Monday, September 9, 2013

9/11 Terror Attacks 5 Years After -- This article appeared in the September 11, 2006 issue of the Hamilton Spectator

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On September 11th, 2003 I made five judgments in this column about the War on Terror.  On this 5th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks it makes sense to re-visit those judgments and test their validity against recent history.  My comments from 2003 are italics. 

There will be a continuing role for decisive military intervention in the on-going War on Terror. Police and intelligence services everywhere will need to strengthen their efforts to track and diffuse terror organizations.  But on this 5th anniversary of 9/11 government leaders in Canada and around the world need to re-engage with the complexities of terrorism and address its root causes, not only its brutal manifestations.

The military campaigns in Afghanistan and Iraq are being simultaneously celebrated as victories and condemned as failures. The campaign in Afghanistan has become a chronic guerilla war in which a revitalized Taliban is proving to be a stubborn enemy.  Canada’s General Rick Hillier has said that our country has to be ready to make a commitment of at least a decade to achieve the goals of the mission:  An Afghanistan with a democratically-elected government free of outside tyranny.  The campaign in Iraq, outside of official Washington, is reported to be on the cusp of failure. 

The supporters of U.S. President George W. Bush’s administration claim that the entire world must engage in a titanic battle against the evil of international terrorism. International co-operation in the fight against terrorism has had a number of important successes recently (the diffusion of the airline bombers in Britain and the arrest of terrorists in Ontario). While the armies of the free world have not flocked to support Bush’s foreign policy strategies, it would appear that police and intelligence services around the world are working in a much more integrated – and effective – way than even 3 years ago on tracking and preventing terrorist activities.

Those who oppose this battle analogy (the professional anti-Americans, according to the Bush supporters), claim that the American response is making the world situation worse, not better. Terror groups using Muslim fundamentalism to further their own ends are increasing in strength, not diminishing (two attacks in Jakarta, two in Bali, attacks in Madrid, London, Mumbai, and the thwarted attacks in Ontario and on transatlantic airliners). The protracted war in Iraq is inflating debt-driven defense spending in the US. Opinion is divided among mainstream economists as to the long-term capability of the US economy to sustain the current level of government borrowing.   Given the intensification of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, a increasingly hideous civil war in Iraq, the Hezbollah war and subsequent devastation of southern Lebanon, plus Iran’s putative entry into the nuclear arms race it would not be entirely irrational to conclude that the stability of the Middle East has deteriorated during the War on Terror.  Increased stability in this region was one of the initial justifications of the 2003 US/UK invasion of Iraq. 

Instead of evaluating past U.S. policies sand researching sensible changes, the neo-conservative cabal in Washington continues to embrace the simplistic theory that terrorism is a military problem that has a military solution.  Limited by their own doctrinaire radicalism, they cannot entertain the possibility that terrorism, like guerrilla war, is the result of the confluence of a series of intractable problems that demand more complex solutions.  The Coalition forces cannot stop the mounting civil war that is consuming huge parts of Iraq and they have no viable exit strategy. At home the Republicans are reported to be facing an electoral backlash over Iraq in November’s mid-term elections.  Tony Blair has been forced to step aside by his own party.  In Afghanistan NATO, led by the US, the UK and Canada, has embarked upon a counter-terrorism campaign that is, according to Emmanuel Reinert, executive director of the Senlis Council, an international think tank, wreaking havoc among civilians in some Afghan provinces:
Huge amounts of money have been spent on large and costly military operations, but after five years southern Afghanistan is once more a battlefield for the control of the country.  At the same time, the Afghans are starving. …The US policies in Afghanistan have re-created the safe haven for terrorism that the 2001 invasion aimed to destroy."

In its report, Afghanistan Five Years Later: The Return of the Taliban, the council said swaths of the country were falling back into the hands of the Taliban.  There are between 10 and 15 refugee camps, with up to 10,000 people in each, in the provinces of Helmand and Kandahar, with little or no help from relief agencies. How many hearts and minds are being won with these methods? When the Taliban burns down schools and clinics then decapitates teachers and nurses, clearly there is a need for a robust military response.   But where have the aggressive, ‘take-it-to-the-enemy’ counter-terrorism tactics currently being applied in Afghanistan resulted in a victory over a guerrilla force?  Vietnam?  Gaza? Lebanon? Iraq?  Are there other options to the current strategy that would achieve the desired outcomes?  All the NATO participants in the Afghanistan campaign need to reflect upon this question. 

In Canada the least we can do is to have an open parliamentary debate on how to best bring peace and stability to Afghanistan.  Canada must use its international influence to persuade the community of developed nations that terrorism must be confronted on diplomatic, economic development levels as well as on a military level. We need to become intolerant of those who would sidestep democratic values to achieve their own ends. In its more lucid moments, Al-Qaeda has declared that it wants foreign troops out of disputed Muslim territories in Chechnya, Kashmir, Iraq, Afghanistan and Palestine. The West will never bow to these demands. But surely the decision-makers guiding the War on Terror should not take actions that make the global terror situation worse instead of better.  With the wisdom of hindsight, it is could be argued that the US/UK invasion and occupation of Iraq has exacerbated the threat of terrorism.  If the full weight of the US military had been applied to the pacification and reconstruction of Afghanistan, perhaps NATO would not be fighting a guerrilla war there today. 


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