John Mearsheimer, a professor from the University of Chicago, delivered the second lecture in the “War and Peace in the Middle East” Povolny lecture series on Thursday, Jan. 23. In his lecture, “U.S. Policy in the Middle East: A Sure Way to Lose the War Against Al Qaeda,” Mearsheimer discussed current and past procedures for international relations, and proceeded to analyze their flaws and to suggest alternatives.
Mearsheimer began by saying that there are two basic models that can be used to define foreign relations. The first style is the Iron Fist, which Mearsheimer believes is counterproductive. The second is the Hearts and Minds approach, which Mearsheimer believes the United States must employ in its fight against Al Qaeda.
Mearsheimer says that the Bush administration’s policies lean toward the Iron Fist approach, which he contends is a serious error.
Explaining that there are four main themes to the approach, Mearsheimer first illustrated that the Iron Fist prefers military force to diplomacy. Followers of the Iron Fist method assume that Islamic extremists are best convinced by shows of power and that a bandwagon style of politics is the most effective way of gaining political converts.
Secondly, Iron Fist logic dictates that the United States needs to build an empire in order to defend itself. Third, foreign policy strategies must be unilateral. Fourth and finally, members of Al Qaeda hate Americans simply because of the disparities in American and Islamic culture, and nothing can change their minds.
Mearsheimer immediately began to deconstruct these tenets of the Iron Fist theory. He related an anecdote about when he and an Iron Fist ideologist were debating the relative merits of the Iron Fist and the Hearts and Minds methods.
After one point, his opponent remarked that the only way Mearsheimer’s beliefs could possibly work would be if America were to “grab their [Al Qaeda’s] b—-, squeeze real hard, and let their hearts and minds follow.”
Mearsheimer did not repress his skepticism as to the effectiveness of such a procedure.
Pointing out that Al Qaeda is not a target that can be easily attacked militarily, Mearsheimer said that the United States “needs great intelligence and police work, not the 82nd airborne.”
Many in the Arab-Islamic world hate us because they think that America singles out Arab nations for attack, Mearsheimer said. They cite the fact that Iraq is being targeted for attack while there are not yet any serious plans to wage war against the much greater North Korean threat.
Additionally, neither the American military nor the American people are inclined toward a prolonged battle.
Mearsheimer ridiculed the possibility of peace via an American empire, asking, “Can we democratize at the end of a rifle barrel?”
Noting that the powerful empires of the 20th century have all fallen, he pointed out that the force of nationalism is often more potent than democracy. The United States, he said, needs “the cooperation of all the other states in the system” to succeed, and we must remember that anti-Americanism is not an exclusively Arab phenomenon.
The current leaders of our Cold War allies, France and Germany, ran on primarily anti-U.S. platforms.
In order to adopt the Hearts and Minds method, America must realize some unpalatable facts. The U.S. can’t wage a global war on terrorism, and shouldn’t pick fights with every perceived enemy at once, especially dormant threats.
In addition, America must take care of loose nuclear technology from the former Soviet Union, for “that’s where Al Qaeda’ll get the bomb materials,” Mearsheimer said.
Many people are convinced that it is only a matter of time before a nuclear bomb is detonated in Washington D.C., he added, but right-wing congresspersons are still fighting the Cold War by refusing to allocate the money to safely house such dangerous material.
In addition, American policies toward Israel must be reexamined, and military force must be used sparingly. War supporters believe that nobody hates Americans for what we are, but Mearsheimer insists that the opposite is true.
America, he continues, must reevaluate its installation of American forces in Saudi Arabia, for that is a major source of annoyance for Al-Qaeda. Additionally, American support for oppressive regimes (e.g. Jordan, Egypt, Saudi Arabia) undermines America’s credibility.
American sanctions against Iraq have been detrimental to innocent Iraqis, putting the United States on dangerous ground.
Mearsheimer pointed out that a policy of dual containment is more effective than listing all targets of eventual attack, and insisted that America can “no longer support Ariel Sharon’s policies on the West Bank.”
Although he admits the Hearts and Minds approach is not perfect, Mearsheimer is sure that it is far superior to the Iron Fist alternative.