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War On Terror Little To Do With Terror

18 June 2002

The most peculiar aspect of George W. Bush's war on terrorism is how little it has to do with terrorism.

Certainly, it has much to do with Iraq. According to the Washington Post, the U.S. president has authorized his Central Intelligence Agency to send armed teams into Iraq to capture and if necessary kill that country's leader, Saddam Hussein.

Many otherwise neutral observers might think this just fine. Who likes Saddam anyway?

But given that Iraq appears to have had nothing to do with either Al Qaeda or the Sept. 11 attack on the U.S., the Bush regime's fixation with Saddam seems, at the very least, odd.

Bush's explanation is that Iraq is stockpiling weapons of mass destruction. Scott Ritter, a former member of the United Nations inspection team charged with looking at these matters, insists this isn't true.

But even if it were, one might be tempted to ask why Iraq is being singled out. The U.S. itself has weapons of mass destruction. So do Russia, China, France, Britain, India, Pakistan and Israel.

Yet so far, the only nation that has allowed such weaponry to fall into the hands of terrorists seems to be the United States. American officials acknowledge that the fatal toxin used in last fall's anthrax letter attacks probably came from one of their own military labs.

Then there is the war on Afghanistan. That, we were told, was the first victory in the battle against terrorism.

But now, according to the New York Times, both the CIA and the Federal Bureau of Investigation have concluded that the U.S.-led war did not diminish the terrorist threat.

In fact, the Times reports, the Afghan war made matters worse by scattering potential hostiles to other countries and inflaming anti-American sentiment among Islamic militants worldwide.

Here the CIA and FBI are echoing a wisdom first articulated last fall by those skeptical of the Bush war, including (to their great credit) Alexa McDonough's New Democratic Party caucus.

At the time, such critics were dismissed by some in the North American media as professional anti-Americans and pusillanimous twerps. Now it seems, the twerps were on to something.

This is not to say that the bombing of several hundred Afghan civilians might not have an upside. The war could result in a government that does more for that sad country than the misogynists of the now departed Taliban.

But that, as we say in the war biz, would be a collateral benefit. The U.S., Canada, Britain and their assorted friends didn't invade Afghanistan to help women. They invaded to demolish what was at the time called the "terrorist infrastructure" behind the attack on the World Trade Center. And in this, they seem to have failed spectacularly.

So what is the war on terrorism about, if not terror?

Cynics would say it is about oil. Bush's main targets are intimately linked to the politics of oil production. Iraq is one of the world's largest producers. Afghanistan is strategically placed next to the rich oil and gas fields of Central Asia.

All of this is true.

My own view, though, is that the war is about opportunity in the larger sense. Americans are notoriously entrepreneurial; the Bush regime is no exception.

Even beyond oil, the attacks on New York and Washington opened up rich new possibilities for a president whose very legitimacy was under question until Sept. 11.

In effect, they gave him and his administration carte blanche.

Does Attorney-General John Ashcroft object to the U.S. Constitution's Bill of Rights? Bingo, it's gone.

Witness the case of Jose Padilla, a.k.a. Abdullah al Muhajir, the one-time New York gang banger accused of plotting to release a radioactive, or "dirty" bomb in his own country. Padilla, who is being held indefinitely in a military prison, has not been charged for the simple reason that there is not a whit of evidence of his alleged crime.

Yet most of his fellow citizens seem to think that's just fine. A country that doesn't trust its government to run a health system becomes remarkably credulous whenever the word terrorism is mentioned.

Does the president want to settle scores with Iraq, the enemy his father never quite beat? No problem. All he has to do is mention the T-word and Congress falls into line. Troops to the Philippines? Why not.

If, during these grand adventures, the Bush warriors happen to run across terrorists, well, that's fine too. But it is clearly not a priority.

Thomas Walkom
Published in the Toronto Star © 2002 Toronto Star Newspapers Limited

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