Fabian Blog
December 18th, 2017

Commonsense on terror

All human beings minus those who mistakenly believe that they gain from acts of terrorism want to live in a terror-free world. Those who believe that they stand to gain from acts of terrorism are a small minority . That minority can be divided into two lots, one, those who plan and carry out the acts, and two, those who believe that in the name of fighting terror they can consolidate and prolong their hold on power.

The global citizen will condemn with equal moral indignation those who carried out attacks in the West and the rest world. She cannot be less distressed over the attack on the Indian Parliament (December13,2001) than over the 9/11. She does not count the number of the dead and categorize the attacks and for her even one death is one too many. She cannot accept “collateral damage”, the unconscionable explanation cum justification given when military action results in civilian casualties. She believes, and she is outraged, that those who carried out the military action knew that there were civilians in the area they decided to bomb. If the indiscriminate resort to violence is justifiable, what is the moral difference between terrorists and those who fight the terrorists? Do ends justify means? Is not the end-state shaped by the means employed? Ends and means are inter-dependent as Mahatma Gandhi taught us.

It will soon be six years since the 9/11 occurred. It is time to do a holistic audit of what we human beings and our governments have done to make the world safe from terrorism. The much bruited about Global War on Terrorism, with its awkward acronym of GWOT, is the major part of what has been done on a global scale. We should examine the origins of GWOT, its costs, consequences, intended as well as unintended, its successes and failures, and its future prospects.

GWOT was proclaimed by US President George Bush immediately after 9/11. Who is the adversary? “The enemy is not a single political regime or person”, the US National Security Strategy (September 2002) explains, “or religion, or ideology. The enemy is terrorism.” Is that correct? Terrorism is a method used by individuals or groups to gain their political goals. It is an instrument. Is there any logic in declaring war on aerial bombing? Herein lies the major conceptual flaw of GWOT. The enemy is ill-defined. As the Chinese philosopher Sun Tzu said you cannot win a war when you do not know whom you are fighting.

At a deeper philosophical level, just because there is a name it does not follow that there is an entity corresponding to that name. “The king of France is either bald or not” is a perfectly logical statement. But, it does not follow that there is a king of France. A genuine ,serious GWOT would imply that all governments, or at least most of them, will unite against terrorists irrespective of where they act. Is that true about GWOT? We in India have suffered from cross-border terrorism for many years without getting much support from others before and after the 9/11.

Another implication of a serious GWOT is that instead of using superior violence against the terrorists, all concerned will devise a comprehensive plan of action that includes much more than military measures. Again that is not the case. The protagonists of GWOT do not realize that it is more important to prevent terrorist acts than to condemn them. They do not realize that if we want to prevent terrorist acts we have to explain to our own satisfaction why some of our fellow human beings resort to such acts of madness. We have to understand the causes of terrorist actions. Understanding the causes does not amount to showing understanding of terrorists. Why do they kill themselves and many others? What motivates them? These questions should be raised and answered in each case. It will be naïve to generalize.

Let us bring in some history. Between 1960 and 1997 a number of terrorist groups were active. The more prominent names include Aum Shinrikyo, Tamil Tigers, The Irish Republican Army, The Algerian Armed Islamic Group(GIA) and Islamic Jihad. None of them targeted the US. Why? Those who carried out 9/11 were reacting ,in their own mad manner, to US policies that they resented rightly or wrongly. This is the crux of the matter. It is not the case that the 19 men ,15 of them Saudi nationals, are against freedom and democracy and therefore did what they did. Nor is it correct to argue that if Saudi Arabia were a democracy 9/11 would not have occurred. Those who carried out 9/11 do not want a democracy in Saudi Arabia. Of course, they were mad at US for the support given to the government of Saudi Arabia. They were mad at their government for permitting the US troops in the kingdom. Of course, if there were democracy in Saudi Arabia such people might have tried to gain their ends through democratic means. May be not. It may be that such people hold that given the reaction of the West to the results of correctly conducted elections in the Occupied Territories in Palestine it is wrong to believe that the West wants democracy in their region.

If terrorist acts against US are a reaction, however misguided and deplorable, to US policies towards the region then such policies need to be reviewed. The policies in question pertain to the UN sanctioned genocide in Iraq as the inevitable consequence of the ruthless economic sanctions allegedly imposed in order to prevent Iraq from pursuing a programme to make WMD(weapons of mass destruction) which fairly soon after the sanctions were imposed they had ceased to pursue, the invasion and occupation of Iraq, and the denial of their rights to the Palestinians.

Take the case of Iraq where about 80% of the money allotted to GWOT has been spent. Quite apart from the reaction of the terrorists, there are good reasons for revising US policy on Iraq. That policy has failed and the whole world knows it .President Bush is waiting to choreograph a retreat to appear like withdrawal after a declaration of ‘mission accomplished.’ The Congress and the American people want the troops out of Iraq. In any case, those who know have pointed out that after April 2008 the Pentagon will not be able to maintain the current troop level of 160,000. In other words, the GWOT in Iraq has failed irreversibly.

Afghanistan is not a success story either. Initially, US went in with only UK from NATO. As things got hotter, NATO has been invited in. But, the hold of the Karzai government on areas outside the capital is rather tenuous. One doubts whether the Europeans will be able to go on taking casualties if it appears that it serves no purpose.

Apart from the shortage of troops there are other weighty reasons that make the continuation of GWOT unsustainable. The financial cost is mounting. The total of allocations since 9/11 works out to $ 610.5 billion. The cost of keeping a soldier has gone up from $320,000 a year in 2003 to $ 390,000 in 2006. US was the biggest net creditor once, now it is the biggest net debtor. Americans are asking why they should spend their money in Iraq.

The strongest reason for rendering the current incarnation of GWOT unsustainable is that there is democracy in US. If the US were a dictatorship, it might have been possible to ignore people’s opposition to the war. But in a democracy elections take place from to time and therefore the legislators are compelled to respond to people’s concern. The primary concern of the people is that there is no good reason to send young Americans to kill and get killed in Iraq in support of a failed and flawed policy. The Pentagon is short of fresh recruits, even after lowering standards. Parents are telling their sons and daughters not to join the army.

Let us consider an alternative scenario. Suppose the US casualties in Iraq were of the order of a hundred. The American people would have ignored what was happening in Iraq.

To dig deeper we should raise the question ,to put it mildly, why did the US plans for Iraq go wrong? The plans did not work out mainly because of the ‘insurgents.’ We do not have much reliable information on who is funding insurgency. All that we can say is that the money spent on ‘insurgency’ is a small percentage of what the US spends in Iraq, currently running at 8 to 10$ billion a month. Some asymmetry!

If we choose to dig still deeper, reflection will show that given Iraq’s history, ethnic composition and contradictions, and the temper of the people, it would have been reasonably clear that it was an impossible project not worth attempting. But, decision-makers believe that they can ignore history. It is wrong to fault the Bush Administration for failing in Iraq. It can be faulted for embarking on an impossible project based on naïve assumptions that any professor studying the Middle East in any good US university would have refuted in no time.

It will be wrong to blame President Bush alone for what has happened. The US Congress, the US media, and the voters in general should share the blame. The US constitution is based on the wise doctrine of separation of powers. After the enormous tragedy of what goes by the name of the Vietnam War, the Congress had reasserted its power to declare war. Later, the Congress went to sleep and the president assumed the power to start a war. Ideally, it should be for the president to start a defensive war if the country is suddenly attacked, or is about to be attacked. But, it should not be within the powers of the president to prepare for a war for over one year, and then seek and obtain Congressional approval based on statements that have been proved untrue.

Applying the same logic, it will be wrong to blame America alone. The rest of us who remained silent or supported the invasion of Iraq do share some blame. Even those who opposed the invasion of Iraq (France, Germany, and Russia) did it so carefully and fearfully that they too partake of the blame. Tony Blair should be held answerable for his total alignment with Bush.

The current incarnation of GWOT will not survive the term of office of President Bush. It is time that we all thought of what needs to be done to eradicate terrorism. We do not need a global war on terrorism, we need a global project to eradicate terrorism. We cannot endorse the cynical view of some that US should sleep on the bed it made for itself in Iraq. We cannot remain with folded hands as we see human beings, whether they be Iraqis or Americans getting killed for no purpose.

Apart from a review and appropriate revision of US policies, there is much more that can be done. At a popular level, there is a belief in the clash of civilizations popularized by Samuel Huntington. A growing number of individuals in the West and in Islamic countries believe that there is an inevitable clash between the two. The theory is wrong. Civilizations do not have armies, aircraft carriers and bombs. It is governments or armed groups who wage wars. There is nothing in Islam that inevitably causes violent extremism. What is required is an intelligent dialogue between Islam and the West based on mutual respect. The UN can take the initiative. India too given her civilizational depth can take the initiative. Despite occasional inter-communal violence, different communities have lived together peacefully in India.
It will also help if Europe can help in persuading the US on the need for reviewing its policies. As UK’s Minister for International Development , Douglas Alexander , said the other day in a speech delivered in US, the greatness of the power of a country should be measured not in terms of the destruction it can inflict on others, but in terms of what it can contribute towards peace, harmony, and development. As the UNESCO put it war originates in the mind of man and it has to be eliminated from there.

For us in India the lesson to be learned is that we can hardly expect any help from others in tackling terrorism ,cross-border or otherwise. We have to formulate a long term policy. We have to ask the hard question: Why do some of our fellow Indians choose to be terrorists? Even when there was a cross-border involvement, the fact remains that individuals inside India have collaborated with outsiders.

A regrettable consequence of GWOT has been the erosion of civil liberties in US and elsewhere. In the case of Dr. Haneef, Australia has shown avoidable disregard for the rule of law and the civil liberties that are an integral part of democracy.

Is it possible to build a world free of terror? Is it possible to have a terrorism-free India? The answer is a clear yes to both the questions. But, we have to be serious enough to do some introspection and chalk out a long term plan. After all ,terrorism did not come from outer space.

March 5th,2009   category: International Affairs : Articles, Uncategorized   | tags: |   

Comment (1) »

Thomas — March 18, 2012 @ 10:22 am

Good Content

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