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US losing the race to engage Muslims

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The generous outpouring of American support for tsunami victims in South Asia is a credit to our nation, but it doesn't make up for our neglect of many other regions. That neglect has serious implications for our security in the post-9/11 world. The US is in a long-term fight against a radical ideological movement in the Islamic world, yet our policy toward many struggling Muslim nations is either shortsighted, underfunded, or both. From Somalia, where we have no policy at all, to Tanzania, where we have no ambassador (despite the fact that terrorists attacked our embassy there in 1998), the US is not rising to the policy challenge. Our indifference can create a vacuum that others - whose interests may clash with our own - can easily fill.

I suspect that Mali hopes to get some much-needed assistance from Iran. Saudi money is funding the establishment of extremist schools and mosques around the world. With a different agenda, the Chinese government is offering the kind of tangible support across Africa that creates goodwill and longstanding relationships, building roads and soccer stadiums, making long-term loans, and trying to secure access to African oil markets. Mali, a Muslim democracy and one of the poorest countries in the world, has attracted more American interest than many of its neighbors, but our diplomats still struggle to find the resources to compete for hearts and minds there. Meanwhile, other forces quietly make their own long-term investments in the region.

Many of the Malians who lined the streets to welcome the Iranian president were children. The US needs a policy today that will turn these children into adults who view America as an ally, not an enemy; who will see Americans as partners, not competitors; and who reject international terrorism and those who support it.

In July 2001, just months before the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11 changed the way we think about security and the world, the CIA published the report "Long-Term Global Demographic Trends: Reshaping the Geopolitical Landscape." It highlights the importance of "youth bulges" in the populations of much of the developing world, and raises real questions about whether national economies will be able to generate jobs for these youths, and whether the increased expectations and aspirations of generations who see the same glitzy media images that bombard our own children will be met.

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