When victory seeds betrayal

ARAB TIMES - 03 November 2008 - From Ayaan Hirsi Ali

AS the new US president, Barack Obama would at first have a honeymoon period with the Muslim world, a continuation, really, of the honeymoon he has already enjoyed as a black man rising to the heights of power in the most powerful nation on earth, America.

But Obama has said he is determined to find and kill Osama bin Laden. He has said that the frontier in the war on terror is now in Afghanistan, a hotspot for jihadis since the 1970s, where he wants to send more troops. In other words, he would continue the Bush policy, only with more competence.

In short order, this increased US presence and the collateral damage it would cause in Afghanistan and the region would end Obama’s honeymoon. It would remind the Islamists and their sympathizers across the Muslim world that Barack Obama would not act out of solidarity with people based on the color of his skin or because of his origins in Kenya, but as the commander-in-chief protecting American national interests above all. As a result, much of his popularity would vanish. Perhaps it would even fall to the level of George Bush. I’m sure many would come to think that Obama had betrayed them.

Barack Obama has also criticized Bush for “not talking to the enemy,” particularly in Iran. So, the world would expect Obama to obey all the diplomatic traffic rules and follow all the procedures to try to persuade President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and the Iranian authorities to abandon their project to build a nuclear bomb. But when Iran refuses to give up its bomb despite the eloquent entreaties of the new American president, Obama would be forced to act. So, after talking with Iran, he would likely end up at the same spot where Bush is. That wouldn’t make him very popular in Iran or with others who oppose America’s use of its military might.

At the same time, the original impetus of Obama’s campaign was his pledge to withdraw from Iraq in 16 months. There is little doubt that if Obama were to actually implement this pledge, jihadis in Iraq and around the world, who see history in the millennial terms of the long fight against the Crusaders, would feel they are the victors. As the Obama campaign developed over the months, he has emphasized he would withdraw “responsibly.” “Responsibly” is, of course, open to interpretation. I don’t think it is responsible to pull out of Iraq in 16 months — unless you want the jihadis dancing in jubilation.

The message such a precipitous withdrawal would send to the jihadis is the same message Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero sent when he rapidly withdrew forces from the coalition in Iraq after the election in March 2004: If you hang on long enough, you can scare the West away. More important than all of this is the consensus that developed in the campaign that the US must end its energy dependence on the Middle East within 10 years. This raises some profound questions about the future of the liberal world order.

When America effects such a strategic withdrawal from the Middle East, it will leave the whole region open to the energy-hungry Chinese and to Russia. They care little about democracy, human rights, borders or boundaries the way America has. They will be more than willing to come to terms with even the most repressive Islamist regimes as long as the oil flows their way or through their pipelines. America may well be able, in this way, to end its conflicts in the Middle East. But the people of the region, particularly women, will pay the price.