Consequences of a Lost War on Terror
January 12, 2007
George W. Bush pursues disastrous policies in his fictitious War on Terror. He created a grossly inefficient Department of Homeland Security. He started wars on Afghanistan and Iraq. He bullied through unconstitutional and illegal laws, policies and executive orders. He violates human rights by decree. He allows and encourages torture, detention, ignoring habeas corpus and illegal surveillance. He does not have the sense or maturity to withdraw from lost causes.
Every policy enacted by Bush goes straight against longstanding wisdom on how to control terrorism. The huge resources in both lives and money thrown at this single issue are totally out of proportion with the possible benefit. The only results, after five years, are increased terrorism, hundreds of thousands dead and costs in the $ trillions. There are zero benefits to justify this gross mismanagement.
A historical perspective on failed strategies
The new Bush strategy simply escalates a non winnable war in Iraq by sending more troops. Let’s look at another war where a similar strategy ruled the day:
The beginning: In 1961, President Kennedy sent 400 Special Forces advisers to Vietnam. By late 1963, there were about 16,000 advisers in the country. August 14th 1964 saw 21,000 advisers to the South Vietnam military. A few days later, air attacks on North Vietnam started after the alleged Gulf of Tonkin naval attacks.
Legislative action: Congress approved the Southeast Asia Resolution giving President Johnson unique powers to conduct a non-declared war.
The escalation: In March of 1965, 3,500 additional Marines were dispatched, setting up camp at Da Nang. President Johnson authorized US independent ground force attacks on the enemy, rapidly sending more troops. By the end of 1965, the US had 184,000 troops in Vietnam. That rose to 389,000 by the end of 1966. Late 1967 welcomed a total of 486,000 American personnel. In 1968, an average of 1,200 Americans died in Vietnam each month.
Disappearing public support: The 1968 Tet Offensive made it obvious the US was not winning the war. Public US support plunged. President Johnson’s approval rating fell as low as that of President Bush today. Johnson decided against a second term. Peaceful and some violent demonstrations took place around the globe. President Nixon declared numerous plans to end the War in Vietnam, none of which were believed by the public.
Limits of military force: By 1969, there were 553,000 American troops in South Vietnam. The US military found it could not use its enormous fire power on an enemy it could not see and could not engage on its terms. North Vietnam quickly found ways to kill Americans. The war spread to Laos and Cambodia. Massive air bombings did not change the course of the defeat.
Withdrawal: Eventually, the US plan was to vietnamize the War. In 1971, several of the US “allies” withdraw from the scene. US troops declined to about 197,000 in 1971. In 1972, the (almost) last US ground troops left Vietnam. Massive bomb attacks against North Vietnam continued into 1973.
Peace: The Paris Peace Accord went in effect the same year. The US gradually withdrew all support to the South Vietnam and Saigon fell in 1975, finally ending a war that started in the 1940s, involving the US, Australia, Korea, France, Russia, China, Cambodia, Laos and others. Tiny North Vietnam prevailed.
Clearly, the Vietnam War was very different from that of Iraq. At the same time, there are sufficient similarities to provide some lessons to those that are teachable. The Vietnam War was a bad idea supported by almost no one. There was no ethical or moral justification. Superior fire power did not win against a determined, skilled and underrated combatant. Nor did almost unlimited financial resources bring the expected results. Massive ground troop escalation did not help. Advising, equipping and training the friendly forces ended up as too little, too late tactics.
The Russians did not win in Afghanistan. Nor do they win in Chechnya. Iraq did not win against Iran. Napoleon did not win against Russia. Nor did the Swedes in the late 1700s or Hitler almost 200 years later win over the Russian Winter. Mussolini lost every war he entered. Germany is known for starting but not winning wars. So is France. The British did not win wars in North America.
The French War on Terror in Algeria in the early 1960s is a splendid example of Algerian, Muslim insurgents winning its war against the mighty France. The Algerians used common insurgent tactics and the French military had no answer. France lost and got out. As will happen in Iraq, civil war followed. That war is still going on – over forty years later.
Wars are lost by powerful countries. It is not a matter of superior fire power, perceived just causes, industrial and financial might, determination or staying the course while accepting the sacrifices deemed justifiable. Many wars are lost because the enemy found a way, not necessarily militarily, to beat you. Other wars are lost because the idea was so bad no one, internationally or domestically, supported it.
George W. Bush will not win the Iraq war, mostly because it was and is a terrible, unethical idea. It is a classic example showing that winning the (initial) battle does not imply winning the war. Going to war without knowing who the enemy is, nor how to win against him is a stupid idea. Depending on the resolve of the Democratic Congress, the war will likely continue till the end of his term. Then the next president will have to do the withdrawal that should happen right now. How many American lives – 3,000? 50,000? How many Iraqis – maybe a few hundred thousand? What if the war spreads – any casualty number to the millions is possible. Then of course, there is the financial cost which will be, minimum, in the several trillions.
Back to regular programming
This is Part 2 of my four part series on this gruesome issue. Part 1 detailed the specifics of the Bush actions related to the wars. This part will discuss the consequences of these actions.
Like most others in the US and around the World, I woke up that 9/11 2001 morning, turned on the TV and life changed. I witnessed almost 3,000 people die in one of the deadliest terrorist attack ever. Nothing I will say can diminish the horror of the crime of that day or the honor of countless courageous people. Enacting a strong policy to catch and punish the perpetrators of that act was and is the right thing. But things went very wrong as discussed in Part 1. Here I’ll show just how wrong it went.
In four separate but connected parts, I discuss some fundamental reasons why the War on Terrorism turned into a disaster.
This is Part 2 – Consequences of a Lost War on Terror
Deny disaster: No one has won a military war on terror because it means making war on an invisible enemy. That is especially true if the military force is not ingenious. Bush spent thousands of lives, exhausted the US military, wasted some 1/2 trillion dollars and created MORE terrorism. It backfired massively as seen by the people of the US, Congress and the rest of the world.
- Ignore the disastrous consequences
- The Scorecard
This post is a quick update of current events as of mid January 2007. Tonight, as I write this, Bush will give his State of the Union address. Some expect him to moderate his views some. I very much doubt it.
Part 3 – Exiting a Lost War on Terror
Botch priorities: Terrorism is an insignificant part of mortality. One of the deadliest terrorist attacks,9/11, caused less than 3,000 casualties. As tragic as it is, that loss is limited compared to other events. Mao’s Great Leap Forward killed 70 million people. The deaths caused by Stalin, Hitler and Kim Jong-Il easily exceed 100 million. George W. Bush, Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon caused fewer casualties but far exceed any threat to human life from terrorists.
Jumble goals: The notion of “war” against ideas and/or tactics is simply silly. You can declare, and win, wars on nations, such as Panama, Grenada or Japan. You cannot declare generic wars on terrorism, gay marriage, drugs, abortions, crime, illiteracy or AIDS. You cannot win unless you know what specific enemy you fight, how to eliminate that specific enemy threat and when the mission is accomplished. In five years, the White House has yet to define what terrorism is.
Ignore failure: The resources thrown at the War on Terror are out of proportion with any possible benefits. The cost is enormous and the benefits are negative. The War sacrifices thousands of lives; it does not save lives or reduce terrorism. George W. Bush ignores the “right” ways to fight terrorism and, no wonder, fails. Can he deal with withdrawal as he must? Perhaps history can guide but probably not. George W. does not see it the way others do.
Part 4 – Preserve Life, Not War
Overlook alternatives: Instead of Mr. Bush’s policy “Protect American lives by fighting Terrorism”, act on “Protect life by fighting Death”. Stop wars and genocides. Combat famines and plagues. Protect against flooding, wind and eruptions. Fight Global Warming. Make safer and more efficient cars, ships and airplanes. Fight ordinary health hazards. Defend human rights. Stop war crimes. Place a proper priority on fighting terrorism and use the right tools.
Images in this Essay
With a few exceptions, the images in this part of the essay are my own. Almost all of them show people doing ordinary things. There are a few images associated with terrorism shot by other people. I wanted to convey that, ultimately, callous government acts hits real people. This essay is about human rights violations by the American government. This essay is about people.
I felt pictures of ordinary people doing, mostly, ordinary things was the right way to go. People generally likes to do everyday things. They do not want to fight wars, kill kids or destroy homes and families. They certainly do not like to bury their siblings, sons or daughters killed in some incomprehensible distant war.
Terrorism is not a daily concern, nor a threat, to most people outside Baghdad and a few other places. It is an insignificant factor in mortality statistics. George W. Bush thinks differently. It would be better if he learnt to look into the eyes of the people – American or not – rather than believing his fate is to defend the world from illusions only existing in his own mind.
Bush’s policies delegated the US from a world leadership role following “winning the cold war” to an isolated, secondary has-been. The US lost the moral war and thereby any chance of leading the world. It demonstrated military weakness. Super weapons do not work against invisible enemies.
Here is the 101 course in “How to Fail in International Affairs”. The Bush White House pursues failure with a curious mix of gusto, ruthlessness and ignorance. The result is International Relations in Shambles:
- Lose International Credibility: The US was the last super power and its actions are still examined intensely and nervously by allies and foes. Any controversial issue becomes an international event, with the White House typically the last to know. The Vietnam war is perhaps the most obvious case but both the Iraq war and the War on Terrorism approaches similar levels of “anti American” sentiments across the globe. The net effect is isolation of the US in a hostile world.
- Intimidate Friendly or Neutral States: In their desperately heavy handed search for “allies” against Iraq, Bush and Rumsfeld managed to insult Germany and France into rejection of most US policies at the time. Dick Cheney has a flair for insulting Russia. Although relations improved, the memory will last indefinitely, both in America and overseas. Surprising as it may seem, several Arab states traditionally have been US supporters. Bush’s unquestioned support of Israel, no matter how many civilians slaughtered, damaged or destroyed those relations.
- Alienate Non-allied States: The Famous “Axis of Evil” nonsense not only angered North Korea and Iran to the point of pursuing nuclear weapons, it also alienated traditional supporters of, or stake holders in, the “evil” countries: China, France, Russia, South Korea, Syria and many others.
- Lie: This includes: 1) produce false evidence of Iraqi WMD in front of the UN, 2) declare “Mission Accomplished” when it is not, 3) claim success and progress when there is none, 4) hide torture and human rights abuse as a top level policy, 5) deny the reality of the Iraqi Civil War and 6) blame others for policy failures.
- Use the Wrong Tactic at the Wrong Time: The US military will not win the War on Terrorism. The use of the US military damaged international relations and demonstrated political and military weakness. The result is an encouraged terrorism.
- Allow Nuclear Proliferation: The US openly supports India’s development as a nuclear power. It implicitly allows Pakistan’s nuclear ambitions as a thank-you for its role against terrorism. It allows Israel’s long standing nuclear program and is faced with a potential Israeli nuclear attack on Iran. It is powerless against the Iran and North Korea ambitions.
- Enable Terrorism: Practically every single “anti terrorism” policy, act or initiative from the Bush White House has backfired, causing more world wide terrorism rather than less. A foreign policy disaster, it not only causes more terrorism but also polarizes the US itself.
Does any of the above make any difference? One result is that other governments and ordinary people reject the US as a leader. Again – so what, the US rules no matter what, right? Consider this: in 2005, the US exported $1,750 billion of goods, services and income receipts. Meanwhile, the US imported a comparable $2,450 billion of stuff. Foreign owned assets increased by almost $1,200 billion. In 2005 alone, foreigners invested in/lent to the US $1,900 billion. The US national debt is $8.5 trillion. About $2 trillion is held by foreigners, in particular China and Japan. The US economy heavily depends on foreigners and overseas markets.
That is a lot of financial clout held by foreign countries. These countries have no interest in bringing the US or the dollar down as it would hurt them as much as it would hurt the US but the uncertainty remains. Can the system spiral out of control? Of course, it can. Can foreigners use their financial clout to influence US policies, especially international policies? You bet – they do it all the time.
Terrorism goes back as far as civilization itself, yet dealing with it poses major difficulties because of its covert, invisible and convoluted nature. Inflexible, unimaginative and ignorant policies from George W. Bush view terrorists as a clearly defined bunch of murderous lunatics and outcasts. That is a big and disastrous mistake. Defining “terrorism” is next to impossible (Sources: here, here, here and here):
- Twelve separate international conventions have been signed, each covering a specific type of criminal activity seizure of airplanes, political assassination, the use of explosives, hostage-taking, etc. Broad ratification of these treaties has been difficult to achieve. The more fundamental issue of creating a comprehensive, binding international convention against terrorism has been set aside. Rrepeated efforts remain unresolved. The UN says “the question of a definition of terrorism has haunted the debate among States for decades.”
- The lack of international definitions of terrorism leads to chaos in dealing with terrorism, for instance: The U.N. does not regard Hitzbullah or Hamas as terrorist groups. Saudi Arabia uses this distinction to get away with funding Hamas, while Iran and Syria use it to provide funds and support to Hitzbullah.
- Without a clear definition of terrorism, U.N. member states — including the liveliest terror sponsors — pay no penalty for interpreting these measures in any warped way they might choose, or effectively ignoring them altogether. The U.N. passed resolutions a few years ago sanctioning a highly abbreviated list of a few hundred Taliban and al Qaeda affiliates worldwide. The sanctions are at best erratically enforced.
- The ultimate result of this lack of understanding will be that terrorists, protected by their patrons at the U.N. itself, will use its graphic and ruinous terms to define the meaning of terrorism for us.
- The Bush doctrine is both naive and vague: “Every nation in every region now has a decision to make. Either you are with us, or you are with the terrorists.” In declaring a War on Terrorism, Bush defiantly stated his intent to pursue nations providing aid or safe haven to terrorism. His suggestion that every nation had a decision to make on the issue is heavy handed, insulting and out of line of any diplomatic convention. Five years later, the White House has yet to define clearly what constitutes a terrorist organization. Fewer and fewer countries are willing to decide any matter George W. Bush’s way. US Congressmen feel the same way, even Republicans.
- 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 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.
- The White House further narrowed its focus by applying the al-Qaida label to virtually any Islamic group labeled a terrorist organization on the shakiest of evidence. Regional, independent groups are suddenly al-Qaida supporters or affiliates. The administration implies that the sole enemy is a global conspiracy of Islamic groups. The Islamic bias is clearly wrong as the government’s own terrorism reports demonstrate.
Here are a few nouns, all of which are more or less related to “terrorism”: separatist, freedom fighter, liberator, revolutionary, reactionary, vigilante, paramilitary, guerrilla, rebel, jihadi, mujaheddin, fedayeen, death squad, anti-terrorist, anarchist, partisan, instigator, provocateur, revolutionist, communist, ultraist, intelligence agent, right winger, left winger, insurgent, fanatic, religious nut, pro-lifer, activist, extremist, zealot, freak, maniac, pro-animal-righter, nationalist, anti-nationalist, militant, assassin, ex-employee, high school student, veteran, mercenary, suicide-by-police….. There is a least a hundred “names” for terrorists as a result of its diverse nature.
The Department of Homeland Security sponsors and pays the bills of the National Memorial Institute for The Prevention of Terrorism, formally an independent non-profit organization. MIPT maintains a public database on terrorist organizations and events. The database is available here and is called TKB for short. Effectively, this is the government’s official list or terrorist organizations. The database contains information on 31,275 terrorist events, accusing organizations of causing 45,954 fatalities and 108,680 wounded. Of the 32,275 events, 21,668 are attributed to an “Unknown” or “Other” category. There are 880 named groups, responsible for a total of 8,607 events and 19,933 fatalities.
Of the 880 named groups, 550 are not accused of causing any fatalities at all. Of the remaining 330 groups, only 38 are associated with more than 100 fatalities. Only 5 of the groups are directly linked to US fatalities in the TKB database. That’s the official data, contrasting wildly with official rhetoric. It also does not reflect reality – a subject I’ll return to later in this essay.
Here is a valid point: thousands of terrorist organizations are active at any point in time. They all have different goals, come from unique backgrounds and employ different tactics. The vast majority are local groups posing no threat to the US, the international community or even their homeland. There is no way to generalize or find a single way to deal with all these fractions, nor is there a need to deal with most of them or worry about their actions.
Is the US innocent of terrorism? Consider the US government level support for or conduct of terror. Needless to say, none of these events are listed in the TKB database:
- In 1931 Nicaragua, the US established training schools for right-wing militia, dismantled two liberal governments, and helped to orchestrate fake elections.
- The US helped overthrow the democratically elected Allende government in Chile in 1973.
- In 1981 Nicaragua, the CIA organized the “Contras” to overthrow the progressive Sandinista government. Many Contras had already received training from the U.S. military as members of the Somoza National Guardsmen.
- The US supported a right-wing junta in El Salvador that ended up being responsible for 35,000 civilian deaths between 1978 and 1981.
- The US trained thousands of Latin American military personnel in torture methods at the School of the Americas.
- The US bombed a suburban Beirut neighborhood in March 1985. This attack killed 80 people and wounded 200 others.
- The US bombed Libya in 1986. This event is listed by the UN’s Committee on the Legal Definition of Terrorism as a “classic case” of terrorism.
- The US attempted assassinations, exploded boats and manufactured explosive cigars, conducted industrial sabotage and the burned sugar fields in Cuba. Castro survived.
- The US supplied arms to various combatants in the Middle East, including massive support, in funds and arms, for Israeli attacks on Palestinian civilians.
- The US provided over $7 billion in arms, funds and training, to the Mujahideen in its Afghan war against the USSR in the 1980s. Part of the Mujahideen is today known as the Taliban.
- The US actively supported Iraq and Saddam Hussein in the 1980s as an ally against Iran and as a potentially profitable future source for raw materials such as oil and a market for exports.
- The US conducts chemical warfare in Colombia: crop-duster planes spray broad-spectrum herbicides onto the Colombian countryside and the people who live there, leading to widespread illness, displacement, and hunger.
Some say terrorism is borne out of three factors: first, the terrorist’s only option is using violence to protest his anguish – he or she is beyond hope. Second, the terrorist is compelled to draw attention to his/her cause using the only means available – violence. Third – it is a convenient, low cost way to achieve a specific goal, especially as state sponsored terrorism. These three factors are valid in many cases but not all. Many extreme organizations have lots of opportunities to further their cause peacefully but chose not to. Bombers of abortion clinics or animal farms are prominent examples.
The bottom line: terrorism is an incredibly complex issue and requires sophisticated responses. Without a clear view of what and who you fight, there is no win. You must know why you fight and how you fight, depending on the precise target. You must realize the target is not one generic bunch of fanatics but an incredibly diverse group of states, parties, factions, interest groups and ordinary citizens. The Bush doctrine fails all of these points.
Take the USA Patriot Act – one of many examples: The “War on Terrorism” threatens the US Constitutional Rights in at least the following areas (Source: here):
- First Amendment – Freedom of religion, speech, assembly, and the press.
- Fourth Amendment – Freedom from unreasonable searches and seizures.
- Fifth Amendment – No person is to be deprived of life, liberty or property without due process of law.
- Sixth Amendment – Right to a speedy public trial by an impartial jury, right to be informed of the facts of the accusation, right to confront witnesses and have the assistance of counsel.
- Eighth Amendment – No excessive bail or cruel and unusual punishment shall be imposed.
- Fourteenth Amendment – All persons (citizens and non citizens) within the US are entitled to due process and the equal protection of the laws.
Here are some of the actual violations of Constitutional Rights (Source here, with additions by me):
- 8,000 Arab and South Asian immigrants have been interrogated because of their religion or ethnic background, not because of actual wrongdoing.
- Thousands of men, mostly of Arab and South Asian origin, have been held in secretive federal custody for weeks and months, sometimes without any charges filed against them. The government has refused to publish their names and whereabouts, even when ordered to do so by the courts.
- The press and the public have been barred from immigration court hearings of those retained after September 11th and the courts are ordered to keep secret even that the hearings are taking place.
- The government is allowed to monitor communications between federal detainees and their lawyers, destroying the attorney client privilege and threatening the right to counsel.
- New Attorney General Guidelines allow FBI spying on religious and political organizations and individuals without having evidence of wrongdoing.
- President Bush has ordered military commissions to be set up to try suspected terrorists who are not citizens. They can convict based on hearsay and secret evidence by only two-thirds vote.
- American citizens suspected of terrorism are being held indefinitely in military custody without being charged and without access to lawyers.
- The government maintains lists of individuals suspected of terrorism or terrorist related activities. These lists are proven to be wildly inaccurate. Air lines maintain similar lists. Some of these lists are simply racial profiling.
- Federal detainees allegedly associated with terror are classified as enemy combatants with no rights under US law or the Geneva Convention in spite of court orders to the opposite.
- Such detainees are subject to religious contempt and disrespect in violation of the Geneva Convention and US law.
- Such detainees are subject to harsh treatment, including torture, even murder, as approved and endorsed from the White House and down in violation of numerous treaties and US laws. The purpose is to extract information in violation of the Geneva Convention.
- US, and other, citizens are subject to illegal surveillance by various US agencies, such as NSA. This includes cell and land phone tapping, tracking Internet usage such email and chat room activity, monitoring bills, such as credit cards and phone records, and tracking bank statements. No doubt this list is incomplete.
These are just a few examples. It is by no means a complete picture of the abuses. Earlier, I listed 15 separate laws and acts, most passed in response to 9/11 and Iraq. None of these extremely objectionable cases have, to my knowledge, prevented any credible act of terrorism or saved lives. They mostly abuse innocent people by removing basic parts of human and civil rights.
Do illegal detainment, torture, intimidation and other US tactics effectively prevent terrorism? The answer is simply NO. None of these acts prevents terror according to many authoritative studies on the subject. At the best, they are a minor deterrent which any determined terrorist easily bypasses. At the worst, they actually lead to more terror as retaliation. Many terror acts are blackmail aimed at the release of associates held in custody.
The US government use illegal tactics. Quite possibly it commits war crimes. The tactics are ineffective and counterproductive – they encourage, not suppress, terror as has been repeatedly proven in history. They attract strong criticism from the entire world with disastrous effects on US credibility and ability to lead in any area, contributing to a vicious cycle of escalating terrorism such as is obvious in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Let me quote yet another lost cause related to George W. Bush’s dim view of international laws. After all, he has stated the Geneva Convention no longer is relevant. He is thumping his nose at the UN Charter, the Hague Convention, the Nuremberg Charter and the UN Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, just to name a few. Here are the facts about the Geneva Convention:
Note: This is a reprint of parts of my essay On Ethics – Part 5:
The four Geneva Conventions protect POWs and restricts certain kinds of warfare. They are some of the most successful international treaties. They clearly define and relate to Ethical standards. They have evolved over time in different versions. The first version was adopted in the 1860s. The last major revision dates to 1949. Signatory nations (about 200) are required to pass national laws making it a crime to violate the Conventions.
In 1997, two protocols to the Geneva Conventions were added. They give protection to guerrillas in civil wars or wars of national liberation. A third protocol was added in 2006.
Article 4 of the current Conventions may be of interest, considering the current debate of denying the rights of the Conventions to certain “terrorists”. Please do judge for your self. Here is a much shortened version:
A. Prisoners of war, in the sense of the present Conventions, are persons belonging to one of the following categories, who have fallen into the power of the enemy:
2. Members of other militias and members of other volunteer corps, including those of organized resistance movements, belonging to a Party to the conflict and operating in or outside their own territory, even if this territory is occupied, provided that such militias or volunteer corps, including such organized resistance movements, fulfill the following conditions:
a) That of being commanded by a person responsible for his subordinates;
b) That of having a fixed distinctive sign recognizable at a distance;
c) That of carrying arms openly;
d) That of conducting their operations in accordance with the laws and customs of war.
I am no lawyer. But it seems to me the above applies to many individuals currently denied the rights of the Geneva Conventions. Here is an excerpt of those rights:
Prisoners of war must at all times be humanely treated. Any unlawful act or omission by the Detaining Power causing death or seriously endangering the health of a prisoner of war in its custody is prohibited, and will be regarded as a serious breach of the present Conventions. In particular, no prisoner of war may be subjected to physical mutilation or to medical or scientific experiments of any kind which are not justified by the medical, dental or hospital treatment of the prisoner concerned and carried out in his interest.
Likewise, prisoners of war must at all times be protected, particularly against acts of violence or intimidation and against insults and public curiosity.
Measures of reprisal against prisoners of war are prohibited.
Prisoners of war are entitled in all circumstances to respect for their persons and their honor. Women shall be treated with all the regard due to their sex and shall in all cases benefit by treatment as favorable as that granted to men. Prisoners of war shall retain the full civil capacity which they enjoyed at the time of their capture. The Detaining Power may not restrict the exercise, either within or without its own territory, of the rights such capacity confers except in so far as the captivity requires.
Every prisoner of war, when questioned on the subject, is bound to give only his surname, first names and rank, date of birth, and army, regimental, personal or serial number, or failing this, equivalent information. If he willfully infringes this rule, he may render himself liable to a restriction of the privileges accorded to his rank or status.
No physical or mental torture, nor any other form of coercion, may be inflicted on prisoners of war to secure from them information of any kind whatever. Prisoners of war who refuse to answer may not be threatened, insulted, or exposed to any unpleasant or disadvantageous treatment of any kind.
Does this sound like what is known to be going on in prison/POW camps around the World? Do you trust George W. Bush to come up with a better version? Or is his version simply a way to cover his behind from prosecution? Some White House lawyers think so:
- The White House’s top lawyer warned more than two years ago that U.S. officials could be prosecuted for “war crimes” as a result of new and unorthodox measures used by the Bush administration in the war on terrorism, according to an internal White House memo and interviews with participants in the debate over the issue.
- The lawyer focused on a little known 1996 law passed by Congress, known as the War Crimes Act, that banned any Americans from committing war crimes—defined in part as “grave breaches” of the Geneva Conventions.
- Noting that the law applies to “U.S. officials” and that punishments for violators “include the death penalty,” Gonzales told Bush that “it was difficult to predict with confidence” how Justice Department prosecutors might apply the law in the future. This was especially the case given that some of the language in the Geneva Conventions—such as that outlawing “outrages upon personal dignity” and “inhuman treatment” of prisoners—was “undefined.”
What makes us think we can beat terrorism? Every one knows no conventional army will ever win a war against terrorists. The point is well proven in Iraq, Afghanistan, Vietnam, Algeria, Somalia, Indonesia, Bali, France, Germany, Italy, Ireland, Cambodia, the Netherlands, Sri Lanka, Uganda, Congo, the Balkans, Central America, Colombia, Israel, Palestine, Lebanon, Oklahoma, Texas and Idaho. That’s just mentioning a few modern time examples. If you go back over the centuries, you will find thousands of similar examples.
Terrorism is not reduced by laws, illegal detention, torture, executions, killings of a few, shots in the kneecaps, B-52s, awe and thunder, disposing some dictator or repressive regime, Special Forces, data mining, freezing assets, wire tapping, threatening relatives, destroying homes, offering candy, building schools, training police forces or any of the countless methods tried throughout history.
A modern government, most of all that of the US is incapable of preventing acts of terrorism. That is not to say it is easy to commit an act of terror. It is quite difficult outside obvious hot spots such as Iraq, Israel, Palestine and some less developed areas.
Take a clue: the lack of Russian success in controlling major terrorism out of Chechnya, Israel losing the recent battle against Lebanon’s Hitzbullah, Sri Lanka’s untenable battle against the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam. The Irish IRA fought successfully for almost 30 years before accepting a political solution, not a military victory or defeat. India, Pakistan and Bangladesh all are engaged in long unsuccessful campaigns against all kinds of terrorist groups. The Philippines have fought various uprisings/terrorists for the last fifty years, battling Communists, Islamic and Muslim Fronts and various Revolutionary Councils. In Mexico, there is terrorism in Nuevo Laredo; groups like Zapatista National Liberation Army, People’s Revolutionary Army and Revolutionary Army
of the Insurgent People are the most prominent Mexican insurgent groups but there are at least twenty other active groups – not to mention countless criminal organizations.
In the 1970s, the US experienced the actions of some 20 different groups, labeled as terrorists by some, as freedom fighters by others. Today, none of these groups are active. That is not thanks to George W. Bush’s War on Terror or illegal laws. It is due to two factors – 1) many were defeated by plain ordinary, if sometimes excessive, police work and 2) others grew older and experienced changing priorities. This is an excellent example how terrorism can be beat. I’ll come back to this example. Similar trends were seen in much of Europe and Japan.
Never has the US influence been in as steep decline as it is now. Watergate and Vietnam were no high points but this is worse. Part of the reason is that not only is the War on Terror and all its related disasters such clear losers, so are other issues important to the world. Global Warming is the principal reason for justified overseas anger. Then the stark US arrogance and heavy handedness wins no friends. Here are additional factors:
U.S. military superiority doesn’t produce proportional results. The military cannot fight insurgents or terrorists. No matter the huge firepower, it cannot be used on invisible enemies. Nor does it do much good against suicide bombers. Moreover, practically the entire US military might is concentrated in one minor theater – Iraq. No one believes the US could take on another foe.
New rivals are eroding American economic influence. China, India, soon-Russia, the EU are nabbing at the US heels in technology, education, finance as examples.
The U.S. globalized faster than policy makers have been able to adjust. The US budget and trade deficits must be financed somehow. China, Japan are investing, relying on the US somehow stays solvent. We wish you the best of luck.
Foreign influence on U.S. economic health has grown dramatically while the American policy response hasn’t kept pace. Foreign owned assets in the US amount to some $13 trillion. Plenty of aggressive and skilled competition raises the stakes – and the strangle hold on US companies.
America’s technological gap is shrinking. Maybe Microsoft or Intel would disagree. But both outsource to India and China, giving away invaluable skills and technologies. The US educational system falls further and further behind those of hungry competitors.
Political polarization hurts U.S. leadership. The remaining US political will is concentrated in a few limited areas: the infamous and irrelevant War on Terror. Impractical and uneducated ideas about gay marriage, stem cell research, abortion, school prayer, Mexican border fences and immigrant labor. Important issues are ignored: medical insurance, social security, deficits, global warming, R&D, education and much else.
Terrorists look for weakness to capitalize on. The loss of US prestige makes us all the more likely terrorist targets. It is well known throughout the world that the 1.4 million active duty US war machine is running out of steam. The Baker report states: “U.S. military forces, especially our ground forces, have been stretched nearly to the breaking point by repeated deployments in Iraq”. Repeated combat tours wear out personnel and equipment: less than one-third of Army units are currently at the required combat readiness levels. That is weakness not just in numbers but morale as well. Terrorists will capitalize.
Another element of the Bush policy is supporting Israeli actions no matter what, refusing to consider Arab views. This is a clear shift from more moderate policies of the past. The moderate policies produced opportunities for peace while Bush’s policy destroys such hopes. The payback certainly will not be less terrorism, but more. Remember Carter on the White House grounds getting Begin and Sadat to shake hands after two weeks with the three of them holed up in peace negotiations at Camp Davis back in 1978? Egypt and Israel are still at peace. Imagine Bush doing something similar. Nah – won’t happen.
Sooner or later, some sanity and accountability has to enter any enterprise, policy or activity. In the War on Terror, there are two kinds of costs: human life and $$$s. On the benefit side, you have security, prosperity and freedom. On the accountability side, you have, depending on the precise issue, organizations such as the UN, governments or business entities. Let’s stick with the accountability of governments, specifically that of the US. Let’s compare the cost versus the benefits.
Terrorism over the past 20 years has cost the lives of about 20,000 people, world wide. That includes 9/11, the Beslan school massacre, the Moscow Theatre incident, Russian apartment bombings, attacks on US embassies in Africa, the Bali bombings, the Beirut Marine bombing, the air plane bombings, including Lockerbie, and subway attacks in London and Madrid.
The terrorism death toll is some 7,000 Americans of which about 6,000 are due to 9/11, the Afghan and Iraqi wars. Add some 300 allies (including domestic terror) and 50,000 to 700,000 Iraqi civilians. The Afghan civil death toll is perhaps 20,000, of which about 4,000 in 2006; no one knows nor cares.
Over the last 20 years, US traffic fatalities killed almost a million people. Heart attacks claimed almost 11 million lives. The 7,000 victims of terror and war in Iraq and Afghanistan are tragic because they lack meaning. But so do the 142 times as many traffic fatalities. Looking strictly at numbers, a slight improvement of 0.7% in car safety would save more lives than any war on terrorism can. A 0.06% improvement in saving heart attack victims would do too.
Speaking of human life, how come NATO permits Afghanistan to be the #1 producer of opium, compared to producing almost none under the Taliban regime? “Not a military issue”, the generals say. The 2006 crop is up 60% supplying 90% of the world demand. How many lives are lost to heroin addiction from Afghan opium?
The opium trade threatens Afghanistan falling back into its corrupt heritage and war lord dominance. The Taliban may well get back in control as a result. Some say the Taliban is largely behind the explosive growth in opium production. They use it as a way to control the farmers – and the people – while discrediting the government and immobilizing the foreign troops. Drug money will feed terrorism.
True cost starts with $1/2 a trillion of US funds and $16 billion from the UK. Then there are unknown funds from other “allied” countries and unknown cost to Iraq or Afghanistan. What’s your guess? Who knows, maybe around $700 billion?
Assume this was a War on Terror only. Then the cost is equal to $100 million (round number) for each of the 6,000 American terrorism and war causalities. If you only count the actual American terrorism victims, the cost is $200 million for each victim. If you include civilians in Iraq and Afghanistan, the cost drops to as little as $1 million per victim, although I’m sure no one cares about such a number.
That’s the cost. Now, where are the benefits? They better be pretty big. Let’s look. We have a huge hole in Manhattan where no recovery is in sight. We have two devastated countries, Iraq more than any. We have lurking civil wars in both Iraq and Afghanistan. Iran and North Korea realize the US is a paper tiger and act accordingly. So do most of the world. The whole Mideast is a disaster waiting to be ignited. Only huge amounts of money will save this horrible mess. Guess who’s going to pay?
So the direct cost is maybe $700 billion. Then we have the so called benefit side. The benefit side only contain additional costs such as rebuilding a couple of countries, pacifying the Mideast and making the US safe. How much? No one knows. Maybe it reaches a couple of $ trillion? Let’s call the real cost somewhere around $3 trillion mostly out of US pockets. That’s not as bad as it might sound. It boils down to a modest $40,000 per US household. You can afford it – right?
Unfortunately, the $3 trillion will not win the War on Terror. It will intensify it. Most likely, some of the trillions will end up with enterprises such as the Taliban Adventure Camp Grounds Co., the Iranian N.Clear PPY., The Baghdad Fireworks, Inc. and the Al Qaeda Special Effects LLP. Very likely, after collecting, they will pay us a visit.
The Part 1 judgment on the Bush Doctrine was pretty harsh:
- Create a Department of Homeland Security: DHS is an 186,000 people behemoth with far more failures than successes. I know of no proven prevention of terrorist operations. I know of no lives saved. Today, you rarely hear about the Department. I hear it is almost impossible to find their offices.
- Fight overseas rather than at home: How do you take a limited, targeted war to some one else’s land? Bush simply invaded a couple of them. Neither the Taliban, nor Saddam had anything to do with 9/11. The War on Terror became something entirely different: a lost, undefined cause benefiting no one but terrorism itself. Consequently, terrorism increased.
- Protect national interests: The War on Terror has nothing to do with the War on Iraq. Iraq was never involved in 9/11 or any other act of international terror. After years of denial, Bush admits the control of the oil is vital. The Baker Report confirms that statement. The Iraqi War is finally illegal. Terror increased dramatically following the invasions.
- Make your own laws: The US government’s preference for secret, illegal operations is an ethical, legal and international catastrophe. Bush et al stand a real and fair risk of War Crime convictions. Even US courts are fed up. The administration is desperately pushing through unconstitutional laws to defer the risks. This endorses the notion and validity of terrorism.
Here is the scorecard for Part 2 – the Consequences of Bad Strategies:
- Destroy International Relations: The US lost international credibility by using the wrong political, diplomatic and military tactics. It intimidates friendly or neutral States. It loses leverage by alienating non-allied states, allowing nuclear proliferation and enabling terrorism. It is viewed as an unreliable and unpredictable liar, more dangerous than rouge states.
- Doesn’t know the terrorist enemy: The Bush administration sees terrorism in incredibly naive black and white terms. It defines anything not to its liking as terrorist driven or supported, be it drugs, bombs, Congress, abortion or Islamic. After five years, the Bush administration has not told anyone exactly who they declared war on. In fact, they do not know. How do you win a war when you do not know who the enemy is?
- Threaten Human Rights: The Bush administration and George W. Bush personally, ignores and violates more laws and treaties than any administration in history, in the US but also internationally. That includes the US Constitution and Bill of Rights. It allows unethical acts on an unprecedented scale.
- Ignore international treaties: This is a partial list being broken by George W. Bush: the UN Charter, the Hague Convention, the Nuremberg Charter and the UN Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment. Under international law, he is liable for war crimes.
- Disregard the Geneva Convention: The Geneva Conventions are among the most respected international treaties ever. Even Nazi Germany respected them for Western POWs. George W. Bush breaks them as he sees fit without a notion of the consequences. He ignores 900 years of Habeas Corpus legal principles without losing sleep.
- Can’t win militarily: The inability to militarily win a war on ideas such as terror is documented in history over and over: Iraq, Afghanistan, Vietnam, Algeria, Somalia, Indonesia, Bali, France, Germany, Italy, Ireland, Cambodia, the Netherlands, Sri Lanka, Uganda, Congo, the Balkans, Central America, Colombia, Israel, Palestine, Lebanon, Oklahoma, Texas and Idaho all are such failures. Why not learn from past mistakes?
- Destroy US influence: Never has the US influence been in as steep decline as it is now. Watergate and Vietnam were no highlights but this is worse. The War on Terror turned from supportable goals to clear losers, as have other issues important to the world. Global Warming is another principal reason for justified overseas anger. Then the stark US arrogance and heavy handedness wins no friends.
- Sacrifice Human life: How can 3,000 lives tragically lost on 9/11 lives justify the extermination of hundreds of thousand other lives? How is that put in perspective with cars killing a million people in the US over the last 20 years? Terrorism is an insignificant part of mortality, anywhere on Earth, except Baghdad where the US is ultimately accountable for the mindless killings.
- Create Economic waste: What cost/benefit analysis justifies a price of $ trillions with no demonstrated benefits except actually making terrorism more of a threat, not less. What sane person throws more money at an item that promises to cost even more while providing ever increasing pain? Sane or not, that is what George W. Bush has done, is doing and insists on continuing to do.
The score remains a miserable 100% failure. That isn’t good. If you have any insights in positive factors, please comment on this post and I will certainly respond. As Bush said in his January 10 “New Strategy” speech: “Anyone with a better idea, do speak up”.
Part 3 (”Part 3″ button below) will discuss the possible ways to withdraw from this mess. If you like, the “Part 1″ button takes you to; you guessed it, “Part 1″. That is all for Part 2 of this series on the War on Terror. Stay tuned.
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