Sidetracked from the war on terrorism

By : Jim Pinto,
San Diego, CA.

The Iraqi war, far from addressing the roots of the terrorism, has exacerbated the problems. Indeed, the "easy win" with no apparent justification simply inflames the extremists. Egypt's President gave an ominous warning, "The war in Iraq will create hundreds of bin Ladens!" And sadly, this is perhaps what bin Laden has wanted.

A version of this article was published by:
San Diego Mensan magazine, June 2003

Recently, I saw a poster that illustrated a perverse and scary truth. It shows Osama bin Laden in place of Uncle Sam, pointing his finger, with the caption: bin Laden wants YOU to go to war in Iraq.

The Iraqi war, far from addressing the roots of the terrorism, has exacerbated the problems. Indeed, the "easy win" with no apparent justification simply inflames the extremists. They are now even more convinced that America’s intentions are as they had suggested all along - control of oil resources and expansion of Israel’s influence. This may be far from the truth, but the extremists will never believe that. And the roots of terrorism are fed and strengthened.

A world that rallied to support America after 9/11, increasingly perceives America itself as the greatest danger to peace. After 9/11, the Bush administration reduced US foreign policy to 3 tenets: 1/ Unilateralism is more important than diplomacy and international treaties; 2/ no country will be allowed to challenge US military dominance; and 3/ the US is free to take preemptive or preventative action against terrorists and countries that are suspected to have weapons of mass destruction. As a foreign policy, this is arrogant and corrosive, generating opposition even from friendly countries, and undermining all multilateral agreements. Clearly, it will increase the danger of extremist reactions.

Several reasons were offered for the Iraqi war - Saddam Hussein was a tyrant who had murdered many of his own people; UN sanctions had not been adhered to for many years; Iraq was helping the Al Qaeda terrorists; Iraq had to be disarmed because of the threat of proliferation of weapons of mass destruction; a change in Iraqi regime was required to disarm the country; Iraq needed freedom and democracy. This jumble of reasons did not justify a preemptive war. Indeed, “preemptive” denotes a defensive first strike to avoid being struck; clearly there was no danger from Iraq. So the war was “preventative”.

Most of the world still does not understand why America launched this war unilaterally, with the active support of only Great Britain and Australia. Faced with opposition from nearly all of its allies and much of the world, the US administration gave up on efforts to get UN support, with denigrating remarks that it was “just a debating society”. Record millions of protesters massed in the US and around the globe; but they were accused of helping the enemy, being unpatriotic, and not supporting the troops.

The war was launched with the insensitive, paradoxical name "Operation Iraqi Freedom" and with declared intent to instill "Shock & Awe". With great fanfare, the MOAB (Mother of All Bombs) was tested just a week before, and the TV and news networks immediately jumped on the sequence of events as though it was a world heavyweight title fight. While thousands of Iraqis died in the bombing, US news lingered with maudlin madness on the far fewer US combatants who were killed, injured or taken captive.

Now the war is over. But, while the TV cameras focus on friendly faces, Iraqis have not overwhelmingly welcomed the occupying forces with garlands as expected. Indeed, many consider the occupying forces as foreign invaders. And the ranks of extremist terrorists multiply.

After teams of UN inspectors had been digging for months without finding anything, the world is now waiting to see what weapons of mass destruction will be found by the occupying forces. Indeed, one even hopes that something credible will be discovered - some chemical or biological weapons which will vindicate Colin Powell's UN presentation, some links to Al Quaeda to prove to the world that Saddam Hussein was indeed harboring terrorism. In the weeks after the conflict has ended, thousands are searching diligently without uncovering any "smoking gun". And the brazen response is that perhaps nothing will be found “for a long time”, and that "it doesn’t really matter because Saddam was clearly evil anyway".

Now that Iraq has been occupied and Saddam Hussein is gone, what next? Clearly the US must take the responsibility to rebuild Iraq into a progressive, democratic model that works. The occupation could last years, cost many billions of dollars and involve tens of thousands of occupying troops. Bungled UN diplomacy means that the America will bear most of the financial burden. But, with its current economic woes, it probably does not have the stomach, or the stamina, for taking on the responsibility of rebuilding another country of 26 million people half a world away. And this even before the Afghanistan involvement is finished.

Beyond Iraq, the US is now left relatively alone to deal with North Korea's rush to build nuclear bombs, Iran's move to nuclear status, and now accusations that Syria is also harboring terrorists. To many this looks like the roots of a vastly expanded conflagration.

In the past, the US has derived much of its influence from leading a global political economy based on American values and the success of democratic capitalism. To fight terrorism, America needs a multinational policy, shared by its allies and feared by its enemies. Only a strong, united world can eliminate terrorism at its roots. Iraq is a sidetrack from the real war.

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Copyright 2003 : Jim Pinto, San Diego, CA, USA