Tikkun Magazine, September/October 2002
Why the United States Needs a Strong, Peaceful Islam
By George Vradenburg
The United States holds a position of military and political dominance unique in world history The Roman Empire surrounded the Mediterranean Sea but held no sway in the rest of the world. The British Empire was global in reach, but confronted countervailing powers in Europe and in the continents where it had outposts. Neither constraint applies to the United States at the beginning of the twenty-first century.
This "unipolar" structure of world power cannot last. Multipolarity will inevitably develop. In a process of political entropy, monopolies of global power necessarily dissipate. Even if the United States were to pursue its goals with a more collaborative style than it is today, its historically unique grip on global military and political supremacy will necessarily and ultimately recede.
This structural change may not happen overnight. Today, the United States is able to ignore politically, or suppress militarily, those who oppose its point of view. But the accelerating tide of globalization--the global connectivity in communications, transportation, and financial services and the cross-border mobility of people--are democratizing the tools of warfare as well. Soon, weapons of mass destruction coupled with the tactics of suicide bombers will make traditional means of detection and deterrence irrelevant. Population demographics, particularly among the young, are expanding. Feelings of injustice from American dominance run high. These trends suggest that efforts to defend the status quo will be expensive, dangerous, and ultimately ineffective.
Restructuring the world order to create multiple centers of economic, cultural, and political power will give more peoples and nations the incentive to oppose terrorism. The issue is whether we will aggressively seek to shape a new multipolar world order or whether a restructuring will be imposed on us by hostile forces. And if we ourselves are to effect change, will we do it peacefully or only after military victory over our enemies.
The view that the United States would be better off if its enemies were strong, not weak, is not as far afield as one might think. At the end of World War II, the United States found itself in a uniquely powerful position. What did it do with its defeated former enemies, Japan, Germany, and Italy?
It undertook a massive program of economic reconstruction and development coupled with democratic reforms that replaced Fascist European and feudal Japanese political and social structures. With remarkable vision, the United States affirmatively sought to create economic, cultural, and political powers in Europe and Japan, believing that doing so was in the interests of the United States itself. It accompanied that new, less hegemonic political and economic structure with strong institutional mechanisms for military cooperation and economic collaboration--namely NATO, SEATO, the World Bank, and the International Monetary Fund. That new structure and those institutions have lead to a peaceful and healthy competitive international framework unaccompanied by European or Japanese rearmament.
Now is the time to consider an extension of that strategy beyond Europe and Japan. It should be the policy of the United States in this twenty-first century to encourage and promote competing economic, cultural, and political centers of power in the Islamic states of the Middle East and Central Asia as well as China and elsewhere. Existing or new global institutional arrangements should be structured to include those new centers of power as equal partners to assure that global conflicts are peacefully resolved.
Do we have to use military force to effect regime change in Iraq and other countries in the "axis of evil" in order to pursue this strategy broadly throughout the Islamic world? This depends on whether those nations have and are about to use weapons of mass destruction on us, Israel, or their Arab neighbors. But whatever the answer to that critical question, a multipolar strategy can be pursued now, at least on a selective basis, with the younger, more moderate leaders in the Arab world--in Jordan, Morocco, and the Gulf States--who, together with Israel, are ready, willing, and able to partner with the United States to demonstrate the efficacy of an economic approach to change in the Islamic world. We cannot wait to play the "economic card." Whatever our military strategy, it is critical that the Islamic world see economic opportunity and cultural independence in their future.
The existing world order will change. That is a certainty. Better that we seek to create a peaceful structure with multiple sources of economic and political power than resist until hostile forces are strong enough to restructure that world order through terror and violence.
George Vradenburg is husband to publisher Trish Vradenburg.
Vradenburg, George. 2002. Why the United States Needs a Strong, Peaceful Islam. Tikkun 17(5): 6.