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How to Use American Influence

U.S. influence is markedly less than we – or our enemies – think it is, or ever thought it was.
U.S. Army Lt. Col. Mark Martin shakes hands and laughs with Mawlawi Guhlam M. Ruhaani, at the conclusion of a key leader engagement in Farah City, Afghanistan, Dec. 29.

U.S. Army Lt. Col. Mark Martin shakes hands and laughs with Mawlawi Guhlam M. Ruhaani, at the conclusion of a key leader engagement in Farah City, Afghanistan
Photo Credit: U.S. Navy/HMC Josh Ives

What have we achieved? A Muslim Brotherhood President; a Parliament that runs from Muslim Brotherhood to Salafist; a Sharia-heavy Constitution and a military establishment that seems perfectly fine with it all. Joshua Stacher writes in Foreign Affairs that that the military supports Morsi because it believes the Brotherhood will continue to win elections, and that the Brotherhood “incorporated many of its core demands…directly into the draft constitution.”

The military is siding with what it perceives as the long-term winner – and that is not us. It is unlikely that we will use our military assistance as leverage. If Mubarak considered it “compensation,” the Brotherhood considers it “reparations” for U.S. support of the Mubarak dictatorship.

Afghanistan is the recipient of buckets of money – nearly $3 billion annually in health, education, economic infrastructure and governance for the past six years, plus billions more for military training and equipment. More than 2,000 Americans have lost their lives in an effort to bring tolerant, representative government to the Afghan people and rout the Taliban “radicals.”

Again, what have we achieved? The Afghan government and military remain corrupt and ineffectual; more than 63 “insider” attacks killed 25 Western soldiers in 2012 as President Hamid Karzai decried the lack of American cultural sensitivity. The new US Army field manual agrees: “Better situational awareness/understanding of Afghan culture will help…to avoid cultural conflict that can lead toward green-on-blue violence.” Judicial Watch notes that a draft of the manual “leaked to the newspaper offers a list of ‘taboo conversation topics’ that soldiers should avoid, including ‘making derogatory comments about the Taliban,’ ‘advocating women’s rights,’ ‘any criticism of pedophilia,’ ‘directing any criticism towards Afghans,’ ‘mentioning homosexuality and homosexual conduct’ or ‘anything related to Islam.’”

In other words, after a dozen years of our lives and treasure, American troops should adopt the cultural norms of seventh-century Afghans, rather than expecting the Afghans to show some 21st century tolerance for women and homosexuals, or aversion to pedophilia.

Pakistan received $3 billion in FY 2012; $1.6 billion in security assistance and $1.4 billion for economic development. Since 2001, more than $20 billion, including $9 billion in reimbursement for expenses supporting US military operations.

Libya? What we achieved in Libya hardly bears asking the question.

Rubin thinks, “The alternatives have been ignored; and the real moderates are being betrayed.”

It is more likely that the “real moderates” – by definition people less willing to kill or coerce – are unlikely to be winners in a region that does not presently value “moderation.” It is also true that the US has chosen some allies as well as it could, and chosen other allies badly. But regardless of the application of money, troops, training, education, infrastructure, and lessons in governance, elections and transparency, U.S. influence is markedly less than we – or our enemies – think it is, or ever thought it was.

If that sounds insufficient, it harks back to Cold War understandings. The U.S. and its allies could not, similarly, overthrow the Soviet Union or liberate its colonies. But we did not pretend they were our friends, and we surely did not give them aid or political support. The best of the Cold Warriors – think John F. Kennedy, Henry M. Jackson, Daniel Patrick Moynihan and Ronald Reagan – spurred the United States staunchly to defend its political beliefs as “better;” defend its friends militarily through NATO, COCOM and other joint efforts; guard as much as possible against communist expansion into free countries; and let the “captive nations” know through Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty that we were on their side.

That would translate today into unequivocal support for human rights, civil rights, minority rights and capitalism; support for Israel, Jordan, Morocco, Iraq (because we are responsible for it now), the Central Asian “Stans,” Tunisia (still) and Turkey (maybe); guarding against al Qaeda and Muslim Brotherhood expansion in Africa – including loudly denouncing attacks on Christians in Nigeria, Kenya and Mali; and expanded use of social networks to provide real information and hope for the future to those many people who want to be on our side, with America.

Originally published at the Gatestone Institute.

About the Author: Shoshana Bryen is Senior Director of The Jewish Policy Center. She was previously Senior Director of JINSA and author of JINSA Reports form 1995-2011.


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