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Fallacy of America's War on Terror
Posted: Friday, July 19, 2002

by Brendan O'Neill

Some people seem to believe that there really is a 'war on terror' - a clear-cut campaign launched by Bush and co to rid the world of al-Qaeda, the Taliban and other anti-Western terrorists.

There is no such thing. Instead, there is a scrabbling around for someone or something to fight against - a war with ever-changing aims that is uncertain what it is fighting against, much less what it is fighting for. What was hailed as a war to reassert Western values in the wake of the 11 September attacks has ended up exposing Western leaders' inability to defend even the most basic principles of freedom and democracy.

Consider the failures of the war on the ground. Nine months after the Afghan war was launched we know less about Osama bin Laden than we did on 11 September 2001. At least then, as we watched the terrible events unfold in New York and Washington, we knew bin Laden was alive and in Afghanistan. Now he could be alive, dead, sick, well, in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia, America or just about anywhere. He might not even look the same as he did on 11 September, if recent reports about his having had plastic surgery are to be believed.

As US defence secretary Donald Rumsfeld says: '[Bin Laden] is alive or dead. He's in Afghanistan or somewhere else.' This is a shocking admission from the man in charge of America's defence - that US leaders haven't the first clue where bin Laden is, what he's up to, or whether he's still breathing. Nothing better illustrates the war's dearth of intelligence and insight than the fact that its original target, public enemy number one, has disappeared from the planet.

In response to this intelligence failure, the Bush administration now claims it doesn't care about bin Laden. Bush and Rumsfeld say bin Laden is just one man, and at least he's being chased around to such an extent that he doesn't have time to plot more attacks. (This must be the first time that an enemy being on the run has been presented as a success.) But there are some people who might still care about getting bin Laden's head on a platter - namely, the families and friends of those killed on 11 September. They were told from the outset that bin Laden was responsible for the attacks and that America would 'get the folks who did this'. They were lied to.

Many argue that the Afghan war has had one important success - getting rid of the Taliban. But even this Ďaimí was tagged on as an afterthought once the war had already been launched. The removal of the Taliban and its replacement with a Western-friendly, multiethnic government has stored up further problems for Afghanistan. Already old rivalries are coming to the fore, with parts of Afghanistan heading towards all-out civil conflict. By making power in the new Afghanistan conditional upon ethnic and essentially sectarian credentials, America and Europe have revived old divisions and heightened tensions.

And, lest we forget, the head of the defeated Taliban, Muhammad Omar, was last heard of at the beginning of 2002, escaping from US forces on a motorbike....

The less success America has in Afghanistan, the more the war on terror spreads and spreads. First there was the announcement of an axis of evil in January 2002, where Bush declared that three politically isolated states (Iraq, Iran and North Korea) were a big threat to the West. In May 2002, the axis of evil was expanded to include Syria, Cuba and Libya. The idea that any of these six pisspot states - some of them already bombed or trade sanctioned back to the stone age - could pose a threat to the USA was ludicrous.

Yet the number of enemy states keeps on growing. Bush expanded the axis of evil from six to 60, when he announced his pre-emptive strategy in early June 2002. In a speech to graduates at the West Point Military Academy in New York state, Bush claimed that terrorism cells in countries that make up close to one third of the globe must be actively sought and dismantled. 'We must take that battle to the enemy, disrupt his plans and confront the worst threats before they emerge', said Bush - unveiling his 'first strike policy', which would hit potential terrorists before they had a chance to hit the USA.

So the war on terror has become a war against a third of the globe. Bush says he will target not only 'terrorist nations' and nations that 'support terror', but also 'nations [that] oppose terror but tolerate the hatred that leads to terror'. In short, it's a war against nations' attitudes as well as their actions and words. In nine months, the war on terror has expanded from destroying al-Qaeda to targeting Iraq, Iran, North Korea, Cuba, Libya and Syria, to targeting 60 nations and their bad attitudes. This war is out of control.

The underlying themes of the war have also changed significantly. It started as an attempt to restate Western values - peace, freedom, democracy - against those who would dare attack such values. Now, the only value talked up by the Bush administration is safety - from terrorism, from evil, from fear itself. Safety now overrides everything - including liberty.

It's hard to believe that the war on terror started as an attempt to kill bin Laden, destroy his al-Qaeda network and remind people how great America is. Nearly a year later, bin Laden is god-knows-where, his network still exists and America has been exposed as anything but great.

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