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9/11 panel report faults US approach to Middle East

In calling a sweeping overhaul of American diplomacy in the Middle East, the Sept. 11 commission last week joined a growing consensus that the United States has not done enough to win over the world's huge Muslim population.

In some of its least noticed but most important recommendations, the bipartisan panel urged its .nal report that the government engage more deeply in a struggle of ideas" against Islamic radicalism and develop a preventive strategy that is at least as political as it is military.

"We need short-term action on long-term strategy, one that invigorates our foreign policy with the attention that the president and Congress have given to the military and intelligence parts of the con.ict against Islamic terrorism," the report said.

The .ght against terrorism needs to be "balanced," involving diplomacy, intelligence, covert action, law enforcement, economic policy, foreign aid, public diplomacy, and homeland defense," the report said.

The commission also said the administration must step up its public diplomacy to stanch the spread of anti-Americanism and should challenge authoritarian regimes that have been allies to carry out democratic reforms.

"We should offer an example of moral leadership in the world," it said.

The report's language echoed several other of.cial and unof.cial diagnoses of the problem. A report issued last fall by a State Department panel headed by Edward P. Djerejian, a former aide to former secretary of state James A. Baker, found that the United States was failing to promote America and its values.

In the nearly three years since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, a broad agreement has developed that the United States needs to do more to advance its values and to convince an increasingly fractious Middle East that Americans really are the good guys they believe themselves to be. There is far less agreement on how effectively President Bush's administration has been handling this job and how these principles of "soft power" can be reconciled with the other goals of suppressing Islamic militants.

The theme has been struck by Republicans as well as Democrats, and by administration of.cials in moments of candor.

The commission's report cites a 2003 memo in which Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said the United States needed a long-range strategy for preventing the growth of Islamic extremism among a new generation of young people. The report said Deputy Secretary of State Richard L. Armitage had told the commission that Americans had been exporting "our fears and our anger, not our vision of opportunity and hope."

The report set off debate over the administration's commitment to using diplomacy, aid, and other nonmilitary tools to head off anti- Americanism.

Condoleezza Rice, the national security adviser, said that although the commission had called on the administration to do far more, the panel's recommendations were perfectly in keeping with White House efforts. "The hearts-and-minds issues are back, maybe in an even more real way than they were in the Cold War," she said.

Rice said Bush had pushed harder for democratization in the Arab world than any president since World War II.

But other analysts said they view the commission's recommendations as a challenge to the administration's policy.

Edward S. Walker Jr., president of the Middle East Institute in Washington, said the administration "hasn't been very energetic on the question of Islam, and the administration is vulnerable on it." The administration "has always walked away from it, partly because of the divisions between the Pentagon and the State Department that left the State Department isolated," said Walker, a former assistant secretary of state for the Middle East.

Peter W. Singer, in charge of the Brookings Institution's project on US policy toward the Islamic world, said the commission was "not the .rst group calling for these kinds of sensible recommendations.

But we just don't see them executed yet by the administration.

. . . I'm afraid these again will fall on deaf ears."

Nathan J. Brown, director of Middle East studies at the Elliott School of International Affairs at George Washington University, said the panel's recommendations would be dif.cult for policy makers because they did not explain which of many con.icting goals should have priority.

For example, Brown said, the panel urged US of.cials to push for reform and to challenge less democratic regimes. Yet it praised US support for President Pervez Musharraf of Pakistan, who came to power in a coup, he said.

Likewise, the panel called for an independent media in the Middle East but condemned Al-Jazeera satellite television, which is the kind of channel that probably would become widespread if television in the region were deregulated.

Brown said the recommendations re.ected the growing consensus that "it is time for us to rethink the principles that have guided us for the last half-century.

. . . But they pulled in different directions, and they didn't help policy makers to understand how to prioritize them."

He also said the panel entirely dodged one of the most important, and sensitive, questions -- whether the war in Iraq would help reduce terrorism or cause it to grow.

The commission wrote that polling had indicated that anti- Americanism, a longtime fact of life in the Islamic world, has soared since the administration invaded Afghanistan and Iraq.

New polling indicates that in the aftermath of the Abu Ghraib prison abuse and continuing media coverage of Iraqi casualties, anti-Americanism has increased considerably. Recent polling by Zogby International found that the share of Egyptians surveyed who said they disapproved of the US government increased from 76 percent in 2002 to 98 percent, while sympathy for Al Qaeda also rose.

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