Wednesday, November 19, 2008

War

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?

Probably not.

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..

7 comments:

The Coach said...

Walt -

I appreciate your description of what is happening in the Middle East and your differentiation of Muslims and the dangerous radicals who are the terrorists who are opposed to the west. And while I'm not convinced that I believe in "just war", I am also not convinced that our presence in the Middle East is the cause of the vitriol against those seen by terrorists/jihadists/islamists as infidels worthy of death in the name of Allah.

Uncle Walt said...

Coach,

Its not just our presence, its our insistence on doing things our way. Its things like insisting that women serving in our Armed Forces don't have to obey the same standards of dress and decorum that their women do. Its us insisting, as we bring Democracy to Iraq, that it be western style democracy with respect for women and minorities and other religions.

Its us being seen as imposing our code of values on them.

Memories are long in that region and they remember stories of the Crusades when White Christian Armies invaded their holy lands and attempted to impose what was then our beliefs at the point of a sword.

They see us conquering two Muslim nations and installing democracies that we want to look like our democracy.

I don't want to oversimplify this. There are Arabs and Muslims in the region who would hate us from a distance even if we didn't have armies and bases there. But they wouldn't have the kind of popular or financial support that Al Qaeda gets because they see us as imposing ourselves on them, they see us bombing villages in the country of a supposed ally, they see us as White Christian Occupiers of Muslim lands. They see us, with the largest nuclear arsenal on earth, telling a Muslim nation that they are not allowed to pursue nuclear weapons while we ignore the open secret that Isreal has had a small nuclear arsenal for decades.

We cannot and never will eliminate all the hatred that some people have for us. Oh Well.

But we can lighten our footprint in the region and deprive the far radical nutjobs of recruits.

Liz said...

Walt, are you suggesting that the women serving in the US Army in Iraq and Afghanistan should dress in abayas and veils? And that they should only ride in the back seat and never drive?

september said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
september said...

While I agree with some of what has been said - some is construed, and logically flawed from the premise. I will try to keep my bias out, and just relay the logic here..

"he hated us because American could drive around Saudi Arabia uncovered and without a male relative as escort"
-False Premise
If there is one key factor in Iraq that has changed the direction it is the women in uniform. It has gained a sense of trust that absent from the previous strategies. It showed for the first time there was a genuine notion that we were there to stabilize - not occupy. You assume the premise that this culture hates us because of what they see (in our female service members no less). Furthermore, you are taking the stance that everyone hates us there in the first place… The ones that hate us there (which is a vast minority btw), are the ones that cannot impose a strict radical imprint of what they desire – which is control . It is this same broad thinking that got us there in the first place with the current administration.

"The presence of a white Christian army occupying bases in the living breathing heart of Islam was seen as an affront".
again, False Premise.
We have been in Iraq, Kuwait, Bahrain, Iran, Qatar, and Saudi long before the current operations, long before the first gulf war... Not too mention of course, this assumes that the military is all Christian - which is a false flag statement to begin with… and to state that Saudi is the heart of Islam, analogous of Alabama being the heart of Christianity.

"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."

Now what do you think happens when you attempt to shift [even] any International Operation to that of a "primarily social" one? The operations in Iraq / Afghan have been shifted to a primarily social / humanitarian effort for quite some time. To assume a military presence automatically means a violent presence is way off base. Would do you imagine would happen to most of Afghanistan if there were no military presence? What do you think the strategic goals are right now (as far as the military is concerned)? Look up ‘ISAF’ – before you make assumptions that are already in place.

You speak as though this is a modern day crusade. You have to remember though; Arabs have influenced a culture across an entire region that was not entirely there to begin with (Iran). Iran kept its identity (somewhat) with its roots to Farsi (Persian). The same principles you are speaking of, have already been force fed into much of the culture to begin with.

Is our presence there justified? ... Probably not. But you cannot simply knock out an infrastructure and then leave "with a light foot" - otherwise many nations will be back over there doing the same thing we are now within a few years, and what will follow is a humanitarian disaster.

Uncle Walt said...

Liz,

In a word, maybe!

We live in a world where perception has real value. And the perception that we are imposing our values on a host nation by not obeying their laws and respecting the limits of their society is part of the problem.

There are no simplicities in this.

I am told, though I haven't seen it documented, that in the early 60's, as we were integrating Blacks into our combat forces, the German government quietly asked us not to send any Black soldiers to our bases in West Germany. The way the story goes, we told them ever so politely that our army was our army and we weren't going to bend to their racist request.

But there was no German law outlawing Blacks in their military. Laws regarding the conduct of women in Saudi Arabia are strict and restrictive. Telling our host nations that their laws do not apply to us is pretty arrogant. Although our presence there served the interest of Saudi Arabia, we were there because it also served our interest. So perhaps when we are operating in another country, we should follow their laws, at least when we are off base.

Secret word putopsis

Uncle Walt said...

We may be talking different “Theys”.

There is no doubt that there moderate elements throughout the Arab and Muslim worlds. And the broader Arab and Muslim society might not be offended, they might see our treatment of women as something to emulate. Your “They” is probably a broader, larger group than mine.

I never had the impression when President Bush says “They hate us because our freedoms” or other idiotic sayings, that he is referring to the Arab or Muslim populations at large. I believe he was referring to the radical Islamist elements that make up groups like Al Qeada. So am I. My “They” is that small subset of the Arab and Muslim cultures that are attacking us.

I think we may actually be in agreement once we agree on the which group “They” is.

I don’t assume that our military is all White or all Christian. I served and understand the glorious diversity of our people in uniform. I am not convinced that many in the Arab/Muslim communities see that diversity. And I don’t know that we would get kudos from them by telling them that some of those non-Christians are Jews.

Mecca, in Saudi Arabia is the most important city in Islam. That is the city that every Muslim, as a tenant of their faith is supposed to bow towards 5 times a day during their prayers. Medina is probably as important to Islam as Jerusalem, maybe more so. I am not sure how you can deny the central place of Saudi Arabia in Islam. The Analogy is not to Alabama, but to Palestine/Israel with Jerusalem and Bethlehem.

As for operations in Afghanistan, we are intending to increase our military presence in Afghanistan to deal with a resurgent Taliban/Al Qeada. We are not planning, in the short term, to ramp up or nation building. We can’t until the military situation is stabilized on both sides of the border with Pakistan. And we can only operate freely on one side of that border. As much as the Taliban/Al Qeada are operating more openly in Afghanistan, their true center now is in Pakistan. And we must rely on the Pakistani’s to do most of the heavy lifting there. And we can’t get their increased cooperation using the current policies.

We have already done much to lighten our footprint. Our presence in Saudi Arabia is very small. Once we are clear of Iraq (no later than 2011 under the new Status of Forces Agreement) we can ramp down our presence in Kuwait. We will probably need to retain our large presence in Qatar, but much else that we want to do can be done from the periphery, from Diego Garcia, from our fleet in the Med and the Gulf, from our bases in some of the former Soviet Republics.

I don’t think or claim all Muslims or all Arabs hate us, but many do, and we don’t reduce that number by acting like a foreign occupying army.