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We Can't Simply Bomb a Just World Into Shape: It's a Lot Easier to Declare a Victory Than To Earn It
30 June 2002
Truth is the first victim of every war, so it's not surprising when, again and again, western leaders congratulate themselves enthusiastically in front of the TV cameras on their supposed successes in the fight against terror.
But was this war really so successful?
When the planes crashed into the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, my 20-year-old daughter was in Manhattan. The whole day, we desperately tried to contact her. We didn't reach her until late the same evening. I know what was going on in the hearts of millions of U.S. families that day.
But we mustn't allow our feelings to obscure our view of the facts--and the latter are sobering.
The loathsome Taliban were bombed into retreat, but was that the main objective of the Afghanistan war? Had the U.S. government really spent billions of dollars spilling the blood of 40 U.S. soldiers and more than 6,000 Afghan civilians, only to drive one of the most wretched governments of the Third World into the Hindu Kush mountains?
Could it be possible that we won the wrong war?
Sorry, but I consider our strategy to combat international terrorism with conventional war methods futile, immoral and counterproductive.
Donald Rumsfeld, Paul Wolfowitz and Richard Perle would now say that the destruction of the Al Qaeda training camps, the defeat of the Taliban and the enthronement of the sympathetic Hamid Karzai were proof to the contrary.
But this is wrong. Osama bin Laden, a Saudi Arabian terrorist, mass murderer and the main target of this war, who was supposedly "surrounded and virtually eliminated" in Tora Bora, has since disappeared without a trace.
Even third-rate Taliban boss Mullah Omar was able to break through the ring of anti-terror forces on a motorbike, as in a cheap slapstick comedy, and is now mocking his enemies via the Internet.
If that is what we call a victory against terrorism, what would we call defeat?
If we face the truth, we must admit that the primary objective of the Afghanistan war - the elimination of bin Laden - was not achieved. This war was the most expensive and bloodiest flop to date in the history of the fight against terrorism. Bomb planters simply cannot be defeated by conventional war tactics.
The war against Afghan cities was also immoral. As justified as the bomb attacks on the Al Qaeda training camps were, the bombing of Kabul, Kandahar, Herat and Mazar-e Sharif were completely unwarranted. They did not affect the Taliban leaders or those of Al Qaeda. Above all, they devastated blameless civilians. More than 6,000 innocent Afghans, women and children were killed.
To me the killing of every child is a crime. President Bush is right when he says that evil must be fought with severity. But Afghan children are not evil. Children are not our enemies.
Western politicians have tried to justify the killing of innocent civilians by declaring, "Terrible things just happen in times of war."
This statement may be appropriate to war criminals such as former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic, but not to politicians of Western civilization.
Other politicians of the anti-terrorism coalition assert that every nation is responsible for its own government. But the Afghan people were never asked whether they wanted the Taliban or Al Qaeda. Both are a product of the Pakistani secret service and the CIA. In the late 1980s the CIA helped in conveying extremists and fanatics from the world's Muslim countries to Afghanistan in order to fight against the Soviet Union.
Neither were the Taliban, this perversion of Afghan culture emerging from the Pakistani Islamic schools, elected by the Afghan people: They were hoisted to power with Pakistani and American help in the mid-1990s.
The U.S. looked on the Taliban as potential partners for the construction of a natural-gas pipeline from Turkmenistan to the Indian Ocean. In light of this it is more accountable for the rise to power of the Taliban and Al Qaeda than the Afghan people themselves.
Bombing helped Al Qaeda
The bombs dropped on Afghan women and children have not weakened Al Qaeda. On the contrary, they have strengthened it. It was never easier for Muslim extremists to recruit potential suicide killers. With our attacks on Afghan cities we cultivated the next generation of terrorists. We delivered the ideological justification they need for their attacks on Western society. And we made bin Laden a folk hero, a kind of Robin Hood for millions of poor and uneducated Muslims.
The Achilles' heel, the weakest point in Muslim terrorism, is its merciless brutality toward civilians. How do we intend to overcome terrorism if we ourselves play down the massacre of innocent civilians as an inevitable side effect of anti-terrorist warfare?
The number of terrorist attacks, in particular suicidal terrorism, has increased dramatically since the beginning of military action in Afghanistan. Israel, India, Tunisia, Spain, Pakistan and Russia are only a few of the countries in which outrageous terrorist attacks have since occurred. Those who combat terror with terror will reap even more terror in the end.
The fight against international terrorism should be conducted with a scalpel, not with a butcher's axe. The right way to overcome terrorism is not with conventional warfare, but with reconnaissance by intelligence services, infiltration of the terrorist environment, money and undercover fighter commandos. You don't go fox hunting with tanks and cannons.
In particular we should play our money card more vehemently than ever before. In poor Muslim countries a donkey loaded with dollars will achieve more than any army. And the U.S. should once and for all cut off the Al Qaeda'a private cash sources in Saudi Arabia and the Arab emirates.
Whatever happens, we will need infinite patience in the struggle against international terrorism. The French say "La vengeance est un plat, qui se mange froid." "Revenge is a dish that's best enjoyed cold."
Keeping a cool head is more important than patriotic attempts to impress.
West must be just
Justice, however, is at least as important. The future of Muslim terrorism will be decided in the hearts and heads of the world's 1.3 billion Muslims. We can only win them by showing that we stand not only for strength, but also for justice. By proving that the West is a superpower not only militarily but also morally. We must create a moral coalition against terrorism. Nihilism cannot be conquered with nihilism, but with values.
In the 1990s the U.S. forced the Soviet Union to its knees without war because its military strength and stability formed a fascinating combination with justice. The U.S. should show the Muslim world that this continues to be its strategy today by:
Championing a fair solution in the Near East as an honest intermediary - fair to our friends in Israel, but also fair to the Palestinians.
Seeking a solution to the Iraqi conflict, together with the leading Arab countries, by which Iraq is forced to submit to rigorous weapon inspections. Simultaneously, the cruel United Nations sanctions that have cost the lives of 5,000 Iraqi infants each month for the past 10 years should be lifted.
Participating to a far greater extent than before in the reconstruction of Afghanistan, and not just in the construction of a natural-gas pipeline across Afghanistan.
Applying the unequivocal rules of international law in the treatment of prisoners at the U.S. base at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba. I have no mercy for these Al Qaeda and Taliban foot soldiers. But the strength of a constitutional state becomes evident in the way it treats its worst enemies. We should not relinquish our values on account of terrorists and murderers.
I know that leading Western politicians don't like to hear that. But without this strategy the 21st Century will become a century of terrorism. Only with a strategy that combines toughness with fairness, that upholds the central values of our civilization, will we be successful in conquering terrorist nihilism.
We can't simply bomb a just world into shape.