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Ending the Endless War
March 20, 2004
By Jack Rabbit

Just 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 in Iraq.

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 power.

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, many 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 and supplies.

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 global South.

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.

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