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18 November 2001 | #48

Strategy against Terrorism

911+ Questions in Seeking UnCommon Ground (Part 5)

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Part 5 of 911+ Questions in Seeking UnCommon Ground and protecting the Middle Way from Binary Thinking (2001)


Appropriate strategy

Appropriate strategy needs to be conceived in the light of the motive for the attack. Who understands -- or is seeking to understand -- what the motive was and how is it being rendered comprehensible to the citizens calling for reprisals?

What are the coalition's precise war aims -- so long after it has started? (Editorial, Independent, 11 November 2001)

The failure of efforts to intimidate the Taliban, forced the coalition to use the USA's traditional blunderbuss strategy of carpet-bombing. Will the strategy actually lead to the capture Osama bin Laden and the dissolution of the Taliban? Is there any evidence that al-Qa'ida is being broken up -- or that its capacity to mount a new attack has been diminished by the strategy? Or has bin Laden's cause been placed in a better stratgegic position by this process -- even if he is captured? (Editorial, Independent, 11 November 2001)

What will be the wider reverberations of the war?Where will it all end? (Editorial, Independent, 11 November 2001)

What about the humanitarian aspects of the campaign? (Editorial, Independent, 11 November 2001)

Is the Northern Alliance an acceptable partner? (Editorial, Independent, 11 November 2001) To what extent, by its choice of ally -- known to be both brutal and untrustworthy -- has the western coalition effectively defined itself?

To what extent is the "war on terrorism" designed to marginalize -- and drain resources from -- the many other international strategies aiming to address conditions that engender terrorism?

Is it the case that the international community is effectively acknowledging its collective impotence with respect to other global problems that affect 2 billion people in dire poverty, and the hundreds of millions of the underprivileged: starvation, disease, injustice, violence, exploitation, shortage of water, homelessness? In desperate compensation for its eroding self-esteem, is it seeking to mobilize efforts and resources to an extraordinary degree in response to the deaths of a few thousand of the most privileged at the hands of a nebulous network?

Does the unconventional nature of the enemy ensure that the US-led coalition can always claim success by suitable news management?

To what extent is the fabrication of novel threats (biochemical and otherwise) -- as regularly practiced in an effort to inflate military budgets -- an appropriate means of ensuring vigilance of the population and allocation of scarce funding to narrow strategic objectives? How relevant will prove to be the nursery tale of the little boy who cried "wolf" once too often?

In designing an appropriate strategic response, how should distinctions be maintained between: classicial "news management" (spin), "confidence-building", "manufacturing consensus", and "grief management"?

Is the US-coalition totally deluded in its belief that it can completely overthrow the Taliban and then engage in a viable nation-building programme in Afghanistan? What evidence is there that western initiatives have been successful in ensuring viable nation-building in countries with greater resources? (Madeleine Bunting, Guardian, 22 October 2001)

Given, that the Northern Alliance has so far shown little interest in acting on western requests, why should it be assumed that it would be prepared to abandon its military gains for a "broad-based" political settlement? (George Monbiot, Guardian, 15 November 2001)

Why does America assume conflict and confronation with the Arab world? (Ahdaf Soueif, Guardian, 6 November 2001)

Is it appropriate to personify the strategic target -- avoiding any need to recognize that civilization may be faced with systemic ills of which people like Osama bin Laden may only be the messenger? Is there a danger of "shooting the messenger" because of the highly heinous acts in which he is obliged to engage to have his message heard?

If a single individual, with a paltry $300 million resources, is the prime suspect as the cause of such havoc, what potential threats to civilized society should be suspected of the limited number of other "faceless" people in the world with billions of dollars of resources at their disposal?What potential benefits could they also make possible, if they wished? Why do they not?

To what extent has the attack increased the credibility in the USA of the strategic advice of its principal Middle East ally, namely Israel, to the point that the USA is in danger of becoming completely trapped in the reactive, hard-ball logic of Israel -- even though its policy objectives may not be identical with those of Israel? Will opposition to the emerging strategy of the USA be portrayed into "anti-Americanism" and portrayed like opposition to Israeli strategies as a form of "anti-Semitism"?

Much of the reasoning behind the bombing of Afghanistan seems illogical. Realistically, can terrorism ever be eradicated when the people bombed live in a world of such inequalities?

Is the right focus of anxiety whether the USA and its allies are making the most effective, most intelligent and best possible response to the challenge from the terrorists? (Guardian, 29 October 2001)

Despite the alliance of the Taliban with al-Qaida, is it sensible of the US-coalition to persist in widening the war into a possibly unwinnable campaign of national conquest? (Guardian, 26 October 2001)

Will the Islamic mullahs accuse the West of responsibility for the humanitarian tragedy that is about to occur? Will they be right? (Robert Fisk, Independent, 14 October 2001)

In the light of terrorist attacks in European cities over the past decades (and notably the Canary Wharf bombing in London), to what extent is the response of the USA a disproportionate over-reaction? To what degree has the exaggerated response itself contributed direrctly to the major loss of confidence with disastrous consequences for the economy -- exactly as the attackers would have wished?

Given the total inability of strategic intelligence services to anticipate the attack, what is the probability that the nature and quality of the response will primarily serve the cause of the original attacker?

Whilst the terrorists should indeed be hunted down and brought to justice, is war the best way to track them down? Will burning a haystack uncover the needle? Or will it escalate the anger and make the world a living hell for all? (Arundhati Roy, Guardian, 23 October 2001)

Is there not a danger that whilst Osama bin Laden may indeed have won a battle, it is the nature of President George Bush's strategy which may well ensure that Osama bin Laden also wins the war?

Have George Bush and Tony Blair transformed themselves into recruiting sergeants for al-Qaida and militant Islamism -- increasing the likelihood of a cucle of revenge and retaliatory violence?

If terrorism works as a network, does it make sense to target a certain person as though he was the head? (Syrian President to Tony Blair, 30 October 2001)

How is it that the Taliban have been made transformed into a convenient and easily identifiable target for precision bombing which is unfortunately not precise enough to focus on the more elusive and desirable target of bin Laden himself -- the person allegedly responsible for the attacks? Have the Taliban become a traget of opportunity?

Beyond the mass of information, accusation and allegation, who benefits from this attack?

Does presenting this event as a coarse "revenge attack", or a mindless thoughtless act of barbarity, deny the underlying political advantage that is the true purpose and justification for some as yet unidentified group?

In adopting strategies of retribution, including state-sponsored assassination, the hiring of criminals and those associated with human rights abuses -- normally condemned as inappropriate to a civilized state -- at what point do states acquire characteristics of the "rogue states" that they seek to eliminate?

How is the USA to reconcile accusations against it by Israel of "appeasement" of the Arab countries at Israel's expense -- Nevil Chamberlain style -- whilst Israeli tanks roll into Hebron and The White House spokesperson declares "Israel has no stronger friend and ally in the world" (5th October 2001)?

Is the United Nations now irrelevant for major peace-keeping roles -- at least from the perspective of the allies of the USA? Is the associated treaty to be subject to the same treatment as that accorded to others by the Bush administration? Will the UN simply be used as a public relations cover for the US-led coalition's undertakings?

If, as is claimed, the "war on terrorism" will expose western societies to early threats of bio-chemical warfare, why is it that no effort has been made to disseminate civil defence information to deal with these threats?

In describing the coalition's strategy, Tony Blair (5th October 2001) states: "The proposal is to ensure that we have a trap set around Afghanistan in which everyone supports what we need to do and to help with the practicalities of that." One of Sun Tzu's classic recommendations in The Art of War, is to draw the enemy onto one's chosen terrain. Given that "a trap is a function of the nature of the trapped" (Geoffrey Vickers), is the coalition confident that the trap matches the nature of what is to be trapped? Or will the trap become a trap for the trappers, as was the case with Russian attempts to subdue the Afghans?

The difficulty for the coalition is that Osama bin Laden has already achieved more than any other nation -- including the USSR -- against the world's greatest superpower. Like Fidel Castro -- as yet unvanquished by the USA, despite many attempts (and therefore, at least in boxing terms, the world's greatest superpower!) -- it is therefore difficult to "win" satisfactorily against bin Laden. How is a "winning" strategy to be defined?

Given the highly symbolic nature of the attacks, is it possible to envisage any riposte that would be equally symbolic in nature - reframing the challenge for both sides in a more fruitful manner?

Who knows what dividends patience and pressure would have paid after Pakistan withdrew their support of the Taliban? Why did the USA refuse all negotiations with the Taliban? Why did it lurch into a shambolic war with little evidence of political or military strategy? (Madeleine Bunting, Guardian, 22 October 2001)

Is protecting citizens from the rest of the world within a "gated country" using "Star Wars" technology, what strategy is appropriate in response to opponents who equip themselves with box-cutters, and the ability to sacrifice themselves, in response to Stealth Bombers and Cruise missiles?

Most modern societies have had to acquire a certain maturity in understanding how to accept "losing", even though they may "win" on occasion -- or perhaps not at all. Is the articulation of appropriate strategy by the USA severely handicapped by inability to "lose" in an American society with such a high investment in "winning" and such contempt for "losers"?

America has been brutally awoken from a solipsistic dream of its own virtue to find itself hated in ways it never knew. Now it is painfully aware of a vulnerability that will last until America genuinely becomes the force for good it always imagined itself to be. What will "winning" then mean for the USA and its coalition in the long-term? (Polly Toynbee, Guardian, 7 November 2001)

Is the American collective psyche so unstable that any major "loss" is liable to destabilize it irreversibly? Will inability to know how to "lose" inhibit ability to know how to "win" appropriately?

It is nice of Blair to declare that the Palestinians have a right to live on their land, to achieve justice and an opportunity to prosper as equal partners to Israel, but did they have to wait for the loss of over 5,000 innocent Americans and billions of dollars to hear such words from the prime minister of the country that had the largest role in the tragedy of the Palestinian people? (David Hirst, Guardian, 15 October 2001)

If post-war Afghanistan is to be placed into a form of UN receivership, does the UN have any blueprint whatsoever for how this is to be made to work -- in the light of its own track record and the very special circumstances of Afghanistan? Where are the volunteers for the proposed Islamic UN peacekeeping force? (Guardian, 26 October 2001)

For Tony Blair, globalization means that anyone's internal conflict may affect everybody and this justifies interference, even military intervention. He has been asserting the primacy of western values. By what right does he go on to conclude in favour of much greater intervention around the world to impose western notions of justice and freedom? (Guardian, 6 November 2001)

Why bomb training camps in Afghanistan when the crucial training for the 11th September attack was obtained in Florida not Kandahar? (Jonathan Freedland, Guardian, 31 October 2001)

Since the bombing began, Osama bin Laden has never been so popular. Has the war made it less likely or more likely that there will be terrorist attacks in the future? (Mark Steel, Independent, l November 2001)

In response to the question "what would you do instead of bombing", Mark Steel points out that someone in the Middle East will be saying: "They've bulldozed our houses, murdered our chldren, supported dictators, now they're bombing civilians. It's all very well you condemning bin Laden -- but what would you do"? (Independent, l November 2001)

Tony Blair: "Our objectives are clear...and because the Taliban have chosen to side with al-Qa'ida, to remove them" (30 October 2001). John Prescott (Blair's deputy, 31 October 2001): "The objectives are clear, and the one about the removal of the Taliban is not something we have as a clear objective". Is that clear? Would consideration of the US views add greater clarity?

How meaningful is the destruction of evacuated buildings in a country with little infrastructure? (Shahzada Zulfiqar, Independent, l November 2001)

On his visit to the Middle East, Tony Blair has given a list of names that he demands should be handed over. Six of them are in the Sudanese cabinet. Is he trying to outbid the Americans? (Ahdaf Soueif, Guardian, 6 November 2001)

Having provided carpet bombing support for the Nortern Alliance to enable them to take Mazar-i-Sharif, how is it that George Bush restricts his further responsibility for widely predicted ethnic vengeance on Afghans to "urging" the Northern Alliance of warlords not to take Kabul?

In envisaging its post-Taliban nation-building project in Afghanistan under UN auspices, is the US-coalition aware of the Russian experience in single-ethnic Chechnya where not one single civilian governor that it has installed over seven years has lived long enough to tell the tale? (David Hearst, Guardian, 9 November 2001)

The UN spent months endeavouring unsuccessfully to develop a government for Afghanistan after the Soviet withdrawal in 1989. For how many countries has the utopian ambition of seeking a broad-based democratic government been proposed? In as many as have shown that the construct is impossibly elusive? (Hugo Young, Guardian, 12 November 2001)

Suppose the USA were to invest a fraction of what has been invested in bombing Afghanistan in keeping the promies it made to Afghans when they fought the Soviets -- to rebuild their ravaged country. Suppose it helped Israel solve the Palestine question and stopped pandering to corrupt undemocratic regimes. Would this defuse the resentment of those who for decades have been hostages of western, and especially US, politics -- and see no alternative to their misery except suicidal violence? (Giovanni Carsaniga, Independent, 11 November 2001)

A world seriously seeking to take on terrorism -- its support bases, hide-outs, financing, sub-structures of social and religious support -- cannot afford to ignore any simmering regional conflicts with great destabilizin,g potential, and certainly not the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian dispute. How can we break out of this cycle where the only game in town is the blame game and all-comers are welcome? Yossi Bellin, Independent, 11 November 2001)

On the average Washington debate these days: Do we take out Saddam this week or next? Do we attack one country or five? Shall we wipe out everyone who disagrees with us, or just most of them? (Matthew Engel, Guardian, 5 December 2001)

On one things all sides agree; this was never simply a questionof Osama bin Laden and Afghanistan. 11th September was the result of something more prod-found . But where now -- and should we go armed with sticks or carrots? (David Clark, Guardian, 28 November 2001)

It is unlikely that Washington will next take on states such as Iran, avowed sponsors of terror against Israel, but which are being "helpful" in the current crisis. Does this inconsistency not bear out the complaint that this is a war against America's enemires -- not against terrorists? (Rupert Cornwell, Independent, 18 November 2001)

Strategic cowardice

Does labelling those who act in this way as "faceless cowards" obscure a reality that needs to be understood -- making a mockery of their anonymous military counterparts who release bombs and missiles from a secure distance (even thousands of kilometers)? And what of the faceless corporate executives who deprive distant families of lands and livelihoods that they have had for generations?

If the Nazi headquarters -- or the Kremlin at the height of the Cold War -- had been located in a building like the World Trade Center, would a similarly successful attack on it be labelled as "cowardly", "evil" and "irrational"?

How is "cowardice" to be understood in the case of a military force that has a policy of only undertaking "zero-casualty" strategies -- leading to the supreme irony of incurring, in recent engagements, a greater number of casualties from "friendly fire" than in the face of the enemy? What does this imply for the ability to envisage strategies involving some measure of strategic risk?

To what degree should those responsible for tactical operations be considered as "cowardly" if they act to ensure that the actual fighting is only undertaken by foreign proxy ground forces? How should getting other groups to do one's fighting be characterized -- especially when intervening in a civil war?

Is there no concern for the morale of elite US-coalition forces when they are only used to advise -- from behind the lines -- an indigenous force (eg of the Afghan Northern Alliance) that includes soldiers as young as 11-years in its ranks?

In Afghanistan, proxy forces were initially provided by the Northern Alliance. Is it not alarming and galling to reflect that British soldiers may be about to become America's next fall guys? After the fall of Kabul, another pressing (but only too familiar) question is: where are America's ground troops? (Editorial, Guardian, 17 November 2001)

Rather than characterizing the attack as an act of evil, I see it as a terrible last act of desperation by people who believed they had no other way to make themselves heard than to resort to violence and mayhem. It is absolutely critical that we see not only their willingness to use horrible, illegal means, but that we also hear their desperation which makes them view such means as the highest form of heroism including the sacrifice of their very lives. (Greg Nees, Former US Marine, Letter to the President, 13 September 2001)

What can be said of people whose belief in what they were doing outstrips both the natural human instinct for survival and any desire to be remembered?

Why did it take more than minutes for the country with the most high-tech weaponry to secure "air superiority" over the country with the most outdated weaponry? How credible is the argument for high-tech weaponry in other circumstances? As with the Viet Cong, have the answers something to do with the nature of the "secret" weapon of the attacked -- namely courage?

Three days after the US-coaltion strikes began, the US defence secretary announced that the US had air supremacy over Afghanistan. What then justified continuing the bombing? (Jonathan Steele, Guardian, 18 October 2001)

After more than a week of bombarding a country with an infrastructure previously destroyed in 10 years of war, American generals continued to recommend continued bombardment to "soften up" the country for their ground troops. How "soft" does a country have to be before generals dare to expose American ground troops to any level of risk?

Marcus Scriven (Guardian, 29 October 2001): "These men are feted as America's elite troops. So how come the country's most decorated soldier thinks they are only good for video games?"

What "combat" medals are awarded to the warriors of the skies who take no risks whatsoever when depositing their bombs and missiles? How do veterans of face-to-face combat appreciate the effective revaluation of their own medals by such awards?

How are the "heroes" and "cowards" to be identified and distinguished in response to the suffering of millions around the world? Heroic firefighters are indeed to be celebrated -- but what of the unpublicized, and uncelebrated, heroism amongst the billions of deprived?

The campaign against terrorism, notably its bases in Afghanistan, is being mounted in conformity with the Powell Doctrine of using overwhelming force. At what point does use of overwhelming force become a mark of cowardice -- in the light of playground bullying or harassment of individuals by gangs?

A Taleban spokesman (Amir Khan Muttaqi) warned that their fighters were ready for a long war and challenged the US to launch a ground offensive. "If they have the strength and if their soldiers are not men used to a soft life, why are they not fighting face-to-face?"

How do soldiers of allied forces respond to being hailed as "heros" after providing assistance to their proxies in the massacre of prisoners -- many of whom were tied up?

In West Virgina, a 15-year girl, Katie Sierra, has had her case dismissed in the Supreme Court -- against her suspension by her school for attempting to organize a school anarchist club and for wearing a T-shirt with the message: "Against Bush. Against Bin Laden". In Latvia, a 16-year old girl, Alina Lebedeva, faces a 15-year sentence for striking Prince Charles on the face with a handful of carnations in protest against the UK role in the war against Afghanistan. How is their courage to be compared with that of soldiers in heavily armed special forces acting in Afghanistan behind proxy fighters and further protected by B-52 carpet bombing and missile strikes?

Intelligence failure and strategic handicaps

Why were those with access to the best intelligence resources, not alert to the fact that the core of the western financial system was so vulnerable? What other assumptions of this quality have been made by them? What level of irresponsibility does this imply in the strategies they advocate?

What do the military successes of such attacks suggest about the quality of the strategic thinking associated with the "Star Wars" initiative? Or about the response to global socio-economic ills as promoted by the USA through the United Nations's Global Compact?

Has conventional strategic defense thinking -- based on streamlined warships, cruise missiles, nuclear bombs and F-16 jets -- been rendered obsolete in the face of widely available box-cutters, penknives, and cold anger?

Some analyses of the intelligence failure recognize that the strategies for which the USA was prepared were those which had been expected, in the light of preferred models, as potential threats -- effectively ignoring the possibility of surprises. Were the intelligence services locked into patterns to which the "terrorists" did not conform? In addition to the stresses experienced by many as a result of western civilization, to what other patterns of threat are they insensitive?

Will history see the coalition going to "war against terrorism" as equivalent to the British redcoat action against American secessionists in 1812, or the last charge of the Polish cavalry against German tanks in 1939? The Last Christian Crusade?

Will history judge the major "intelligence failure" in the USA to have been compounded by a "wisdom failure" in the conception and execution of the US-led response?

Will history judge the efforts of western intelligence to pin the blame for the attacks solely on Islamic terrorist networks as a massive frame-up to save face?

Is the unprecedented USA annual investment of $28 billion in its intelligence budget -- now to be further enhanced as a result of the security failure -- an indicator of high collective intelligence or high collective insecurity?

How will planned enhancement of intelligence gathering, through systems such as Echelon, help to distinguish the "democratic" nature of American society from the most negative images of social control in undemocratic, totalitarian societies?

Is the strategic capacity of the USA severely constrained by the number of Cold War strategists still in positions of power -- who are unable to recognize or reinforce the new thinking required against an elusive 21st century enemy engendered by previous American policies?

If the anti-terrorist war does not get much beyond stalemate, where will the US-coalition get the wisdom to know what to do next? From advisers who are divided amongst themselves? From its leaders? (Hugo Young, Guardian, 12 November 2001)

Has the US-coalition "war against terrorism" been launched in such a way as to ignore the political and other questions which terrorism raises? Is the current flag-waving patriotism more compatible with a retreat into self-righteous isolationism than the sort of "new world order" that Tony Blair expects to come out of the struggle? (Mark Corner, Guardian, 15 November 2001)

We're paying them $300 billion a year to: (a) predict the fall of the Berlin wall; (b) predict the invasion of Kuwait; (c) not bomb Chin,ese embassies when we're not at war with China; (d) not train and fund Osama bin Laden when he will later use our own weapons against us. So the real question is: how could the military and the CIA have got it so wrong? (Jonathan D Farley, Guardian, 17 November 2001)

"War" metaphors: terrorism, crime, drugs, greed

Modern societies have failed significantly, after many years of sustained effort, in their strategy of "war against drugs" and have been forced to question the value of the "war" metaphor in this connection. What does this imply for the success of the proposed sustained "war against terrorism" -- which has already been underway for many years, although with very limited US involvement?

In the "war on drugs" the pattern of denial fails to address the question of why people in "western civilization" (and in the "home of freedom and democracy") are so desperately dependent on drugs. Is there a similar pattern of denial that inhibits any recognition of why some people struggle for meaning in other cultures in ways that are beyond the comprehension of people in western cultures?

Like the "war against drugs", does the "war against communism" provide inappropriate preset mental templates for the "war against terrorism"?

Various commentators have remarked on the potentially disastrous parallels between intervention in Afghanistan "against terrorism" and that in Vietnam "against communism". Is there a fundamental danger that the same strategic thinking will be applied to Afghanistan? Are there not curious similarities between both situations in the case of: the lack of clear objectives, the lack of appreciation for the reasons motivating "the enemy", the indiscriminate use of barbarous weapons, the unwillingness to engage in long-term negotiations (in contrast with Korea), the real reasons for which soldiers are being killed, and the questionable covert strategies used in the name of "democracy" and "freedom"?

Is the "war" metaphor necessary to the stability of American and Israeli societies dependent on an external enemy to provide a measure of reconciliation between their own internal contradictions?

Will the "war against terrorism" by the coalition of the western world provide some faceless people in power with a new license to assassinate wherever they consider it to be appropriate?

How is it that America can be galvanized into a highly resourced "war on terrorism" throughout the world but fails to be galvanized to that degree with respect to any "war against crime" -- and especially against international networks of organized crime?

Are international criminal networks not a more dangerous and pervasive "evil" to society and do they not have greater negative impact on the daily lives of many? Or is it that their values are so well entrenched at every level of society, and notably in the USA, that it is impossible to "root them out, and roll them up"?

Will the assistance of international crime networks be sought in the struggle against international terrorist networks?

If the patterns of the "war against crime" and the "war against drugs" are to be significant in the "war against terrorism", is the solution to incarcerate a significant percentage of the world population -- following the USA policy with respect to its own criminals? But are those with any sympathy for terrorism not already effectively incarcerated under living conditions that might lead many of them to envy the privileges of prisoners in the USA?

The "war" metaphor was first activated through framing the attack as a "Pearl Harbor". Is it not curious that after several years of European active response to attacks against civilization during World War II -- from which the USA sought vigorously to dissociate itself -- it was only "Pearl Harbor" that finally enabled the USA to determine which side it was on? Prior to its current interest in the matter, are there lessons for the USA concerning how terrorist attacks against civilization have been dealt with to date by other countries?

Since 11th September, USA and UK spokesmen have been engaged in verbal mission creep. The war on terror has been compered in turn, to the Gulf conflict, Korea and the second world war, and at the weekend a military pundit discussed a possible 30-year campaign. Admiral Sir Michael Boyce, Chief of the UK Defence Staff indicated that the wider war against terrorism could last as long as the 50-year Cold War. What next -- the 100-years war? War Is all this the old trick of ratcheting up our fears now, in order to limit propaganda embarassment later on? (Dominic Rooney, Guardian, 29 October 2001)

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