Can We Win The War
On Terrorism?
By Terrell E. Arnold

On November 5 voters made it clear that they favored the War on Terrorism by electing Republicans. They did not vote on any version of the War or on any means to conduct it. Rather they had to assume that the President and his advisers would conduct the war in accordance with American law and practice and with due regard for the rights and interests of other countries, and, of course, that we would win. After the fact we should examine those assumptions very carefully.
As declarations go, the War on Terrorism does not fit. We usually declare war on a country or a bloc of countries. After 9-11, we went after the Taliban and Al Qaida without declaring war on Afghanistan. Ousting the Taliban, we helped install a nominal new government, nominal because the major tribal chiefs of the country have not sworn allegiance to it. With local help, US and British forces began searching for Al Qaida members, but experience so far shows this campaign may never be finished.
The problem is this war cannot be contained. Had we declared war on Afghanistan, the battlefield would not have been big enough, because the enemy is able to flee into other Muslim countries. Before 9-11, Al Qaida had alliances in Egypt, Sudan, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Ethiopia, Somalia, Pakistan, and Afghanistan. Potential safe-havens also exist in Malaysia, Indonesia, and the Philippines.
Widely scattered cells make it hard to attack Al Qaida. Even with host country agreement--not always granted-we cannot station US forces everywhere they may be needed. That problem is not easily resolved, but the assassination of alleged terrorists in Yemen last week with a remotely controlled device presents a controversial option.
Based on administration statements and actions, the rules for this war now appear as follows: The war itself will remain undeclared. The enemy has a name but no country. Efforts to get at the enemy could render national boundaries irrelevant. Assassination will be used as a weapon. Once targets are identified, we will attack them remotely if need be. Countries where Al Qaida hideouts exist may not be consulted before we attack. We may not wait until we know for sure that our targets are the right people. Pre-emptive strikes will be made to deal with threats.
The implications are clear: The Bush administration is adopting the terrorist's own rules of war. One must ask whether this war is important enough to warrant abandoning established principles of statehood and foreign policy. However, a critical question is: Can we win the war?
The answer to both questions is no! Abandoning the rules invites everybody to play without rules. Ignoring national boundaries gives others equal rights to do the same. Killing people without trial or proof of guilt invites anarchy. Using assassination is an invitation to political chaos.
The basic flaw is military power does not stop terrorism. In the past two years Israel invested more than ten billion dollars in Israeli Defense Force operations in Palestine. But the IDF killed or captured only about 1500 Palestinians, most not proven terrorists. Worse still, IDF, the top military force in the Middle East, could not stop the suicide bombers. Our forces spent a year in Afghanistan without corralling Al Qaida. In the meantime, Al Qaida may have carried out several terrorist operations, at least one against US forces. Moreover, as IDF shows repeatedly in Palestine, the human costs are simply appalling. In Palestine, the lives of thousands of innocent people were disturbed, permanently changed or destroyed for only a handful of terrorists.
Military sprawl across this problem is costly and inefficient. Perhaps recognizing that fact makes the Bush administration seek less bulky tools such as assassination and other covert operations. Unfortunately, such > devices revive the messy practices of the Cold War without offering any reward, because the war just goes on.
The War on Terrorism goes on because it does not address the primary causes. If we define winning as stopping terrorism for all time, not a prayer can help the present strategy. US strategy focuses on eliminating the present generation of terrorists. Under that strategy, nations are invited to work with the US on controlling terrorists in their own countries. If those nations cooperate, they do so by repressing the out groups in their countries whose most angry or discontented members are the terrorists. Angered and frustrated by further repression, those out groups grow the next generation of terrorists. As a result, the War on Terrorism is self-feeding, and it can never be won.
The same rules apply to War on Terrorism as to all other wars. No real progress can be made until the fighting stops. Only then can we focus on the problems of repression, social, political and economic injustice, human rights abuses, and reactions to main-stream neglect that are the global breeding grounds for terrorism. Those problems exist in at least a third of all nations. If we do not recognize this situation soon and move with other nations and the United Nations system to deal with it, we are all doomed to perpetual conflict. Our best chances lie with dedicating many more aid resources to solving those problems and as quickly as possible shifting the fight against terrorism back to law, diplomacy and the justice system.
The writer is a retired senior foreign service officer of the U.S. Department of State.


This Site Served by TheHostPros