The top story in Sunday's Washington Post reported that the Bush administration is revising its counter-terrorism strategy. Whereas since the September 11 attacks the US has concentrated its efforts on physically destroying al-Qaida to prevent it from carrying out another major attack by arresting and killing its operatives and leaders, now, according to the report, the US will be widening the focus to include contending with the threat of militant Islam generally by trying to counteract it as a social and political force among Muslims worldwide.
This of course would be a welcome change. After all, al-Qaida couldn't exist if it weren't for the indoctrination systems rife throughout the Arab and Islamic world that preach jihad to Muslims day in and day out. However, judging from US actions over the past several weeks, it would seem that in his second term in office, US President George W. Bush and his administration have transformed their activist policy from the first term into one best characterized by speaking loudly and carrying no stick. Indeed, an assessment of recent American moves toward Iran, Saudi Arabia and the Palestinians gives little reason to take seriously the notion that the president and his team are planning to advance the cause of fighting global jihad at all in the coming years.
On Thursday the US allowed Iran to begin negotiations toward joining the World Trade Organization. This concession was made apparently as a quid pro quo in exchange for an Iranian promise to suspend uranium enrichment activities until the end of July. In so acting, the US gave an irrevocable payoff to the Iranians in exchange for a temporary and – given Iran's past penchant for breaking its commitments – suspect concession. The rationale apparently is that the US doesn't want to press the Iranians to give up their nuclear weapons program until after next month's Iranian presidential elections. The frontrunner in those elections, after nearly all of the candidates were rejected by the mullahs, is former Iranian president Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani.
Speaking of what awaits the world under a repeat Rafsanjani presidency last Friday Hojatolislam Gholam Hasani, a representative of Iran's supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, told worshipers at a mosque: "You need to vote for Rafsanjani. This way we will finally be able to have for ourselves the atomic bomb to fairly stand up to Israeli weapons." According to a report by Adnkronos news agency, Hasani continued, "Freedom, democracy and stupidities of this type cannot be carried over to any part, and these concepts are out of sync with the principles of Islam. Islam always spoke with the sword in the hand, and I don't see why now we should change attitudes and talk with other civilizations."
Last week too, US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice ratcheted up US rhetoric against Iran, promising US backing for Iranian democracy activists and saying on two separate occasions that the US and the world cannot abide by a nuclear-armed Iran. And yet, by agreeing to allow the mullahs to negotiate entrance into the WTO, the fact of the matter is that the US's actions tend to dispel the credibility of her statements.
THEN THERE is Saudi Arabia. On Friday, UPI reported that King Fahd was dead. If true, the delay in the official announcement is no doubt due to intrigue among the kingdom's princes vying for leadership roles in the succession process. By all accounts, the Bush administration is dealing with this intrigue by placing its support behind Crown Prince Abdullah, who has been running the kingdom since Fahd was incapacitated by a stroke in 1995.
During Abdullah's visit last month at Bush's ranch in Crawford, the only issue on the table from the US side was the price of oil. Democracy, human rights and Saudi support for terror and the insurgency in Iraq were all ignored. Bush made no mention of the fact that one of the members of Abdullah's entourage was barred from entering the US because of his presence on the terror watch list, or of the fact that Saudi authorities rounded up some 40 Christians in the weeks before Abdullah's visit for the crime of practicing Christianity in a private home.
In its dealings with the Saudis, the Americans apparently feel that they are between a rock and a hard place. On the one hand, Saudi oil profits finance global jihad. On the other hand, with the world's largest known petroleum reserves, the Saudis exert enormous power over the global economy. If the US presses too hard on Saudi support for terrorism, they can shut down the wells and raise oil prices from their current $50 per barrel to $100 per barrel, plunging the world into a global depression.
Yet according to the Set America Free Coalition – an unprecedented alliance made up of senior US security experts, labor unions and environmentalist groups – if the US wished it could, for the mere cost of $12 billion over the next four years, move rapidly to end its dependency on foreign oil by developing alternatives to fossil fuel like ethanol and methanol and subsidizing hybrid cars that run on a mix of oil and electricity. The fact that to date, the Bush administration's energy policy involves securing its access to foreign oil, building more refineries and drilling in Alaska, shows clearly that the president and his advisers have yet to decide to deal with Saudi Arabia in a serious manner.
FINALLY, there is the evolving US policy toward the Palestinian Authority. From the Palestinians' perspective, PA chief Mahmoud Abbas's visit to the White House last week was an unvarnished success. In expanding the responsibilities of US security coordinator to the PA General William Ward to include coordinating Israeli and Palestinian talks on the withdrawal from Gaza and northern Samaria, the US all but said that it views Israel and the PA as equals and the US role as referee.
Bush reportedly told Abbas that if he rounds up wanted terrorists, the US will force Israel to uproot all unauthorized Israeli communities in Judea and Samaria immediately after Israel throws 10,000 of its citizens out of their homes in Gaza and northern Samaria this summer. The administration is now even backing a PA initiative to bring 1,500 terrorists from Jordan – otherwise known as the Badr Brigade from the Palestine Liberation Army – into Judea and Samaria. All this the US is doing in spite of the fact that Abbas has done nothing to thwart or combat terrorists since taking office. To the contrary, rather than outlaw Hamas he has upgraded it to the status of political party.
A revised US strategy toward fighting global jihad that placed in the crosshairs the regimes that indoctrinate hundreds of millions of people to believe in jihad would be a welcome policy development. And yet, from the Bush administration's actions on the ground from Teheran to Riyadh to Ramallah, it seems that rather than placing these terror regimes in the crosshairs, the president and his advisers are strengthening them. If this is the case, then Israel is in for one of the toughest periods in its history.
Originally published in The Jerusalem Post.