We Have Become
The Main Problem

By Terrell E. Arnold
With his book, "Against All Enemies", and his interviews, including his March 21, 2004 Sixty Minutes session with Leslie Stahl, Richard Clarke has put the Bush administration in a state of high confusion. The costs of that state of mind for US interests and for any prospects of world peace are mounting daily. But the situation only brings into sharp focus two key areas of long term Bush team confusion: Before 9-11 the great bulk of terrorism in the world was not directed against the United States. After 9-11 the Bush team has done an incredible job of increasing the risks to Americans everywhere.
In her statement and responses to questions before the 9-11 Commission on April 8, National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice tried to contradict all Clarke statements about Bush administration performance, but it was not a convincing rebuttal. How can the Clarke recounting of events and the Bush/Rice statements of administration actions and intentions occupy the same space? The problem facing the administration is they cannot, and the portents of that fact for any future Bush administration are enormous.
On the narrow issue of the immediate struggle against possible terrorist attacks, Clarke is largely right and the administration is largely wrong, but neither actually is looking at the global struggle against terrorism. Rather both are bogged down in the "who struck John" Washington politics of the War on Terrorism. That will burn mega volumes of media space and professional time to no purpose, because the global challenge of terrorism notwithstanding, we have become the main problem.
The evolution of our situation is compelling. Before we invaded Iraq a year ago, the most turbulent terrorism generators on the planet were churning away in Palestine, and we were doing little about them. In both Israeli and American official comment on that mess, the Palestinians are given virtually all of the blame, but the plain fact is that every Israeli action respecting the West Bank and Gaza has been provocative. Heavy handed military operations, targeted assassination of the elderly Hamas leader Yassin last month, and more recently his successor Rantissi, aggressive bulldozing of homes and businesses, and the travesty of the "wall" have assured that terrorism generators run full blast. And the Israelis are using money and equipment supplied by the American taxpayer to do it.
Prime Minister Sharon's recent threat to throw out all so-called illegal Palestinians in Israel once the wall is finished is just another hot coal on this fire. Israeli hardliners can be assured therefore that enough suicide bombings and other attacks will occur to keep the Israeli public properly cowed and agreeable to present extremist policies.
The view of the West Bank and Gaza from Tel Aviv is that any actions the Palestinians take to fight back against the Israeli occupation and its excesses are terrorism, roundly condemned by the Israelis and the US leadership. That view fits a Middle Eastern conflict model in which national armies can terrorize whole populations but individuals who fight back are terrorists. By signing on to the Israeli side of this conflict the US basically says the Palestinian people have no rights, no dignity, no claims they can assert against an occupying force, and no actions they can take to defend themselves. The Palestinians are dehumanized in this process.
But the ultimate put down of the Palestinian people and sad proof that there is no administration understanding of the causes of terrorism occurred in the Bush meeting Wednesday April 14 with Ariel Sharon. So far as the Palestinians are concerned, Bush gave away the store. He gave Sharon carte blanche to choose which settlements the Israelis will keep or even add in the West Bank and he personally withdrew any right of the Palestinians to return to their ancestral homes. In short, Bush pulled the plug on Palestinian hopes for the future.
Alongside Palestine, Iraq has an increasingly familiar look. The view from the Coalition Green Zone in Baghdad is that people who fight back against occupying forces are either malcontents or terrorists, probably allied with al Qaida. As is now being carried out around the Sunni Triangle city of Fallujah, the promise, or threat, is that the bad actors, the militants, will be punished. In light of sharply increased attacks over the past few days, US civil administrator in Iraq, L. Paul Bremer, as well as US military spokesmen have stated categorically that the Iraqis who fight back are terrorists, and the US will not negotiate with them. In short the US is now using the same dehumanizing strategy against the Iraqis that Israel uses against the Palestinians. Moreover, the US has used this strategy from the beginning of the post 9-11 war in Afghanistan, asserting that suspected terrorists, whether or not members of al Qaida, have no rights and may be confined indefinitely without recourse.
This strategy has perverse effects in both situations. To be sure a number of Iraqis and Palestinians cease to resist, at least openly, but their sympathies are clearly with the people who actually fight back. They provide the fighters shelter, money, food, weapons, transportation, and other assistance, and they do not appear to press their tribal or religious leaders to find a political solution. Meanwhile, the fighters are told they have no choice but to give up, but they appear to believe all they will get for compliance is submission, and they are angered into fighting back more vigorously. This all or nothing approach, which appears very satisfying to hardliners, accomplishes nothing except that it makes more people angry and ready to fight back. The trend of conflict in Iraq brutally bears this out.
A de-humanize the enemy strategy is paired with another commonplace failing of the Bush administration: Nothing is being done about the causes of terrorism. In her statement to the 9-11 Commission on Thursday, Condoleezza Rice delivered her entire justification of Bush policies around terrorism without once mentioning causes of terrorism. Only on questioning did she admit that conditions in Afghanistan had been allowed to deteriorate badly before any real effort was begun to improve conditions of life in that country. After the US defeated Taliban rulers who had controlled pretty much the whole country, warlords who were enlisted by the US to achieve that defeat were allowed to reassert their control of major areas of the country. As seen by some observers, Hamid Karzai, the chosen national leader installed shortly after defeat of the Taliban, actually has become little more than Mayor of Kabul, and that is still the condition. Meanwhile the country is back in the heroin business.
Rice committed another major error in her response to questioning in that she said that the way to respond to human needs in the area is to introduce democracy to defeat Islamic fundamentalism. The notion that all Muslims have to do to resolve their enormous struggle with the impact of modernization as well as to overcome severe scarcities in their societies is to revise the way they select their leaders is incredibly naïve. But the tragedy of it all is that her assessment totally ignores the powerful terrorism generators that have existed for half a century in Palestine and that are daily more intensively turned on in Iraq.
From the perspective of service to US national interests, the Washington debate is almost totally sterile. There can be no winner. If the Bush team succeeds in asserting that it actually knew what it was doing before 9-11 and was taking the necessary steps to protect the country, its critics will say "but the towers were knocked down". If the critics succeed in convincing the public that the Bush team screwed up, he will likely lose the 2004 election, while the country,s protection against a future terrorist attack will not be made better by his loss. But the worst outcome of US actions since 9-11 is the creation of new sources of terrorism and the aggravation of existing stresses in many societies, not only Islamic, by conduct of a war on terrorism when what mostly is needed is improvements in the human condition.
The administration view conveys a sense of hopelessness. It gives an impression that the United States has a set of implacable and unreasonable enemies whose anger is not our fault and, implicitly, nothing can be done about them except to fight back. This assumption is not only false; it is most dangerous because it raises feelings of victim-hood and fear in our country that are quite enervating. Much of the Israeli public has been enslaved by these feelings for half a century. Such feelings appear to be growing in the United States. The frustrations that are generated by such feelings in turn sustain an unhealthy tolerance for violent remedies that only feed the problems.
Actually most of the world's terrorism does not grow out of a dislike for the United States. Even though dislike of US policies and actions has grown since the Iraq invasion, the primary targets of terrorism in Islamic countries are not the United States or its citizens. We can bring ourselves into the "enemy camp by one-sided support for Israel and insensitivity to the real injuries being inflicted on the Palestinian people. We can get into the "enemy" camp by supporting repressive leaders, or simply by supporting constituted governments in countries where there is significant popular dissent. We can be the enemy as we are in Iraq by carrying out an unprovoked and illegal attack on another country. We can be the enemy in a number of cases by trying to suppress the nuclear ambitions of other countries while seeking more or less openly to expand and improve our own enormous stockpiles of nuclear weapons. In short, quite a bit of the risk of terrorism against us is a product of our own behavior and therefore we are able to do something about it by changing our behavior.
There is an odd twist under the title of Richard Clarke's book "Against All Enemies". The complete phrase is "against all enemies foreign and domestic" and that is an apt term, because under Bush and neo-conservative leadership the United States has become its own worst enemy. Bush has cemented that position by the concessions he made Wednesday to Sharon, giving away Palestinian rights the United States does not own. Kerry will be tarred with the same brush if he does not immediately disavow the Bush concessions. But both Bush and Kerry have indicated strong support for Israel and neither is likely to risk loss of Jewish support in the coming election. For the same reason, neither appears likely to favor retreat from the hard line now being taken in Iraq. We therefore may be locked in a pattern of stoking the flames of terrorism worldwide.
Instead of just allowing that to happen, we should put terrorism into proper perspective. Terrorism is an asymmetrical struggle in which small, even weak adversaries can do large and powerful states a great deal of harm. There is no convincing evidence that terrorism can be defeated by military means, even though special operations make good adventure TV programs. But there is convincing evidence that economic and social improvements in a society reduce tendencies to violence. In trying to defeat terrorism militarily the Bush team has made asymmetry a more critical risk for the United States by making new enemies in much of the Middle East and offending friends virtually everywhere else. The war on terrorism is globally provocative in the same manner as Israeli attacks in Palestine.
There is hope in this situation however. Because many of the challenges are problems of our own making, many of the possible solutions are in our own hands. We can abandon the hard line attack strategy in Iraq as a first step toward reducing the number of enemies our country is making. We can hand the Iraq recovery over to the United Nations, and that will get us out of a nation-building role we have bungled from the beginning. We surely can recognize that a one-sided and thoughtless approach to Palestine is an enormous terrorism generator and must be corrected. We can recognize that terrorism is a product of multiple weaknesses in many societies, and we can put the energies we are wasting on war into combating those weaknesses. All of those steps would take us a long way toward reducing the risks of terrorism. Admitting that we are now a big part of the problem and getting our country back on its historic course will do the rest.
The writer is a retired Senior Foreign Service Officer of the US Department of State. He welcomes comments at



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