They tell us we are at war.
A war on terror.
What exactly does that mean?? So far that supposed war has been used to justify an invasion of a nation that was not an imminent threat, either direct or indirect to this country. And we knew enough before the invasion to know that.
Its been used to justify the internment of prisoners that we refuse to recognize as prisoners of war, and claim the right to try them in military tribunals after subjecting them to treatment that would easily meet the definition of torture.
Its been used to justify the kidnapping of foreign nationals from other countries and sending them to secret prisons where they were subjected to torture, where we would not even acknowledge that we held them or where, where we could do anything we wanted to them completely outside of any legal framework.
Its been used to justify a Patriot Act that the FBI itself has admitted abusing and authorizing the NSA to listen in on phone calls to and from American Citizens without benefit of a warrant, a program that recent reports has been abused by the NSA for the private perverse pleasure of NSA analysts.
It was used to justify the arrest and detention without trial of American Citizens, though the Supreme Court finally did put a stop to that.
It was used as a pretext for manipulating the color coded alert warning system in the months before the 2004 elections to keep the American people afraid and help the President's election.
So what/who are we fighting? And why??
It started with the September 11 attacks by Al Qeada that killed 3000 people, mostly Americans, in 3 states.
Once we were certain it was Al Qeada, we demanded that Afghanistan surrender Al Qeada's leaders to us for trial. They refused. We took out the Afghani government for their complicity in the 9/11 attacks and destroyed the Al Qeada infrastructure in Afghanistan. We didn't get Bin Laden or the other leaders of Al Qeada, but we had them on the run.
So far so good.
Then it all went soo badly wrong.
We took a problem that was largely religious and societal at its root and tried to pretend there was a military solution.
There were people in our government who knew better, but that's not who Cheney and Rumsfeld listened to.
Al Qeada doesn't hate us because of our freedoms. In 8 years of saying some incredibly stupid things, that might be the stupidest. It was probably the most costly. That kind of idiotic thinking was used to justify all the things we did later.
Why does Al Qeada hate us? Mostly because we are over there. They may not approve of our morals or the way our women dress, but that's not why they are blowing themselves up. They look at our history in the Arab/Muslim world of supporting dictatorships of different stripes (from the secularist Shah of Iran to the Wahhabist royal family of Saudi Arabia. They could see that we didn't really give a shit about Arabs or Muslims, we just wanted a secure and reliable flow of oil.
When did Osama Bin Laden develop his hatred of the United States? When we supported the Shah?? No. When were helping the Afghani Mujaheddin repel the Soviet?? No. That happened in 1991 when we deposited an army of 500,000 infidels, including women, in Saudi Arabia, the heart of Islam. He didn't hate us because American women could wear bikinis on beaches in Florida, he hated us because American could drive around Saudi Arabia uncovered and without a male relative as escort.
He could probably have gotten over it if we had won the first Gulf War and then left. But we didn't. We kicked Saddam out of Kuwait and then stayed. The presence of a white Christian army occupying bases in the living breathing heart of Islam was seen as an affront.
He hated us, not because of what we could do in our own country, but because of what we were doing in his. And the other Arab and Muslim countries in the region.
John McCain repeatedly referred to the war on Terror as The Transcendent Issue of our Times.
It may be
But it doesn't have a military solution.
We cannot defeat terrorism with bombs and bullets. We can certainly kill lots of terrorists. In doing so we will also kill lots more civilians because the terrorists hide, often in plain sight, amongst civilians, some of whom don't even know who these people are.
But by occupying an Arab/Muslim nation (Iraq), and by killing Arabs and Muslims in at least 3 other nations (Syria, Afghanistan, and Pakistan) we are only making Osama Bin Laden's job easier. He has a virtually endless supply of recruits and a largely limitless supply of money. He is most likely living in Pakistan, training his next generation of killers the the relative safety of the mountains of western Pakistan.
Are we going to defeat terrorism by threatening virtually every country in the neighborhood, by bombing terrorists and killing all the women and children around them, by occupying a Muslim/Arab nation and talking like we want to stay there for a century?
So what do we do?
As much as possible, we deny them justification for their actions. That means we get out of Iraq, sooner rather than later, that means we stay in the Middle East with as light a foot print as possible, That means that we transition our effort in Afghanistan from primarily military to primarily social, financial, and political. We can compete in the marketplace of ideas. Not by trying to convert them all to Christianity, but by helping them find the moderation and tolerance that is as easy to find in the Koran as the hatred and violence. By creating a market for their farmers to grow something other than poppies used to make Heroin. By building schools that teach useful subjects to compete with the Saudi funded Wahhabi Madrases teaching xenophobia and hatred. By working with the central government to reach out to the warlords who control much of Afghanistan and showing them the benefits of integration with the larger nation, benefits for the warlords themselves and for their people.
And we stop pretending that Radical Islam is a transcendent threat to the United States. They lack the power to destroy us, they lack the power to overthrow our government. We need to keep the threat in perspective and acknowledge that surrendering our freedoms and denying the rule of law to others in this fight we cannot win with guns in the end damages us far more than Al Qeada ever could.
We need to recover our place in the world. The shining nation on the hill. Truly a beacon of hope for people all over the world. A nation that doesn't torture and doesn't tolerate torture by others. A nation that doesn't hold prisoners in a limbo status for ever just because we say we can, but respects international law. Where international law is inadequate to the modern world, we don't ignore it, we work to update it.
There is no denying that the Osama Bin Ladens of the world would love to attack America directly again. And we have to take strong positive actions to ensure that doesn't happen again. But that effort is more law enforcement and intelligence than military. More collating and understanding the data we already have than torturing suspected terrorists for to get them to say anything whether its real or not.
There is a danger from Radical Islamists and we need to address the danger.
But its not a war
And the solution has very little to do with military power..
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