For too long America’s allies in the war against militant Islam have been given short shrift in our national conversation.
The election season was partly to blame, with its laser focus on Iraq that excluded almost every other front in the war. Senator Kerry devoted his sound bites to wistful rhapsodies about absent friends, mostly the French and Germans, stubbornly blind to their growing irrelevance. President Bush did somewhat better, praising those like the British, Poles, and Italians who were with us in Baghdad and Basra. But even Bush ignored the multifarious array of other nations (mostly non-Western) who have joined with the United States in the global fight against the Islamists.
And these aren’t nations making symbolic gestures or passing empty resolutions. They are taking real risks, trusting America to stay the course and not leave them hanging. More importantly, they are countries whose cooperation actually matters. They make a difference. Their armies, police forces, intelligence services, and public commitments are helping us defeat our enemies. These nations contrast sharply with, say, Belgium, which could offer little in the way of strategic assistance even if it wanted to.
Admittedly, our new allies are not uniformly virtuous. Some have human rights problems (which the U.S. openly criticizes), and many would not be in this fight at all if they didn’t see America acting first. But such is the nature of alliances in the real world. This is the 21st century and our national interests are no longer the Western-centric ones that consumed our attention only a decade ago. This new reality is reflected in the far-flung partnerships America has forged since 9/11.
As the Bush administration begins its second term, it is time Americans came to appreciate a few of these unsung allies, so newly important to our own national security.
Southeast Asia is a good place to start. Indonesia, the most populous Muslim country in the world, suffered its own 9/11 when Jamaah Islamiya (an Islamic terrorist group with close operational ties to al Qaeda) bombed a Bali tourist spot on 12 October 2002, killing 202. Since then, Indonesian cooperation with the U.S. and Australia against the Islamo-fascists, while by no means flawless, has been significant. Many JI members and leaders have been rounded-up, and indications are that Indonesia’s new President, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, wants even closer cooperation. An ally like Indonesia is worth 10 Swedens.
Just north of Indonesia, in the Philippines, U.S. and Filipino troops are working against both Abu Sayyaf (an Islamist/gangster group created by al Qaeda) and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front. More needs to be done (e.g., there are probably camps affiliated with al Qaeda still operating), but cooperation continues. In Singapore, intelligence and law enforcement are fully engaged with the Americans, and the Singapore government continues its strong public stance against the region’s radical Islamists.
Moving westward, India is working closely with the U.S., as is of course Pakistan and Afghanistan. In Central Asia, Turkmenistan allows U.S. overflight, even though it’s officially neutral. Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Kazakhstan, and Kyrgyzstan are each with America publicly, privately, or both. Uzbekistan and Tajikistan host U.S. bases and exchange intelligence with us. And needless to say, the cooperation in Central Asia would not be happening without the approval of Russia. While none of these countries look at us with puppy-eyed devotion, our interests coincide and we’re cutting deals.
In the Near East, support from the United Arab Emirates is outstanding. Qatar is good, Yemen cooperates (though there is still work to be done), Oman is publicly supportive, Kuwait is helpful within its borders, and Bahrain works to subvert terrorist financing. Since Operation Iraqi Freedom focused minds inside the Kingdom, the House of Saud has been cracking down on al Qaeda supporters — imperfectly and haltingly, but it’s happening. Egypt is with us on counterterrorism and law enforcement, and Jordan is helpful. Morocco and Tunisia are there, and of course so is Israel.
East Africa is a problem, especially Somalia, with al Qaeda elements active there. Fortunately, we aren’t going it alone in the region. Djibouti is a member of the Arab League, staunch U.S. supporter, and host to the only American military base in sub-Saharan Africa. Counterterrorism assistance from Ethiopia covers the waterfront — political, financial, media, military, and law enforcement. Kenya a strong partner, sharing intelligence on al Qaeda and going after terrorists inside its borders.
Elsewhere in Africa, Mali is helpful on terrorist financing issues. Rwanda is supportive, as are Tanzania and Sierra Leone. South Africa is good on financial, law enforcement, and intelligence partnering, and Uganda passed a law in 2002 providing the death penalty for al Qaeda sponsors and supporters.
These are just some of the remarkable alliances the Bush administration has put together over the past few years. For many Americans, the very idea that a partnership with Indonesia may be more valuable than one with France is jarring. Nonetheless, in the global fight against militant Islam, that’s the reality. The great threats of the past century (Nazism, Communism) put Europe at center stage, and so our European alliances made sense. But today’s strategic challenges emanate from places like Peshawar and Basilan island, not East Berlin and the Baltic Sea. It’s a different world.
Real alliances are born of common interest. For America today, this means joining with countries that have both the will and the ability to fight militant Islam. And that’s what we have done. The notion that the U.S. lacks allies in the war on terror couldn’t be further from the truth. Not only do we have allies, we have allies that make a difference.
Mr. Carroll is a former officer in the Clandestine Service of the CIA. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org