In the absence of intelligence, baseless opinion rules

By Daniel Bavly (for Safe Democracy)

Dan Bavly explains how the post-Cold War immigration of Muslims to many Western countries, as well as the increasing globalization of the 21st century, have exacerbated the modern era’s clash of civilizations. In Bavly‘s opinion, terrorism should not be shocking as it is simply an updated form of warfare in a world that has always been dangerous. But to meet this new threat, Bavly writes, the West must improve its intelligence systems, and open up dialogue with the countries that it has placed in the axis of evil based upon mutual respect, equality, and understanding. Only then can the baseless opinions that have been ruling Western foreign policy be replaced with more innovative and intelligent approaches to peace.

Daniel Bavly graduated from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem after having fought as an infantryman in Israel’s War of Independence. An Executive Partner in the Accounting and Auditing Firm Bavly, Millner and Co. in Tel Aviv from 1957-1995, Bavly became an active lay-leader in many Israeli Universities after retirement. He is the author of a number of books on the history and foreign relations of Israel.

FOR A SHORT TIME, FOLLOWING THE DEMISE of the communist empire in the early 1990’s, the belief began to spread that a new era had dawned. Many began to feel optimistic that freedom and an improved quality of life, as practiced in Western Democracies, would spread around the world.

Amidst this cheerfulness, hardly anyone paid attention to the rapid demographic changes that were taking place in Western Europe and other parts of the world. Immigrants from Muslim countries and other low-income regions were beginning a new wave of immigration, moving into more affluent regions in search of a better life.

A few years passed before it became apparent to Western European countries that the steady influx of immigrants from Muslim countries was so great that by 2020 they would make up over 10 percent of the population. And unlike past migrations, these newcomers had no intention of abandoning their heritage, culture, or customs to integrate themselves into their new country. They sought honorable employment and a better quality of life. Yet many, especially young adults, remained unemployed for years and grew increasingly frustrated, some even allowing themselves to be swayed by radical, fundamentalist movements.

The resulting clash of conservative practices with the materialism of the West has truly begun to shape our world. Yet this confrontation is not only a function of new immigration. It has been felt all over the world, even by those who have never dreamed of leaving their home countries. Globalization has brought the West’s social and economic changes to every corner of the earth, through television, the internet, and the pervasiveness of business.

Only a few in the West were truly able to identify the importance of these issues first addressed by Professor Samuel Huntington in his article The Clash of Civilizations, published in 1993. Several years later, Huntington expanded his theory into a book of the same title. Today, nearly a decade later, there is increasing recognition of the tectonic racial movements that are shaping our time in the form of terrorism. And although it is now widely accepted that an overarching terrorist threat exists, there is so far too little intelligence available to pinpoint its epicenter.

Despite the West’s shock, the destruction of the Twin Towers on 9/11 and the multiplication of suicide bombers is nothing new. The world that we have lived in has always been dangerous, and terrorism is merely an updated form of warfare. In the modern era, borders are no longer clearly delineated, and instruments of murder are more varied and often reach closer to home. It is difficult and probably premature to measure the full impact of the diversification of today’s weapons, and too soon to assess the full extent of the threat that they pose.

While the West had increased its intelligence capabilities to impressive levels during the Cold War era, it was still unprepared to meet the new threat of terrorism, coming from a quasi-invisible enemy. Intelligence fell short of stopping the 9/11 attacks, and was unable to provide precise, detailed plans for Iraq. This failing explains, in part, why the West has been incapable of satisfactorily addressing the nuclear threats of North Korea and Iran, and why, three years later, American troops are still in Iraq. What a few years ago was an intelligence system based on irrefutable facts, has turned into a confused set of muddled opinions by both military and political analysts. And in the absence of strong intelligence, policies have been based upon these opinions, which in many cases are inaccurate and lead to self-fulfilling, doomsday prophesies.

Despite the growing threat, intelligence has yet to improve. In its place theories of intent have become influential among decision makers. The Axis of Evil became a catch phrase for the United States to refer to countries with which the West had severed dialogue. North Korea, Iraq, Iran and Syria, were all included on this list, as well as the terrorist organizations Al Qaeda and Hamas.

While some of the leaders of these members of the Axis of Evil have made many hostile statements of hatred, others in their government have opened themselves up to dialogue. Yet, when these more moderate government members have sought to meet with American (or Israeli) representatives, they have almost always been refused.

In recent weeks, for example, the past President of Iran, Mohammad Khatami, paid a visit to the United States. Stating that it would not be helpful, no American Government officer was willing to meet with him. So Khatami had to resort to addressing the Forum at the Kennedy School of Business and Government where those attending were surprised to hear, what they considered to be, a moderate speech.

In the absence of direct communication, we are witnessing a continuing escalation in the hostility with both sides unwilling to ameliorate the tensions, or attempt diplomatic alternatives. Professor Freeman Dyson, a world-renowned physicist, commented recently our lack of respect for our enemies has made it harder for us to deal with them effectively.

And this is exactly the problem. It is commonly reported that when senior American and European officials do agree to meet with their Middle Eastern and Asian counterparts, they continue (as they did over the past two centuries) to radiate an arrogance and superiority that is both unsubtle and greatly resented. And while there is no certainty that a change in approach would prove helpful, it could certainly not hurt to give the representatives of Iran and North Korea, the Taliban and Hamas, the sense that they are being regarded with respect, and that their concerns are being recognized and discussed as equals.

International understanding can only be achieved on an equal plain. Western representatives should not be senseless robots, trained to repeat the ultimatums of their governments. They should be chosen for their intellectual curiosity, and their desire to understand the people and cultures with which they are dealing.

Rather than threatening sanctions and applying other instruments of force, the time has come to think of innovative ways to contribute to understanding and the cultivation of peace. Doing so may not provide instant success, but with patience could prove effective and certainly less costly. To avoid a further escalation of the conflict, the Western democracies should heed Samuel Huntington’s warning: In the emerging era, clashes of civilization are the greatest threat to world peace, and an international order based on civilizations is the surest safeguard against world war.

It is urgent for the leaders of the free world to update their strategies.

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