Tuesday, December 06, 2005

War on Terror ... Welcome back to September 10, 2001

ETA claims it has planted a bomb at a Spanish airport ... victims from another suicide bombing in Israel are buried ... Al-Qaeda in Iraq claims responsibility for a strike on a police academy ... just a few items from the headlines.

What's happened with the war on terror? For all intensive purposes, the world has returned to September 10, 2001.

Terrorist attacks remain a fact of life in many parts of the world. Contrary to what the pundits said, the world did not change on 9/11, and the attempt to make the “war on terror” the new central organizing principle of international relations has fizzled out.

In the immediate aftermath of September 11, while the rubble still smoldered at the Pentagon and the World Trade Center, the United States reached out to other states around the globe with a series of propositions. The first, based on Thomas Jefferson’s principle that “governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes”, was that government—even ones that were corrupt, authoritarian, and dictatorial—trumped anarchy. No matter how noble the cause—even freedom and self-determination—nothing could justify acts that undermined the very nature of civilized society. The second was that a terrorist group that threatened one state threatened the entire global community; pre 9/11 distinctions—one man’s terrorist another man’s freedom fighter—were supposed to end.

Eliminating Osama bin Laden’s Afghan redoubt was a course of action everyone agreed upon. Since then, the “grand coalition” has been slowly unraveling.

For one, most governments were unwilling to sign a “blank check” on labeling groups as “terrorist.” Arab countries balked at categorizing Palestinian rejectionists carrying out “martyrdom operations” against Israel; members of the U.S. Congress were averse to including Chechen and Uighur separatists as part of the terrorist axis of evil; most countries declined to include Iraq as a “central front” in the war on terror despite Bush’s exhortations. Even when civilians are killed, terrorism is increasingly in the eye of the beholder.

Linked to that is the growing trend to compartmentalize “the cause” from organizations which engage in terrorism on its behalf. Yasir Arafat and the late Chechen leader Aslan Maskhadov routinely condemned terrorist activity and disavowed all responsibility for attacks in Israel or Russia which killed civilians. Not surprisingly, concerning the latest Delhi bombings, the leader of Lashkar-e Taiba, Maulana Abdul Wahid, maintains his group is “fighting Indian occupation forces” in “occupied Kashmir” but claims they have no links to Islami Inqilabi Mahaz, the group which claimed responsibility for the attacks on the markets. Not surprisingly, some in Pakistan therefore have argued that a distinction can and should be drawn between Kashmiris engaged in a legitimate struggle of national liberation against India versus those who carried out the pre-Diwali bombings, in contrast to the Indian assertion that the two organizations represent the same group.

And while some terrorist groups continue to attack clearly civilian targets—buses, markets, theaters and resorts—urban guerilla warfare is making a comeback. Many of the attacks across Iraq or the raid in Nalchik in the North Caucasus this past month targeted police stations and other government buildings. Exploiting a “grey area” in the traditionally accepted definition of terrorism (defined as political violence which deliberately targets civilians), militants embracing this form of combat argue that they are attacking “occupation forces” or the “functionaries” of an unjust and repressive regime, and not engaged in terrorism per se—that civilian deaths are regrettable collateral damage.

Add the democracy quotient to the mix—with the overtone that non-democratic, authoritarian governments have less right to claim they are victims of terrorism, because their own misrule must surely have contributed to legitimate grievances—coupled with “strategic considerations” and the basis for common cause in combating terrorism among the world’s great powers erodes further.

Many hoped that the lasting result of the 9/11 attacks would be to seal the cracks in the international system that had allowed terrorists to slip through. Four years later, it is politics as usual.

Interesting point, one that has slipped through the cracks as everyone has remained focused on Iraq, or Saddam's trial, or Iraqi militia doings etc. for the past nearly three years.

There was a golden opportunity after 9/11 to develop consensus on the problem of terrorism and then figure out means to tackle it. I think that time is in the past.
How has America really addressed the issue of terrorism after 9-11?
Just hours after Al-Jazeera broadcast a video displaying Iraqi militants with a hostage, President Bush stated that the United States will not pay ransom for American citizens reported kidnapped by Iraqi insurgents, Bush stated, “We, of course, don’t pay ransom for any hostages. However, in a February CNN article from 2002 it was stated that, “WASHINGTON (CNN) — In a major policy reversal on international hostage-taking, Bush administration officials said Wednesday that the United States might sometimes pay ransom to kidnappers. However, the officials also stressed that the government would be aggressive in recovering the money once a hostage was safely released…

The message, one senior U.S. official said, is that “we’re going to get you. We’re not going to walk away.” The amended policy — which President Bush signed last week (2002) — was announced Wednesday. The United States will become more actively involved whenever any American is taken hostage — not just when a government employee is abducted or in high-profile cases such as the kidnapping of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl in Pakistan, officials said.(Cnn.Com, 2002)”

Most probably did not notice this shift in policy in 2002 and most probably did not notice there was a change back. So where does this leave American citizens taken hostage abroad? It leaves you in Gods good graces. The government has again stated it will do all it can in its power to recover any American citizen taken hostage abroad. However, no ransom whatsoever will be paid to terrorist; the administration feels that acquiescing to even one demand will only encourage this type of behavior and tactic..
Raymond B
I think I get the gist of what you're saying, but I'm a bit puzzled by how you would have sealed those cracks in the int'l system.

Certainly the solution wouldn't include waging an offensive war on an ideology and expanding the definition of "threat" to include political systems.

But would a solution address so much the organization of the international system with the assumption that something about the international order fomented international terrorism? Or would it take a collective defense perspective, bringing key nations together on an ad hoc basis in order to patch up holes in security?

Either way it seems like there first has to be a bounding of the national interest with regard to terrorism so that a policy can be develop that focuses on fighting and preventing terrorist acts instead of attacking ideology.
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