The unilateral declaration of independence by the Kosovo Albanian government on Feb. 17, followed closely by the Bush administration’s enthusiastic endorsement of the breakaway state, has been roundly criticized on this site and others. While much of the criticism has focused on the disturbing precedent that Kosovo independence sets”parts of the American Southwest will, by mid-century, have an equal claim to independence if the primary justification for such independence is the simple ascendance of an overwhelming ethnic majority”a more immediate concern is the rise of an avowedly Islamic state on the European continent, a state that has been baptized in the blood of European Christians and sealed with the ashes of Orthodox churches and monasteries.
The lightning speed with which the Bush administration recognized the new Islamic state should give pause to even the most enthusiastic supporter of secession or national self-determination as abstract principles (rather than political tools). This is, after all, the same administration that has spent seven years waging a far-flung “war on terror” that has cost hundreds of billions of dollars in American treasure and thousands of American lives (not to mention the lives of innocent Iraqis and the loss of American liberty). In rhetoric (if not in reality), the war on terror has been aimed squarely at al-Qaeda, and Americans can be excused, therefore, if they find it just a touch odd that the Bush administration would be so quick to welcome the appearance of an Islamic state Osama bin Laden helped to birth.
The relationship between the Albanian Muslim Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) and al-Qaeda was acknowledged by Fatos Klosi, the head of the Albanian intelligence agency, in a Nov. 29, 1998, story in the Sunday Times of London. The CIA and German intelligence separately confirmed that jihadists trained in al-Qaeda camps in Albania and Afghanistan had flooded into Kosovo in the late 1990’s, while Bin Laden himself was traveling freely throughout Central Europe on a passport issued by the Bosnian Muslim government of Alija Izetbegovic. And, as I reported in the February 2008 issue of Chronicles, Albanian Muslim immigrants in at least one American city actively recruited for the KLA Caucasian converts to Islam, who were then sent to Afghanistan for al-Qaeda training.
From the standpoint of the Bush administration’s foreign policy (not to mention the American national interest), the recognition of Kosovo makes little or no sense”at least on the surface. If we dig a little deeper, however, a disturbing pattern emerges.
Despite the insistence of some of his supporters (and even more of his detractors) that the War on terror is actually a crusade against Islam, President Bush has repeatedly insisted that it is not and that “true Islam” is a “religion of peace.” We should take him at his word: not about Islam being a religion of peace (that would be the height of naivetÃ©) but about his purpose in waging the war on terror. There is no reason to believe that he, or any of his advisors, actually regards Islam itself as a threat”at least to the United States. A broad range of Islamic states and organizations, however, are manifestly a threat to Israel, and it’s within that context that we can understand the eagerness of the administration and its neoconservative supporters to support the creation of a Muslim state in Europe”far from where they believe such a state could do any damage.
Judging by the combination of words and actions, the Bush administration’s war on terror has had three aims: first, to gain direct control over a portion of the Middle Eastern oil supply; secondly, to make it possible to remove some or all U.S. troops and military bases from Saudi Arabia, since their presence there has been resented by both Osama bin Laden and, post-Gulf War, by the Saudi princes; and thirdly, to bring a measure of stability to the Middle East that will increase Israel’s security.
Of the three aims, only the second”removing troops and bases from Saudi Arabia”has achieved any significant success. But it’s an important clue to help us understand what the Bush administration (and the Clinton administration before it) regards as the goal of U.S. foreign policy toward Muslim states. The most important thing is to avoid potential conflicts, especially those that could destabilize the Middle East. (The fact that the war in Iraq has destabilized the Middle East does not disprove the point; the most enthusiastic cheerleaders for the war, both inside and outside the administration, argued that it would bring greater stability to the Middle East.)
That tells us something, too, of the way that U.S. policymakers view the foreign policy of Muslim states. Since our political leaders do not take Islam seriously, they act”in all good faith”as if Muslim rulers do not take it seriously either. Thus, increasing Islamic immigration to the United States, massive Saudi funding of mosques here and in Europe (which facilitates that immigration; 300 mosques have been built in Kosovo over the past ten years, most with Saudi money), and the creation of Muslim states in Europe are not causes for alarm but potential opportunities, the reasoning goes, for increasing the reservoir of good will in Muslim states toward the United States.
There’s a certain split-mindedness at work here. After all, if U.S. policymakers really believe that the Saudis are not particularly serious about their religion, then how do they explain the fact that 80 percent of the 2,000 or so mosques in the United States have been built since the first Gulf War, and that the majority of those (according to the CIA) were built with Saudi money, even though Saudis make up a minor portion of Islamic immigrants to the United States? If the spread of Islam is not the aim, then there must be another, and it’s hard to think of one that’s more benign than bringing the “religion of peace” to a wider audience.
The neoconservatives have quite rightly taken their lumps for their role in fomenting the War on terror, but there is one charge of which they are actually (relatively) innocent: wanting to confront Islam qua Islam. Neoconservative nostalgia for the glory days of the Cold War has understandably raised suspicions that they were willing to use worldwide Islam as a substitute for global communism. But as Matthew Roberts has proved beyond a shadow of a doubt in “Putin Beyond the Propaganda,” the chief neocon strategists would still much rather fight Russia in a new Cold War”even using Islam to do so. They cringe at the suggestion of such writers as Srdja Trifkovic that the United States should join with Russia in a true “Northern Alliance” against a rising Islamic tide that, as it did 400 years ago, threatens to overwhelm Europe.
But Roberts and Trifkovic are correct: If Russia becomes an enemy of the United States, it will be because we have made it so. And we will have done so by ignoring the much greater threat of militant Islam”a threat that, for all of the rhetoric of the war on terror, does not arise primarily from nonstate actors such as al-Qaeda but from Islamic states, such as Saudi Arabia and Pakistan, that we regard as allies in the war on terror. Without the unofficial support of such states, al-Qaeda, Bin Laden, and the KLA would never have achieved the success that they have.
In response to the threat of Soviet expansion after World War II, George Kennan formulated his policy of “containment,” first laid down in his “long telegram” from Moscow in 1946 and published the next year in Foreign Affairs with a by-line of “X.” For the rest of his life, Kennan regretted that his initial proposal was highjacked to create the rationale for the military operation known as the Cold War; his vision of containment was not primarily military but political, economic, and cultural.
In formulating a foreign policy to handle the threat of Islam, we can learn something from one of the wisest of 20th-century diplomats, a man who, unlike many of those who highjacked his ideas, was a true American patriot. We do not need a War on terror, with its nearly unbearable expense in blood and treasure; the primary threat Islam poses to the United States today is political, spiritual, and demographic, not military. As such, it can be contained at a much lower cost.
We can hardly expect President Bush or his successor to deliver the American equivalent of Pope Benedict’s Regensburg Address; but a little “straight talk” about Islam is certainly in order. Recognizing that orthodox Islam”what our politicians and media insist on calling “radical” Islam”sees no distinction between church and state is essential to formulating a realistic foreign policy. Muslim leaders view the expansion of Islam in both spiritual and political terms; dar-al-Islam, which all Muslims must work to make coextensive with the entire earth, is both a spiritual and a political order.
Because of this political dimension of Islam, perhaps the most important aspect of American foreign policy toward Muslim states is something that’s normally considered domestic policy”namely, curtailing Islamic immigration to the United States. While not all Muslim immigrants may be a threat, we have no reliable way of determining which ones are. Since Islamic doctrine regards the rule of a Muslim population, no matter how small, by non-Muslims as “oppression””a condition that justifies jihad against the non-Muslim rulers”injecting such a population into our body politic has an effect similar to mainlining heroin. It may feel good now, but the long-term consequences are unlikely to be pleasant.
A corollary to our immigration policy would be an immediate cessation of the flow of foreign funds to the United States for the purpose of building mosques and Islamic schools. Both eyewitness accounts and in-depth examinations such as the Pew Research Center study released last May bear witness to what is taught in such places; as the Pew study found, younger Muslims in the United States are both more observant (50 percent attend mosque at least weekly, compared with 35 percent of older Muslims) and more likely to hold radical views (26 percent believe that suicide bombing can be justified under some circumstances, and another five percent refused to answer the question).
Saudi Arabia does not allow the construction of Christian churches in the kingdom; why should we allow Saudi money to finance the construction of hotbeds of Islamic radicalism within our borders?
Once we straighten out our own immigration policy, we should support others who wish to do the same. That would include opposing any actions, such as the admission of Turkey to the European Union, that would increase Muslim immigration into non-Muslim countries. The best way to avoid the creation of another Kosovo is to keep Muslim populations out of Europe.
Since the purpose of containment is to prevent the expansion of Islam, not to defeat Islam militarily, the United States should withdraw as soon as possible from areas of Muslim domination. First and foremost, that means Iraq, as well as the Middle East more broadly. It’s time to acknowledge that, despite initial success, our war in Afghanistan did not accomplish its stated goals. Osama bin Laden is still at large; Al-Qaeda is still a threat. It’s time to cut our losses.
Terrorism by nonstate actors should be treated, not as a foreign-policy and military issue, but as a criminal one. We might have had more success in capturing Bin Laden if we had put political and economic pressure on the governments of Afghanistan and Pakistan. Instead, the Bush administration has nearly bankrupted the United States and destroyed American prestige, while committing horrific violations of human dignity (read: “torture”) that would be completely unacceptable under criminal law. A foreign policy of containment would mean no more Abu Ghraibs and no more Guantanomos.
In all of this, we have to be careful to ensure that the implementation does not degenerate into a neoconservative military operation, designed to create an American empire that places our interests second to the good of others, or a Jimmy Carter-style foreign policy based on concern for human rights. As much as we might sympathize with the plight of Christians in Islamic countries and work privately to ease their condition, U.S. foreign policy needs to focus on the American interest, not on the interests of any other nation or group, no matter how passionately attached to it we might be.
Scott P. Richert is executive editor of Chronicles: A Magazine of American Culture and is a regular contributor to Taki’s Magazine.
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