The Terrorist Nuisance

Sending more troops to Afghanistan
was madness.  Punishing the Taliban was
righteous, but in a fit of seeming ignorance and democratic hubris we
determined to erect not just a stable national government, but a democratic
one.  Any understanding of the history of
Afghanistan reveals
foreign nation building in that country to be an exercise in wasted lives and
treasure.

Afghanistan
is even less of a nation state than Iraq,
being essentially a collection of tribal areas, most notably Pushtunistan, and constitutes
a “country” by virtue only of the frontiers drawn by the surrounding
nations.  In the last two hundred years Kabul
has rarely ruled all Afghanistan
for very long and has only done so under a strong authoritarian leader who
could press alliances on tribal leaders.
Even then political stability was typically a thin veneer, ready to
collapse from infighting in the capital or challenges from the periphery.  And corruption and cronyism has for centuries
been a way of life for government officials at every level.

The Afghans are a hospitable people, but wary of foreigners, especially foreign soldiers, and the constant possibility of death from the air has only strengthened that wariness.  There may be a sort of crude democracy in the
villages, but the country has virtually no experience of democracy, and the
election and escapades of the Karzai government hardly inspire optimism.  And here we are in a seemingly endless and
very real war that seems to have less and less to do with terrorism.

Calling the
fight against international terrorism the “war” on terror was a major mistake.   In many
ways this does a disservice to our country and further confuses the meaning of
“war,” a term already abused by the “war on poverty” and the “war on drugs,”
two singular failures on the part of our government.  This is not to say that the military should
not be involved when necessary (such as dealing with the Taliban), but that the
struggle should be considered an operation against a criminal enterprise,
albeit on a large scale.  This is after
all not a war declared by Congress and thus like the Korean and Vietnamese
conflicts is more appropriately called a “police action.”

Terrorists
are certainly a threat to Americans, but they are not a direct threat to America.  Like the Germanic tribes during the height of
the Roman Empire they are a nuisance, and terrorist
organizations threaten the security of our country no more than a band of
Dacians marauding across the Danube threatened the
existence of the Empire.  They can
certainly destroy people and property, but they cannot in any way seriously
injure the country, as could China
or Russia or
our mismanagement of our economy.  Even
the casualties of the 9/11 attack, which simply could not happen again,
represent a relatively slow month on our nation’s highways, and while
terrorists with a nuclear weapon could devastate a city and perhaps slaughter
millions, they could not come as close to destroying the country as an
unregulated financial industry could.

Declaring,
at least unofficially, a war against terrorists can only enhance their status,
suggesting they have a position akin to that of a legitimate state, and creates
substantial problems with domestic and international law regarding the legal
position of captives.  The government can
argue, as it has, that because they are not the uniformed soldiers of an
established state, prisoners in this war are not protected by the Geneva
Conventions and other international covenants of which we are signatories, but
because this is considered a “war” and not an anti-criminal operation, neither
are they subject to the jurisdiction of American courts.  This results in prisoners of war in this
struggle being in a legal limbo, declared to be “enemy combatants” rather than
POWs yet like POWs being held for the duration of the conflict, which unlike a
declared war may have no end.

Most
pernicious, waging a “war” against terror allows the government, especially the
executive branch, to claim wartime powers, endangering civil liberties and he
freedom of the press.  Governments,
whatever their nature, constantly seek to expand their power, and a threat to
national security has traditionally provided a justification for such an
expansion, which in the case of the United States inevitably means a conflict
with our Constitution.  Proclaiming
terrorists a “threat to national security” and the struggle against them a
“war” allows the President to take up the mantle of Lincoln and Roosevelt and
claim emergency powers seemingly at odds with the Constitution.  Such claims are always dangerous to a free
society, but the Civil War and World War II, unlike the fight against
terrorism, were a threat to our nation.

Declaring a
“war” against terror has also facilitated an overly simplistic approach to
the problem.  The fact is that not all
terrorists are alike and many terrorist organizations have nothing to do with
the United States.  Chechens are fighting Russia
and Kashmiris fighting India
for independence, Palestinians are seeking to rid themselves of the Israelis
and Hezbollah guards south Lebanon.  Unlike Al Qaeda these particular terrorists
attack Americans only when the United States
interferes in their local areas of interest, as when Hezbollah attacked the
Marine barracks in Beirut.  Al Qaeda, once focused on the Saudi royal
family and Saddam Hussein, has declared a jihad against the United
States and directly attacked America
and other western states.  Lumping all
these groups together is counterproductive and blurs our focus in the struggle
against our real enemies, Al Qaeda and other Islamicist groups dedicated to the
destruction of the West.

Meanwhile,
the United States, ostensibly fighting against all terrorists and declaring
that anyone who harbors them is a terrorist, has backed itself into a
hypocritical corner.  We are providing a
haven for anti-Castro elements, who might legitimately be described as
terrorists, and we supported secular Somali warlords, who are as terrorist in
their tactics as the Islamicists they oppose.
Such of course undermines the already reeling moral credibility ofAmerica.

Like crime
in our country terrorism is a nuisance, though a more serious one, since
without even acting the terrorists cause us injury by enabling the government
to use fear to expand its power and threaten our civil liberties in the
interest of “national security.”
Fighting a “war” on terror also obscures the causes behind anti-American
terrorism and tends to smother diplomacy and other approaches to the problem,
favoring endless violence over more permanent solutions.  Killing terrorists is necessary, but getting
serious about the Palestinian problem and communicating with Iran,
which has the most pro-Western population in the Middle East,
would provide more lasting results in the struggle.

Unfortunately,
we appear to have a penchant for violence as an immediate solution to our
problems.  One need only compare the
Pentagon budget to that of the State Department.

 

 

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One comment on “The Terrorist Nuisance

  1. cpmondello says:

    9/11ers were just reacting to the terrorism bestowed on them my the USgov. Blow back can be a bitch.

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