA officer in the Middle East, Robert Baer, told The Los Angeles Times (Oct.13) that ” Saudi Arabia provided little if any assistance to investigators hunting the friends and finances of Osama Bin Laden and his al-Qaeda terror network”! At the same time, the way New York’s Mayor Rudolph Giuliani turned down a $10 million donation from a generous Saudi prince was not well appreciated in the Arab world. The Prince was not making any condition for his gift, but just telling his opinion about the Palestinian problem. Where was the evil?
Kanan Makiya writes in the Observer: “it is now up to Arabs and Muslims to draw the line that separates them from the Osama bin Ladens of this world just as it was up to Americans to excoriate, isolate, outlaw, imprison and eventually root out the members of the Ku Klux Klan from their midst.” Right. But would the Americans and the British do the same thing with “the Sharons of this world”?
Until that is done, it seems that Mr. William Safire would have to wait for ” the Muslim foreign legion including Westerners ” that he called for enlisting in the campaign against terror!
Hichem Karoui is a writer and journalist living in Paris, France.