In light of the recent death of Osama bin Laden, maybe we should sit down and reflect on the whole War on Terror thing. Taking a step back and looking at the big picture, bin Laden could never have hoped for his plans to play out as successfully as they did. His objective was to turn Western democracies, and the US in particular, inside out and on their own citizens, and that is pretty much exactly what he got: Airport screening, border paranoia, increased xenophobia, and two full-on shooting wars with no concrete objectives or clearly articulated winning conditions. The American military has essentially been fighting siege warfare without a castle to throw rocks at for nearly ten years, and the drain on national spirit and treasure is exactly what bin Laden wanted. He was able to find a critical weak spot in his enemy and accomplished the equivalent of a small fighter using a much bigger opponent's size against him and throwing him across the ring.
So then, where do we go from here? What does "winning" look like for this whole global situation? In addition, once the whole thing is won, when do we go back to our pre-war lives, if ever?
We're going to win the War on Terror just like how we won the War on Drugs. That is to say we will keep laboring along in a sisyphean manner until we give up out of a lack of will or a lack of ability.
But that's the normal everyday experience of most of the world, living in the knowledge that you could be blown up for nothing by some nutjob with a political grudge. They seem to be able to deal with that reality without resorting to stripping their citizens of basic civil rights or making every public debate tie in to some matter of security or another.
Seriously thinking about it, in realistic terms, what is the likelihood of a terrorist attack tomorrow afternoon? If we're talking about winning the lottery the day you get hit by lightning level odds, is it really worth radically shifting everyone's lifestyle and binning large sections of the Constitution and Bill of Rights? I keep coming back to trading off security for freedom and getting neither. You're super secure in a prison, but the downside is you're in a prison. And really, not all that secure.
The War on Terror will continue; all you have to do is look at the last two years.
During the Bush Years, the Democratic Left was screaming bloody murder about the Patriot Act. President Obama comes to power along with total control of both the Senate and Congress yet - The Patriot Act is renewed without much trouble. And the Main Stream Media - Pretty much quiet about it.
Gitmo is EVIL and must be closed down...Still there.
High powered weapons are for sale in the U.S. and desired by the Mexican Cartels. A program from the Bush years to arrest Straw Buyers is modified by the Obama Admin so the weapons are allowed to actually cross the border and supposedly tracked. Violence South increases dramatically with a resulting rise of pressure in the media to increase Gun Laws. The matter is now being investigated by Congress with Attorney Gen Holder dodging and weaving.
The war in Iraq is winding down according to the accords negotiated by the Bush Admin while the war in Afghanistan increases with Predator drone strikes increasing as well as U.S. deaths. The Main Stream Media pretty much blows it off. Counting of US Troop deaths stop and images of returning American dead in flag draped coffins are no longer published.
Homeland Security ever increases and naked scanners are introduced into the Airports along with increasing touching/feeling by TSA agents. Rumors that the same scanners should be extended to trains and train depots are out and about and circulating. WHAT A SURPRISE, intelligence files from OBL HQ reveals that Trains were under threat of attack. You want a train ride in the future, smile and/or bend over.
A new front is opened up on Libia with over one hundred missiles launched followed up with air strikes. The anti-war left is curiously silent. No protests in the streets. No Screams of "Blood for Oil" and no images of President Obama as Hitler...
The War on Terror will continue as long as there is the possibility of money to be made by the politically connected and power to be increased by the Government. This is the perfect war. No end in sight and either administration can do what it wants, when it wants and where it wants in furtherance of it.
Declaring war on Fear and then using fear as your primary tactic for everything from war-fighting to campaign ads is just such a messed up state of affairs, I can't believe so many people don't see what's going on at all. Are we really all that far away from seeing an American version of the Reign of Terror or a return of internment camps, but this time for Muslims instead of Japanese Americans?
Well if you define the "War on Terror" to be primarily against the current crop of muslim extremists then yes it is possible to win. However it is doubtful that we will see this until the day comes when the oil money that funds their activities dries up.
See, that's the central problem with the whole thing right there. If the possibility of victory depends entirely on how you define the enemy, it's time to call the whole thing off and regroup. There's a difference between surrendering and coming to your senses, and people need to get to that point.
People attribute too much success to bin Laden's vision, I believe. Did he really succeed in his goals of causing America to unravel itself? I don't think so. Sure, America has intensified security to the point of discomfort in some areas. We've lost sight of our values with regard to practices and rights like torture and habeas corpus. And we've become embroiled in costly wars that seemed to have no end.
But our powerful laws and civil society has prevented our security establishment from turning into Gestapo. We have rolled back many of our most immoral new policies such as torture (and we are attempting, though clumsily, to roll back our practice of illegal detention of foreign suspected terrorists). And we have more or less reached an acceptable conclusion to the Iraq War, and we will be leaving Afghanistan one war or another relatively soon.
Osama bin Laden believed that he could cause us to crumble. But America easily absorbed the turmoil caused by him. Not a lot of good came out of the last decade with regards to foreign affairs and security, but Afghanistan, for America, is hardly a place where this empire is going to die. America will withdraw in the middle of this decade with or without victory, and we will continue to be a strong and vibrant country where citizens are not afraid that their government is going to kidnap them and torture them. At worst, we will have a few hundred illegal detainees until they die, annoying airport security, and several thousand dead soldiers.
Peter Arnett did a number of interviews with bin Laden in which he pretty much laid out exactly what he had planned (in broad terms, not "I'm gonna have my guys fly some planes into some buildings" kind of stuff) and if you watch them, you'll fell sickened by how nearly prophetic he was in what he was saying he would do to Americans. He made America turn against her better self for nearly a decade now, and there's no real end of it in sight. What easy absorption are you seeing when you look at the way the Tea Party and the extreme right wing have gained power and influence in the US? The issue isn't whether the US government has stopped torturing people or not, it's that he got them to torture the shit out of thousands of innocent people in the first place. Yes, there were plenty of bad guys in the torture chambers too, but a whole hell of a lot of people who did nothing but live in the wrong place at the wrong time got waterboarded and worse over the last ten years at Gitmo and who knows how many other places around the world for the sake of "security"
On top of those several thousand dead soldiers, you've got the initial casualties of 9/11, and the million or so dead in Iraq and Afghanistan, which the Arab world holds against the West, make no mistake about that. In addition, Americans are living in fear, constantly. Ask yourself how the average American would feel if they were riding the bus and a 20-something Arab man got on wearing a heavy coat or a backpack. Even though we all know the chances are in the same range as being hit by lightning on the day you win the lottery, people get tense and start thinking about getting off a stop or two before they'd planned to, "Heck, I need a walk and some fresh air anyways."
That's Osama's great victory, he's gotten into America's head and planted that fear of the unknown in an already moderately xenophobic public's mind, cranking the dial up to 11 on the paranoia. You have a better chance of being hit by the bus than being blown up on it, but it doesn't matter, fear doesn't care about rational arguments, it just latches on to the root of your brain and throws out worst-case scenarios until you're eyeing every stranger on the street with suspicion. Osama's great victory lies in turning Americans against other Americans in a way we haven't seen since McCarthyism's worst days. He didn't need America to crumble, not when he could make it tremble.
Morgan Spurlock, of "Supersize Me" fame, made a movie called "Where in the World is Osama Bin Laden?" In it he flew to the region and started talking to people, literally asking them "do you know where Osama is?" At the end he's standing on the Afghanistan-Pakistan border, because that's where his on-site research has taken him, and he decides entering Pakistan is too dangerous to pursue. He filmed this in 2006/7, incidentally.
If you go here and watch it, and you skip ahead to about 2:50 (it's part 5 of 8), you'll see him interviewing a journalist who was jailed for criticizing Jordan's economic policies, and who met Abu Musab al-Zarqawi (Al Qaeda Iraq leader until his death in 2006) while in prison. He basically says that al-Zarqawi told him they attacked on 9/11 specifically to draw America into a war on Middle Eastern soil, because it's the only place they could effectively fight America. He also says that if America had just left after Afghanistan and gone home, Al Qaeda wouldn't have had anywhere to operate, and would have died.
So basically, bin Laden succeeded at his primary objective the instant American soldiers touched down in Afghanistan, and he won the war the instant America entered Iraq. According to the interview, Muslims tend to side with whoever fights the occupier, and with America occupying Iraq and Al Qaeda fighting America, that makes Al Qaeda the good guys. If Bush doesn't enter Iraq, Al Qaeda dies in 2003.
Further, what will happen after bin Laden dies is directly addressed in the interview. He says that Al Qaeda has become an intercontinental idea, which means killing one leader doesn't change anything, since there's always someone else to take their place and keep going.
It's basically the most important minute and twenty seconds you could ever hope to watch if your goal is to understand the war from the other perspective. The point is, America lost the War on Terror pretty much as soon as it began.
It's sad and rather pathetic that people are this dense and bigoted. Kind of deserve a bit of their own medicine, would be nice to see how they would react to a Priest or Pastor being carted off a plane because people might be paranoid they might try to molest their children or take their alcohol.
Oh, but, "that's only a small portion of the population - a few rotten eggs."
Except that in the end, people did not side with Al Qaeda. Because in Iraq, Al Qaeda was slaughtering innocent Muslims in the streets in the name of Islamic fundamentalism. Al Qaeda's vision for the future of the Muslim world ultimately did not resonate with Muslims. With the Arab Spring, their vision is even more irrelevant. Can anyone really argue anymore these days that the overall trend in the Muslim World is toward Islamic fundamentalism? In that respect, Osama bin Laden failed horribly.
And in the other respect --the one that Swooper discussed -- yes, bin Laden did create a permanent culture of fear in the West. But is it really to the extreme that he envisioned? Maybe the hairs rise on the necks of many Americans who sit next to a Muslim in traditional garb on a plane, but have we created a security apparatus that carts innocent Muslims away just because they make us nervous? Not really to the extent that bin Laden would have hoped.
Bin Laden wasn't prophetic in his predictions. He believed that America would develop evil and oppressive institutions and policies which would exacerbate the conflict between it and the Muslim world. America predictably committed some evil acts in the conflict, but over the course of the last decade America has fumbled toward decidedly less evil and oppressive solutions to the problem of Islamic extremism than bin Laden predicted.
No, I don't think anyone can argue about the overall trend in the Muslim world being toward Islamic (isn't that redindant?) fundamentalism, largely because you aren't presenting any factual support to back up your claim whatsoever. Yes, the news coverage from FOX has been quite clear that they think fundamentalism is on the rise in the Middle East, but that's not the same as saying anything of the kind is actually happening in the real world. You need to present facts in order to actually argue anything in a coherent manner and you haven't done that at all yet.
More than hairs on necks, something else we can't really argue in concrete terms is how many American citizens (or Canadian ones, like in the case of Omar Khadr) have been rounded up and shipped off to Gitmo or places we don't even know about yet. We know the number isn't zero, but the actual number remains top secret, so we can't really know how often a secutiry apparatus built on legislation like the Patriot Act has carted innocent Muslims away because they made someone nervous. Hell, it was just argued in court by the US government that if you are placed on a terrorist watch list, they can't be asked to provide any reasons for why it is you or your organization were designated as such, there's just too many people and groups on the list to be practical to let everyone know why they've been labeled terrorists and placed on no-fly lists or essentially outlawed.
Fumbling towards being less evil and oppressive really shouldn't be the goal of a country portraying itself as the good guys. America did pretty much exactly what bin Laden predicted they would, and pretending otherwise is just a salve for bruised national pride that's been injured by a much smaller opponent.
What, you mean asserting something doesn't make it true? ...my whole life is a lie.
As a general comment, the real point isn't how badly America has veered off course from being morally righteous to ethically ambivalent, but that America veered off at all. The Bush administration oversaw torture in Guantanamo. Even if it was just one guy, and even if that guy had led directly to the capture of every relevant person in Al Qaeda so that the entire organization crumbled down to its foundations, America has always said as publicly as possible that they do not torture people, and torturing that one person, no matter how effective, would be breaking that belief and revealing America as a land of hypocrites.
I'm inserting a bit of sensationalism here for effect, but the point remains: bin Laden got America to abandon liberty and moral values in favour of "security" and "enhanced interrogation." Whether it was for a week or for three hundred years, it's still a W in the column of the terrorists.
Sorry about the multi-post, but it strikes me that we may be missing the bigger point here. If bin Laden got the US government to secretly imprison even just one single person, or even to create something like the Patriot Act that allowed even one person to be disappeared and shipped off to some secret prison and tortured, isn't that enough? Doesn't that say enough about how deeply and thoroughly bin Laden shook American democracy and your civil rights? Isn't that enough of a victory for the bad guy to say he really scored a major win on his enemies?
Talking about the tone of religious rhetoric among Muslims in the Middle East (Just think for a second about what's going on in Egypt and the rest of North Africa in context here.) what about the religious rhetoric among Christians in the US? One major strike ten years ago has fueled an entire decade of increasingly militaristic talk among conservative evangelicals. Forget about imams in Iraq, what are pastors in Pensecola saying these days about how we should deal with the Muslim "threat" to America? For every fundamentalist Muslim cleric, I'd be willing to bet you could find a fundamentalist Christian leader to pair off with in a hate-off. Talking about wrapping Osama's dead body in pig fat and leaving it out to rot in the sun isn't exactly calm, moderate discussion, and neither are statements from lunatics like Coulter who say we should just kill every Muslim who won't convert to Christianity. Holding a contest to see who produces the craziest religious leaders isn't going to go well for anyone, and it really misses an important point. Enflaming hatred was exactly bin Laden's objective, and he attained it, in spades.
God, I still can't get over that whole fumbling thing. Wearing the white hat should mean more than occasional good intentions that produce the odd good result here and there if the stars align just right.
*sigh* Maybe getting my sponsorship back wouldn't be a bad idea, I kinda miss my edit button. Sorry again.
What I mean to say in all of this is that the first step to getting out of a hole is recognizing that you are in fact in a hole. Pretending that bin Laden didn't hurt the US in any deep way is like an addict in denial; the facts are the facts, and any make-believe about how tall America is standing ignores some serious problems and TWO FUCKING WARS. He hurt Americans, deep, and the road to recovery, the path to defeating an ideological enemy in an ideological fight, isn't a matter of tanks and bombs, it's a matter of education and toning down the insanity comeing from leaders in politics and the media. Fueling the fear machine just plays into the enemy's hands, the way to win this war is to stop fighting it. Living in fear, growing hatred and intolerance is what the enemy is hoping America and the West will do, that's how they win. That's exactly how they beat the Russians, we are playing the Soviet's part in this re-boot of the franchise, and we need to do some serious re-writes in order not to have some greased up motherfucker shooting down Blackhawks in Afghanistan with explosive-tipped arrows.
America presents itself as a Christian nature, so by all means, act like it. Turn the other cheek, forgive, love your enemy, act like Jesus a little, and there's no way to sell America as The Great Satan. Don't act like the Devil and expect to be seen as a Saint by the people you're stepping on out in the world. This is how to win the war, not by dropping bombs on villages in the Middle East, but by showing people the good side of America, the generous, big-hearted side, the actual good guys that Americans have always striven to be throughout history, but seem to have completely lost sight of lately.