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Pro War On Terror Essay


Even before the flames raging within the twisted steel of the fallen World Trade Center towers were extinguished, a debate began to flare up regarding the motivations of the perpetrators. How could Arab Muslim society produce young, well-educated men filled with such hatred toward America that they would kill more than 3,000 innocents -- as well as themselves -- to prove a point? Some argued that the killers were representative of a strain of Muslim revulsion at "who we are" -- that is, a profound hatred of American values, culture, and society. Others argued that disgust over "what we do" -- U.S. policy regarding Israel, oil, Arab autocrats, and Islam itself -- was the main source of the animus. Advocates of each position had their policy prescriptions readily at hand. The latter argued that we should change our policy to reduce the level of disgust among Arabs and Muslims. The former suggested nothing but staying the course, arguing that military victory alone would alter the calculus of hatred. This collection of essays owes its origin to my dissatisfaction with both sets of recommendations for U.S. policy.

A relatively small but still sizable, intensely ambitious, and disproportionately powerful subgroup of Muslims do indeed hate "who we are." For the most part, these are Islamists -- Muslims who reject modern notions of state, citizen, and individual rights and instead seek to impose a totalitarian version of Islam on peoples and nations around the globe. Within this subgroup are those who seek power through revolutionary or violent means and others who seek it through evolutionary or nonviolent means. While the former are unabashed terrorists, it is equally true that the latter can never be democrats.

There are also many Muslims who, while not Islamists, are genuinely angered by certain U.S. policies abroad. U.S. policy analysts would be doing their country a disservice by not recognizing this fact. While the outrage expressed by these Muslims may be episodic and almost surely lacks the operational significance often ascribed to it, it is nonetheless real and cannot merely be wished away by changing the topic.

And, lest we forget, there is a large percentage of Muslims whose daily lives are not animated by any of these issues. These are the tens of millions whose energies are completely sapped by the uphill struggle to eke out a living. They might have some passing knowledge of goings-on in faraway Baghdad or Gaza and may, if asked, express an opinion on them. But their interests and concerns are consumed by more urgent demands.

Regarding the various stripes of Islamists, the United States can do nothing to soften their hearts or change their minds. The goal of U.S. policy should instead be to seek their defeat -- through military means for those who use violence to gain power, and through political means for those whose tactics take a more circuitous path to the same objective. There is no benefit to be gained from targeting public diplomacy toward the Islamists.

Regarding other Muslims who actively critique U.S. policy, there is much the United States can do apart from the obviously self-defeating approach of changing policies to appease the critics. Given the structural biases, shoddy journalism, and intellectual drivel that passes for political discourse in many corners of the Middle East, America's top priority vis-a-vis these Muslims should be to make sure that their opinions are at least based on accurate, dispassionate information. In this regard, public diplomacy can help to create a "level playing field" so that U.S. policies (and the people advocating them) receive a fair hearing in the court of public opinion. Numerous tactical options flow from this strategy.

And regarding the millions of poor and struggling Muslims, the goal of U.S. policy should be to help provide them with the economic, educational, social, and other tools required to leave poverty behind and become constructive and contributing members of their societies. A wide range of policy instruments are available to achieve this goal, complemented by public diplomacy that underscores America's concern and commitment on a personal level.

The story does not end there, however. The key ingredient missing from most analyses of the "why do they hate us?" problem is a recognition that the first two groups of Muslims -- those whose hatred arises from "who we are" and those whose critique is based on "what we do" -- are also battling each other over the fate and direction of their societies. On rare occasions -- Algeria in the 1990s, for example -- this battle has devolved into a shooting war. More commonly, it is a battle of ideas over how to organize societies. The fact that this battle rages in most countries without too many bombs going off or too many dead bodies piling up neither renders it any less momentous nor makes the imperative of victory any less urgent.

The United States has a vital stake in the outcome of this battle, both for the sake of Muslims themselves and for the security of Americans and U.S. interests in Arab and Muslim countries. Without reservation or apology, America's strategy should be to help non- and anti-Islamist Muslims beat back the Islamist challenge. This strategy must be pursued even if many of these putative Muslim allies express bitter dislike for certain aspects of U.S. foreign policy.

In the post-September 11 era, public diplomacy should be focused on fighting the battle of ideas in Muslim societies. This is a battle that can be won, though it will take more time, money, commitment, and ingenuity than the U.S. government has so far been willing to dedicate to the task.

This set of essays discusses the many problems plaguing public diplomacy in the post-September 11 era and proposes how the United States should pursue what many regard as a mission impossible. Collectively, the essays span the three years since September 11. Four of them were written expressly for this collection, while the balance appeared previously in various publications and are reprinted here as originally published.

There are distinct advantages to using this format. A series of brief essays on discrete subtopics, written and developed over time, both makes the subjects discussed more accessible and provides a chronological context to evolving debates over public diplomacy. This approach may mean that some issues appear fresher and seem to merit more detailed discussion than others. Hopefully, that problem is outweighed by the benefits of following the intellectual odyssey that I undertook as I focused on the public diplomacy challenges facing America since September 11.

Seven months after the al-Qaeda attacks in the United States, my family and I moved from Washington to Rabat, Morocco, capital of a populous Arab Muslim country located at a strategic point between the Atlantic and the Mediterranean, just nine miles from Europe. We lived in Rabat for more than two years, during a time of great challenge and turbulence. We traveled to every corner of the country and met Moroccans from all walks of life. I traveled to many corners of the Middle East as well. My wife and I learned much through our children and their experiences; one of our sons attended an outstanding local Moroccan school, while another attended the Rabat American School, an institution that provides the finest of American-style education to a student body that is overwhelmingly non-American. And, not being American officials ourselves, we were free to explore certain places at certain times when our diplomat friends did not have this license, such as when the entire family drove to downtown Rabat to witness one of the largest anti-Iraq war protests in the Middle East.

My summary assessment -- that the battle of ideas can be won if the United States is willing to commit itself to helping its current and potential Muslim allies "fight the fight" -- emerges in large part from my experience abroad. While this theme is present in several of the early essays in this collection, it is expounded with increasing confidence and buoyancy over time. Without minimizing the daunting obstacles that lie ahead, I am convinced that a public diplomacy infused with hope, optimism, candor, creativity, resources, and an entrepreneurial approach to building and supporting allies is the right strategy for America in the Middle East.

The US and UK have begun to bomb Afghanistan. They have begun the bombing of Kabul and Kandahar. They have also dropped some food on the region. In order to assist activists, here is an article with some common arguments for war, and answers to them. It refers to a number of helpful essays available on ZNet.

1. We have to do something to deal with the immediate threat. 

In Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld's October 7 address, he said that there is no way to protect against every imaginable and unimaginable attack that terrorists can think of. He was right in this. He then went on to say that the only solution was to attack the terrorists and destroy them, to take the battle to them. He was not right in this. We will return to this below.

The immediate threat, of further terrorist acts, can only be dealt with by improved security measures. Locking the cockpit of a plane, having more careful security measures, and so on.. A generalized attack on Afghanistan does not deal with the immediate threat nor does it directly enhance the security of US civilians, and is directly harmful to the security of Afghani civilians. If Afghani civilians are as important as US civilians, then this war cannot continue.

If the only two options were to try the al-Qaeda network in absentia, issue arrest warrants and resolve to catch them as soon as possible, and then to wait for an opportunity while pursuing diplomatic options, or to launch a war that would kill many more innocent people, what would the moral course be? 

Those aren't the only two options. Monbiot's proposal of  'Collateral Repair' is to drop way more food than bombs, or rather, just food and not bombs. He makes a convincing case that this would, fairly quickly, result in just the kinds of changes that the US government claims it would like to see in Afghanistan. 

2. We need to deter terrorists from further attacks.

This argument depends on terrorists being 'deterrable' by threats against them or the people they are oppressing. That the attacks of September 11 were suicide attacks establishes that a threat of death is not a deterrent to those responsible for them. 

There is evidence that violent attacks and assassination campaigns against terrorist organizations does not deter suicide bombers. Israel has been carrying out a war against Palestinians in the occupied territories for decades. Part of this war has been the targeted assassinations of Palestinian dissident leaders believed to be responsible for suicide bombings. This has not prevented suicide bombings from occurring regularly in Israel. 

A sensible approach on the other hand, would be to bring the specific perpetrators of the crimes to justice, and also to redress the grievances of those who are vulnerable to being recruited by terrorist networks. In Tariq Ali's words, 'The only real solution is a political one. It requires removing the causes that create the discontent. It is despair that feeds fanaticism and it is a result of Washington's policies in the Middle East and elsewhere.'

3. The attacks are surgical, accurate, will not harm civilians-- and we're doing humanitarian aid simultaneously. Civilians are being safeguarded.

Let us look at the food issue first. The figure given by the CNN for the first day's airdrops of food was 37500 rations. One ration is 3 meals, or one person-day of food. There are between 3-7 million people at risk of starvation. So in order to alleviate the danger, the rate of airdrops has to increase by a factor of one hundred. 

Bush pledged $324 million in humanitarian aid to Afghanistan. Each ration costs $4.25. Let us assume that there are only 3 million at risk of starvation, that every ration will reach one of those people, and that every dollar of that $324 million is going to rations (and not to the planes, fuel, staff, medicine, or any other item). Under these generous assumptions, there will be enough food to feed these people for 25 days. The reality is probably worse-- since millions are now fleeing the bombing, and will not sow their crops of winter wheat for example, but even in this scenario the money is insufficient to last for the winter. Also for comparison, $40 billion was appropriated for the war effort, and a single B-2 bomber costs $2.1 billion.

On the surgical nature of the strikes, it is important to note that there is just no way to know. The only footage available so far is a fuzzy green screen on CNN, and highly controlled releases from the government. The government has openly stated that they will not give details on their operations, and so it is unlikely that we will be informed of the full impact of the war on civilians. If all of the history of war and the specific record of US-UK military actions in the past is any guide, the war will have devastating impacts on civilians. 

4. The UN is untrustworthy, undemocratic, and anti-American. Adhering to international law and letting the UN take the lead would be a disaster.

Would using the relevant international legal instruments lead to an outcome more unjust and less conducive to security than launching a war? It seems unlikely. Consider the comparison to Nicaragua, mentioned by Noam Chomsky:

'We should remember that there are real precedents for this. The most obvious, because it is supported by a World Court decision and UN Security Council resolution, the highest authorities. Twenty years ago the United States launched a war against Nicaragua. That was a terrible war. Tens of thousands of people died. The country was practically destroyed. Nicaragua did not respond by setting off bombs in Washington. They went to the World Court with a case, the World Court ruled in their favor and ordered the United States to stop its "unlawful use of force" (that means international terrorism) and pay substantial reparations. Well, the United States responded by dismissing the court with contempt and immediately escalated the attack. At that point Niagara went to the UN Security council which voted a resolution calling on all states to obey international law. They didn't mention anyone, but everyone knew they meant the United States. Well, the United States vetoed it. Nicaragua then went to the General As In this case, the whole world really is with the US, and no one would act to stop the US from using all the relevant international law to bring the perpetrators to justice.

5. The Taliban is horrible and their replacement by the Northern Alliance would be an improvement.

The first part is certainly true, but the second is debatable. To quote Robert Fisk, the Northern Alliance includes men who 'looted and raped their way through the suburbs of Kabul in the Nineties. They chose girls for forced marriages, murdered their families'… 'And, dare I ask, how many bin Ladens are serving now among our new and willing foot-soldiers?'

If the end of this open-ended war is the Northern Alliance in power after a long bombardment and various commando raids and assassinations of key Taliban leaders, the Afghani people who survive all this will not thank us. 

Again, what would be a better solution for Afghanistan? Vijay Prashad makes some suggestions . 'What are the alternatives? The mujahidin, mainly Hikmityar's crew, have killed much of the intelligentsia during its reign of terror in the 1990s, and it led to the exile of a huge number of reasonable Afghans, many of whom took shelter in New Delhi (and do not wish to return to a place that has given their families such nightmares). Organized refugee groups, like RAWA (Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan), the Afghan Women's Network, and other such people's organizations have been at work for years trying to restart a progressive dynamic among Afghan refugees, but also to spill over into the besieged country. These groups will not be party to the types of corrupt capitalist deals already being worked out in Roman suburbs and in Uzbekistan: a moratorium on the exploitation of Afghanistan is perhaps in order, with the profits from a potential natural gas pipeline drawn into the redevelopment of the country's productive base and democratic institutions rather than toward Unocal or Bridas. These are our fights, against the war aims of the US and their new, yet old, allies, but in support of those popular agencies that oppose the Taliban from within the contradictions of Afghan life, both in diaspora and at home. It is time to move on the contradictions."

(By arrangement with Znet)