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Henry Crumpton discusses U.S. relations with Muslim world

At yesterday's talk, Crumpton spoke to students about "a growing misunderstanding between the U.S. and other forces, including the Muslim community." (ARNAV MOUDGIL/Staff Photographer)

Henry Crumpton, the State Department’s coordinator for counterterrorism from 2005 to 2007, addressed more than 50 students and community members Monday night on the relationship between the United States and the Muslim world. Crumpton tried taking a unified approach to the topic but eventually yielded to his audience, who largely wanted to discuss widely varying issues in Iraq, Afghanistan and Iran.

Citing Gallup poll statistics that reinforce the schism between Islam and the West, Crumpton sought to get at the heart of the intricate tension between Muslim nations and the United States. Specifically, he asked why 44 percent of Americans believe Muslims hold extreme views of their religion, and why 22 percent say they would not want a Muslim neighbor, when the two entities share common values such as trust, respect, justice and the dignity of human beings.

“Living, working, spying and fighting in many parts of the world bring me to the same conclusion,” said the 53-year-old.

The short answer, Crumpton said, is both sides’ lack of “empathetic respect” for the other. This missing factor, he continued, stems from three characteristics of the current state of the world: the asymmetry of warfare, the growing power of non-state actors and the global nature of the battlefield.

Citing differences in instruments such as nuclear and chemical weapons, computer viruses and media influence between Muslim countries and the United States, Crumpton called today’s warfare asymmetrical to an “unprecedented” extent.

“Never before in the history of war have we seen the ability of so few to bring so much damage to so many,” he said, terming the phenomenon “micro actors with macro impact.”

Also to blame for misunderstandings between Islam and the West, according to Crumpton, is the growing power of non-state actors such as corporations, the media, universities and NGOs.

“This is difficult for Washington to think about,” he said.

The global nature of the “battlefield” between the two forces further contributes to the divide between them, Crumpton said. With Muslims and Americans interacting all over the world, misunderstanding is widespread.

Together, the asymmetry, the power of non-state actors and the global nature of U.S. international relations “contribute to a huge gap, a growing misunderstanding between the U.S. and other forces, including the Muslim community,” said Crumpton.

Whether discussing Iraq, Afghanistan or Iran, the ambassador emphasized the importance of “non-kinetic” tactics to success of U.S. objectives.

U.S. intervention and post-conflict reconstruction in Iraq, Crumtpon said, failed to utilize such tactics. “What if we identified the enemy as Saddam [Hussein] and his followers in the army, while working in concert with our Iraqi allies?” he asked, indicating his opinion that the strategy toward Iraq should have been more detailed and methodical. “No, instead we declared war against the nation-state of Iraq.”

On the other hand, Afghanistan, the country in which Crumtpon specialized as deputy chief of operations for the CIA’s counterterrorism center in 2001 and 2002, was more successful because it identified the threat as al-Qaeda and those Taliban commanders who chose to ally with Osama bin Laden. “It was because of our emphasis on our allies, our focus on the people and our respect for our Afghan allies,” he said.

Coming to terms with Iran will be more difficult because a firm regime is in place there. The approach, then, Crumpton said, should be to engage the non-state population in Iran via allies in the region. At a state level, Crumpton said the United States should also continue to build consensus among the U.N. Security Council members, specifically China and Russia, in order to sanction Iran for its ongoing development of a nuclear weapons program.

Crumpton, who worked directly with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, a political science professor at Stanford, during the Bush administration, called the Obama administration’s efforts in the Middle East a “learning process.” He said there is some continuity in policy due to Defense Secretary Robert Gates’ role under both President Bush and President Obama.

“If you look at the policies themselves, there has not been enough change between Bush and Obama,” Crumpton said. “It’s important that we [the United States] have the right message, but it’s more important that we have the right policies.”

Carol Kuiper ’63, an audience member, agreed that both message and policy are essential on the part of the United States, but she said she believes there is a stark dichotomy between the two when it comes to relations with the Muslim world.

“We speak of respect, but I think a lot of Muslim people don’t see that respect in how we interact with them,” Kuiper said. “The West deserves a bad rap in a lot of ways.

“I think we have to try to be a little more subtle, a little more understanding in how we’ve become the target and how we are to react to that,” she added.

Tabatha Robinson ’12 wasn’t satisfied with the 90-minute discussion. “He speaks like a politician,” she said of Crumpton.

A specific point made by the ambassador that elicited several questions from the audience was his belief that al-Qaeda’s motivation for attacking the United States on 9/11 was rooted in a fear of modernization.

“It seems so idealistic,” Robinson said. “As if they [al-Qaeda] don’t have a reason to fear modernization. Not all aspects of modernization are good, you know?”

The event was sponsored by the Muslim Student Awareness Network.

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Devin Banerjee

Devin Banerjee

Devin Banerjee was president and editor in chief of Volume 236 of The Stanford Daily, serving from June 2009 to January 2010. He joined The Daily's staff in September 2007. Contact him at devin.banerjee@stanfordalumni.org or follow him on Twitter @devinbanerjee.