Ideological struggle

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(HOST) In a series of speeches this month, President Bush has elevated the War On Terror to “The decisive ideological struggle of the 21st century.” This morning commentator Barrie Dunsmore examines that claim.

(DUNSMORE) President Bush told us on the fifth anniversary of 9/11 that the War on Terror represents quote – “…a struggle for civilization between tyranny and freedom.”

Recently, the President has evoked the specter of a new Islamic Caliphate that would dominate life in a swath running from North Africa across the entire Middle East and though Asia all the way to Indonesia. This, he claimed, was the goal of terrorist groups such as al Qaeda.

So, do Western democracies face a new existential battle, as they once did against Hitler’s fascism and international communism? According to recognized experts in terrorism, Middle East scholars and intelligence analysts – that suggestion is a major oversimplification, which seriously distorts the situation facing America today.

There may be common denominators of Islam and terrorism in today’s trouble spots, but these are not the driving forces of most of America’s adversaries. Terrorism is a tactic. It is a tried and true method for small groups of insurgents or militarily weak countries to challenge an opponent that enjoys huge advantages in force, size and military technology.

Fundamentalist theology is indeed being used as a rallying cry. But the goals of these political movements or countries now threatening American interests have more to do with traditional issues of regional influence, political power – or territory.

The Taliban in Afghanistan is seeking to restore its control over the country from which it was expelled by the United States.

Hamas, the election winner in Palestine this year, rejects the two-state solution of the Israeli Palestinian dispute. That, and its own political survival, consumes its attention.

The goals of Hezbollah, the Shiite movement considered by most Arabs as the winner of the recent war with Israel, are mostly domestic. Representing perhaps a third of the population, the Shiites are trying to exert the political power in Lebanon that should be their due. But historically it is a power they have been denied because of a Lebanese political system that continues to marginalize them.

Iran has supported Hezbollah and used its own terror tactics as a way of expanding Iranian influence in the region. As a country of seventy million, rich in history and oil, it expects to be treated as a major player. Iran’s ruling clerics may be seeking nukes because many of its neighbors, including Israel, have them. They may also see such weapons as protection against another American attempt at regime change in Teheran.

Finally, in Iraq, the elected Shiite dominated government is kept in office by the anti-U.S. cleric Moqtada al-Sadr – who also heads the militia responsible for much of the sectarian killing that threatens Iraq’s future.

These, then, are very complex issues – with another common denominator. They require patient and creative diplomacy. And, as even the hardest-liner should have learned by now, they do not lend themselves to military solutions.

Barrie Dunsmore is a veteran diplomatic and foreign correspondent for ABC News, now living in Charlotte.

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