–France policy was to help Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini (like it helped the Palestine Arab Nazi collaborator Amin al-Husaini decades earlier), thinking that this was a way to extend French influence in the Middle East.
– While it was an understandable policy at the time, the United States backed a jihad in Afghanistan against the invading Soviets. It is not true that the United States backed Osama bin Laden at any point. But after all, indirectly and unintentionally, didn’t the Taliban and al-Qaeda and thus the September 11 attack on America grow out of these events? Remember, that was siding with the lesser of two evils — the Afghan jihadis — against the then-equivalent of America’s Great Satan, the USSR. Might there be some parallels with the situation in Syria today? Iran is so bad that Sunni jihadis must be helped into power?
– Let’s not forget the arguably correct policy at the time of backing Saddam Hussein’s Iraq in the Iran-Iraq War of the 1980s. I supported that policy at the time, but let’s remember that Iraq’s defeat also brought us two U.S. wars in Iraq, and ultimately September 11.
Is there no one who remembers this recent history involved with today’s new, bright idea of the Obama Doctrine? What will history make of this American jihad? It is different from the previous situations in that it is completely clear the United States is backing people who hate it. At least its predecessors could delude themselves easily that this would work.
I take my stand with the brilliant Dutch area expert C. Snouck Hurgronje. In 1914 — almost exactly 100 years ago, as World War One began — he was horrified by what he called this “jihad made in Germany.” Unleashing a plague of religious hatred, he warned, would bring violence and massacres beyond anyone’s control. Once the genie was not only let out of the bottle but funded and given small arms and perhaps anti-aircraft missiles, it was very dangerous.
Hurgronje, however, offered hope, explaining in his 1915 book:
The jihad program assumes that the Mohammedans, just as at their first appearance in the world, continuously form a compact unity. … But this situation has in reality endured so short a time [in the few years after its founding], the realm of Islam has so quickly disintegrated into an increasingly large number of principalities, the supreme power of the so-called caliph, after flourishing for a short period, has become a mere word.
As we are already seeing, the Sunni-Shia conflict, increasingly a war, has divided the Muslim-majority world. There are ideological differences, ethnic ones, the ambitions of different nation-states to rule the empire, and the extremism that alienates potential Muslim and Western allies. Yet this is the main hope of the world at present because Western leaders have clearly not learned anything much about the Middle East in the last century.
Backing radicals has never worked. Only backing moderates, or at least those who believe that their interests require stability and have gone through a real change of heart, could. Over and over again history has shown that backing radicals merely gets you more powerful radicals.
Have there been no successes? Of course there have, albeit in a different way, with resulting containment, patience, and struggle against the radical forces. In Russia’s case that took 70 years; in China’s only about 50; and in Egypt (from the radical free officers to its moderation under Anwar al-Sadat) merely 25, though now Egypt has reverted since its society wasn’t fundamentally changed.
Thirty-four years ago — my, time flies when you’re having violent revolution, wars, and terrorism — I wrote a few months after Iran’s Islamist revolution that an entire generation would pass before the United States and Iran might reconcile. So far that prediction still holds. The same might well be true for the newer Islamist states.