Thursday, July 27, 2006
Bending The GWOT
In a preview at Arthur's of an upcoming post about Alan Dershowitz's suggestion that we civilized westerners develop a new way of defining collective punishment so as to be able to kill civilians with impunity, I noted this quote from an Israeli official:
Mr Ramon - a close confidant of Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert - said "everyone understands that a victory for Hezbollah is a victory for world terror".
"World terror" huh? How convenient for all of us then that the Israelis are fightin' 'em over there so we don't have to fight 'em over here. No wonder we rushed in those delayed missiles. We can't let "world terror" win fergawdsake!
It's in such nonsensical talk that we see the logic of the GWOT brought home in all its magnificent horror. People are fighting "world terror" everywhere --- except where they aren't.
Michael Hirsh has written an article in Newsweek about this topic and examines why this conflation of the threat of al Qaeda with a Global War on Terror first created the insurgency in Iraq and now threatens to set the entire mid-east on fire:
What's sad is that the "war on terror" began as a fairly straightforward affair. Al Qaeda hit us. Then we went after Al Qaeda. The enemy was clear, and the evidence against Al Qaeda was solid: there was a decade's worth of fatwas, of declarations of war, monitored conversations and bin Laden's own monstrous bragging, on videotape, about how the World Trade Center collapse had far exceeded his expectations. We had a lot of support around the world in pursuit of our mission to hunt these men down, kill them or capture them and do with them as we pleased.
But inexorably, month by month, the Bush administration broadened the war on terror to include ever more peoples and countries, especially Saddam's Iraq, relying on thinner and thinner evidence to do so. And what began as a hunt for a relatively contained group of self-declared murderers like bin Laden became a feckless dragnet of tens of thousands of hapless Arab victims like the sons of the hostel owner in Samarra, the vast majority of whom had nothing to do with Al Qaeda or terror, just as Saddam had little to do with Al Qaeda, just as the Iraqi insurgency had little to do with Al Qaeda (at least at the start), just as Hizbullah has nothing to do with Al Qaeda. And as the war broadened beyond reason, and the world questioned the legitimacy of the enterprise, our friends dropped away. Worse, we have found ourselves making enemies in the Islamic world faster than we could round them up or kill them.
Yes, the war against Al Qaeda called for a stretching and changing of the rules. We had to be ruthless with the maniacs who struck us on 9/11. But for that very reason, it required that we be very precise in identifying the enemy. Just the opposite occurred. "You can't distinguish between Al Qaeda and Saddam when you talk about the war on terror," President Bush declared on Sept. 25, 2002, as he made the case for the Iraq invasion. This was the kind of thing Bush often repeated as he sought to wheel the nation 90 degrees, in the middle of the fight against Al Qaeda, toward Iraq. The truth was quite the contrary: not only could you distinguish between Al Qaeda and Saddam, it was imperative that you do so, that you wage this fight with precision analysis as much as precision weaponry. We could not afford to let our soldiers see all military-age men as potential enemies.
Today, more from the muddled strategic thinking of the Bush administration than the actual threat from Al Qaeda, the "war on terror" has become an Orwellian nightmare: an ill-defined war without prospect of end. We are now nearly five years into a war against a group that was said to contain no more then 500 to 1,000 terrorists at the start (in case anyone's counting, 1,776 days have now passed since 9/11; that is more than a full year longer than the time between Pearl Harbor and the surrender of Japan, which was 1,347 days). The war just grows and grows. And now Lebanon, too, is part of it.
This is the Bush Doctrine at work. He said it explicitly:
We've sent a message that is understood throughout the world: if you harbor a terrorist, if you support a terrorist, if you feed a terrorist, you're just as guilty as the terrorists.
It didn't take much to extrapolate from that that anyone who lived near a "terrorist" or worked along side a "terrorist" or who even looked like a "terrorist" was just as guilty as a terrorist. Alan Dershowitz has recently expanded on that notion by saying that those who do not fight against the terrorists in their midst, or flee their homes if terrorists are among them, must also share the blame for these terrorists' actions.
The only thing that was left out of all this was a definition of terrorism.**
Hirsh points out in his article how this played out during the first years of the occupation of Iraq, a country we were ostensibly liberating from --- you guessed it --- terror:
Reading "Fiasco," Thomas Ricks's devastating new book about the Iraq war, brought back memories for me. Memories of going on night raids in Samarra in January 2004, in the heart of the Sunni Triangle, with the Fourth Infantry Division units that Ricks describes. During these raids, confused young Americans would burst into Iraqi homes, overturn beds, dump out drawers, and summarily arrest all military-age men—actions that made them unwitting recruits for the insurgency.
For American soldiers battling the resistance throughout Iraq, the unspoken rule was that all Iraqis were guilty until proven innocent. Arrests, beatings and sometimes killings were arbitrary, often based on the flimsiest intelligence, and Iraqis had no recourse whatever to justice. Imagine the sense of helpless rage that emerges from this sort of treatment. Apply three years of it and you have one furious, traumatized population. And a country out of control.
In Lebanon today:
"Over here, everybody is the army," one soldier said. "Everybody is Hezbollah. There's no kids, women, nothing."
Another soldier put it plainly: "We're going to shoot anything we see."
And so another front in the GWOT is opened.
In strategic terms, the U.S. endorsement of Israel's retaliation against Hizbullah had some merit at the start, within limits: a Lebanon with an armed Hizbullah in its midst was never going to graduate to real democracy. The Israeli action is also, in a way, a proxy war against Iran and its nuclear program. Reducing Iran's influence in the region by degrading the power of its principal means of terror (and therefore of retaliation) is in America's interest, as well. This is the unspoken logic both of the fierce Israeli assault and Bush's fierce defense of it: "In the back of everyone's head is Iran looming as a threat over the region," says one Israeli official."In the back of everyone's head is Iran looming as a threat over the region," says one Israeli official.
But with each errant bomb that kills more Lebanese children, the U.S. position becomes less defensible. By walking in lockstep with the Israelis, we Americans make it impossible for Muslims not to see us as an enemy. And every Muslim official knows, even if Bush does not, that Hizbullah is not identical with Iran but is a client of it, in a relationship not unlike that of the United States and Israel. By making Israel's war our own we ensure that the Lebanese group and the Tehran mullahs will be even closer allies in the future. We place the Muslims whom we desperately need as allies, like Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, in an impossible position. Maliki, a Shiite, can no longer stand with Bush, as he showed during his tense visit to Washington this week.
I suspect one reason Newt Gingrich and his fellow nutballs are working overtime to get this WWIII business playing in people's heads is because to Americans the GWOT remains vague and ill-defined. They have yet to sign on to this existential struggle against well --- everybody, or at least a bunch of people they don't even know, forever. Are the French terrorists? They must be because we are supposed to hate them. How about the Mexicans who are invading our borders? Newt keeps bringing up Venezuela as part of our epic struggle against terrorism. And North Korea is a charter member of the Axis 'o Evil, so we know they are terrorists.
Who are we fighting again?
I suspect that many Americans are now so confused they simply think "they're all a bunch of terrorists" and wish a pox on all their houses. And with the logic of the GWOT they are all a bunch of terrorists. But then with the logic of the GWOT, we are the biggest terrorists of all.
*** I should add that the idea of creating a legal definiton of "terrorism" was advanced from early days after 9/11 by Wes Clark and others who noted that this elastic definition was a recipe for trouble. It even became an agenda item at the UN Millenium Summit --- which was tabled immediately upon John Bolton's appointment. In keeping with the overall philosophy of the Bush administration, they obviously recognized that the less they are required to conform to recognized legal norms the more they can wage war against "World Terror."
digby 7/27/2006 08:30:00 PM