Saturday 29 November 2008
by: Steve Weissman, t r u t h o u t | Perspective
The terrorist attacks in Mumbai call out to President-elect Barack Obama and his advisors to rethink the signature blunder of George W. Bush’s eight years in office – the so-called War on Terror. As US intelligence reports have made clear, the centerpiece of the supposed campaign against terror, the military occupation of Iraq, has increased the likelihood of more attacks like those in Mumbai, Madrid, London and Manhattan. The new escalation in Afghanistan will similarly increase terrorist attacks there, in neighboring India and Pakistan, in disputed Kashmir, and throughout the world.
Bush and Cheney chose the word “war” with malice aforethought. From the start, they intended a military response, first against Al-Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan, and then against Saddam Hussein in Iraq. And, as Barton Gellman shows so brilliantly in his book “Angler,” Dick Cheney and his team consciously wanted to create a wartime presidency with enormous unchecked power and scant regard for basic American liberties.
By contrast, Obama’s advisors openly acknowledge that military force alone will never bring victory over terrorism. They would, in addition, provide more economic aid, use counter-insurgency tactics to pacify local populations, and work with surrounding regional powers, including Iran.
But Obama and his people still talk far too much about using military force and delude themselves into believing that the physical defeat of Al-Qaeda will significantly weaken the current terrorist threat.
Though it’s still too early to know who staged the attacks in Mumbai, they were most likely militant jihadis, possibly with links to Kashmiri rebels and renegade elements of Pakistan’s military intelligence service, the ISI. Al-Qaeda may or may not have played a role in the planning.
But even if Al-Qaeda did, how would killing Osama bin Laden – if he’s still alive – or hanging all of his top aides, or hammering the Taliban in any way defuse the toxic brew of often justified grievances and outrageous religious fanaticism that we now face? The enemy is not a single man, and not a single group. It is a movement of shared ideas and beliefs, all too often encouraged by Washington’s pursuit of policies that are both unjust and counter-productive.
The terrorist bloodshed started long before bin Laden and will continue long after his dialysis machine packs up. No magic bullet will end it, but military boots on other people’s ground will almost always make matters worse. That’s what they did in Iraq. That’s what they are doing in Afghanistan and Pakistan.
What bin Laden added to the mix was the well-articulated idea that terrorist attacks could promote a clash of civilizations, or holy war. With his War on Terror, George W. Bush, the Crusader-in-Chief, responded exactly as bin Laden wanted, turning moderate Muslims around the world into terrorist supporters, funders, and enablers. Why would Obama want to continue the madness?
To gain perspective, Obama might ask his advisers to brief him on the very different wave of terrorism that spread from Russia, through Europe, and into the United States between 1881 and 1914. The terrorists were mostly anarchists, and they killed, among others, Czar Alexander II, King Umberto I of Italy, the president of France, the prime minister of Spain, and the president of the United States, William McKinley.
The assassinations shook the established powers throughout the Western world. One terrorist, a Bosnian nationalist, even triggered War I when he assassinated the Austrian Archduke Franz Ferdinand in historic Sarajevo.
The new media of the time, the daily newspaper, naturally exaggerated the threat, spreading the terrifying specter of the crazed anarchist bomb-thrower. Just as naturally, the papers gave considerably less coverage to another image of the age – that of the government-paid agent provocateur.
In time, the anarchists themselves saw that their violence, their propaganda of the deed, was not sparking the revolutionary movement they wanted, and they turned instead toward organizing workers into unions. But, even at the time of the greatest murder and mayhem, I can think of no government that ever went anywhere near as far as the Bush administration in making the fight against terrorism a question of military force.
Today’s terrorists have far more deadly weapons at their disposal, as Dick Cheney always told us. But today’s police and intelligence services have more than enough technology to meet the threat. What they need is far greater international cooperation, which a reliance on the military makes more difficult.
Similarly, Islamic societies around the world have more than enough creativity to see the dead end into which terrorism leads. What they need is time and space to adapt to a changing world.
Barack Obama is in a unique position to build cooperation and encourage Muslims everywhere to find their own way forward. Happily, he has made a good start by announcing that he will close GuantÃ¡namo and end the horrors of torture. He has also raised the hope, however faint, that he will work toward a just settlement between Israelis and Palestinians and between India and Pakistan over Kashmir.
Even more to the point, his pledge to build a green economy will reduce any argument for continuing American support of despotic governments in countries with large reserves of oil and natural gas.
All this is promising. But it remains only a promise, and all of it will come to naught if Obama gives the orders to continue killing people and breaking things wherever and whenever the United States wants.
A veteran of the Berkeley Free Speech Movement and the New Left monthly Ramparts, Steve Weissman lived for many years in London, working as a magazine writer and television producer. He now lives and works in France.