Friday, March 14, 2008

The War on Terror is Civil War: and Civilians Pay

Think "accidental killing", think air strikes. The sudden, searing, mindlessly penetrating plunge of "smart bombs", ripping apart walls, flesh, blood vessels, skulls, upholstery, plastics. "Precision strikes" guided by "intelligence" that right here where a family shares dinner lurk terror agents of the dreaded al-Qaeda. The explosion detonates as commanded, oblivious to the objects, arsenals, food, children, mothers, photos, clothing. The "smart bomb" knows nothing - not the slightest thing, yet more such weapons shine like trophies in American armories, the crown jewels of weapons technology, applied physics, the culmination of decades, even centuries, of development. Would that such development and focus had been applied to the human landscape, to resolving conflicts, to negotiation, even to the consequences of such weapons! Could we then avoid killing the innocent?

But no, our sophisticated weapons only plunge us deeper into the grotesque, self-replicating, bloody polyphony of war, growing ever more complex, each battlefront knotting on itself like a long rope shaken in a large box over and over again. We never designed or planned the knots. It's those laws of physics acting out again. So why don't we study those laws that apply to the rigors of human conflict?

Where's the logic? It's touted as pro-democracy, but an invasion is not a "liberation". Freedom cannot be achieved by force. It's sold as pro-security, but the war on terror is necessarily a guerilla war - one without borders - whose battlefield is the streets where children play, the homes where families sleep and eat. What security can be found in such a war? It's not a fire, not cleansing the world of a scourge. It's cancer, creating more of the scourge as it grows, feeding on itself.

Wars must run their course, as if on inertia, until they run into an obstacle: a mountain range, an ocean, a more powerful enemy. Then finally, they stop. Triage. The bleeding recedes, and life re-emerges... But the Superpower's war, the "Global War on Terror" has no visible barriers. The Kush Mountains of Afghanistan and Pakistan shelter Osama bin Laden, the godfather of al-Qaeda, the mastermind of 9/11. But the Kush Mountains do not stop the Global War on Terror. As if opening a giant quantum puzzle-turned-Pandora's box, we opened the war on terror, called it global, and so it was. Wherever we send our troops, it follows.

Iraq was a sovereign state. We invaded, and al-Qaeda cells sprung up where they never set foot before, like cancerous lesions. Iraq is now an international malignancy. Civilian deaths mean the people will hate and blame us. To them, we are the invaders, seeking oil and empire.

We didn't like Saddam Hussein, so we replaced him with chaos and a breeding ground for al-Qaeda. One wonders, to fill Guantanamo with someone? To justify having a war on terror, must we then create terrorists?

Wherever we see Islamic government, we see terrorism. Somalia claimed to have an Islamic government, many calling it another Taliban. We then saw it as a threat. Pandora's box again. So we opened it up as a "new front" in the war on terror. Our "precision air strikes" struck a Somali village on "intelligence" that three al-Qaeda operatives were there, and instead we killed innocent civilians and livestock. The operatives had been there - approximately - but managed to escape - to this very day. Meanwhile, this battlefront has degenerated into a killing field between Ethiopians, al-Qaeda inspired insurgents, and other Somali troops and warlords, so horrific that the humanitarian disaster ensuing is being described by those who know, such as David Case here, as "another Darfur." Even Ethiopia can hardly afford this war, but it was largely their "starring role" in aiding the United States in its Global War on Terror that embroiled them for the whole of 2007 - and counting. Another international malignancy.

Iran is an Islamic republic. The Bush administration sees them as a threat, constantly nagging the nation and the world to see them as a source and sponsor of terrorism. Half the point of President Bush's trip to the Middle East was to convince Arab governments that Iran is a threat and to mobilize them against it. Public threats against Iran have been a source of scandal by their unsubstantiated claims, yet many still insist we must attack Iran. With, of course, "precision air strikes." Any hit, of course, will hit civilians - who then, no doubt, will become justifiably enraged against - who else? That crazy Superpower, of course. This feeds right into President Ahmedinejad's propaganda. Where the country doesn't go malignant, the rhetoric does.

Afghanistan was supposed to be the grand success story of the War on Terror. But the Taliban is back, stronger than ever. The civilian population is bearing the brunt of the bloodshed. Their initial positive response to the United States is dwindling. Is this how we win the war on terror?

No one argues that civilian deaths are not tragic, or even that they are really avoidable. Many argue that the end - a high-minded and philosophical concept of security and even democracy - justifies the means - brute force, bloodshed. But that's the wrong point.

The question is not "does the end justify the means?" The question is, do the means have any rational, cause-effect relationship with the end? Absolutely not.

War in itself does not cause or create security for the powerful. In fact, it usually exacerbates any lack of security, may even destroy security. War does not create or cause democracy certainly. By defeating an undemocratic foe, one does not leave democracy as the natural consequence. In the case of the war on terror, chaos and violence have been the consequence. And in most cases, more terror. Score more wins for al-Qaeda, which has now morphed into something even Osama bin Laden doesn't really control.

The War on Terror is essentially a kind of "civil war". It is a war of man against man within the "civil" boundaries not of his nationhood, but his very humanity. It is touted as a war of the "humane" vs. the "inhumane", of the "innocent" vs. the "terrorist." But do these definitions hold water in the face of reality on the ground? Our terrorists are to others "liberators", "freedom fighters", defenders of their respective homelands against foreign invaders. By conducting wars of invasion, we give them cause to defend their definitions, to engage their civilian populations in such definitions, to gain sympathy. Like all civil wars, the War on Terror is essentially a war for the civil societies in which they are waged. It is a war against two conflicting ideologies within a civil society, tearing them apart. This kind of war can never achieve security so much as it achieves devastation of the entire civilian population.

So even as the U.S. military machine hides or downplays its air strikes on targets that unavoidably achieve "collateral damage", the goal such air strikes supposedly achieves is not foiled so much by the sweeping targets of the weapons or even of the intelligence, but rather by the very nature of the war that is being fought.

Is it not a shame that we put the great minds of our nation to use in developing the formidable technologies of war, rather than the even more formidable science and understanding of negotiation and discourse as a means of achieving peaceful coexistence? The mind is too wonderful to waste centuries on in pursuit of continuously-generating enemies. Is the suicide bomber in fact a symbol of what we are doing - collective suicide?

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