On Terrorism: Don’t Feed the Animals

I do not know why we find it so hard to state the obvious. Nevertheless, I will: our war on terrorism is not working. Our current approach is actually increasing terrorism rather than decreasing it. The horrible but predictable bombings in London yesterday, which left over fifty people dead and more than ten times that many wounded, are more grim evidence that we are failing. We need to rethink our approaches to this war on terrorism.

Even our own administration cannot seem to come to consensus on how well we are doing. When it comes to Iraq, for example, Vice President Dick Cheney insists that the insurgency there is in its last throes. According to Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, the current insurgency might last as much as twelve more years. In addition, as Gary Trudeau pointed out in yesterday’s Doonesbury, Bush seems to believe that our war in Iraq ended two years ago and we are in a mopping up operation.

The London bombings demonstrate that the “flypaper theory” (if we fight terrorism overseas it will not come to visit us) no longer holds much credence. Apparently, terrorists will choose the battlefields they prefer. Since September 11th, terrorist incidents are way up. This hardly demonstrates that we are winning. Our own State Department indicates there were 650 “significant” terrorist incidents last year. In 2003, there were 175. However, the National Counterterrorism Center suggests that the Bush Administration is deflating the numbers. It counts almost 3200 terrorism incidents worldwide during 2004.

Solving the terrorism problem is, as President Bush repeatedly warned us, “hard work“. Few would argue with his assessment, just his methods. Most of our strategies simply are not working. Most nations at war are savvy enough to change their strategies if they are not working. During World War I, for example, German U-Boats sunk Allied ships by the hundreds every year. Our leaders eventually examined the problem and tried different tactics. For example, they tried a convoy system. This made ships harder for the Germans to find in the vast Atlantic Ocean. In addition, since the convoys had armed escort ships, we had an effective means of fighting back. In short, we adapted. As a result, the allies got the supplies they needed to win the war.

However, our current administration cannot admit any mistakes. While I believe that most are naively sincere in their belief that we are winning the war, they demonstrate the follies of myopia, inflexible thinking and ideology. In any war, each side adapts to the perceived strengths and weaknesses of the other. If you do not then you lose, because the other side will. Al Qaeda proved this when it sent our planes into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. We could not think outside the box. So if we want to win this war then we must adapt too.

Here are my suggestions on how to turn things around and actually win this war.

Step 1: Get the hell out of Iraq. Yes, I know that Bush calls it the “central front” on the war on terrorism. It attracts terrorists (most of whom are actually Iraqi insurgents) because we are there. Our withdrawal is not likely to bring peace to Iraq. On the other hand, our occupation of Iraq is not bringing peace to Iraq either. Moreover, many Iraqis want us out of their country. Eighty two members of Iraq’s legislature want us out immediately. However, our fight there is clearly squandering the lives of our soldiers and costing us a fortune. As I pointed out some entries ago, our house of cards must collapse in time anyhow. It is a slam-dunk. With virtually no chance of a draft and with our army full of people who joined up expecting to serve in peacetime but now serving indefinitely in a war, we are squandering our armed forced. We will not be able to bring in enough new recruits indefinitely. We are literally running our army ragged. So let us get them out of there. Let us consider this a strategic withdrawal. In every war, you win some and you lose some. Meanwhile, our troops need to recharge. Our military equipment needs to be repaired and replaced.

Step 2: Demand that Israel commit to achieving a real and lasting peace with the Palestinians. Much of the anger against the United States is a result of real injustices by Israel against the Palestinians. Tie a meaningful peace agreement to the aid we provide Israel. Cut their aid by one fifth for every year that they delay. That will get their attention. Nevertheless, make sure that Israel understands the bottom line of what it will take to accomplish a real peace in that region. Everyone knows the formula, so insist that they do it. Israel must withdraw to its 1967 borders. The Palestinians keep the rest, but give up their right of return. Jewish settlers on occupied territory have to vacate. Water rights must be equitably shared based on population. In addition, East Jerusalem must eventually be the capital of a Palestinian state. It may be necessary for Jerusalem to be run by an international organization like the United Nations. To tempt the Palestinians, we can make large increases in their aid contingent upon meeting milestones for a real peace too. As Palestinians reach important milestones, we need to make sure they are rewarded lavishly. Non-defense aid should be roughly equal for both Palestine and Israel. Yes, it is a lot of money. But it’s a hell of a lot cheaper than war. And this money will provide real hope to long suffering peoples.

Step 3: Narrow the scope of the war on terrorism. This was perhaps our biggest mistake: biting off more than we were ready to chew. Our war is against those elements of al Qaeda that participated or aided in the events of September 11th and other terrorist events against our country. We are not after every tin horned dictator we do not like, no matter how odious we find them. Clearly, Osama bin Laden remains at large. We should do more than give lip service to his capture. However, we need to understand that capturing bin Laden will not cause al Qaeda to cease to exist. So in addition to doing a much better job of infiltrating this and affiliated organizations, we need to understand what is truly motivating them. This way we can devise strategies to stop the inflow of new recruits.

Step 4: Secure nuclear stockpiles. Incidents like what happened in London yesterday are but a bee sting. While they hurt us, anger us and focus our attention, if terrorists get a hold of nuclear weapons then our misery will be magnified thousands or millions of times. We absolutely cannot let this happen. We need a triage to determine which of these nuclear sites are the most vulnerable. We need to convince these governments to work with us to develop short and long-term ways of securing and centralizing these facilities. Where possible we should commit our own troops to guard these facilities until they are less vulnerable.

Step 5: Real homeland security. This means securing our vulnerable ports and doing a much better job of airline security. This includes inspecting all air cargo. However, it also means tracking and controlling ingredients inside this country that are used to make weapons of mass destruction. Ordinary fertilizer proved deadly in the Oklahoma City bombing.

Step 6: Prepare to fight different kinds of wars. In reality, much of our weaponry is almost obsolete. I’m not saying we need to get rid of our aircraft, cruise missiles and armaments, it’s just that we are less likely to fight wars against other countries. In this new war, intelligence is crucial. We need better technology that will help us collect and synthesize intelligence so that is more useful. Of course, we also need spies inside these organizations. Yes, it takes time, so we had best get started.

Step 7: Become mainstream. We need to reexamine our national policies, many of which (like global warming) are way outside the international mainstream. Where we are outside of international norms, let us consider moving into the mainstream. Our unqualified support for Israel is one example. In general the less offensive we are to the world the less attention we attract. Being a boring country may do more to give us real national security than anything else may. We should strive for neutrality. If we have issues with a particular country, we can often be much more effective through low-key diplomatic efforts than bombastic statements from our leaders.

Step 8: Energy independence. While it may seem utopian, many of our problems are a direct result of our addiction to foreign oil. The evidence is clear that oil will become increasingly scarce in the years ahead. We need a Manhattan plan to develop alternative and environmentally sensitive technologies for a post-oil age. For a start, we could increase CAFE standards and set requirements for the percentage new cars that must use hybrid technologies.

These are some of my suggestions. Of course, I do not have any silver bullets. Nevertheless, I suspect my ideas would likely do something to change the underlying and increasingly dangerous dynamics of this war. Now we are just throwing gasoline on the fire. No wonder sparks hit us in places like London from time to time.

As the signs say at the zoo: Don’t Feed the Animals.

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