It’s Not Just Bombs and Bullets

The New York Times shines a light on a little-mentioned facet of the Bush adminsitration’s approach to combating terrorism. While wars and captures understandably occupy the headlines, the strategy also works towards building stronger relationships with Muslims in areas where we can provide humanitarian assistance:

From remote Siyu, investigators say, the bombing of a Mombasa hotel that catered to Israeli tourists, and the simultaneous failed attempt to shoot down an Israeli-chartered airliner, were planned in 2002. The well is one of many public works projects being undertaken by the American military throughout the Horn of Africa aimed at changing the locals’ view of a country many of them had learned to hate.
“The war on terrorism is not necessarily a shooting war,” said Maj. W. Brice Finney, commander of theArmy’s 412th Civil Affairs Battalion. Still, these are good deeds with a strategic edge. The main purpose is to monitor the vast coastline for terrorists fleeing Afghanistan and other spots across the Gulf of Aden. All of which explains why the military is paying close attention to Siyu.

Complaints from the hard left of the military response to terrorism leave the impression that the military strategy has been the only response the Bush administration has provided. The policy of assigning uniformed American troops to East African areas for humanitarian assistance allows unpressured interaction to grow between American troops and Muslim civilians, who normally may never have had the opportunity to meet Americans before having fanatics describe us with horns growing out of our heads.
The White House has good reason to keep this program low-profile; if al-Qaeda or its associates find out how well it works, the troops could be targeted for terrorist attacks, or worse, the civilian population could be attacked as retribution for cooperating with the Americans. Some local clerics have already voiced their disapproval, asking Muslims to cease cooperating with American efforts to make civic improvements. So far, their congregations have ignored them:

People here have become used to the sight of soldiers in their midst. Most welcome the American help with open arms, putting their political and religious beliefs to the side.
“We need all the help we can get,” said Bunu Mwengyealy, headmaster of Pate Primary School, across the island from Siyu. A storm wiped out one classroom last year, so Mr. Mwengyealy and others were thrilled when American soldiers arrived recently to assess the campus.
Muslim leaders say their followers have been ignoring their warnings about accepting the American largess. The people are poor and ideology takes a distant second to making ends meet.
“When I tell people, ‘Don’t let the Americans help you,’ they ask me, ‘What is the alternative?’ ” Sheik Abdulkadir said, shaking his head in frustration.

Bush demonstrates more subtlety than his critics allow — another “misunderestimation” that will cost them in November if the shrill Bush-hatred campaign continues.