In today's Wall Street Journal, Middle East scholar Bernard Lewis observes how Moscow traditionally dealt with the Islamic world versus the approach taken by Washington:
During the Cold War, two things came to be known and generally recognized in the Middle East concerning the two rival superpowers. If you did anything to annoy the Russians, punishment would be swift and dire. If you said or did anything against the Americans, not only would there be no punishment; there might even be some possibility of reward, as the usual anxious procession of diplomats and politicians, journalists and scholars and miscellaneous others came with their usual pleading inquiries: "What have we done to offend you? What can we do to put it right?As Lewis goes on to opine, this was no doubt why Arab and Muslim countries did not put much pressure on Moscow in response to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979. As Lewis recalls:
After weeks of debate, the U.N. General Assembly finally was persuaded to pass a resolution "strongly deploring the recent armed intervention in Afghanistan." The words "condemn" and "aggression" were not used, and the source of the "intervention" was not named. Even this anodyne resolution was too much for some of the Arab states. South Yemen voted no; Algeria and Syria abstained; Libya was absent; the nonvoting PLO observer to the Assembly even made a speech defending the Soviets.A notable exception to this "Muslim willingness to submit to Soviet authority," says Lewis, was Osama bin Laden and the Arab mujahideen.
He and his cohorts were happy to use U.S. dollars and American Stinger missiles in their fight against the Soviets out.
Later, as we know, bin Laden turned this army against America.
The U.S., he assured his followers would be a less formidable foe than the USSR. Look at how quickly President Reagan pulled American peacekeeping forces out of Lebanon in 1983, he pointed out, after 241 Marines were killed in a suicide bombing. By 1993, it would only take eighteen deaths to drive the Americans out of Somalia.
But after 9/11, it seemed that bin Laden was wrong. The U.S. showed that once again it could muster the will to fight.
But, as this type of mass-casualty terror attack becomes a distant memory, Lewis says, Islamists such as bin Laden must be encouraged by "the public discourse inside the U.S." As he writes, "[maybe] their first assessment was correct after all, and that they need only to press a little harder to achieve final victory."
As he concludes: "If they are right, the consequences--both for Islam and for America--will be deep, wide and lasting."