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A war that can't be won

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    A war that can t be won The west isn t just losing the fight against terrorism - it is fuelling it across the globe Seumas Milne The Guardian, Thursday
    Message 1 of 1 , Nov 30, 2002
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      A war that can't be won

      The west isn't just losing the fight against terrorism - it is
      fuelling it across the globe

      Seumas Milne
      The Guardian, Thursday November 21, 2002

      http://www.guardian.co.uk/comment/story/0,3604,844184,00.html

      This time last year, supporters of George Bush's war on terror were
      in euphoric mood. As one Taliban stronghold after another fell to
      the US-backed Northern Alliance, they hailed the advance as a
      decisive blow to the authors of the September 11 atrocities. The
      critics and doom-mongers had been confounded, cheerleaders crowed.
      Kites were flying again, music was playing and women were throwing
      off their burkas with joyful abandon.
      As the US president demanded Osama bin Laden "dead or alive",
      government officials on both sides of the Atlantic whispered that
      they were less than 48 hours from laying hands on the al-Qaida
      leader. By destroying the terrorist network's Afghan bases and its
      Taliban sponsors, supporters of the war argued, the Americans and
      their friends had ripped the heart out of the beast. Washington
      would now begin to address Muslim and Arab grievances by fast-
      tracking the establishment of a Palestinian state. Downing Street
      even published a rollcall of shame of journalists they claimed had
      been proved wrong by a hundred days of triumph. And in parliament,
      Jack Straw ridiculed Labour MPs for suggesting that the US and
      Britain might still be fighting in Afghanistan 12 months down the
      line.

      One year on, the crowing has long since faded away; reality has sunk
      in. After six months of multiplying Islamist attacks on US,
      Australian and European targets, civilian and military - in Tunisia,
      Pakistan, Kuwait, Russia, Jordan, Yemen, the US and Indonesia -
      western politicians are having to face the fact that they are losing
      their war on terror. In Britain, the prime minister has taken to
      warning of the "painful price" that the country will have to pay to
      defeat those who are "inimical to all we stand for", while leaks
      about the risk of chemical or biological attacks have become ever
      more lurid. After a year of US military operations in Afghanistan
      and around the world, the CIA director George Tenet had to concede
      that the threat from al-Qaida and associated jihadist groups was as
      serious as before September 11. "They've reconstituted, they are
      coming after us," he said.

      In other words, the global US onslaught had been a complete failure -
      at least as far as dealing with non-state terrorism was concerned.
      Tom Daschle, the Democrats' leader in the Senate, was even more
      brutal. Summing up a litany of unmet objectives in the US
      confrontation with militant Islamism, he asked: "By what measure can
      we say this has been successful?" But most galling of all has been
      the authentication of the latest taped message from Bin Laden
      himself, promising bloody revenge for the deaths of the innocent in
      Palestine, Iraq and Afghanistan. This was the man whose capture or
      killing was, after all, the first objective of Bush's war. And yet,
      along with the Taliban leader and one-eyed motorbiker Mullah Omar,
      the mastermind of America's humiliation remains free.

      Meanwhile, in Afghanistan itself, the record is just as dismal. By
      using the heroin-financed gangsters of the Northern Alliance to
      overthrow the Taliban regime and pursue al-Qaida remnants ever
      since, the US has handed over most of the country to the same war
      criminals who devastated Afghanistan in the early 1990s. In Kabul,
      the US puppet president Hamid Karzai can rely on foreign troops to
      prop up his fragile authority. There, and in a few other urban
      centres, some girls' schools have re-opened and the worst
      manifestations of the Taliban's grotesque oppression of women have
      gone.

      But in much of what is once again the opium capital of the world,
      the return of the lawlords has meant harsh political repression,
      lawlessness, mass rape and widespread torture, the bombing or
      closure of schools, as well as Taliban-style policing of women's
      dress and behaviour. The systematic use by Ismail Khan, who runs
      much of western Afghanistan with US support, of electric shock
      torture, arbitrary arrests and whippings to crush dissent is set out
      in a new Human Rights Watch report. Khan was nevertheless described
      by the US defence secretary Donald Rumsfeld recently as
      a "thoughtful" and "appealing" person. His counterpart in the north,
      General Dostam, has in turn just been accused by the UN of torturing
      witnesses to his troops' murder of thousands of Taliban prisoners
      late last year, when he was working closely with US special forces.

      The death toll exacted for this "liberation" can only be estimated.
      But a consensus is growing that around 3,500 Afghan civilians were
      killed by US bombing (which included the large-scale use of depleted
      uranium weapons), with up to 10,000 combatants killed and many more
      deaths from cold and hunger as a result of the military action. Now,
      long after the war was supposed to be over, the US 82nd airborne
      division is reported to be alienating the population in the south
      and east with relentless but largely fruitless raids and detentions,
      while mortar and rocket attacks on US bases are now taking place at
      least three times a week. As General Richard Myers, chairman of the
      US joint chiefs of staff, puts it, the US military campaign in
      Afghanistan has "lost momentum".

      All this has been the inevitable product of the central choice made
      last autumn, which was to opt for a mainly military solution to the
      challenge of Islamist terrorism. That was a recipe for failure. By
      their nature, terrorist or guerrilla campaigns which have deep
      social roots and draw on a widespread sense of injustice - as
      militant Islamist groups do, regardless of the obscurantism of their
      ideology - cannot be defeated militarily. And as the war on terror
      has increasingly become a war to enforce US global power, it has
      only intensified the appeal of "asymmetric warfare" to the
      powerless.

      The grievances al-Qaida is able to feed on throughout the Muslim
      world were once again spelled out in Bin Laden's latest edict. But
      there is little sign of any weakening of the wilful western refusal
      to address seriously the causes of Islamist terrorism. Thus, during
      the past year, the US has armed and bolstered Pakistan and the
      central Asian dictatorships, supported Putin's ongoing devastation
      of Chechnya, continued to bomb and blockade Iraq at huge human cost,
      established new US bases across the Muslim world and, most
      recklessly of all, provided every necessary cover for Ariel Sharon's
      bloody rampages through the occupied Palestinian territories. In
      most of this, despite Tony Blair's muted appeals for a new Middle
      East peace conference, Britain has played the role of faithful
      lieutenant.

      Now, even as "phase one" of its war on terror has been seen to have
      failed, the US shows every sign of preparing to launch phase two:
      its long-planned invasion and occupation of Iraq. Perhaps some of
      the intensity of the current warnings about terrorist threats is
      intended to help soften up public opinion for an unpopular war. But
      what is certain about such an act of aggression is that it will fuel
      Islamist terrorism throughout the world and make attacks on those
      countries which support it much more likely. If such outrages take
      place in Britain, there can no longer be any surprise or mystery
      about why we have been attacked, no point in asking why they hate
      us. Of course, it wouldn't be the innocents who were killed or
      injured who would be to blame. But by throwing Britain's weight
      behind a flagrantly unjust war, our political leaders would
      certainly be held responsible for endangering their own people.

      s.milne@...






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