His overarching theme is that “the most potent long-term weapon against jihadists is moderate Arabs and South Asians, not American soldiers.” He suggests that Washington “quietly, consistently and effectively strengthen those groups” that are “our true allies in the region.” As a guide to battling al-Qaeda, this is almost certainly correct and reflects a change in American thinking about the struggle against al-Qaeda that has taken root since the middle of the last decade. It is not a significant departure from current practice, though. The Obama administration’s willingness to work with the Muslim Brotherhood’s elected president of Egypt demonstrates how far we have come since the feverish days following 2001 when American commentators lumped together all Islamists into a single, undifferentiated, existential menace.
If most now agree on the importance of backing the region’s moderates, no such consensus exists on who they might be. The Muslim Brotherhood and similar organizations present the crucial test case for efforts to define the moderates with whom we should align. Rohde views such movements as “not ideal,” but “our true enemies — and theirs — are violent Salafist militants.” In Tunisia, he writes, the United States “needs to engage more with Tunisia’s Islamists, not less.” As a strategy for marginalizing the genuine extremists in al-Qaeda and its affiliated movements, this makes good sense. And his arguments rang true before the Arab Spring, when real liberals had to support peaceful Islamists against the practices of repressive regimes.
(Viking Penguin) - \"Beyond War: Reimagining American Influence in a New Middle East\" by David Rohde.
A good case can be made for Islamist inclusion, since banning major political movements from participating in politics is inherently anti-democratic. But is it equally appropriate today, when such Islamists uneasily rule Egypt and Tunisia and much of the region has become badly polarized over their intentions and behavior? Do the same rules apply for identifying which moderates to support? Tougher choices must be confronted when Islamists win, and can use their power to promote an Islamist agenda and frighten their liberal opponents.
This conceptual challenge cuts to the heart of Rhode’s policy advice. Are the moderates to be supported found in the now-dominant Islamist trends, or among the smaller but more ideologically liberal, entrepreneurial and cosmopolitan new generation? In today’s deeply polarized environment, few Egyptian liberals view the Brotherhood as moderate. President Mohamed Morsi has proved disastrous in power, failing to govern effectively or to build an inclusive process. His decision to force through a divisive constitution last November poisoned an already bitterly divided public. Many Egyptian and Tunisian liberals who once fiercely defended the Brotherhood against regime repression no longer view its members as democrats, as moderates or as legitimate participants in the political sphere. They would naturally prefer that the United States support their own struggles against their Islamist rivals.
So, again, which moderates is America to support? Should Washington back the democratic process in countries such as Egypt even when the deck seems stacked in favor of Islamists with a seemingly illiberal agenda? Who is the moderate when Islamists call for elections and some liberal icons urge a military coup and electoral boycott while denouncing the United States? Are young, cosmopolitan, English-speaking secularists moderate when they battle police, boycott elections and decry America? What about U.S. alliances with the region’s repressive, conservative monarchies — are these deeply religious autocracies to be counted among the moderates at a time when they are escalating crackdowns on free speech and political dissent? There are no easy answers to these complex, tortured questions, but Rohde largely avoids them.
What about the other major part of his case, moving “beyond war”? Rohde urges “a more economic and less military-oriented effort [that] will achieve more than the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan did.” Amen. But he may have already had second thoughts. Over the past year, he has savaged the Obama administration’s strategy as a failure in Syria and has demanded that it do more to arm rebels against the regime of President Bashar al-Assad and seize a “strategic opportunity to weaken Iran and Hezbollah.” The temptations of military action in support of liberal values are not so easily cast aside, it seems, even in a book that explicitly sets out to get the United States “beyond war” in the Middle East.
is an associate professor of political science and director of the Institute for Middle East Studies at George Washington University, and editor of the Middle East Channel for ForeignPolicy.com.