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Soft Power and Secular Schools

Gary Anderson is a smart cookie. A retired marine colonel and one of our most respected counterinsurgency strategists, he was also the first person to publicly warn about the dangers of an insurgency after the fall of Baghdad in the spring of 2003. Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz was so impressed that he asked Anderson to go to Baghdad and offer advice to Ambassador Jerry Bremer. Bremer ignored his advice (a tale told in Tom Ricks’s Fiasco), which was one of many mistakes he made.

The rest of us should pay attention when Anderson puts forward an idea, as he does in this Washington Times op-ed. He argues that we should pay for schools in the Muslim world that offer an alternative to the madrassas that churn out too many religious fanatics:

We should fund a series of academies in each locality where a madrassa school exists. Its curriculum would be two pronged. Mornings would teach the three “Rs.” Afternoons would be devoted to some kind of vocational training such as masonry, electrical work, and carpentry. The graduates would come out being able to read and write along with a marketable skill. The madrassas would not be able to compete.

No doubt this proposal will be met with howls of outrage on Capitol Hill from eminent congress persons who will protest that more should be spent on schools in their districts, not in foreign countries. But, as Anderson points out, this is not charity–this is self-defense. It’s not enough to capture or kill suicide bombers. We need to stop more of them from being created, and it makes sense to offer Muslim men an alternative to strictly theological education.

Of course, secular education is no cure-all. Witness how many senior Al Qaeda leaders are engineers (bin Laden) or doctors (Zawahiri). But schooling can be part of a larger “soft power” strategy to complement the hard power on display in Iraq and Afghanistan.



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