Killing Terrorists vs. Eradicating Terrorism

[Editor's Note:  The author believes the United States  should take its case to 
the United Nations and to The World Court. The crimes committed are "crimes 
against  humanity", not "war crimes", and they are unlikely to be resolved by 
unilateral action.  The nations of the world must act together to cope with 
global terrorism.  It appeared in the NORTHLAND READER (27 September 2001), p.10.]

Our President has spoken to the nation, but the situation has not substantially 
improved.  It might have been a good thing if he had mentioned the history of terrorism 
or the nations that have suffered so greatly because of its effects. He might have 
discussed the reasons dedicated men are willing to sacrifice their lives for causes that 
transcend them. He might have spent more time distinguishing (the vast majority) of 
peaceful Muslims from (the small minority) of religious fanatics.	And he might have 
proposed addressing the United Nations or The World Court, institutions that could be 
helpful in responding to a threat to every nation. 

Instead, our President conveyed the impression that killing terrorists is the same thing as eradicating terrorism. He even escalated his rhetoric, promoting the false dichotomy that either you are with us or you are against us, which is bound to exacerbate friction and instability in those countries whose governments may be most vulnerable to destabilization. These countries, unfortunately, include Pakistan, which has to be the bellweather of our destiny. If the present government falls and Pakistan becomes a nation dominated by anti-American sympathies, Osama will have nuclear weapons at his disposal, and it will not take him long to use them.

Some may think we can force Afghanistan into submission, but it has proven impossible for the great powers of the past (including Britain, and the Soviet Union, and even Alexander the Great) and there is no reason to suppose we are going to do any better. It would have been so appropriate to appeal to one New York City institution (The United Nations) to respond to an attack upon another (The World Trade Center), but it was not to be. Almost certainly, right-wing animosity toward the UN--rooted in ideology--prompts the administration to be UN-aversive.

Nevertheless, according to THE NEW YORK TIMES (19 September 2001), President
Jiang Zemin of China has contacted Prime Minister Tony Blair of Britain and President Jacques Chirac of France, asking them to convey to President Bush that military attacks by the United States should be meticulously planned to minimize the death of innocent civilians. He and Russian President Vladimir Putin, moreover, have condemned terrorism in all of its forms, while encouraging the United Nations to develop a mechanism for fighting terrorism. Those are encouraging signs. If we can't lead the world, perhaps the world can lead us.

We are about to discover that ideologies make a difference--for better or for worse!--and I only wish that we could take for granted that the ideology of this administration will prove as potent as the ideologies of our adversaries. Our President, alas, delivers ultimatums he cannot enforce in a situation beyond our control. We act as if could carry this off on our own and shun the help that other nations might be able to provide--if only we appealed their desire to do what is right because IT IS RIGHT, not to do what we want because otherwise they will confront THE SAME FATE as Osama bin Laden!

Eradicating terrorism requires far more than killing terrorists. Insofar as terrorism is rooted in poverty, ignorance, homelessness, political impotence, and religious convictions, perhaps we should be considering attacking poverty, ignorance, homelessness, political impotence, and religious convictions--at least, to the extent to which those convictions promote zealotry and fanaticism! We may not be able to do much about all of these causes, but we should consider our alternatives, especially to take pains to insure that short term actions do not preclude long term solutions.

According to Michael Evans, Defense Editor for THE LONDON TIMES (20 September
2001), prominent administration figures have compared the "war on terrorism" to the "war on drugs" or the "war on poverty":

The war on terrorism could be likened, they said, to the war on drugs or poverty, and the best way to undermine and eventually dismantle the terrorist structures around the world was to use the method of "hearts and minds", encouraging foreign governments and people to join in the "war" so that terrorists would be isolated and identified.

Some of the most dramatic achievements, the sources say, might come, not from
military action, but from political pressure on foreign governments to turn their backs on terrorism and to hand over the organisers of terrorist networks.

They point to the campaign against Yugoslavia in 1999. Although the airstrikes
fitted more closely to the "old doctrine concept" of using massed firepower to
target the enemy, which brought criticism from many parts of the world, NATO was also seen to be working as a humanitarian agency with its operation in Albania
helping to build shelters for the thousands of refugees pouring out of Kosovo.

The most promising strategy, however, might be to treat it, not just LIKE the war on poverty, but AS a war on poverty, ignorance, homelessness, and political impotence. That, at least, would be worthy of the American character and have a chance of actually leading to the reduction, if not cessation, of terrorism. Indeed, it is a fantasy to suggest that we ever could "eradicate terrorism" or "eliminate evil", as Bush has maintained. But we may be able to take measures other than military that contribute substantially toward that objective.

Consider the following plan for a real and sustained "war on the causes of terrorism":

(1) RAISE TAXES: How can we imagine we can conduct wars if we are unable to pay
for them? The recent tax breaks, including new moves for capital gains cuts, are going to do us great harm over the long run by depeting our ability to sustain our economic health and ought to be repealed. We cannot solve problems if we cannot pay for their solutions.

(2) REIMPOSE THE DRAFT: We need large numbers of idealistic citizens to assist in the efforts that need to be undertaken. There should be a "national service" program that includes "civilian service" and "military service" option for draftees to choose between. There should be no exceptions: men and women, rich and poor, regardless of family connections.

(3) STRENGTHEN AND EXPAND THE PEACE CORPS: JFK had the right idea, but it needs to be carried out with greater energy and vigour, especially by means of programs that combat poverty, ignorance, and homelessness in regions such as Palestine, Egypt, Yemen, even Afghanistan. Adequately financed and broadly pursued, this initiative could hold the key to peace.

(4) IMPROVE AMERICAN EDUCATION: We need citizens to have a better understanding of domestic political and international affairs, including cultual and religious differences, than is the case today. If we do not understand other cultures and religions, how can we cope with them? We must demand more from our students and enhance their learning.

(5) COMMIT 10% OF CORPORATION PROFITS TO THIS WAR AGAINST THE ROOTS OF TERRORISM: Willie Sutton said, when asked why he robbed banks, "Because that's
where the money is!" We need a substantial and ongoing commitment of funding from the American business community. Corporations benefit from globalization and international trade: let them help preserve the peace for commerce!

(6) PHASE OUT THE CIA AS A COVERT-ACTION AGENCY: The United States must abandon its past reliance upon "black ops" and "wet work" involving torture, terrorism,
assassination, and the destabilization of other countries. How can "we the people" decide whether or not we approve of our own foreign policy--including training Osama bin Laden himself!--if we are not allowed to know what it is?

After all, if we are going to launch an attack on terrorism, it would seem appropriate that we cease practicing it. These suggestions may come as some surprise to those who think all of our responses to terrorism should be military. But military operations, especially conventional, have the least probability of offering genuine, lasting solutions to the problems that we and the world confront in coping with terrorism. We must come to grips with the underlying causes of terrorism and not simply its overt manifestations. Go after terrorists and bring them to justice, if we can, but also attack the causes of
terrorism, if we want to bring it to an end!

The Bush administration tends to evaluate problems from the perspective of a cost/benefit analysis. That involves calculating the benefits (typically, in dollars and cents) compared to the costs (in dollars and cents) to arrive at decisions about action options. Calculations based upon dollars and cents, however, leave out everything that cannot be measured in terms of dollars and cents, including justice, fairness, and morality. So cost/benefit analyses are clearly incomplete, especially when applied to questions of resource allocation and social justice.

What the administration might want to consider, however, is that, even from a cost/benefit perspective based upon dollars and cents, it may very well be in the interests of the American business community to cope with the roots of terrorism as well as its manifestations. The economic consequences of these acts are only vaguely understood right now, but they are going to be enormous. Even in terms of dollars and cents, it could turn out that conducting a war against the roots of terrorism has even fewer costs and more benefits than conducting a war against terrorism!

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