Sunday, April 02, 2006

What "War on Terror"?

What War on Terror?
- Inti Martínez--4/2/2006

For the past three years, the world has learned about an ongoing war pitting US and its allies against “the terrorists”. This war was ignited in response to the 9/11 attacks; it started off by legitimately attacking Afghanistan’s Taliban regime for supporting Islamic fundamentalist Al-Qaeda, which is led by Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri. The war later spread to Iraq for three main reasons: Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction (WMD) and needed to disarm, Saddam had links with terrorist organizations that threatened world peace (i.e., al-Qaeda), and Saddam carried out human rights violations and needed to stop.
The first reason for invading Iraq has been categorically dismissed, since WMD have, yet, not been found. In fact, according to leading intelligence officers like Paul Pillar and Tyler Drumheller (among others), the Bush administration already had plans to invade and occupy Iraq--even though the intelligence that was presented by the CIA and DIA did not show any WMD or WMD programs occuring Iraq. Paul Pillar, in his "Foreign Affairs" journal article, points out that the administration cherry-picked the intelligence that was presented to them, in order to demonstrate to Congress and the UN General Assembly that Saddam Hussein had WMD and WMD programs.
The second reason to attack Iraq is preposterous, no actual links with Al-Qaeda have ever been proved (in fact, bin Laden despised and distrusted Hussein for not being a real Islamic leader). Al-Qaeda and Hussein's Baathist regime were ideologically opposed to each other.
Iraq was, and still is, the weakest country of the region--militarily speaking; everyone in the Middle East knew it--they hated Saddam Hussein, but no one feared him, since he was no threat to anyone.
The latter reason for invading Iraq is also objectionable since, during the 1980s, the US supported the Hussein regime, while it carried out its most horrendous human rights violations--which he is being tried for today. Also, there were innumerable other places that were carrying out comparable, or even worse, human rights violations (e.g., Sudan, Nepal, Honduras). Why Iraq, then? I prefer not to discuss the answer to this question because, thanks to the Patriot Act, I may end up in Guantánamo Bay for contradicting the official White House statement for the Iraq invasion (this is a "semi-hyperbole", but you get the idea); instead I want to focus on the larger picture.
The White House has officially labeled this the “War on Terror.” Other names like “War on Terrorism,” “Global War on Terror” and “the Long War” are also used to label the US-led plan to eradicate international terrorism by dismembering terrorist groups and stopping state-sponsored terrorism. All this sounds praiseworthy to me. But, what exactly is terrorism? This word is defined in countless ways—even among US governmental entities and documents like the National Security Strategy (2002 and 2006), National Counterterrorism Center, Pentagon, USA Patriot Act (2001 and 2006), and United States Code—and it is sometimes very difficult to differentiate terrorism from aggression, retaliation, and legitimate resistance. For practical purposes, I will craft and implement a definition that covers nearly all of the official definitions for this term: “Terrorism is the calculated use of violent acts by individuals, groups or state actors to intimidate, coerce, or influence a civilian population or established government on political, religious, or ideological grounds.”
If we use this definition of “terrorism” consistently throughout several cases—regardless of the perpetrators—we find that the 9/11 attacks, the 2004 and 2005 bombings in Madrid and London (respectively), the ongoing attacks between Palestine and Israel in the Holy Land, Shining Path’s bombings in Perú, the US-led attacks on Afghanistan and Iraq, and the attacks on Pearl Harbor in 1941, were all acts of terrorism. These attacks may or may not have occurred under an official war, but the definition of terrorism covers them all. The US government has officially stated that it carries out counterterrorism and low-intensity warfare—but, if you compare their definitions to that of “terrorism,” they are impressively similar.
Furthermore, the “War on Terror” is not a new thing under US policy; it is a recycled term from Ronald Reagan’s administration. (Many of the members of President Bush’s cabinet, speech writing staff and advisory group were once members of the Reagan administration.) The “War on Terror” was declared early in Reagan’s first presidential term, and directed to a particularly dangerous form of terror: state-sponsored international terrorism. The main focus was Central America and the Middle East, but it reached southern Africa and Southeast Asia. Then-President Reagan declared several national emergencies, because the dangerous country of Nicaragua posed an unusual and extraordinary threat to the United States of America, and was only two days away from marching into Texas and attacking the USA.
An interesting fact that you may or may not know is that in 1986 the International Court of Justice (ICJ) condemned the US for its “unlawful use of force” against Nicaragua—which, in lay terms, amounts to international terrorism—and demanded massive reparations. This judgment was backed by virtually unanimous UN Security Council and UN General Assembly resolutions. Reparations were not made, but military escalation against Nicaragua was put into effect. The US was spared from being condemned for “aggression” (which is what really happened, and military manuals consider it worse than “terrorism”) because, in 1946, the US accepted to be under ICJ jurisdiction on the condition that it would be exempted from being condemned for “aggression.”
Throughout the latter half of the twentieth century, the US government directly and indirectly supported murderous coup d’états, oppressive regimes, and unscrupulous dictators in
Indonesia, the Philippines, Romania, Zaire, Haiti, Argentina, Chile, Panama, Nicaragua, El Salvador, Iraq, Iran, Saudi Arabia, and the list goes on and on and on. The US government also harbors terrorists—who were once backed by the US military and on the CIA payroll—at home (e.g., Emmanuel Constant, Orlando Bosch, Luis Posada Carriles—just to name a few). The US terrorist record is extensive and appalling.

So, if a leftist terrorist cell or a state government with a terrorist record or al-Qaeda decided to fight a war against terror, in an entirely consistent fashion, wouldn’t that be self-destructive? Wouldn't these harmful individuals, cells and governments be attacking themselves?

Moreover, even if every single one of present-day terrorists is killed, captured and tried in court, or sent to an obscure prison somewhere in the world, many more terrorists would rise up out of anger for these killings or captures—and to defend their ideology, religion, and/or people-group. Take the example of Iraq; right before the 2003 invasion, there were practically no terrorist or violent attacks happening in the country. The atrocious levels of violence in today’s near-to-civil-war Iraq originated from neighboring terrorists coming into the country and blowing up buildings, sniping at Coalition troops, foreign contractors, security officers, etc.—and influencing Iraqi citizens to do the same. So, the scant amount of terrorist attacks in Iraq before the 2003 invasion eventually turned into insurmountable violence, making Iraq the quagmire that it is today (2,500+ Coalition troops killed and 37,000 Iraqi deaths—not to mention thousands of them wounded and disabled for life). The interesting thing is that these terrorist attacks make most people outside of Iraq (i.e., the West) think that this “war” is justified and necessary in order to fight and eliminate “the terrorists.” Without a clear target and an effective strategy to fight “the terrorists,” this “War on Terror” will not be over for a while.
There are three direct ways in which the US and its allies can reduce terrorism in this world. First, they should stop inciting it. Terrorist cells like al-Qaeda thrive whenever Muslims are killed and when there is turmoil caused by foreign forces in Muslim territory. Second, they should stop participating in and funding terrorism. Remember that the CIA supported al-Qaeda through the 1980s as they fought the Soviets in Afghanistan. Colombia receives, by far, the largest amount of military aid from the US in this hemisphere and it’s where the largest amount of human rights violations and terrorist attacks in the Western hemisphere occur (the correlation between US military aid and human rights violations in the world is surprisingly strong). Over 200,000 lives would have been spared in Central America if the US government wouldn’t have funded and trained military and paramilitary groups to fight “the commies” from the 1950s to the 1990s. These groups organized themselves as death squads, and up to this day there are thousands of people “missing.” Third, the US and its allies should be more efficient in using their military intelligence to find and capture terrorists. It is aggravating and frustrating to see Coalition troops being killed by insurgents in Iraq, but attacking back with disregard for civilian lives is intolerable. If there is an actual threat, a target, it should be systematically dismembered without hurting civilians and carrying out shameful acts of human degradation like those in Abu Ghraib.
I am a staunch supporter of reducing terrorism in the world to near-inexistent levels (“terrorism” can’t be completely eliminated), but calling it the “War on Terror” is inappropriate, since it is applying double standards, it is hypocritical and counterproductive. Next time you read or hear such a term…chuckle.


Anonymous said...

This was a very interesting and thought provoking article. Did you write this for a class?
Your last line was surprising...and yes i did chuckle!

Ryan K. said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anonymous said...

did you know that Cuba is officially a "terrorist state"? how is this possible? what threat does cuba pose to the united states? what has cuba ever done to the US (not counting the cuban missile crisis, which was more the USSR than cuba)?
cuba cannot harm the united states. cuba has never tried to harm the united states.
the "war on terrorism" is not only ridiculous, but it creates fear as well. the only "terror" america faces is the trumped up threats the united states invents to scare its citizens.

besides, the US cannot do anything to a "terrorist organization". they cannot stop them. where is osama? what progress has been made at all?


~senator joshua

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