The first in what I hoe will be many posts from Lazar Berman on articles in the media.
“America’s War without End”
Simon Tisdall, The Guardian. October 23, 2007
Planned US spending on the “global war on terror” is set to rise sharply in the coming year, despite claims from the president, George Bush, that al-Qaida is on the run in Iraq.
A funding request sent to Congress this week seeks $196.4bn (£96bn) for counter-terrorism in 2007-8, $25bn up on this year. The Pentagon’s separate budget request amounts to an additional $481.4bn.
Justifying these whopping increases, Mr Bush repeats a favourite mantra, that “America is safer but not yet safe“, implying that absolute safety is attainable at some point in the future. In a speech this week, his vice-president, Dick Cheney, was franker: he said the US was engaged in an ideological struggle amounting to war without end.
So an ideological struggle is necessarily a war without end? World War II was an ideological struggle, and after much death and hardship, came to an end.
Details of the spending request reveal how the war, by lumping together numerous disparate challenges, is steadily expanding in terms of aims and geography. Iraq and Afghanistan apart, counter-terror funds are earmarked for US allies in Pakistan and Palestine, for de-nuclearising North Korea, and for fighting drug cartels in Mexico and Central America.
Further escalation came this year with the Pentagon’s creation of Africa Command, tasked with tracking down militant Islamists from Somalia to the Maghreb and the Sahel. Mr Cheney says the threat is ubiquitous and pressing. “The extremists in the Middle East … are trying to seize power by force, keep power by intimidation, and build an empire of fear.”
Critics say fear is also being used to keep US citizens and taxpayers in line. Unveiling the updated national strategy for homeland security this month, the White House claimed, without producing new evidence, that al-Qaida was actively trying to infiltrate the US.
“Although we have discovered only a handful of individuals in the US with ties to al-Qaida senior leadership, the group likely will intensify its efforts to place operatives here in the homeland,” the report said. It even warned that Lebanon’s Hizbullah might launch attacks on US territory.
The assessment appeared at odds with statements by US commanders and Pentagon planners that the al-Qaida network had been “significantly degraded” in Iraq and elsewhere. But fearfulness is catching. Sir Ian Blair, the Metropolitan police commissioner, warned Britons this month that the number and scale of terrorist conspiracies and conspirators was increasing, even though fewer cases were actually under investigation.
To Tisdall, any report of increased risk of terror attacks stems from ‘fearfulness’.
Experts in international security law, such as Professor Philip Bobbitt of Columbia law school, deny suggestions the global threat is being exaggerated and conflated for political and geo-strategic ends.
Speaking in London, Prof Bobbitt said three overlapping, truly global wars on terror were being waged. One was the fight against “21st-century, networked terror”; the second was a war to prevent rogue regimes or terror groups obtaining weapons of mass destruction; the third was against genocide and ethnic cleansing, as in Darfur.
But other influential voices in the US and beyond are increasingly questioning both the purpose and the conduct of terrorism policy, suggesting it will not outlive the Bush era.
Syndicated columnist William Pfaff wrote recently that fear generated by the 9/11 attacks had been externalised, with official and rightwing media connivance, “into paranoid fantasy of foreign enemies”. Terrorism had become almost anything the Bush administration said it was.
And in an interview with Guardian America today, the Democratic presidential frontrunner, Hillary Clinton, suggests Mr Bush’s for-us-or-agin-us approach was self-defeating.
“We’ve got to do a better job of clarifying what are the motivations of terrorists,” Ms Clinton said. “I think one of our mistakes has been painting with such a broad brush, which has not been particularly helpful in understanding what it is we were up against.”
Senator Clinton is correct here. We must clarify what the motivations of terrorists are. But when we do, much to Mr. Tisdall’s chagrin, we will be more aware of the danger, not more complacent.
Professor Sir Lawrence Freedman, of King’s College London, said Mr Bush had consistently failed to define what he meant by the “global war on terror”. There were many forms of terrorist, including jihadis, Hamas and the IRA, as well as state terrorism of the kind practised by Stalin or Burma’s generals, he said in a recent discussion.
US presidents were over-fond of declaring war on phenomena such as drugs or poverty, and now terror. “An enemy can surrender but phenomena cannot,” Prof Freedman said. Mr Bush should spend more time “thinking about who we’re fighting and why”.
Very apt. Terrorism is a tactic, Jihadism is the ideology.
In a new book published in the US, Less Safe, Less Free: Why America is Losing the War on Terror, David Cole and Jules Lobel deliver a less forgiving verdict. They argue that Mr Bush’s catch-all, bulldozer approach has increased worldwide hostility to the US and its citizens, dismayed minority communities at home, alienated America’s friends and emboldened its enemies.
While the military gained bumper budgets, the American nation forfeited moral legitimacy, Cole and Lobel say. “The resentment provoked by these measures is the greatest threat to our national security and the most likely source of the next attack.” For that reason, if no other, any Bush successor would have to change tack.
Two big points worth reflecting upon.
1) Moral legitimacy- According to Tisdall and his colleagues, the West only retains moral legitimacy if they are either involved in diplomatic solutions, or, if they must fight, the fighting takes several weeks at most, and is clean and sterile.
2) Cole and Lobel’s argument is a clever one. If the United States is attacked again, they reason, it is because of ‘resentment’ towards Bush’s broad definition of terror and his runaway military spending. This takes the blame off the Islamists and puts it firmly in the lap of the West. But a moment’s reflection on the argument reveals its flaws. In Cole and Lobel’s mind, a Jihadist terrorist will be prompted to attack and kill Americans because he resents how Bush defines terrorism. Or, because he thinks that Bush is over-spending on defense. They and Tisdall ignore, and will always choose to ignore, the overwhelming degree to which the motivation for Jihadi terror comes from the society out of which the terrorists emerge, and not from the actions of the West.