Steve Weissman / t r u t h o u t | Perspective – 2008-11-29 21:29:40
(November 29, 2008) — The terrorist attacks in Mumbai call out to President-elect Barack Obama and his advisors to rethink the signature blunder of George W. Bush’s eight years in office – the so-called War on Terror.
As US intelligence reports have made clear, the centerpiece of the supposed campaign against terror, the military occupation of Iraq, has increased the likelihood of more attacks like those in Mumbai, Madrid, London and Manhattan. The new escalation in Afghanistan will similarly increase terrorist attacks there, in neighboring India and Pakistan, in disputed Kashmir, and throughout the world.
Bush and Cheney chose the word “war” with malice aforethought. From the start, they intended a military response, first against Al-Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan, and then against Saddam Hussein in Iraq. And, as Barton Gellman shows so brilliantly in his book “Angler,” Dick Cheney and his team consciously wanted to create a wartime presidency with enormous unchecked power and scant regard for basic American liberties.
By contrast, Obama’s advisors openly acknowledge that military force alone will never bring victory over terrorism. They would, in addition, provide more economic aid, use counter-insurgency tactics to pacify local populations, and work with surrounding regional powers, including Iran.
But Obama and his people still talk far too much about using military force and delude themselves into believing that the physical defeat of Al-Qaeda will significantly weaken the current terrorist threat.
Though it’s still too early to know who staged the attacks in Mumbai, they were most likely militant jihadis, possibly with links to Kashmiri rebels and renegade elements of Pakistan’s military intelligence service, the ISI. Al-Qaeda may or may not have played a role in the planning.
But even if Al-Qaeda did, how would killing Osama bin Laden – if he’s still alive – or hanging all of his top aides, or hammering the Taliban in any way defuse the toxic brew of often justified grievances and outrageous religious fanaticism that we now face? The enemy is not a single man, and not a single group. It is a movement of shared ideas and beliefs, all too often encouraged by Washington’s pursuit of policies that are both unjust and counter-productive.
The terrorist bloodshed started long before bin Laden and will continue long after his dialysis machine packs up. No magic bullet will end it, but military boots on other people’s ground will almost always make matters worse. That’s what they did in Iraq. That’s what they are doing in Afghanistan and Pakistan.
What bin Laden added to the mix was the well-articulated idea that terrorist attacks could promote a clash of civilizations, or holy war. With his War on Terror, George W. Bush, the Crusader-in-Chief, responded exactly as bin Laden wanted, turning moderate Muslims around the world into terrorist supporters, funders, and enablers. Why would Obama want to continue the madness?
To gain perspective, Obama might ask his advisers to brief him on the very different wave of terrorism that spread from Russia, through Europe, and into the United States between 1881 and 1914. The terrorists were mostly anarchists, and they killed, among others, Czar Alexander II, King Umberto I of Italy, the president of France, the prime minister of Spain, and the president of the United States, William McKinley.
The assassinations shook the established powers throughout the Western world. One terrorist, a Bosnian nationalist, even triggered War I when he assassinated the Austrian Archduke Franz Ferdinand in historic Sarajevo.
The new media of the time, the daily newspaper, naturally exaggerated the threat, spreading the terrifying specter of the crazed anarchist bomb-thrower. Just as naturally, the papers gave considerably less coverage to another image of the age – that of the government-paid agent provocateur.
In time, the anarchists themselves saw that their violence, their propaganda of the deed, was not sparking the revolutionary movement they wanted, and they turned instead toward organizing workers into unions. But, even at the time of the greatest murder and mayhem, I can think of no government that ever went anywhere near as far as the Bush administration in making the fight against terrorism a question of military force.
Today’s terrorists have far more deadly weapons at their disposal, as Dick Cheney always told us. But today’s police and intelligence services have more than enough technology to meet the threat. What they need is far greater international cooperation, which a reliance on the military makes more difficult.
Similarly, Islamic societies around the world have more than enough creativity to see the dead end into which terrorism leads. What they need is time and space to adapt to a changing world.
Barack Obama is in a unique position to build cooperation and encourage Muslims everywhere to find their own way forward. Happily, he has made a good start by announcing that he will close Guantánamo and end the horrors of torture. He has also raised the hope, however faint, that he will work toward a just settlement between Israelis and Palestinians and between India and Pakistan over Kashmir.
Even more to the point, his pledge to build a green economy will reduce any argument for continuing American support of despotic governments in countries with large reserves of oil and natural gas.
All this is promising. But it remains only a promise, and all of it will come to naught if Obama gives the orders to continue killing people and breaking things wherever and whenever the United States wants.
A veteran of the Berkeley Free Speech Movement and the New Left monthly Ramparts, Steve Weissman lived for many years in London, working as a magazine writer and television producer. He now lives and works in France.
Posted in accordance with Title 17, Section 107, US Code, for noncommercial, educational purposes.
Comments — From the Truthout Web site
Sun, 11/30/2008 – 02:52 — Anonymous (not verified)
Obama will not be able to end this war. Only those who attacked Mumbai will end the war when they discover as Hitler did that such murder leads to self destruction. Steve Weissman’s perspective is naive and if his advice is followed, we will all witness US communities coming under attack like that of Mumbai.
The phrase “peace for our time” was spoken on 30 September 1938 by British prime minister Neville Chamberlain in his speech concerning the Munich Agreement. Often misquoted as “peace in our time”, it is primarily remembered for its ironic value. The Munich Agreement gave the Sudetenland of Czechoslovakia to Adolf Hitler in an attempt to satisfy his desire for Lebensraum or “living space” for Germany.
The German occupation of the Sudetenland began on the next day, 1 October. Now Steve Weissman believes it is time to give–as he describes them–the militant jihadis their “living space”. His analogy of the anarchism of 1881 to 1914 is misleading. Today’s militant jihadis are not anarchists and their belief is tied to world domination through a worldwide Caliphite. A very similar concept the Nazi’s held on 1 October 1938.
Sun, 11/30/2008 – 02:29 — Anonymous (not verified)
NO ONE SHOULD FORGET the prophetic premise from Orwell’s novel 1984, where the government needed fear to keep itself in power and rationalize it own authority and exploitations. They even dropped bombs on themselves to give their manufactured terms and repressions credibility. Reopening investigations around 911 is relevant if only for the fact that so much of the testimony around the “investigation” was not given under oath.
Who benefits from the war on terrorism is the question to ask. None of us are safer with less democratic transparency or fewer rights. Those “Representatives” who have voted for such measures do not deserve our trust because they have violated the very democratic contract by which they hold office.
Sun, 11/30/2008 – 02:04 — Anonymous (not verified)
In 2003, before the attack on Iraq, I wrote letters to my representatives in the Congress and in the Senate, and I wrote letters to the President. It was clear to me that a war in Iraq would create chaos in the Middle East, and would stir up more anger and hatred toward the United States, encouraging young militants to join terrorist organizations. I am not a brilliant political expert on international affairs. I am just a citizen of this country.
For the past eight years, the government has not represented me. Not the adminstrative, legislative or the judicial branch of the government made any move to stop the madness. We have elected a new president who has inspired the world to hope that reason and intelligence will set the policy of this country. If he is persuaded by those who advise him, to continue our militant actions in Afganistan and Iran, we will be walking on the path set before us by the Bush administration.
We will continue to encourage young people to join terrorist organizations. If we find and murder Bin Ladin, we may be justified in the eyes of the civilized world, but we will stoke more hatred in the hearts of those who would do us harm. It is time to turn the page, to make diplomacy the core of our foreign policy. We will win support and good will by offering our intention to walk a peaceful path in the world. We need to win hearts and minds, not wars.
Sun, 11/30/2008 – 01:46 — Andrew Winkler (not verified)
What nonsense!!! 9/11, 7/7, Madrid, Mumbai have all been performed by Mossad on behalf of the local governments, not by some understandably disgruntled Muslims. Mumbai is about creating a pretext to destroy and disarm Pakistan.
Sun, 11/30/2008 – 01:45 — KS Nayar (not verified)
It always surprises me why the voice of people like Steve Weissman is not heard in Capitol Hill, and acted upon by the government. If America had a democracy that worked, it would not have seen its troops deployed in other countries. No people would like to see foreign military boots in their countries.
As their presence increases, so is the resentment. Ask Bush and his advisers to read history. The Bush administration is spending $12 billion of American taxpayer’s money every month in Iraq. It benefits only a clutch of arms makers, contractors, and dealers. It does not help the American citizen, neither the Iraqi people.
Can this happen in a democracy? No never. It means the US democracy is a façade, where not only popular opinion is never heard, nor even the sane voice of people like Weissman. America is failed democracy. Hope Obama will make it work.
Sun, 11/30/2008 – 01:33 — EDGEOFNOWHERE (not verified)
Obama’s administration will be nothing more than an empty husk unless it can address the reality of 9/11, the incident that gave rise to the “war” on terror. Until the true perpetrators of this atrocity are unmasked and prosecuted, it is all just dust in the wind.
Sun, 11/30/2008 – 01:32 — SlidingHomeInOregon (not verified)
There are several reasons the cost of oil (gas at the pump) is dropping: one reason is oil producing countries know if the price stays high, we will turn green faster, not something they want. We must not turn from alternative energy sources research no matter how far oil prices fall.
Sat, 11/29/2008 – 23:45 — Hugh Jones (not verified)
The article describes the overall situation very well. The immediate terrible threat to which the terrorists are responding may be the presence of drones and hellfire missiles over their heads. Try to imagine fighting with rudimentary weapons against an enemy who probably has an unmanned drone over your head. Hugh Jones Toronto Canada
Sat, 11/29/2008 – 23:20 — Anonymous (not verified)
Bush’s outward policy did no good to ease the hate that terrorist organisations feed on. His inward policies were even more disasterous. Terrorism is expensive, and the high stakes money games that characterized his administration provided jobs, money, and arms to terrorists while starving regular honest folks.
No regime as corrupt, compromised, and stupid as Bush’s could ever hope to stop terror nor the fear that feeds it. Deliberately or unwittingly, he played the enabler. Personal vigilance is the best defense against terror. Instead of obscuring the facts, a well informed public is the safest public. As far as carrying out an offensive on terrorism, the organization of gov and people should be streamlined and efficient, like Scotland Yard was famed for.
The Bush years did not improve a thing even in this ‘information age’. Things can and WILL get better I am sure, but it will take a while. War looms yet again for central Asia, and I can comprehend WHY the Indian government is going to investigate this last offense VERY carefully. I think that once Bush is out and Obama in, there willbne a drastic improvement in our own intelligence, and can fairly hope that this will cross all lines to promote worthy police actions.
Sat, 11/29/2008 – 20:38 — Bruce (not verified)
When the press uses words that have been carefully selected by the government to shape public perception and sentiment, they become tools of that government. Whether it is calling someone fighting an much large occupying army an “insurgent” or people who return the death and destruction wrought on their families back to the civilians that support that army, and are then labeled as “terrorists”, it is all the same.
When a pilot drops a bomb on a hospital or sends rockets into a family’s home or into a hotel where journalists are residing it is considered an unfortunate accident and collateral damage and not a war crime. The media continues to do a disservice to their so-called profession and the people of the world when they refuse to acknowledge or report on state acts of terrorism and continue to refer to torture as “harsh interrogation.”
Terror has always been a aspect of warfare, and when it is used by the US government it is simply called “shock and awe” and considered an acceptable military strategy where the ends justify any means.
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