Posted by andreas from p3EE3C3A0.dip.t-dialin.net (22.214.171.124) on Sunday, November 24, 2002 at 2:32PM :
November 21, 2002
A War That Can't Be Won
The West Isn't Just Losing the Fight Against Terrorism - It Is Fueling It Across the Globe
by Seumas Milne
This time last year, supporters of George Bush's war on terror were in euphoric mood. As one Taliban stronghold after another fell to the US-backed Northern Alliance, they hailed the advance as a decisive blow to the authors of the September 11 atrocities. The critics and doom-mongers had been confounded, cheerleaders crowed. Kites were flying again, music was playing and women were throwing off their burkas with joyful abandon.
As the US president demanded Osama bin Laden "dead or alive", government officials on both sides of the Atlantic whispered that they were less than 48 hours from laying hands on the al-Qaida leader. By destroying the terrorist network's Afghan bases and its Taliban sponsors, supporters of the war argued, the Americans and their friends had ripped the heart out of the beast. Washington would now begin to address Muslim and Arab grievances by fast-tracking the establishment of a Palestinian state. Downing Street even published a rollcall of shame of journalists they claimed had been proved wrong by a hundred days of triumph. And in parliament, Jack Straw ridiculed Labour MPs for suggesting that the US and Britain might still be fighting in Afghanistan 12 months down the line.
One year on, the crowing has long since faded away; reality has sunk in. After six months of multiplying Islamist attacks on US, Australian and European targets, civilian and military - in Tunisia, Pakistan, Kuwait, Russia, Jordan, Yemen, the US and Indonesia - western politicians are having to face the fact that they are losing their war on terror. In Britain, the prime minister has taken to warning of the "painful price" that the country will have to pay to defeat those who are "inimical to all we stand for", while leaks about the risk of chemical or biological attacks have become ever more lurid. After a year of US military operations in Afghanistan and around the world, the CIA director George Tenet had to concede that the threat from al-Qaida and associated jihadist groups was as serious as before September 11. "They've reconstituted, they are coming after us," he said.
In other words, the global US onslaught had been a complete failure - at least as far as dealing with non-state terrorism was concerned. Tom Daschle, the Democrats' leader in the Senate, was even more brutal. Summing up a litany of unmet objectives in the US confrontation with militant Islamism, he asked: "By what measure can we say this has been successful?" But most galling of all has been the authentication of the latest taped message from Bin Laden himself, promising bloody revenge for the deaths of the innocent in Palestine, Iraq and Afghanistan. This was the man whose capture or killing was, after all, the first objective of Bush's war. And yet, along with the Taliban leader and one-eyed motorbiker Mullah Omar, the mastermind of America's humiliation remains free.
Meanwhile, in Afghanistan itself, the record is just as dismal. By using the heroin-financed gangsters of the Northern Alliance to overthrow the Taliban regime and pursue al-Qaida remnants ever since, the US has handed over most of the country to the same war criminals who devastated Afghanistan in the early 1990s. In Kabul, the US puppet president Hamid Karzai can rely on foreign troops to prop up his fragile authority. There, and in a few other urban centers, some girls' schools have re-opened and the worst manifestations of the Taliban's grotesque oppression of women have gone.
But in much of what is once again the opium capital of the world, the return of the lawlords has meant harsh political repression, lawlessness, mass rape and widespread torture, the bombing or closure of schools, as well as Taliban-style policing of women's dress and behavior. The systematic use by Ismail Khan, who runs much of western Afghanistan with US support, of electric shock torture, arbitrary arrests and whippings to crush dissent is set out in a new Human Rights Watch report. Khan was nevertheless described by the US defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld recently as a "thoughtful" and "appealing" person. His counterpart in the north, General Dostam, has in turn just been accused by the UN of torturing witnesses to his troops' murder of thousands of Taliban prisoners late last year, when he was working closely with US special forces.
The death toll exacted for this "liberation" can only be estimated. But a consensus is growing that around 3,500 Afghan civilians were killed by US bombing (which included the large-scale use of depleted uranium weapons), with up to 10,000 combatants killed and many more deaths from cold and hunger as a result of the military action. Now, long after the war was supposed to be over, the US 82nd airborne division is reported to be alienating the population in the south and east with relentless but largely fruitless raids and detentions, while mortar and rocket attacks on US bases are now taking place at least three times a week. As General Richard Myers, chairman of the US joint chiefs of staff, puts it, the US military campaign in Afghanistan has "lost momentum".
All this has been the inevitable product of the central choice made last autumn, which was to opt for a mainly military solution to the challenge of Islamist terrorism. That was a recipe for failure. By their nature, terrorist or guerrilla campaigns which have deep social roots and draw on a widespread sense of injustice - as militant Islamist groups do, regardless of the obscurantism of their ideology - cannot be defeated militarily. And as the war on terror has increasingly become a war to enforce US global power, it has only intensified the appeal of "asymmetric warfare" to the powerless.
The grievances al-Qaida is able to feed on throughout the Muslim world were once again spelled out in Bin Laden's latest edict. But there is little sign of any weakening of the wilful western refusal to address seriously the causes of Islamist terrorism. Thus, during the past year, the US has armed and bolstered Pakistan and the central Asian dictatorships, supported Putin's ongoing devastation of Chechnya, continued to bomb and blockade Iraq at huge human cost, established new US bases across the Muslim world and, most recklessly of all, provided every necessary cover for Ariel Sharon's bloody rampages through the occupied Palestinian territories. In most of this, despite Tony Blair's muted appeals for a new Middle East peace conference, Britain has played the role of faithful lieutenant.
Now, even as "phase one" of its war on terror has been seen to have failed, the US shows every sign of preparing to launch phase two: its long-planned invasion and occupation of Iraq. Perhaps some of the intensity of the current warnings about terrorist threats is intended to help soften up public opinion for an unpopular war. But what is certain about such an act of aggression is that it will fuel Islamist terrorism throughout the world and make attacks on those countries which support it much more likely. If such outrages take place in Britain, there can no longer be any surprise or mystery about why we have been attacked, no point in asking why they hate us. Of course, it wouldn't be the innocents who were killed or injured who would be to blame. But by throwing Britain's weight behind a flagrantly unjust war, our political leaders would certainly be held responsible for endangering their own people.
© Guardian Newspapers Limited 2002
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