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Policy Principles: Part I (Israel-centrism)

JINSA Report #: 

December 17, 2008

The outline of the incoming Obama Administration's Middle East Policy is becoming clearer. It includes the belief that the "Palestinian-Israeli conflict" must be resolved in order to make progress on other, vital security issues.

The President-elect said, "The lack of a resolution to this problem provides an excuse for anti-American militant jihadists to engage in inexcusable actions, and so we have a national-security interest in solving this, and I also believe that Israel has a security interest in solving this because I believe that the status quo is unsustainable."

This is the Israel-centric - though not necessarily anti-Israel - view. It hopes that fixing the "Israel problem" will result in less anti-American feeling in the Muslim world. It is nothing new - Presidents Bush 41 and 43 and Clinton tried it. But if "anti-American militant jihadists" are not on a rampage over Palestine (the President-elect called it "an excuse") to ignore the real sources of jihadism and its success in acquiring recruits puts an unjust burden on Israel and runs the risk of pressuring Israel to make dangerous security compromises in a vain attempt to buy quiet.

And it lets America off the intellectual and political hook.

Islamic jihad is about the belief that expansion of Islamic law and practice is the wave of the future. To that extent, it is a positive impulse - encouraging young men with little hope of success in the modern world to join a cause larger than themselves. It is popular in part because it is countercultural, making a virtue of hating what it cannot have and offering its rewards in the afterlife. It is popular in the region in part because it rails against corrupt and repressive regimes. The radical Islamic agenda that permeates European Muslim communities and prompted the NYPD (wisely and bravely) to study the roots of homegrown jihadism is anti-American and anti-Western because our political thinking is based on individual liberty and consensual, secular government. It is antithetical to the jihadist view of both individuals and government, and "anti" the many Muslims who take the more modern, individualist position.

"Anti-American militant jihadists" wage war against the West - and insufficiently compliant Muslims - for reasons that are unlikely to change either with our new President or with the creation of a small, corrupt state wedged between Jordan and Israel.

The good news for the United States is that the Muslim world is not Israel-centric (although there is plenty of anti-Israel and old-fashioned anti-Semitic venom running through it). Recent overtures by Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States to Israel acknowledge that jihadists - particularly Shiite Persian ones - threaten them in ways Israel never did. Jihadists, Sunni Arab ones, overplayed their hand in Iraq and turned the tide along with the "surge."

Defeating jihadist ideology will by no means be simple, but it would help to understand what it demands and know that a great many Muslims hope we will not write off the possibility of modern government in their part of the world. It would be a step backward for the new administration not to acknowledge that "anti American militant jihadism" is, at its core, religion/governance-centric, not Israel-centric.

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