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Four years since Sept. 11 and since declaring war on terror

By Hasan Abu Nimah
The Jordan Times
14 September 2005

http://jordantimes.com/wed/opinion/opinion2.htm

This week, America and the whole world with it remembered the bitter
memory of Sept. 11, 2001. For America, the fourth anniversary of the
attacks in New York, Washington and Pennsylvania is a reminder of
terrible loss of life and the loss of a sense of invulnerability of
the American `homeland`. Many outside the United States remember a
landmark event which changed America`s relationship to the world and
redirected the course of history since, albeit in the wrong
direction. President George Bush lost the confidence of much of the
world already. Now he is also losing the trust of his own people to
deal with the issue that has defined his presidency: terrorism.

Most often costly events in history turn into useful lessons from
which the human race learns how to fortify the future. Progress,
after all, is an accumulation of the positive experience of
individuals and groups, by simply pursuing the good and excluding
the bad. The exact opposite occurred after Sept. 11, with an
administration run by extremist neoconservative ideologues seizing
on the tragedy not to plan for protecting America and its people
from any repeat but to activate pre-planned schemes for the region
and to settle old scores by applying everything aggressive, unjust,
illegal, unfair and violence-promoting.

In the aftermath of the attacks, the whole world either supported or
acquiesced as an injured America pursued `justice`, even if many
others saw its quest as being motivated more by a desire for
revenge. Nevertheless, few questioned the United States` right to
track down the perpetrators and punish them, and to try to ensure
that such an attack could not occur again, and so, many governments
volunteered themselves in America`s declared `war on terror`. The
United States enjoyed broad support when it attacked Afghanistan in
2001, but largely destroyed any existing consensus when it insisted
on taking this war to Iraq in 2003.

A quick assessment of the gains and losses in this `war on terror`
reveals fairly horrifying results. Almost 2,000 US service personnel
have been killed in Iraq and another 230 in Afghanistan. Nearly
15,000 Americans have been injured. An unknown number of Afghan and
Iraqi civilians have also paid with their lives. In Iraq alone,
credible estimates range from 15,000-100,000 and hundreds of bodies
of people who died violent deaths show up in Baghdad`s morgue each
week.

Despite countless `turning points`, Iraq appears no more secure,
stable and free than it was three years ago. If anything, the
situation is worse, as sectarian divisions, fuelled by the
occupation, threaten to explode into civil war. While Afghanistan
appears to be a success story in comparison to Iraq, the
`democratically elected` government is totally reliant on external
support and controls little outside the capital, where the same old
warlords continue to run their personal fiefdoms and drug empires,
as they always did.

At the same time, the number of people killed in terrorist attacks
has only increased, as has the scale and frequency of outrages. Bush
repeats constantly the neo-cons` mantra that America is in a war of
civilisations. Last Thursday he stated: `The world`s civilised
nations face a common enemy, an enemy that hates us, because of the
values we hold in common. The terrorists have a strategy.` He added:
`They want to force those of us who love freedom to retreat, to pull
back so they can topple governments in the Middle East, and turn
that region into a safe haven for terrorism.`

Yet many Americans are starting to question this simplistic and
politically convenient logic which absolves the United States of any
responsibility for the situation. The challenge has come from
respected scholars like Robert A. Pape, a University of Chicago
expert on Al Qaeda and author of `Dying to win, The Strategic Logic
of Suicide terrorism`. Pape agrees that Al Qaeda does have a
strategy, but not to force freedom lovers to retreat as Bush claims.
It is `to compel the United States and its Western allies to
withdraw combat forces from the Arabian Peninsula and other Muslim
countries`, Pape wrote in the International Herald Tribune in July
12 2005, adding that `Al Qaeda is today less a product of Islamic
fundamentalism than of [that] simple strategic goal`.

Pape asserts that contrary to what most Americans had hoped, Al
Qaeda has not been weakened as a result of American counterterrorism
efforts since Sept. 11, 2001, with the facts indicating otherwise.
`Since 2002, Al Qaeda has been involved in at least 17 bombings that
killed more than 700 people -- more attacks and victims than in all
the years before Sept. 11 combined,` he wrote.

He noted that `the overwhelming majority of attackers are citizens
of Saudi Arabia and other Gulf countries in which the US has
stationed combat troops since 1990`, and that `of the other suicide
terrorists, most came from America`s closest allies in the Muslim
world -- Turkey, Egypt, Pakistan, Indonesia and Morocco -- rather than
from those the State Department considers `state sponsors of
terrorism, like Iran, Libya, Sudan and Iraq`. Afghanistan, he
observed, produced Al Qaeda suicide terrorists only after the
country was invaded by US forces in 2001.

Pape finds strategic logic in Al Qaeda operative behaviour noting
that `[s]ince 2002 the group has killed citizens from 18 of the 20
countries that Osama Ben Laden has cited as supporting American
invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq`. He also refers to an Al Qaeda
planning document which the Norwegians spotted on a radical Islamic
website in December 2003, clearly indicating `that more spectacular
attacks against the United States like those of Sept. 11 would be
insufficient, and that it would be more effective to attack
America`s European allies, thus coercing them to withdraw their
forces from Iraq and Afghanistan and increasing the economic burdens
that the United States would have to bear`.

This kind of evidence flies in the face of those who insist on
denying any link between superpower behaviour and the irrational and
often violent reaction of those who are most affected. Continued
denial would only obscure effective methods of dealing with the
issue of spreading violence and terror.

This seems to be a major factor for the decline of public confidence
in Bush`s management of the war on terror, according to analyst Jim
Lobe who points to the increasing sense of vulnerability of the
American people to terrorist attacks as a result of the
administration`s actions, adding that `it now appears that much of
the national security elite has made a similar assessment and, in an
indication of the shifting political winds, is now more willing to
speak out about it`.

Lobe speaks of the `growing number of policy experts [who] are
arguing that Bush`s strategy for conducting the war on terrorism --
particularly his preferences for military action over `soft power`
and for working with compliant `coalitions of the willing` over
independent allies and multilateral mechanisms -- is in urgent need
of redirection`. (Four Years After Sept. 11, Anti-Terror Strategy in
Doubt, Inter Press Service, Sept. 9, 2005)

Lobe cites an increasing movement among Washington elites to express
an alternative to Bush`s strategy, as well as recognition by some
that an American withdrawal from Iraq and an Israeli withdrawal from
all the occupied territories would do more to fight terrorism than
military action could ever do.

There is evidence that some of these shifts among elites are
reflected in public opinion. Poll after poll shows that Americans
are no longer so easily appeased by Bush`s self-righteous
sloganeering. A Newsweek poll published to coincide with the Sept.
11 anniversary found that while 46 per cent approve of Bush`s
handling of `terrorism and homeland security`, 48 per cent
disapprove.

While Bush long ago lost majority support for his handling of the
Iraq war, this is the first time he has not had a majority
supporting his performance on terrorism. It seems that Hurricane
Katrina may have marked some kind of turning point. Nearly half of
Americans said the government`s poor performance after the hurricane
has shaken their confidence in its ability to prevent another major
terrorist attack, while nearly sixty per cent had lost confidence in
the government`s ability to deal with another major natural
disaster.

One interpretation of these results is that until now, Americans
were largely shielded from the worst results of Bush`s policies,
although here in the region -- whether in Iraq, Palestine or
surrounding countries -- we experience them directly. The disastrous
performance after Katrina demonstrated to many ordinary Americans
that the most important thing in government is not just a swaggering
attitude and feel-good appeals to patriotism and folksy cowboy
values, but that lives depend on sound policies executed by wise and
qualified people.

Perhaps Americans will now scrutinise those who want to lead them
more closely. If that is the case, then the whole world will benefit
from better American leadership which has a crucial role in making
the world truly safer and more peaceful for everyone. That is an
America the world will have no trouble supporting.

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