the Endless War
By Jack Rabbit
over one year ago, on March 18, 2003, Mr. Bush launched the
invasion of Iraq. This action was sold to the American people
as a necessary war to deprive a brutal dictator of weapons
of mass destruction that might be shared with the international
terrorists with whom he was associated. The invasion was the
centerpiece of Mr. Bush’s war on terrorism.
As is now widely known – and as many of us knew all along
– Saddam in fact had neither weapons of mass destruction nor
close associations with international terrorists. Vis a
vis the war on terrorism, the invasion was a complete
waste of time. As a result of invading Iraq, vast military
resources that could be better spent pursuing Osama and other
real terrorists are tied up in the quagmire Bush has created
As we approach the first anniversary of the invasion, Mr.
Bush and his people believe that the war is going quite well
and they are prepared to make it the centerpiece of what is
called – with some dispute – Mr. Bush’s campaign for re-election.
While polls show that Mr. Bush gets low marks from Americans
in every other aspect, his leadership in the war on terrorism
rates high approval.
Democrats should regard this as an opportunity to peel away
the last vestige of Mr. Bush’s long-undeserved popularity
because the war on terrorism in reality has been as miserable
a failure as everything else Bush has done since assuming
On September 11, 2001, nineteen men directed by Osama bin
Laden’s al Qaida network hijacked four passenger jets and
successfully flew three of them into the World Trade Center
in New York City and the Pentagon in Washington. Approximately
3000 people lost their lives in the attack, which remains
the worst terrorist operation in world history.
Certainly, such an atrocity demands a response. Any modern
state so attacked would be justified to use it power to hunt
down and punish those responsible in order to assure that
they will not be able to act again. Mr.
Bush went before Congress and rhetorically responded eleven
days after the attacks.
In addition to apprehending and incapacitating terrorists,
foreign policy experts expected that this would include
increasing economic aid to developing countries in order to
make demagogues like Osama less appealing to frustrated masses
and steps to deprive terrorist organizations of their funding
Mr. Bush declared war on terrorism. He told the frightened
and grieving nation that those who perpetrated the attacks
hated America “for our freedoms.”
In the two and a half years since that dark September day,
the United States has gone to war in two nations, Afghanistan
and Iraq, and Congress has passed new legislation in the name
of fighting terrorism.
During the autumn and winter of 2001/02, the United States
invaded Afghanistan, where al Qaida had what might pass for
its headquarters were it a more conventional organization,
along with a number of training camps. Afghanistan’s government,
lead by a group of oppressive religious fanatics called the
Taliban, was weak and unable or unwilling to prevent al Qaida
from operating inside Afghanistan. While the invasion failed
to capture Osama, the Taliban regime was deposed and replaced
by a government headed by Hamid Karzai, a former employee
of Unocal; this new government promised to be more compliant
with American interests. Since that time, the
Taliban and al Qaida are reported to have regrouped in
Afghanistan and little else has been done for by western powers
for the country. President Karzai’s authority barely reaches
beyond the capital; he has been derisively referred to as
“the mayor of Kabul.”
Meanwhile, international terrorism continued. On October
12, 2002, a group called Jemaah Isamiah staged a bombing in
a tourist nightclub in Bali, killing 200 people, mostly Australians.
Connections between Jemaah Isamiah and al Qaida are suspected,
but not clearly established. On November 28, 2002, in Mombasa,
Kenya, three suicide bombers killed themselves and 13 Israeli
nationals at the Paradise Hotel and, on the same day, a missile
was fired on an Israeli plane leaving Mombasa airport. Al
Qaida has claimed responsibility for the Mombasa attacks.
Since the invasion of Iraq, al Qaida has again made its presence
in the world known. On May 12, 2003, a bomb went off in Riyadh,
the capital of Saudi Arabia, killing 34 people. Another bomb
in Riyadh on November 8 killed 18 people and injured over
100. On November 15, bombs exploded outside two synagogues
in Istanbul, killing 23 and injuring over 300. Last week,
bombs blew up in three train stations in Madrid, killing 200.
Al Qaida either has claimed responsibility or is suspected
in each of these attacks.
The war on terrorism is being lost. Al Qaida is no less able
to inflict harm with a dramatic attack where and when it desires
today than it was on September 11, 2001.
We must ask: Why?
The responsibility for this failure can be placed squarely
at the feet of the Bush administration. Mr. Bush and his lieutenants
have not even seemed to attempt to fight an honest war against
terrorism. The administration has arranged the discussion
on the war in such a way as to as to suggest that there is
no other way to fight a war on terrorism than is being pursued
by Mr. Bush and his aides. With its power resting on a rigged
election and its policies amounting to crony capitalism, this
administration needed a national emergency that could be played
out as long as possible in order to divert public attention
from its wrongdoing and even suppress dissent, either by tarring
dissidents with charges of disloyalty or proposing acts of
Congress that restrict civil liberties.
The Bush administration needs enemies, real or imagined,
in order to hide its crimes. Mr. Bush asserts that the war
on terrorism is an ongoing war against all terrorism on the
planet, not simply a fight against those who seek to harm
Americans directly. This allows the administration and its
supporters to play politics with national security. Any and
all opposition to Mr. Bush is painted as unpatriotic. In defending
the Patriot Act, Mr. Ashcroft told the Senate Judiciary Committee
in December, 2001:
"To those who scare peace-loving people with phantoms
of lost liberty, my message is this: Your tactics only aid
terrorists, for they erode our national unity and diminish
our resolve. They give ammunition to America’s enemies and
pause to America’s friends."
The Patriot Act allows the administration to detain immigrants
without the right to counsel. The attorney-client privilege
has been abrogated; one civil liberties attorney, Lynne
Stewart, is being prosecuted under the Patriot Act for
matters that would under normal circumstances simply be privileged
information. Many legal experts view this prosecution as fundamentally
without merit and nothing less than a government assault on
a criminal defendant’s right to be represented by competent
counsel. Furthermore, Ashcroft’s aides drafted
legislation to strengthen the Patriot Act that included
a provision to allow the President or the Attorney General
to strip an American of his citizenship.
Mr. Ashcroft’s remarks suggest that the present administration
has little more use for our freedoms than does Osama. No administration
should be trusted with such power.
As noted, pre-war claims that Saddam still had a biochemical
arsenal and that he had associations with al Qaida have been
debunked. One didn’t need the CIA to find information that
contradicted administration claims; much of that information
was public. Furthermore, it was known before the war and has
been well documented since how the Pentagon’s Office
of Special Plans (OSP) culled and cherry-picked intelligence
to put forward that information which supported the war, using
language that was more certain than the raw intelligence warranted,
and that information contradicting the administration’s case
was suppressed. Former CIA analyst Ray
McGovern has charged that the CIA could not have possibly
have gotten it as wrong as the administration would have us
believe that they did.
All of this points not to an honest mistake by American intelligence
analysts, but to a deliberate campaign of disinformation by
this administration. Some have suggested that the real reason
for the invasion was a desire to control Iraq’s oil supply.
That US troops secured the Iraq oil ministry upon arriving
in Baghdad but neglected to secure any sites where Saddam’s
weapons might have been stored gives some weight to this hypothesis.
Others, such as anti-global corporate activists Naomi
Klein and Arundhati
Roy, cite the designs of the administration’s reconstruction
plans for Iraq, under which Iraq will sell most of her resources,
including her oil, to foreign interests. To such critics,
the invasion is seen as colonial gunboat diplomacy fought
with cruise missiles.
A critical view of Mr. Bush’s war on terrorism shows that
while it is supposed to prevent rogue states from providing
terrorists with aid and material, the potential for that kind
of mischief comes as much from rogue individuals. For example,
in an article in the March 29 issue of The Nation (posted
online March 11), Jonathan
Schell points to the activities of Sri Lankan arms merchant
Buhary Syed Abu Tahir and Pakistani nuclear scientist Abdul
Qadeer Khan, the father of Pakistan’s Bomb, in supplying material
and expertise for making nuclear weapons to such outstanding
members of the international community as Libya and Iran.
While Mr. Bush and his friends were making the world safe
from the paper tiger, Saddam, these individuals continued
to support rogue states.
This corruption and incompetence must come to an end. Bush’s
war on terrorism, with its endless nature and its stifling
of the dissent that is among the hallmarks of democracy, is
little more than a pretext to do what he wishes without apparent
concern over consequences.
Mr. Bush’s war on terrorism must come to an end. It has failed
in its goals.
However, that does not mean no problem needs to be addressed.
The events in Madrid last week and in Riyadh and Istanbul
last November make clear that a very serious problem with
international terrorism exists.
The war on terrorism needs to be replaced by something more
sensible and pragmatic: a war on specific terrorists. Instead
of an endless war with vague, undefined and perhaps unobtainable
goals, a war will instead be fought against named, identifiable
enemies, such as Osama. This war will have defined goals and
a clear measure of success and failure. Within such parameters,
a colonial misadventure that does more to create business
opportunities for transnational corporations than to solve
any pressing problems of national security will be less likely.
The problem of terrorism for Americans began with an attack
by the al Qaida network on September 11, 2001 and should end
when al Qaida is defeated and al Qaida’s leaders are in prison
or buried. Such a plan may posit other benefits that will
help prevent future terrorist attacks and the necessity fighting
perpetrators when such crimes are committed. For example,
in addition to the odious attacks on civil liberties that
can’t be repealed soon enough, the Patriot Act also contains
other, more beneficial features, such as anti-money laundering
measures, that might be quite useful in combating crime in
general. Thought should be given to retaining some of these
features of the law.
However, the egregious features of the Patriot Act and its
proposed follow-up legislation are affronts to democracy.
We can fight terrorism without compromising individual civil
liberties. Knowing what a political dissident is reading at
the local public library isn’t going to stop the next al Qaida
bombing. If the government has a well-founded case against
a terrorist suspect, the authorities don’t need to listen
to what he says to his attorney. Certainly, no state where
the chief executive or his aides can strip a citizen of his
rights as a citizen is a democracy.
More should be done to rein in individuals like Mr. Tahir
and Dr. Khan who sell parts for nuclear weapons and nuclear
expertise to people who should not have them. For his part
in dealings that serve to promote the proliferation of nuclear
weapons, the Pakistani government did little more than give
Dr. Khan a public wrist-slapping. The United States should
demand that more be done to discourage individuals like Dr.
Khan from engaging in this kind of activity. Dr. Khan’s dealings
have made the world a more dangerous place. This behavior
must be more severely punished.
Instead of arranging for the enrichment of transnational
corporations, more should be done to assist local economies
of developing nations. The neoliberal model has failed everywhere
it has been tried; the only persons who benefit from it are
artificial ones. Rather than arranging for resources and profits
to flow to the global North, it would be better to assist
these economies of the global to develop independently in
order to provide for income to remain in the nation and for
the nation’s natural resources to be used to benefit the citizens
of the nation. A prosperous middle class nation is less likely
to support terrorism or follow a political demagogue like
Osama than the kind of societies we too often find in the
These measures will be more effective than those that have
been tried by Mr. Bush and his friends. Preserving our civil
liberties rather than unnecessarily trampling on them is more
consistent with our democratic values. A series of steps are
aimed at improving the lot of the common people in developing
nations, thus depriving terrorists of their recruiting base
is needed. Real steps to sanction those who supply terrorists
with weapons should be taken. The war should be aimed at specific
terrorists, giving the war definable and obtainable goals.
The attacks in Madrid, for which al Qaida is now taking "credit",
show that the invasion of Iraq was at best a waste of time
vis a vis the war on terrorism and at worst something
that exacerbated the problem. Indeed, Mr. Bush’s entire war
on terrorism is a failure. It has been waged dishonestly for
the purpose of enriching his cronies, not protecting Americans.
Americans and the citizens of the world need and deserve an
honest, straightforward and pragmatic solution to the problem
of international terrorism.