Bushs Policies make Terror Growth Industry

Discussion in 'Politics' started by TigerO, May 28, 2004.

  1. TigerO



    "Bush policies make terrorism a growth industry


    By R Bruce St John

    (Posted with permission from Foreign Policy in Focus)

    Since September 11, 2001, President George W Bush's administration policies in the "war on terrorism" have mutated the global threat, mobilizing anti-US sentiment. The crisis in Iraq, coupled with radical shifts in US policy in the Middle East and elsewhere, have given extremists a new focus, allowing radical groups to widen their appeal among Muslims and others. A terrorism alarm sounds every day somewhere in the world, canceling flights, closing embassies, signaling the potential for death.

    Terrorism on the rise
    Much of this has resulted from the Bush administration's steadfast refusal to define terrorism. In the Bush lexicon, terrorism is a catch-all term for interpreting diverse conflicts, from separatist movements to paramilitary activity to arms and narcotics trafficking. The failure to define terrorism has enabled the White House to label almost anybody opposed to its policies as a terrorist organization. Groups as diverse in structure and objectives as Peru's Shining Path, the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, Basque Fatherland and Liberty, the Communist Party of the Philippines and Hamas are on the State Department's list of designated foreign terrorist organizations.

    Early on, this approach served the White House well in its search for recruits in the "war on terrorism". Opposition groups in countries whose support the United States deemed essential to winning the war were often labeled "terrorist" in an effort to curry support from host governments.

    But over time, the failure to define terrorism has become a real liability. The US now has some 5 million names on its master terror watch list, people who are identified as terrorists or believed to represent a potential threat. And listing any terrorist from any terrorist organization, creates a problem, not a solution. Trying to monitor that vast number of people, causes one lose focus and jeopardize democratic values. The size of this inclusive terror list also belies official statements that the real concern, al-Qaeda and its affiliates, are relatively small in number, a few hundred or thousand at most.

    Related to the first factor is the Bush administration's eager application of the al-Qaeda label to virtually any Islamic group threatening terrorist acts. Regional terrorist groups are invariably portrayed as having been co-opted by al-Qaeda and subject to its command and control. As a result, geographical and country specialists have been forced on the defensive. With the media focused on the global "war on terrorism", the White House is not interested in the historical, political, economic and cultural factors that shape regional dissident groups. Take Southeast Asia as an example. All of the US-designated terrorist groups in the region were founded long before al-Qaeda made its appearance. Some originated in the 1940s. Al-Qaeda wanna-be's are out there, often motivated by Bush administration policies, but al-Qaeda isn't everywhere.

    The Bush administration has also come to see Arab-Muslim terrorism as a phenomenon quite separate from its causes. The Israeli-Palestinian dispute remains the central issue in the Middle East, and until Washington returns to the role of honest broker, there is no hope for a peaceful resolution. The Bush administration has largely accepted the Israeli version of the intifada, viewing the violence of the Palestinians as "terror" and the inevitable Israeli response as "legitimate self-defense". As a result, both sides are trapped in a downward spiral of violence and retaliation. White House support for Israel's policy of extrajudicial killings, which undermines US initiatives to promote human rights, democracy and civil society in the region, only compounds the problem.

    Military solutions to political problems
    US policy in Iraq exemplifies a growing tendency on the part of the Bush administration to apply military solutions to political problems, often ignoring larger issues. Latin American governments, after the rebirth of democracy in the 1980s, largely ruled out giving police duties to their armed forces. US officials are now pressuring them to expand the military's role, arguing that it is the only force with the skills and resources necessary to meet new threats. Southeast Asian states also expressed deep concern recently when the head of the US Pacific Command, without prior consultation, announced US plans to curb transnational crime in and around the Strait of Malacca.

    In Africa, the Bush administration has opened a new front in the "war on terrorism", equipping and training armies in states seen as potential sanctuaries for terrorists or long-term sources of oil. Some 100 special-operations groups are training armies in Chad, Mali, Mauritania and Niger, largely Muslim states, in a program known as the Pan-Sahel Initiative. Its goal is to help states guard porous borders against terrorists, arms and other trafficking. The Pentagon is also expanding its presence through training exercises or military base agreements in other states from Algeria to Liberia to Senegal to Uganda.

    The US adoption in Iraq of Israeli tactics employed in Palestine adds to the problem. The early use of plastic handcuffs and hoods was followed by the demolition of Iraqi homes and businesses, together with the prolonged detention of prisoners without rights or charges. Most recently, we have the growing prisoner-abuse scandal. The power of images is enormous in the Arab-Muslim world. And the pictures television viewers see of US troops in action in Iraq are often mirror images of Israeli troops in action in Gaza and the West Bank. The Israeli use of dehumanizing force against the Palestinians has proved counterproductive, simply increasing Palestinian opposition to Israeli occupation. The same is true for the US use of similar tactics in Iraq.

    Another downside to the growing US dependence on force is that it encourages semi-democratic and authoritarian states to brutalize their own populations. From Russia's treatment of Chechen separatists to China's handling of the Uighur Muslim population in Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region, governments around the world are adopting harsh measures to deal with dissident groups, separatists and Islamists, applying military solutions to long-standing political issues in the name of fighting terrorism.

    Global terrorism
    Southeast Asian states, long considered the Islamic periphery because of their pluralism, secularism and moderate Islamic stance, now confront a small but increasingly potent terrorist threat. The rise of extremist terrorism also obscures a fundamental shift in Islam toward an increasingly conservative mainstream. US policies encourage this conservative shift but are not the source of it.

    Dangerous world
    The world today is clearly a more dangerous place than it was on September 10, 2001, or even last year before the invasion of Iraq. This is true for Americans, but it is equally true for Spaniards, Indonesians and, most especially, Iraqis.

    Unfortunately, the annual "Patterns of Global Terrorism" report, recently issued by the State Department, belies the dangerous world in which we live. It concludes that the number of international terrorist attacks in 2003 was the lowest since 1969. Describing Iraq as "a central front in the global war against terrorism", the report excludes most attacks during Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom on the grounds that they "do not meet the long-standing US definition of international terrorism because they were directed at combatants". The report also excludes hundreds of Iraqi civilians killed by one side or the other. While it includes Israelis killed by Palestinian suicide bombers, it also excludes Palestinians killed in retaliatory strikes of "legitimate self-defense".

    The Bush administration has yet to recognize that the outcome of the "war on terrorism" will depend on the quality of the peace. By ruling out the peaceful settlement of disputes in Iraq, Palestine and elsewhere, the White House has not eliminated terrorism. It has provoked it. And it has also legitimized terrorism in many parts of the world. A cursory survey of global terrorist activity reveals a huge array of distinct and interconnected motives. With a growing number of groups declaring the US their number one enemy, the "war on terror" could last for generations, if we don't take a different tack. Until we do, the world in the coming weeks, months and years will likely remain a very dangerous place.

    Ronald Bruce St John, an analyst for Foreign Policy in Focus, has published widely on Middle Eastern issues. His latest book on the region is Libya and the United States: Two Centuries of Strife (Penn Press, 2002). This article is posted with permission from Foreign Policy in Focus."