Back to
The following was poste by Professor Cole three years ago.


Thursday, February 27, 2003

A poster to one of the lists I am on wrote:

"US policy is to allow no sanctuaries anywhere on the globe for anti-American terror groups. No training camps. No organizations, no fronts. No funding. No meetings. No travel. Identified leaders will be taken out. Operations such as those which existed a year or two ago in Afghanistan and Hamburg will not be allowed. Now that is American policy since 9-11 regardless of Iraq, but a major military victory in the Iraq campaign will, I suggest, drive the point home to everyone concern and provide the US with a major military base in the Middle East to monitor the situation."

I (JC) replied:

I am certainly all for preventing any attacks on the US by terrorist groups anywhere. It just seems to me that the ambition outlined above is a mere abstraction not grounded in the realities of the world situation. For anyone who has actually been to Yemen or Pakistan, or for that matter the not so nice parts of Marseilles, the idea that this level of control could be achieved seems nonsensical. There is also the question of whether, in trying to achieve it, the US will make more new enemies than it is worth. The idea that terrorists willing to commit suicide will be afraid of the US after it invades Iraq is just a misreading of human nature. Terrorism is produced precisely by humiliation and hopelessness and living in fear (which is not a life worth living). It cannot be stopped by inducing more fear and humiliation. You will note that Ariel Sharon has been trying out this tactic for 30 years and it hasn't worked.

The US so far has not even caught Mulla Omar or Osama Bin Ladin or Ayman al-Zawahiri or Shaikh Khalid Bin Muhammad, the people who planned out the first attack! An estimated 1000 al-Qaeda operatives fled Afghanistan to Pakistan a year ago, and only half have been apprehended (and that was largely because of the excellent cooperation the US got from Pakistan, for which Pakistan gets precious little credit over here). And this failure is despite our ostensible control of Afghanistan and close working
alliance with Pakistan!

If we cannot even catch the leaders of the Taliban and al-Qaeda, who already struck us, in areas we *control*, how in the world can we hope to prevent meetings of terrorists about whom we do not even know in places we don't? These are tiny groups, often clan-based, which have only vague affiliations to umbrella organizations like al-Qaeda. You think you can stop a radical set of friends and relatives from meeting in Antwerp? In Hadhramawt? Unlikely. And, it is not as if we have loads of CIA field operatives who speak Arabic and can infiltrate such groups! It will take years to develop that capacity. We don't even have an Arabist at the top echelons of the National Security Council.

Nor is it clear that going about having serial wars with Iraq, Iran, Syria, N. Korea, and apparently ultimately China [these are the ideas thrown out by the Richard Perle/ Paul Wolfowitz circle that controls our Defense Department] is going in any way to help with this task of surveillance and infiltration. Surely serial wars in the region are a distraction from the struggle against terrorism, especially since those
countries are not doing anything to the US.

Moreover, the idea that a US military occupation of Iraq will deter as oppose to provoking more attacks on US interests is awfully optimistic. The main problem an organization like al-Qaeda has is to recruit further members and keep current members from melting away in fear. They recruit best when the young men are angriest. What are they angry about? The Israeli dispossession of the Palestinians on the West Bank and Gaza; the almost daily shooting by the Israeli army of innocent noncombatants; the progressive colonization of Palestinian territory by--let us say--idiosyncratic settlers from Brooklyn (all of this is on t.v. every day over there); the harsh Indian police state erected over the Muslims of Kashmir; the economic stagnation and authoritarian policies of many Middle Eastern governments that are backed by the US; and the poverty and prejudice Muslim immigrants to places like France and Germany experience daily.

I don't have any idea how to resolve all these grievances; but the young men are very angry about and humiliated by them, and al-Qaeda plays on that anger to seduce them into attacking US interests. A US occupation of Iraq is not going to address the grievances, and is likely to create new bitterness and so help the recruitment drive. If the US really wanted to stop terrorism, it would invade the West Bank and Gaza and liberate the Palestinians to have their own state and self-respect, instead of heading to Baghdad.

Iraq is rugged; tribal forces are still important; and the majority population is Shiite, as is that of neighboring Iran. What will happen if US bombs damage the Shiite shrines, the holiest places for 100 million Shiite Muslims in Lebanon, Iran, Pakistan, India, Bahrain? What will happen if there is a riot in a shrine city like Karbala and US marines put it down by killing rioters? Do we want 100 million Shiites angry at us again? (Lately they have calmed down and it is the radical Sunnis that have given us the problems).

What happens if the Iraqi Sunni middle classes lose faith in secular Arab nationalism because the Baath is overthrown, and they turn to al-Qaeda-type Islam, in part out of
resentment at American hegemony over their country? What will happen if we give the Turks too much authority to intervene in Kurdistan, and fighting breaks out between the Turks and the Iraqi Kurds, and if the Iraqi Kurds turn against the US?

Colin Powell explained in Qatar last week on an Arabic talk show that the US war will be followed by a period of US military administration of the country by a general, followed by a year or two of US civilian administration of the country. This plan is an abandonment of earlier pledges to Iraqi expatriate dissidents that there would be a direct transition to a new Iraqi government. There has been a howl of outrage and betrayal by Kanan Makiya and other dissidents, once close to the Bush White House. If our friends and supporters among Iraqi dissidents are so unhappy now, will everyone in Iraq be just delighted to still be under US administration a year or two from now?

So, this business about controlling everybody all around the world just sounds to me like pie in the sky, and the same sort of thinking that got us mired in the jungles of Vietnam.

I will be ecstatic to see Saddam go. But I have a bad feeling about this, as Han Solo once said prophetically.

posted by Juan @ 2/27/2003 08:28:00 AM