Unforced Error
by Jonathan Schanzer

TNR Online | 11.26.03

Paramaribo, Suriname -- At the heart of this sleepy
South American capital of Suriname stand four golden minarets of the Ahmadiyya Anjuman Isha'at Islam
mosque. Next to the mosque stands a stately wooden synagogue representing one of South America's oldest Jewish communities, which came to this former Dutch
colony via Holland in the 1600s. This oft-photographed landscape reflects the multiculturalism and tolerance
that Suriname is known for. One U.S. embassy official
calls Suriname "not a melting pot but a salad bowl" of Hindustanis, Creoles, Javanese, Amerindians, Chinese,
and Anglo-Saxons. Indeed, every civilian government
in recent history has been made up of a balanced
coalition of political parties that represent these
ethnicities. And while Islam is the majority faith in this
nation of 450,000, there are significant minorities of Christians, Jews, Hindus, and animists. In addition, Suriname boasts a high literacy rate, a Dutch-
influenced Western culture, and a strong desire to link
itseconomy more closely to the United States, which is
one of the country's top trading partners. Suriname, in other words, would appear to be an ideal target for Washington's efforts to win Muslim hearts and minds.
Yet U.S. public diplomacy is failing as badly here as it is almost everywhere else in the Muslim world.

Instead, anti-Americanism has arrived in Suriname. In
the spring, when the United States attempted to help
an American woman regain custody of her daughter,
who'd been illegally taken to Suriname by her father,
local newspapers alleged that the embassy was
involved in a kidnapping plot. Some Surinamese officials have also begun to harshly criticize Washington.
Suriname's former ambassador to the United Nations
told me that "the U.S. is intent on pursuing a
dangerous unilateral approach" to global affairs. A Surinamese defense official insists that Washington
"is lashing out in anger at the Muslim world after 9/11." Over breakfast, several prominent Muslims agreed with
one Islamic society leader when he said that the U.S.
war on terror "is a war against the Muslim world."

More daunting was my visit to the tiny Al-Iman mosque
on Paramaribo's outskirts, where militant Islam could
be gaining a foothold. Some 20 Javanese Muslim congregants were seemingly honored to sit shoeless
and cross-legged on the floor of their mosque with an American emissary. But they were equally proud that
their Arabic and Islam lessons were taught by a young Saudi-trained cleric from Indonesia--something that
could foretell a rise in militant Wahhabism. One U.S. intelligence official recently expressed concerns in
The Washington Times about Suriname's
"historical nexus to Indonesia, the home of Jemaah Islamiah, which is affiliated with al-Qaeda and
responsible for the Bali bombing." Suriname's Defense Minister, Ronald Assen admitted on November 6 that
Ali Imron, the Indonesian sentenced to life in prison
for his role in the October 2002 Bali bombing that
killed 202 people, spent a year living in the
Surinamese city of Mungo, where he taught at a
Muslim school.

If Washington loses the battle for hearts and minds
here, it would have only itself to blame. Increasing
U.S. subsidies for American rice growers have angered Surinamese farmers, who used to control a large
share of the regional Caribbean rice market. And
though the tiny U.S. embassy in Paramaribo is working
hard to cast U.S. policies in the most positive light, Washington has expended very limited resources in
development assistance. When Suriname achieved its independence in 1975, it also received a $3.5 billion
payout from the Netherlands, which Paramaribo is still collecting today. By contrast, the United States has
offered Suriname a mere $5 million in military aid per
year, as well as "an additional few hundred thousand
for the fight against drugs and thugs," according to an embassy spokesperson. USAID has 17 offices
throughout South America and the Caribbean, but none
in Suriname. As one U.S. official admits, "it's not a lot of assistance. In fact, the whole Caribbean gets very
little." And though the embassy in Suriname likes to
sponsor public diplomacy missions, my four-day trip to Surinam in October was only one of two such missions
this year.

Even the more generous aspects of American aid have become a source of tension. Over the last decade, the United States has held eight Medical Readiness Training
Exercises (MEDRETE) in Suriname, which provide free
healthcare to natives in Surinam's rugged and
undeveloped interior. This is a vital service in the
country's many poverty stricken areas, where
healthcare is available but deficient in a number of
crucial medical specialties. Still, any goodwill generated
|by these exercises was likely offset by recent U.S. pressure on Suriname to exempt American forces
from the International Criminal Court. Local leaders
were angered when Pentagon officials reportedly
asked Paramaribo to sign an agreement exempting Americans if the country is to continue receiving the
free healthcare under MEDRETE.

Making things worse is that American officials are doing
a poor job getting their message across on television
in Suriname. Derrice Dean, host of a one-hour, once-a-
week Voice of America Television show called
"Caribbean Perspectives," believes that "there is not a great effort in getting VOA into the Caribbean," and that the effort there is "not getting a lot of funding." Indeed, she believes that the Caribbean is just "not volatile
enough for America to be concerned about. You just
don't feel the need to penetrate." Embassy officials
note that programming in Hindi and Urdu is picked up
by one local television affiliate, but that program only targets some 30 percent of the population. VOA
English programming for television is rarely aired.
Accordingly, few of the Surinamese officials or academics
I spoke with were familiar with the extensive U.S. plans
to rebuild Iraq, or anything about the State
Department's efforts to foster democracy in the Arab
world. Instead, most Surinamers assumed the United States was simply allowing conditions in the Muslim
world to deteriorate.

Thankfully, radical Islam has not planted deep roots in Suriname. Every Surinamer I spoke with said they
rejected the idea of terrorism against the United States. Most say that they like Americans, just not
Washington's foreign policy. Ironically, one Muslim community leader I spoke with sheepishly admitted
that more Muslims might have joined a demonstration against the Iraq war in Paramaribo's Independence
Square, but were "afraid that the U.S. would revoke
their visas." With so much going for it in Suriname, it
would be even more ironic if Washington lost the battle
for opinion here.

Jonathan Schanzer is a Soref Fellow at the
Washington Institute for Near East Policy.



By Jonathan Schanzer
November 26, 2003
Analysis of Near East Policy from the scholars

Yesterday, Yemeni authorities announced the capture of
al-Qaeda militant Mohammed Hamdi al-Ahdal. This arrest came amid a series of statements by Yemeni president
Ali Abdallah Salih declaring his intent to release dozens
of suspects with links to al-Qaeda in exchange for
promises that they would renounce violence.
Paradoxically, Salih and his advisors believe that the
move will ensure continued quiet in Yemen, which has
not suffered a terrorist attack since October 2002. Still, Washington has cause for concern over Salih’s plans to release potential terrorists into a country that has only recently found successful methods to counter al-Qaeda.

Yemeni Counterterrorism
In the past, Yemen seemed unable to contain terrorist groups such as the Islamic Army of Aden (IAA), an
al-Qaeda affiliate born in the late 1990s. Yemen’s
efforts increased after the October 2000 bombing of
the USS Cole, which killed seventeen U.S. sailors,
injured thirty-nine, and inflicted an estimated $250
million worth of damage to the vessel. In the wake of
that attack, Washington pressured Yemen for increased security cooperation. What began with the
computerization of passport and immigration processes evolved into counterterrorism cooperation. By 2001, the State Department noted that San’a had “arrested suspected terrorists and pledged to neutralize key al-Qaeda nodes in Yemen.” San’a also permitted the
United States to deploy special forces on its soil after
the September 11 attacks.

Yemen further intensified its cooperation with
Washington following the October 6, 2002, attack on
the French tanker Limburg, which killed one and
injured seventeen. This included working with the CIA,
FBI, and U.S. special forces, as well as undertaking
efforts to deport hundreds of illegal immigrants and suspected terrorists. San’a also developed programs
to monitor mosques and Islamic organizations, in
addition to launching a public relations campaign
urging clerics to purge extremism and warning the
public of terrorism’s cost to the economy.

U.S.-Yemeni cooperation reached new heights on
November 5, 2002. Using intelligence from Abd
ar-Rahim an-Nashiri, a previously captured planner of
the Cole attack, the CIA tracked five al-Qaeda
operatives driving on a desert road in the Marib governorate of Yemen. With approval from San’a, the
CIA launched a Hellfire missile at them from an
unmanned drone, killing everyone in the vehicle,
including another senior terrorist who had participated
in the Cole attack.

In summer 2003, Yemeni forces attacked an IAA hideout
in the Hattat region “with the help of U.S. Special Operations Command forces and . . . helicopters,
artillery and combat vehicles.” In September, Yemen exchanged terrorist suspects with Saudi Arabia; San’a extradited a top suspect in the May 12 suicide bombings
in Riyadh, while the Saudis handed over two men suspected in the Limburg attack. In October, San’a captured yet another Cole suspect.

Despite this clear progress, there have been some setbacks in U.S.-Yemeni counterterrorism cooperation.
For instance, ten suspects from the Cole bombing
escaped from their Yemeni prison on April 11, 2003, by drilling through a bathroom wall. One of the suspects reportedly gave himself up, but the others are still at
large. The public account of this incident was shocking; jailbreaks are almost never reported in the Arab world, prompting questions as to whether Yemeni government officials were somehow involved in the escape.

New Strategy?
In September 2003, Yemen appeared to make some surprising changes to its counterterrorism policy. San’a announced that it would release dozens of militants
with links to al-Qaeda as long as they “pledged to
respect the rights of non-Muslim foreigners living in
Yemen or visiting it.” The move appeared to be
inconsistent with Yemen’s recent record. According to
one Yemeni official, the announcement was a means of “feeling out” both the Yemeni public and the United States. However, a State Department spokesman stated, “It is not clear whether the U.S. was consulted
first.”By October, San’a had moved forward with its
plans for amnesty.

According to the London-based Arabic daily al-Sharq al-Awsat, the prisoners slated for release included a
number of Yemenis who were suspected of involvement with al-Qaeda and who had been in jail for up to three years. Another London daily, al-Hayat, reported that
some of these prisoners were IAA members who had pledged to halt all militant activities. By late November, Agence France Presse reported that as many as 146
men suspected of having al-Qaeda links were slated to
be released, although other reports indicated smaller numbers.

Yemeni officials insist that the amnesty will not detract
from their country’s overall efforts to fight terrorism. In private, some officials explain that the release should be seen within the context of tribal politics; by releasing the “less dangerous” suspects, San’a will be able to maintain relations with influential tribes that play their
own significant role in Yemeni counterterrorism. Officials
are also quick to note that the amnesty was the result
of increased pressure from nongovernmental
organizations accusing San’a of human rights violations (many of the suspects have not been granted trials).

According to one of Salih’s advisors, approximately
twenty prisoners have been released thus far. He
further stated that the total number released will
probably not exceed sixty. State Department officials believe that none of those granted amnesty will have
direct links to the Cole bombing, the Limburg attack, or
any other major terrorist operation in Yemen. Rather,
those slated for release are Islamist sympathizers, or
have only peripheral links to secondary players in
al-Qaeda plots. San’a also emphasizes that these
suspects have renounced violence in the name of Islam
and have even provided intelligence to Yemeni officials
to help thwart terrorist attacks. Moreover, although
some of the suspects were trained in mujahedin camps
in Afghanistan during the war against the Soviet Union
in the 1980s, San’a points out that they have not been implicated in any subsequent al-Qaeda attacks.

Yemeni officials have also noted that the prisoners will
not be released entirely on their own recognizance;
their families will have to sign for them, using their
homes and businesses as a kind of bail bond. Still,
San’a admits that it has no plans to use Yemeni |intelligence services to track and monitor their

Despite some attempts against U.S. interests (often thwarted with Yemeni intelligence), there has not been
a single recorded terrorist attack in Yemen since the Limburg. Moreover, Yemen’s security forces have
weakened al-Qaeda and its Yemeni affiliates. Overall,
then, the country’s counterterrorism efforts over the
past year should be viewed as a success.

Interestingly, in the time since Salih announced the amnesty initiative, more than fifty IAA members from
the recently embattled Hattat region have reportedly turned themselves in. Yemeni officials cite this as an indication that amnesty during times of relative calm
is an effective policy.

To be sure, the amnesty is a creative attempt to
achieve the elusive and delicate balance between
human rights and counterterrorism in a region that is
too often known for its heavy-handed approach. If
Yemen’s efforts succeed, other Middle Eastern
countries that have detained al-Qaeda suspects
should take note (including Egypt, which still holds an estimated 16,000 Islamists in custody, most without
due process). Yemen’s amnesty could be a
considerable gamble, however. If the released
suspects resort to violence, the initiative will have
been at the expense of Yemeni security, which could
in turn have an impact on regional and global security
as well.

Jonathan Schanzer is a Soref fellow at
The Washington Institute.

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?