The Fictional War On Terrorism

We have killed thousands of Muslims and taken over two of their countries. We're spending billions of dollars to make it easier for our government to spy on us. But we haven't caught bin Laden, al-Qaeda is doing better than ever, and airport security is still a sick joke. So when are Americans going to demand a real war on terrorism?

Recent suicide bombings in Riyadh and Casablanca proved with bloody eloquence that al-Qaeda and similar extremist groups are anything but "on the run," as George W. Bush puts it. Bush's tactics are a 100 percent failure, yet his band of clueless Christian soldiers continues to go after mosquitoes with shotguns. "So far," Bush furiously spun after the latest round of attacks, "nearly one-half of al-Qaeda's senior operatives have been captured or killed," and he promised to "remain on the hunt until they are all brought to justice."

Can Bush really be this stupid? All underground organizations, including al-Qaeda, employ a loose hierarchical structure. No individual member is indispensable, so the capture of even a high-ranking official cannot compromise the group. Each lost member is instantly replaced by the next man down in his cell. It doesn't matter whether we catch half, three-quarters or all of al-Qaeda's leadership -- hunting down individual terrorists is an expensive and pointless game of whack-a-mole. Only Allah knows how many eager recruits have sprung up, hydra-like, to fill Khalid Sheikh Mohammad's flip-flops.

Senator and Democratic presidential candidate Bob Graham caught heat for calling the war on Iraq "a distraction" from the war on terrorism, but he was far too kind. The invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq have replaced a real war on terrorism, and they've vastly increased the likelihood of future 9/11's. Bombing Afghanistan scattered bin Laden, his lieutenants and their foot soldiers everywhere from Chechnya to Sudan to China's Xinjiang province; fleeing Talibs spread new anti-American seed cells while the Taliban and other radical groups retain their pre-9/11 Pakistani headquarters. With radical Shiite clerics like the Ayatollah Mohammad Baqer al-Hakim poised to fill the post-Saddam power vacuum, Iraq could become a Shia version of Taliban-era Afghanistan: an anarchic collection of fiefdoms run by extremist warlords happy to host training camps for terrorist organizations.

"We're much safer," Tom Ridge claims. If this is safety, give me danger. Taking over Iraq and Afghanistan didn't score us any new fans among Muslims. We could have won them over with carefully crafted occupations, but chose instead to allow the two states to disintegrate into chaos and civil war.

Rarely have incompetence and cheapness been wed with such impressively disastrous results. In Afghanistan, we paid off warlords we should have bombed. Puppet president Hamid Karzai is threatening to abdicate his Kabul city-state because "there is no money in the government treasury." One of Karzai's ministers warns The New York Times: "Very soon we will see armed conflict."

As USA Today reported on May 7, "Iraqis say they view the U.S. military with suspicion, anger and frustration. Many even say life was in some ways better under the regime of Saddam Hussein: the streets, they say, were safter, jobs more secure, food more plentiful and electricity and water supplies reliable."

"Governance is a long-term process," says Bush Administration reconstruction official Chris Milligan, but that's just another lame excuse. The truth is that we haven't even tried to restore law and order, much less govern. The Pentagon plans to leave just two divisions -- 30,000 men -- to patrol Iraq. That's significantly fewer than the 50,000 peacekeeping troops NATO stationed in Kosovo -- a nation less than one-fifth the size of Iraq. 95 percent of Afghanistan has no peacekeepers whatsoever, with fewer than 8,000 in Kabul.

We're sleeping soundly -- do you think Scott Peterson really did it? -- but the guys who hate us so much they're willing to die to make their point are industriously exploiting our stupidity to sign up new jihadis. "Since the United States invaded Iraq in March," the Times quoted top Administration honchos on May 16, "the [al-Qaeda] network has experienced a spike in recruitment. 'There is an increase in radical fundamentalism all over the world,' said a senior counterterrorism official based in Europe."

Ariel Sharon offers living proof that hard-ass tactics strengthen, rather than weaken terrorist groups. Each time Israel assassinates a Palestinian leader or demolishes an Arab home, moderates angered by those actions become radicalized. Israelis and Palestinians have suffered through this endless attack-retaliation-attack cycle for decades. Surely we can learn from their pain.

It's still early in this game. Shut down the bloated and pointless Homeland Security bureaucracy -- since it doesn't include the CIA and FBI, it didn't stop interagency squabbling -- and apply the money we'll save into a fully funded rebuilding of Iraq and Afghanistan. Stop squandering money and our civil rights on boneheaded data-mining schemes like Total Information Awareness (now renamed Terrorism Information Awareness), and recruit some old-fashioned spies to infiltrate extremist groups. Charge the Guantánamo detainees with a crime or send them home; their legal limbo is an international embarrassment. Stop fingerprinting Muslim tourists -- it's insulting and does nothing to prevent terrorists from entering the country. Quit supporting brutal anti-American military dictators like Pakistan's Pervez Musharraf, whose oppressed subjects rightly blame us for their misery.

"The only way to deal with [terrorists] is to bring them to justice," Bush says. "You can't talk to them, you can't negotiate with them, you must find them." He couldn't be more mistaken. We'll never find them all. And while we shouldn't negotiate with those who call us the Great Satan, we must talk to the millions of Muslims who watch the news every night. Their donations keep al-Qaeda going. If we want them to stop financing the terrorists, we'd better stop acting like a Great Satan.

Ted Rall is the author of "Gas War: The Truth Behind the American Occupation of Afghanistan," an analysis of the underreported Trans-Afghanistan Pipeline project and the real motivations behind the war on terrorism.


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