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The new USA PATRIOT Act has brought into being an unprecedented merger between the functions of intelligence agencies and law enforcement. What this means might be clearer if we used the more straightforward term for intelligence--that is, spying.
With the air and ground war in Afghanistan apparently bogged down, the Pentagon is trying to alter the balance of forces on the propaganda front.
If September 11 was this generation's Pearl Harbor, the Bush Administration's war on terrorism is still in early 1942, when the news from the front was bad, and the home front was panicky and confused. Now the instant-gratification warriors of the press are rushing in to turn things around. Columnists William Kristol and Charles Krauthammer grumble that the Administration is operating under too many constraints. Impatience with the air campaign has sparked calls by the Sunday morning punditocracy to send in substantial ground troops beyond the small contingent already there. Senator John McCain calls for B-52 carpet-bombing. Polls show a rising number of Americans doubt the war on terrorism will succeed.
Our concern is less about fine points of military strategy than about the possibility that the human and political costs of the war might outweigh any gains in national security and undermine America's moral credibility in the fight against the perpetrators of September 11. The bombing campaign may or may not be militarily effective--who knows, since our only information comes from the Pentagon and Al Jazeera--but civilian casualties are eroding support among coalition allies. TV pictures of devastated neighborhoods and wounded civilians fuel anger against America throughout the Arab and Muslim world and provide rallying cries for extremists, who could destabilize fragile governments in Pakistan, Indonesia and elsewhere. Sketchy reports from inside Afghanistan suggest that the bombing is turning people's loyalty back to the Taliban--making more difficult any covert operations aimed at capturing the "Evil One." It has sent waves of humanity to huddle on Pakistan's closed borders. As winter sets in, as many as 5 million face dire food shortages.
At home, Congress passes a counterterrorism bill "without deliberation and debate," according to Senator Russ Feingold, the lone senator who cast a historic vote against the ill-named PATRIOT Act. The act grants the Feds sweeping powers that break down the firewall between intelligence-gathering and criminal justice. Nothing in the bill would have prevented the disaster of September 11. And yet Bush and House GOP leaders still balk at passing the one measure that could have: federalizing airport security. Meanwhile, the Justice Department continues to resist legitimate requests for information about the 1,107 people it has detained in connection with the September 11 attacks. Civil liberties organizations and others, including this magazine, have filed a Freedom of Information Act request for information about those detained, warning that the government's "official silence prevents any democratic oversight of [its] response to the attacks." The government should comply.
Ultimately, the antiterrorism campaign could have disastrous consequences if America alienates its allies abroad and its people at home. The United States must reassure--by words and deeds--the majority of Muslims who oppose the terrorist attacks that the purpose of US military action is not to punish Afghans for the actions of Osama bin Laden. To this end, it should work more closely with the United Nations by curtailing military actions that hamper relief activities and by supporting UN efforts to build a coalition government that represents all parties in Afghanistan.
Polls show that an overwhelming majority of Americans favor a multilateral effort against terrorists, including working through the UN. Add to this stepped-up international policing efforts that must be the backbone of any global antiterrorism campaign and financial countermeasures that target identifiable terrorist groups. As Jonathan Schell writes on page 8, "In a war on terrorism--as distinct from a war on a state--it is politics, not military force, that will probably decide the outcome."
If bin Laden is destroyed, his shadowy armies will grow, rather than wither away.
Hawk and dove agree: The war in Afghanistan is not going well. Hawks point to the resilience of the Taliban, which has "surprised" Rear Adm. John Stufflebeem by not collapsing yet. Doves point to the suffering of the civilian population, who face American bombing, Taliban repression and the prospect of mass starvation all at the same time. The problem goes deeper, however, than the unexpected toughness of the foe and stray bombs. It lies in an underlying contradiction in US policy. In a word, the Administration's military policy is at odds with its political policy. And in a war on terrorism--as distinct from a war on a state--it is politics, not military force, that will probably decide the outcome. For it is politics that will determine the size of the terrorist groups' most important asset, namely their pool of available recruits; it is politics that will decide how many countries will actively participate in the international police effort that must be the backbone of any global antiterrorism campaign; and it is politics that will decide how long support for the war will last in public opinion, including opinion on the home fronts.
To understand what is going wrong and why, we must look back at the origins of the war and its declared objectives. They were to uproot the networks of terrorists that sponsored the September 11 attacks, and, more particularly, to capture the alleged leader of those networks, Osama bin Laden. In the weeks leading up to the bombing, let us recall, a debate on strategy was conducted within the Administration and in the press. At issue was the scope of the war. Should it be extended beyond Afghanistan--perhaps to Iraq? The decision was to restrict it to Afghanistan, at least for the time being. Was it necessary to overthrow the Taliban regime--could the terrorist networks be attacked with the Taliban in place? This question was perhaps more extensively debated than any other. One problem was that terrorist groups were located in as many as fifty countries, not in Afghanistan alone. Another problem was that if you overthrew the Taliban, you would have to install another government--an undertaking that would constitute nation-building, which Bush had promised to avoid. Nor had the issue been publicly resolved when the bombing began. As noted in an earlier week on this page, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld's articulation of American goals--to "create conditions for sustained antiterrorist action and humanitarian relief"--was surprisingly unambitious. There was no mention of overthrowing the Taliban, not to speak of any vow to create a substitute regime.
And yet as the bombing proceeded, it gradually became clear that overthrowing the Taliban was, after all, a goal of policy. Rumsfeld went as far as to remark that it might not be possible for the United States to capture bin Laden at all. On the other hand, he noted, overthrowing the Taliban was something that was within our power. The United States at that moment seemed to have abandoned what it wanted to do in favor of what it could do. A twofold strategy emerged. Its first goal was to support the Taliban's enemies, the Northern Alliance. Unfortunately, the Alliance members, most of whom belong to Uzbek and Tajik ethnic minorities, had misgoverned the country in the early 1990s. Accordingly, it was thought necessary to foster resistance to the Taliban among the dominant, Pashtun ethnic group in the south. The hope was that the Pashtun southerners--among whom the repressive Taliban were widely unpopular--would seize the opportunity of the US bombing to rebel. Then a coalition of anti-Taliban northerners and anti-Taliban southerners would ally to create a government friendly to the United States, whose military efforts could then cease.
This hope has been dashed by events. The bombing, far from prompting an anti-Taliban rebellion has, according to all reports, rallied popular support to the previously hated regime. Rarely has the destruction of political opportunity by military action been more clearly displayed. The extent of the reversal was revealed when Pakistan, under US direction, organized a meeting of anti-Taliban Afghan leaders. They promptly issued a call for a halt in the bombing--not, we must suppose, the reaction the United States was looking for. The change in political climate was further illustrated by the case of the Pashtun leader Abdul Haq, who entered the country from Pakistan to launch a rebellion but instead was captured and executed by the Taliban. There had in any case been something unreal about the expectation that the Taliban--more a social movement than a government--would collapse. "What is a government?" The Foreign Minister of Pakistan, Abdul Sattar, shrewdly inquired. "It has organs, it introduces a certain discipline in a country. But the government has simply ceased to exist in Afghanistan.... so it's not a matter of supplanting a state; it's a matter of rebuilding one from scratch." The Taliban was not, he said, "something that can be destroyed right away, because the government doesn't exist, in a way."
In response to these disappointments, many commentators have suggested, in effect, that a political strategy should be dispensed with altogether. Military victory alone will do. In the words of Washington Post columnist Charles Krauthammer, the goal of US policy now should be solely "destroying Al Qaeda and the Taliban" with military force. What comes after, he writes, is "an interesting problem. But it comes after." Senator John McCain called for heavier bombing and the introduction of ground troops.
These recommendations have the virtue of being practicable. The United States can unquestionably defeat the Taliban in a ground war and occupy Afghanistan. But politics will not disappear because it has been ignored. The state that is already missing in Afghanistan will still be missing. The Taliban and Al Qaeda will certainly remain as an underground force, exacting a steady price from the occupying armies. The English governed Northern Ireland for a quarter-century without being able to stop the terrorism there. And yet the cost of ending an occupation without creating a new government would be equally high, for there is no reason to suppose that Afghanistan, embittered by military defeat and foreign occupation, would not, once free of the occupier, return to its old ways of tolerating and supporting terrorism. Meanwhile, occupation of a Muslim country by US forces would be an outrage to Muslim opinion and a recruiting poster for terrorist organizations throughout the Middle East, which would almost certainly gain in strength. The United States can win the war in Afghanistan, but only at the cost of losing its war on terrorism.
The left is getting itself tied up in knots about the Just War and the propriety of bombing Afghanistan. I suspect some are intimidated by laptop bombardiers and kindred bully boys handing out white feathers and snarling about "collaborators" and being "soft on fascism." A recent issue of The Nation carried earnest efforts by Richard Falk and an editorial writer to mark out "the relevant frameworks of moral, legal and religious restraint" to be applied to the lethal business of attacking Afghans.
I felt sorry for Falk as he clambered through his moral obstacle course. This business of trying to define a just war against Afghanistan is what C. Wright Mills used to call crackpot realism. War, as the United States has been fighting it in Iraq and Yugoslavia, consists mostly of bombing, intended to terrify the population and destroy the fabric of tolerable social existence.
Remember too that bombs mostly miss their targets. Col. John Warden, who planned the air campaign in Iraq, said afterwards that dropping dumb bombs "is like shooting skeet; 499 out of 500 pellets may miss the target, but that's irrelevant." There will always be shattered hospitals and wrecked old folks' homes, just as there will always be Defense Department flacks saying that the destruction "cannot be independently verified" or that the hospitals or old folks' homes were actually sanctuaries for enemy forces or for "command and control."
How many bombing campaigns do we have to go through in a decade to recognize all the usual landmarks? What's unusual about the latest onslaught is that it is being leveled at a country where, on numerous estimates from reputable organizations, around 7.5 million people were, before September 11, at risk of starving to death. On September 16 New York Times Islamabad correspondent John Burns reported that the United States "demanded elimination of truck convoys that provide much of the food and other supplies to Afghanistan's civilian population."
In early October the UN's World Food Program was able to resume shipments at a lower level, then the bombing began and everything stopped once more, amid fierce outcry from relief agencies that the United States was placing millions at risk, with winter just around the corner. On October 15 UN special rapporteur Jean Ziegler said the food airdrops by the same military force dropping bombs undermined the credibility of humanitarian aid. "As special rapporteur I must condemn with the last ounce of energy this operation called snowdropping [the air drops of food packages]; it is totally catastrophic for humanitarian aid." Oxfam reckons that before September 11, 400,000 were on the edge of starvation, 5.5 million "extremely vulnerable" and the balance of the overall 7.5 million at great risk. Once it starts snowing, 540,000 will be cut off from the food convoys that should have been getting them provisions for the winter.
So, by the time Falk was inscribing the protocols of what a just war might be, the United States was already engineering civilian deaths on an immense scale. Not, to be sure, the ghastly instant entombment of September 11, what Noam Chomsky has called "the most devastating instant human toll of any crime in history, outside of war," but death on the installment plan: malnutrition, infant mortality, disease, premature death for the old and so on. The numbers will climb and climb, and there won't be any "independent verification" such as the Pentagon demands.
Let's not be pettifogging and dwell on the point that nothing resembling proof of bin Laden's responsibility for the September 11 attack has yet been put forward either by the United States or its subordinate in Downing Street. Let's accept that the supreme strategist of the September 11 terror is Osama bin Laden. He's the Enemy. So what have been the Enemy's objectives? He desires the widest possible war: to kill Americans on American soil, to destroy the symbols of US military power, to engage the United States in a holy war.
The first two objectives the Enemy could accomplish by itself; the third required the cooperation of the United States. Bush fell into the trap, and Falk, The Nation and some on the left have jumped in after him.
There can be no "limited war with limited objectives" when the bombing sets match atop tinder from Pakistan and Kashmir to Ramallah, Bethlehem, Jerusalem. "Limited war" is a far less realistic prospect than to regard September 11 as a crime, to pursue its perpetrators to justice in an international court, using all relevant police and intelligence agencies here and abroad.
The left should be for peace, which in no way means ignoring the demands of either side. Bin Laden calls for: an end to sanctions on Iraq; US troops out of Saudi Arabia; justice for Palestinians. The left says aye to those, though we want a two-state solution whereas bin Laden wants to drive Jews along with secular and Christian Palestinians into the sea. The US government calls for a dismantling of the Terror Network, and the left says aye to that too. Of course we oppose networks of people who wage war on civilians, as Seth Bardacke remarked to his dad after September 11. What the American people should have learned from September 11 is that bombing civilians is wrong. As Doug Lummis then wrote in Japan: "Fully grasping the total criminality and horror of those attacks can be used to grasp the equal criminality and horror of similar acts in the past. This understanding can provide a solid ground for opposing all similar acts (including state terrorism) in the future."
So we're pretty close to supporting demands on both sides, but we know these demands are not going to be achieved by war. What is this war about? On Bush's side it's about the defense of the American Empire; on the other, an attempt to challenge that in the name of theocratic fundamentalist Islam. On that issue the left is against both sides. We don't want anyone to kill or die in the name of the American Empire, for the "war on terror" to be cashed in blood in Colombia or anywhere else, or for anyone to kill or die in the name of Islamic fundamentalism. Go to the UN, proceed on the basis that September 11 was a crime. Bring the perpetrators to justice by legal means.
Alongside the White House and the Capitol building on the alleged terrorist hit list for September 11 was another, little-noticed target: Incirlik, a US airbase in southern Turkey. In a recent raid on a suspect's apartment in Detroit, the FBI found extensive drawings and materials relating to the base. Why Incirlik?
For the past ten years the base has been home to several thousand US military personnel and the fifty US fighter planes used for bombing the northern no-fly zone in Iraq. But it was during the Gulf War that the base earned its notoriety in the region. Throughout the war, Incirlik served as a headquarters of US operations, providing the launching pad for major troop offensives and thousands of bombing missions.
Built in 1951 by US Army engineers as a cold war outpost, Incirlik is one of the most strategically important footholds for the United States in the Middle East. It is not only within striking distance of Iran and Syria but also a short flight from the oil- and gas-rich former Soviet republics. Recent events have further enhanced the base's value; Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has even floated the idea of shifting the center of future regional operations there. With the imminent possibility of stepped-up attacks on Iraq, this shift could occur sooner rather than later.
The recent history of Incirlik offers a small window on the moral incoherence and dubious alliances that characterize US foreign policy in the region. Since Turkey reviews US access to the base every six months, it has had a powerful lever with which to influence the United States--and in turn, the United States has made costly compromises to preserve its access. "If a Turkish Ayatollah Khomeini came to power tomorrow," a high-level military official recently commented to me, "the US would still stay on bended knee to avoid losing that base."
The most scandalous of these compromises involves the US role in northern Iraq. The ostensible humanitarian purpose of the northern no-fly zone is to safeguard 3.3 million Iraqi Kurds. Unfortunately, US concern for the Kurds extends only to those being attacked by our enemy Saddam, not to those being attacked by our ally Turkey. Over the past fourteen years more than 23,000 Kurds fighting for greater autonomy and self-determination in southern Turkey and northern Iraq have died at Turkish hands. When Turkey sends US-made F-16s or thousands of troops to attack the Kurds across the border, as it did last December, Washington looks the other way. It's an "obscene piece of hypocrisy," writes John Nichol, the British pilot who was shot down in 1991 and tortured by Iraqi forces. "Turkish authorities ground our aircraft so that their own can attack the very Kurds that [we were] protecting just a few hours before." One investigation by Air Force Times revealed that the Turks were grounding more than 50 percent of US missions.
Incirlik is a factor on other fronts as well. Last year our House of Representatives was poised to vote on a resolution to recognize the 1915 Turkish massacre of an estimated 1.5 million Armenians. As the bill gathered support, Turkish officials threatened to end US access to Incirlik. President Clinton quickly persuaded the bill's sponsor to drop it.
After September 11, Washington immediately turned to Turkey, the only Muslim nation in NATO, for public support. Turkish Prime Minister Bulent Ecevit enthusiastically stepped forward, while also criticizing past US softness toward terrorism as an attitude of "let the snake that does not bite me live for a thousand years." Meanwhile, despite the fact that more than 70 percent of Turkish citizens oppose US military action against Afghanistan, the government has already begun making widespread arrests of human rights workers and leftists protesting the recent airstrikes.
Emboldened by a sense of indispensability, Turkish generals have been appearing regularly on television boasting that Turkey will be admitted to the European Union, a long-sought goal. But the constitutional reforms recently passed by the Turkish Parliament duck the main human rights requirements demanded by the EU as a condition of admission. "It's a step backward," says Elizabeth Andersen, executive director of the Europe and Central Asia division of Human Rights Watch. Where real improvements might previously have been possible, the Turks are now advancing mere "cosmetic measures to ease relations with international partners." The death penalty and basic limitations on the right of ethnic minorities to free expression are safeguarded, and provisions in the Constitution that facilitate the widespread use of torture remain unchanged. The few improvements Turkey has made do not apply to the southern Kurdish regions, where almost all of the cases of torture occur.
Despite its abysmal human rights record, Turkey is one of the largest recipients of US arms, which average more than $800 million annually. This number is sure to grow now that Washington plans to pay for Turkish support with increased weapons transfers. Soon after George W. Bush announced that he would ease restrictions, Turkish military officials called an emergency meeting to speed up negotiations on a range of major purchases, including a $4.5 billion deal to buy 145 King Cobra attack helicopters from US defense contractor Bell Textron. The deal had been blocked by a dispute over whether a portion of the source code for the helicopters' mission computers could be withheld for security reasons. Since US officials have not ruled out an invasion of Iraq as part of its antiterrorist campaign, Incirlik's value is at a premium. "Now more than ever, no one needs to mention the base by name," remarked Kate Kaufer, analyst for the Arms Trade Oversight Project. "It forms the backdrop to all these military transactions."
Not everyone in Turkey will fare as well as the military. Already in a deep recession, the Turkish economy took a further dive last February, leaving some 600,000 Turks without jobs. Unemployment has risen by 42 percent in the past year, while the Turkish lira has shed half its value. IMF austerity formulas such as tighter controls on unions and social spending come at a particularly vulnerable time. Suicides, domestic violence, prostitution and petty theft are all up. Turkey is currently the single largest debtor to the IMF, owing more than $9.6 billion, which gives the Bush Administration leverage to use for its own strategic purposes. When Turkey needed an emergency bailout this past summer, it was Bush who did the bidding. After September 11, Turkey again turned to the United States to pressure the IMF for a delay of loan repayment.
Recently, at a reception in the US Embassy in Ankara, Gen. Carlton Fulford Jr., deputy commander of US forces in Europe, spoke of the ever-growing closeness of US and Turkish armed forces. He closed by saying that this relationship "will only get stronger in the days ahead." The question not answered was: at what cost?
"Nuclear Safety" by Matt Bivens.
War skeptics such as Richard Gere, Susan Sontag, Rep.