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24/03/2005 | The Soft Power Summit

Thomas Joscelyn

Earlier this month, hundreds of prominent politicians, experts and powerbrokers from around the globe convened in Madrid for the International Summit on Democracy, Terrorism and Security. A more eclectic yet influential gathering of people would be difficult to imagine. The participants' list included everyone from George Soros to Hamid Karzai.


Earleir this month, hundreds of prominent politicians, experts and powerbrokers from around the globe convened in Madrid for the International Summit on Democracy, Terrorism and Security. A more eclectic yet influential gathering of people would be difficult to imagine. The participants' list included everyone from George Soros to Hamid Karzai.

The goal of the summit, hosted by the Club of Madrid (an elite society of 55 former presidents and prime ministers of democratic countries, including former President Clinton), was to formulate the "Madrid Agenda." Positioned as an alternative "soft power" strategy for fighting terrorism, the agenda is set to be delivered to the U.S. Senate later this year. The summit was also used by U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan to outline his institution's plan for a more multilateral approach to fighting terrorism.

The summit also served as a symposium for critics of the Bush administration and the U.S.-led war on terror. Disturbingly, a virulent strain of anti-American ideology ran throughout much of the summit's proceedings and the events afterwards. One of the most outspoken critics of the war on terrorism was former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright.

As a participant in the plenary on democracy and terrorism, Secretary Albright eschewed any recognition of the recent wave of Middle Eastern democracy. She made it clear that, in her view, the Bush administration's post-September 11 war on terror has been a failure.

"I'm an American," former Secretary Albright assured the audience, "but I'm not here to defend the administration." She added, "It's difficult always in a foreign setting, but I do think that the ways we're dealing with terrorists are, actually, maybe creating more of them."

Secretary Albright chose not to mention the successful elections in Iraq or Afghanistan, or the "cedar revolution" unfolding in Lebanon. Instead, she focused her attention on other matters, saying, "If you start a war, you have to bring it to a final victory so that you avoid disastrous effects like Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib."

A recurring theme of the summit was the delicate balance between civil liberties and increased counterterrorist security measures in democratic societies. Here, Albright--shortly after drawing a distinction between mild irritations caused by increased security measures and more serious "derogations of civil liberties"--offered a dire assessment of American society,

I hate to say this about my fellow-Americans, but at the moment we have been traumatized and lied to, and basically our news media operate on a level of idiocy that makes you feel as if . . . so the more that there's a sense of fear, the more likely you are to put up with more than irritations, and so, our election, frankly, it wasn't a values question. I know that people think that, it was an issue of protection, and President Bush was somebody that stood up to protect America after 9/11 and we are being systematically told that we're a threat [sic]. You know, that's why I hesitate saying I don't feel secure, because when I say I don't feel secure it just adds to this story about "Well, if you don't feel secure, you need different kinds of judges."

Thus, in the former Secretary's view: the war on terror has (maybe) created more terrorists; the American public has been "lied" to; the Bush administration uses a false sense of fear to abrogate civil liberties and push forward its judicial agenda; and the events at Guantanamo and Abu Gharib have been "disastrous," while the newly found freedom for millions in the Middle East is not worth mentioning.

Daniel Cohn-Bendit, a student leader of the leftist 1968 May revolution in Paris who is now a German politician, agreed with Secretary Albright, adding, "Madeleine said it: Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo--delocalization of torture. Take people prisoner and put them in countries where torture is not forbidden: what the CIA did. This is the end of our civilization if we accept this."

Cohn-Bendit even explained that the rise of terrorism was at least partially the West's fault. Answering a question regarding the "the sense of injustice, poverty and unfairness . . . in the Middle East" that breeds terrorists, he explained, "I have a theory on this: we here, white men, me coming from the left, we have to say to the white man 'You produced injustice'. . . . without stopping injustice we won't solve it, but we also have the responsibility of our own family, because the illness is in both families."

According to Amre Mossa, secretary general of the League of Arab States, neoconservatives are one of these western illnesses. Drawing moral equivalence between Islamist terrorists and Western neoconservatives, Mossa explained, "This clash [of civilizations] does exist between extremists on all sides and in all civilizations to the point of using violence, terrorism and extreme ideas. When I talk about that, I'm not only talking about those extremists in the Muslim world, but also the neoconservatives in the Western world, who have ideas about how to control the world and how to use violence in order to change the world." [emphasis added]

THE SUMMIT was the brainchild of wealthy Argentinean entrepreneur and philanthropist Martin Varsavsky. (Besides being the founder of several successful telecom and internet content companies, among Varsavsky's "plethora of non-business activities," he is a member of the Board of Trustees of the William Jefferson Clinton Foundation.)

Varsavsky's foundations also organized the post-summit Atocha Workshop on Global Terrorism, which began on the last day of the summit. Its stated purpose was to serve as "a forum to promote creative thinking in the fight against terrorism."

To spur on the attending experts' creative thinking, the Varsavsky foundation published 36 "proposed topics for debate and policy promotion," which the experts whittled down to roughly a dozen issues. Not surprisingly, many of them evinced strong anti-American sentiments based on crude caricatures of American society.

The most boorish discussion topics concern America's religiosity. For example, the first suggested discussion topic explains,

. . . the most lethal terrorist acts seem to be carried out by terrorists who blend both, nationalism and religion. The same appears to be true of the responses to terrorism as the 100,000 estimated dead in Iraq show. Nations that combine a heavy dosage of nationalism and religion, as the United States seem to have a tendency to be more ready to accept the use of force. What is it about this combination of nationalism and religion that makes actors feel more entitled to violence?

Another discussion topic, titled "The Unholy Alliance Between Red States and the Muslim world," asks, "do we have an unholy alliance between people from the Red States and the Muslim world as these individuals are driven more by religion than other values? Are the people in the Blue States and Europe their hostages?"

In addition to promoting a specious casualty count for the Iraq war, these questions also draw moral equivalence between contemporary American religious life and the murderous Islamist ideology that spawned September 11.

Attacks on American society were not limited to its religious aspects; they also focused on the war on terror. For example, another discussion topic is called "Freedom Fighters or Terrorists? How to Shape the Debate." Here the Varsavsky Foundation asked the puerile Michael Moore-style question, "is violence by Iraqis against US Troops terrorism or a war of national liberation?"

Still other discussion topics asked loaded questions such as: "Why is bombing acceptable while placing bombs is not?"; "Can democracies continue to justify bombing civilians from the air and ground as a valid terrorist fighting tactic?"; "How can Western democracies validly criticize the responses of Putin to Islamic terrorism while at the same time invade Iraq?"; "Traditionally American Foreign Policy has been what was good for business. Is this the case in the Iraq invasion and the New World Order?"

When the Madrid Agenda is delivered to the U.S. Congress later this year, its recipients should remember the proceedings that forged the document.

Thomas Joscelyn is an economist who works on antitrust and security issues.

Weekly Standard (Estados Unidos)


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