British Prime Minister Tony Blair and President George W. Bush went into their standard routine after the London bombings. This was an attack against civilization and all civilized nations, they said.
That’s bosh and hokum, and it does a disservice to the people. The first step always in solving any problem is to define the problem correctly. There are no terrorists anywhere in the world whose goal is the destruction of civilization, Western or otherwise.
The terrorist attacks against the U.S., Great Britain and Spain are motivated exclusively by Western policies toward the Palestinian-Israeli conflict and the presence of Western military forces in Islamic countries. Al-Qaeda, the ideological source of these attacks, has always been crystal-clear and specific about its reasons for declaring war against the United States.
You can’t win a war unless you know who your enemy is, know why he is your enemy and know what his objectives are. Only then can you properly direct your military and political forces to combat him successfully.
Unfortunately, very early on, President Bush decided to create a mythical enemy of vague and ambiguous proportions and irrational motives. This was done to give carte blanche to the government to pursue policies that really had nothing to do with fighting al-Qaeda e.g., invading Iraq, putting North Korea and Iran in the “axis of evil” and including groups on the enemies list that were in fact not our enemies.
The confusion this causes was illustrated by television coverage of the London attacks. Several commentators lumped together the terrorist attacks against public transport in Moscow, Madrid and London. However, the Moscow attack had nothing to do with the attacks in Madrid and London, or with us. Moscow is fighting Chechen rebels who want independence for Chechnya. Chechen attacks against Russia, like Palestinian attacks against Israel, are not directed at us. They are motivated by specific political objectives. Chechens and Palestinians have no desire to destroy civilization; they simply wish to take their place in the family of nations as independent countries.
You can’t have a war against terrorism because, as many people have pointed out, terrorism is a tactic employed by people who have no real military power. It is not an entity. There is no worldwide terrorist organization.
Terrorist tactics work because we live in a wired world. Ten or 12 people can set off a few bombs in London, and the world turns its electronic eyes on the story and chats, discusses and shows video clips until some other event distracts it. The media attention and the inflated rhetoric of politicians magnify the terrorist act far beyond its actual import.
These attacks pinpricks, really, in terms of any damage they do to national power cannot be completely stopped. A few malcontents inspired by someone’s rhetoric can get together and set off a bomb or two or shoot some people. Terrorists should be considered criminals, and their acts as ordinary crimes. Physically dealing with terrorists is properly ordinary police work. There is no war involved.
What the United States should be doing, instead of invading and occupying countries, is re-examining its foreign policy vis-à-vis the Islamic world. There is no natural conflict between the West and Islam. The followers and true believers of Osama bin Laden are a tiny minority. The best way to cut the ground out from under him is to develop and pursue policies that treat all of the Islamic countries with fairness and respect.
We don’t do that at the present time. Because of the power of the Israeli lobby to skew our policy to benefit Israel, our Middle East policies are riddled with double and triple standards and reek of hypocrisy. Because of that, we are the best recruiter Osama bin Laden has.
But in the meantime, remember that terrorist attacks are primarily media events. You still have more to fear from the flu or accidents than you do from terrorists.