Why Bush's "War Against Terrorism" Cannot Be Won

[Editor's Note:  Jim Fetzer, a former commissioned officer in the Marine Corps, 
believes that the policies we are adopting reflect outmoded patterns of response 
that might have been appropriate during the Cold War but cannot possibly 
succeed today. We may or may not be up to coping with 21st century terrorism. But our present plans are sure to fail. This column originally appeared in the READER WEEKLY (20 September 2001), p.19.]
An article entitled, "Bush's audacious plan: Eradicate terrorism", THE DULUTH-NEWS TRIBUNE (15 September 2001), p. 6A, outlines our President's approach to conducting a "war against terrorism". Counter-terrorism official, L. Paul Bremer, is quoted saying, "It's going to be a long war and there's going to be a lot of casualities". He admits that we have lost "the first battle", but he neglects to add that most of these casualities are going to be American and that "Bush's audacious plan" cannot possibly be won. On its face, in fact, it appears to be a blueprint for disaster. It cannot be a conventional "war" and parallels with Pearl Harbor are flawed. That attack was upon a military target by a sovereign nation. These attacks are on civilian targets by shadowy terrorist groups. Their members are distributed across nations and divided into cells. There is no obvious "nation" on which to declare war! Simply identifying and locating those who were responsible is a difficult and non-trivial task at which we have not proven adept in the past. Why should we think the future will be any different? But President Bush has a plan. According to Warren Strobel, Knight Ridder Newspapers, it is going to be a war of "unprecedented scope and length", involving efforts of many non-conventional kinds. Secretary of State Colin Powell remarks, "It may well be that the diplomatic efforts, legal, financial, and other effots may be just as effective against that kind of enemy as would military force be". According to paragraph 6, On the diplomatic front, Powell and U.S. ambassadors worldwide have spoken to leaders in dozens of countries in the past three days, demanding that they break up terrorist networks, arrest individuals and crack down on the terrorists' sources of financing. Read what it says: We are "demanding" that dozens of "other countries" break up terrorist networks, arrest individuals and crack down on the terrorists' sources of financing! Why should we suppose that OTHER COUNTRIES are going to do things that we ourselves have proven unable to do in the past? There are sobering lessons for the limits of our ability to deal with terrorism, if our recent history provides any guide. According to paragraph 16, we are contemplating revenge for various terrorist attacks of the past, where . . . the United States still hasn't "repaid" Hezbollah for the bombings of the Marine barracks and U.S. Embassy in Beirut, hostage-taking in Lebanon or the 1985 hijacking of TWA Flight 847, in which a Navy diver was murdered. But why are we still "contemplating" revenge for these attacks, which were nearly as stunning in their day as their latest counterparts? Why haven't we ALREADY done something about it? Maybe because it is so very difficult to merely identifying those responsible, much less tracking them down and killing them? Could this be the reason we are demanding other countries do this for us? Words are cheap. Wars fought by other countries are like investments with other people's money. The list of "other countries" that we are demanding break up terrorist networks, arrest individuals and crack down on their sources of financing includes Syria, Iran, Iraq and Sudan, not to mention Afghanistan, where we have plans to bomb it "back into the stone age", if the Soviet Union had not already been there and done that. Do we need to be reminded that, no so very long ago, Afghanistan was being referred to as "the Soviet's Vietnam" and that the Soviets were compelled to withdraw, just as we did in Vietnam, after a protracted and costly war? According paragraph 11, "There's going to be a line drawn, and everybody's going to be on one side or the other", a White House official said. It's supposed to be BLACK AND WHITE, either you are FOR US or you are AGAINST US. Well, that's not especially comforting. Suppose they come down on the other side of the line? If you read just a bit futher in this article, paragraphs 17-20 report, The still-evolving administration strategy will focus on two other groups of states, the official said. First are countries such as Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and Yemen, where (Osama) bin Laden gets some official support, usually covertly. "If he's getting money, it should stop. If he's getting volunteers, they should be stopped. If he's getting safe passage, no more. If people show up, they should be arrested", the official said. Next are countries that are fighting their own wars against Islamic radicalism, but who might be destabilized by associating too closely with the United States. These include Jordan, Egypt, Persian Gulf states, Morocco and Tunisia. So the war on terrorism is going to be fought by "drawing a line" where "everybody's going to be on one side or the other. So if you are not with us, you are against us, and you are going to become a target of our "war on terrorism". The nations we consider to be OVERTLY assisting terrorists currently include Afghanistan, Syria, Iran, Iraq, and Sudan. Those COVERTLY assisting terrorists currently include Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, and Yemen. Those are the ones who are against us! But according to our strategy, those who are not with us are also against us, which includes all of those countries that might be "destabilized" by associating too closely with the U.S., including Jordan, Egypt, Persian Gulf states, Morocco and Tunisia! Those are the ones who are not for us! Our avowed policy of "drawing a line" means that even those who would be for us--except that, if they associate themselves too closely with us, they may be overthrown themselves--are also against us, because they are not standing on our side of the line! That's our policy. So if we harbored any doubts about those against whom we are going to "declare war", the answer has become clear: Afghanistan, Syria, Iran, Iraq, Sudan, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Jordan, Egypt, Persian Gulf states, Morocco and Tunisia! It also becomes clear why a counter-terrorism official would remark, "It's going to be a long war and there's going to be a lot of casualties." He might have clarified the situation just a bit by adding that, if this is how we plan to fight this war, then it cannot possibly be won. And that should be apparent to everyone. Really! Who are we kidding? If the United States still hasn't repaid Hezbollah for the bombings of the Marine barracks and U.S. Embassy in Beirut, hostage-taking in Lebanon, or the 1985 hijacking of TWA Flight 847, it cannot have been because we did not want to strike back! These were traumatic events that inspired a lot of heated rhetoric from commentators and politicians about massive retaliation, wiping out terrorism, and even conducting a war against terrorism. What happened? We couldn't do it then and there is no reason to think we can do it now. It might be worth recalling that a recent review of our military strategy concluded that, with our present combined forces--Army, Air Force, Navy, and Marines--we could conduct and win one regional war while containing opposing forces in another. Presumably, after attaining victory in the first, we would shift our forces to triumph in the second. But do you imagine, in your wildest dreams, that these Pentagon planners had anything like this striking list of states "on the other side"? We live in a complex age in which religion and politics combine in volatile mixtures with which we are only beginning to come to grips intellectually and may never be able to control militarily. Coping with terrorism requires unconventional modes of response. No doubt, diplomatic efforts, political efforts, legal, financial, and other efforts might be just as effective against this kind of enemy as would be military force. Indeed, there should be no real doubt that efforts such as these hold vastly more promise of success than any conventional military effort ever could! But they must be implemented in subtle ways to be effective, by private contacts and secret arragements, especially with nations whose own security would be threatened by too close association with the US. Stealth and surprise are the keys to success. We have seen their effects "up close and personal" when practiced by the other side! But the war this administration wants to wage is not a war of stealth and surprise. And publishing its plans on the pages of every newspaper in this country is not going to lead to success. This war, alas, has already been lost--BIG TIME!


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