In any political and military solution the only way to achieve a compromise or even peace is by engaging and talking to the enemy. Mark Perry’s How to lose the war on Terror outlines the misconceptions and denial of this strategy by the USA within the Middle East.
Mark Perry himself is the Director of Conflicts Forum and has spent much of his adult life travelling and working in the Middle East; spending time in Israel, the West Bank, Gaza and a host of various Arab countries. His experience has been varied from talking to government officials in the USA, Israel and the Arab world to Sunni Insurgents in Iraq and the hierarchy of Hamas and Hezbullah.
The first half of the book highlights the events in Iraq subsequent to the invasion by American forces in 2003. He outlines how former Sunni Baa’th officials who were leading the insurgency from the Al-Anbar region were willing to negotiate and work with the American officials who were administering the post Saddam Iraq. The book criticises the ineffective judgement of the US military and the Coalition’s Provisional Authority in their initial non-compliance in negotiating with insurgents, which made matters worse. He gives a strong narrative of events and testimonies from military and civil brass on both sides where the US Coalition Provisional Authority finally decided to talk to the Sunni insurgents after it became apparent that the real enemy were the Al Qaeeda supporting foreign fighters who had a completely different agenda. Throughout the book Perry outlines how the USA and Israel simply fail to understand that political Islamist groups like the Iraqi Sunni insurgents, Hamas and Hezbollah had no intention of leading an Islamic revolution through force and violence but merely wanted an end to occupation and a chance to hold parity through democratic means in their own country.
What made this book so interesting was how Perry gave first hand accounts of his meetings with the leaders of Hamas and Hezbollah in 2005 in Beirut accompanied by an American and European delegation that saw an opening for understanding and dialogue. From the onset of his chapters on Iraq and then on to Hamas and Hezbollah, he reiterates that the American and European political and military elite have to understand that the likes of Hamas and Hezbollah are organisations embedded in their constituencies, and their aims were not global Jihad but rather, they seek acceptance as legitimate political entities and movements who would continue to take up arms to end occupation and foreign meddling in their lands.
When an organisation has won a corruption-free election, as was the case with Hamas in 2006 and with Hezbollah’s history in Lebanon politics, both organisations have shown that they are part of their respective political orders and are here to stay. If peace is to be secured within the Middle East then they need to be at the negotiating table, rather than become proscribed as terror organisations because they don’t fit in the ideological terrain of some neo-conservative thinkers in Washington and Tel Aviv.
What can be learnt from this book is the parallels Perry draws – how in Iraq, US collaboration with groups termed as Political Islamists helped settle some conflicts and this could be replicated in other parts of the Middle East. Yet, gracefully Mark Perry outlines how in the USA it’s in the interests of some groups that no channel of communication or strategy is created in engaging with Hamas or Hezbollah.
On the chapter of Israel, Mark Perry brilliantly describes how in 1994 the Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin gave a damaging speech to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) where he stated that the policies and procedures of AIPAC damages Israel rather than help her, and that the government of Israel resides in Jerusalem rather than an office of a lobbyist in Washington. Even though Mark Perry shows in his book the defiance and hawkish nature of the US Israeli lobby and their supporters, of which most people know, he doesn’t offer a rationale to show how their control over policy can be overcome.
His discussions with Hamas and Hezbollah about suicide bombers, the acceptance of the State of Israel and charges of anti-Semitism are dealt with in frank and precise exchanges with the political leaders of these organisations. However, Mark Perry doesn’t outline how a common denominator could ever be achieved between the USA and these organisations. The book deals with the ideological backgrounds of Hamas and Hezbollah and how important it is to negotiate with these groups, but as the US position isn’t challenged in the same way that Hamas and Hezbollah are, the book doesn’t exactly offer a solution but merely recounts a narrative of what the problems are.
Perry does provide a great first hand narrative of the political situations in the Middle East based on his own involvement which now spans over two decades. He ends the book with some great examples of how he has networked with various groups, whether it is sleeping on the floor in the home of a family in Gaza, meeting a Jordanian old man who recalled how in 1921 he was in the same room with King Abdullah, Winston Churchill and T.E, Lawrence or how he shared jokes about Arafat with Hamas leaders in Beirut. The book gives a good insight on how dialogue and engagement with groups like Hamas and Hezbollah could make the political map of the Middle East unravel into an oasis of peace, but the book fails to show how minds and policy could be changed in Washington and Tel Aviv towards engagement and negotiation with the enemy in order to bring peace and an end to conflict which has been akin to be known as terror.