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I was previously a constitutional law and civil rights litigator and am now a journalist. I am the author of three New York Times bestselling books -- "How Would a Patriot Act" (a critique of Bush executive power theories), "Tragic Legacy" (documenting the Bush legacy), and With Liberty and Justice for Some (critiquing America's two-tiered justice system and the collapse of the rule of law for its political and financial elites). My fifth book - No Place to Hide: Edward Snowden, the NSA and the US Surveillance State - will be released on April 29, 2014 by Holt/Metropolitan.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Bombing away terrorism

During the 2004 campaign, Democrats argued that the key to preventing terrorism lay not in invading and occupying countries which have not attacked us, but instead, in improving our intelligence-gathering capabilities, strengthening law enforcement cooperation with other countries, increasing counter-terrorism resources, and solidifying border security -- ideas which were, first, wildly distorted, then caricatured, and then scornfully laughed away by the Bush campaign and the tough-guy media pundits: "Oh, how funny - weak little John Kerry wants to treat terrorism like a law enforcement problem! He wants to serve subpoenas on Osama bin Laden! He wants to protect against Al Qaeda attacks with police methods! He wants to surrender to the terrorists and give them therapy! That is so so funny."

In his new column today, George Will makes a critical (if not obvious) point about all of that: namely, despite the fact that Bush followers spent the week crowing about the U.K. terror plot as though it validates their views of the world, it actually does the opposite. We can't rid the world of Islamic extremism (a belief system) or terrorism by bombing it away. Will thus points out that the way in which the plot was thwarted demonstrates the foolishness of warmongering as a solution to terrorism, and the correctness of the anti-terrorist approach advocated by Democrats:

The London plot against civil aviation confirmed a theme of an illuminating new book, Lawrence Wright's "The Looming Tower: Al-Qaeda and the Road to 9/11." The theme is that better law enforcement, which probably could have prevented Sept. 11, is central to combating terrorism. F-16s are not useful tools against terrorism that issues from places such as Hamburg (where Mohamed Atta lived before dying in the North Tower of the World Trade Center) and High Wycombe, England.

Cooperation between Pakistani and British law enforcement (the British draw upon useful experience combating IRA terrorism) has validated John Kerry's belief (as paraphrased by the New York Times Magazine of Oct. 10, 2004) that "many of the interdiction tactics that cripple drug lords, including governments working jointly to share intelligence, patrol borders and force banks to identify suspicious customers, can also be some of the most useful tools in the war on terror." In a candidates' debate in South Carolina (Jan. 29, 2004), Kerry said that although the war on terror will be "occasionally military," it is "primarily an intelligence and law enforcement operation that requires cooperation around the world."

Immediately after the London plot was disrupted, a "senior administration official," insisting on anonymity for his or her splenetic words, denied the obvious, that Kerry had a point.

Obviously, if a country is engaged in direct hostilities against the U.S. or allowing itself to be used to stage such attacks (as Afghanistan was), then military action is a legitimate and necessary option. Very few people dispute that principle. But not only the break-up of the U.K. terror plot, but also the American failure in Iraq and the Israeli failure in Lebanon, demonstrate that massive military force cannot eradicate, or even alleviate (in fact, it likely worsens) the problem of Islamic extremism. Will now seems to recognize that point, too:

Five weeks have passed since the kidnapping of two Israeli soldiers provoked Israel to launch its most unsatisfactory military operation in 58 years. What problem has been solved, or even ameliorated? . . .

Immediately after the London plot was disrupted, a "senior administration official," insisting on anonymity for his or her splenetic words, denied the obvious, that Kerry had a point. The official told The Weekly Standard:

"The idea that the jihadists would all be peaceful, warm, lovable, God-fearing people if it weren't for U.S. policies strikes me as not a valid idea. [Democrats] do not have the understanding or the commitment to take on these forces. It's like John Kerry. The law enforcement approach doesn't work."

This farrago of caricature and non sequitur makes the administration seem eager to repel all but the delusional. But perhaps such rhetoric reflects the intellectual contortions required to sustain the illusion that the war in Iraq is central to the war on terrorism, and that the war, unlike "the law enforcement approach," does "work."

One should be careful about blithe comparisons between the war America is waging on Iraq and the one Israel waged on Lebanon. Israel waged war against a group which can attack it and has repeatedly done so, while the U.S. invaded a country that posed no threat to it at all. And while the Bush administration for several years insisted in the face of all contrary evidence that things were going just great in Iraq (and that anyone pointing out the obvious -- that things were going poorly -- was an anti-American subversive), the Israelis quickly and openly acknowledged the disaster that had been created by their poor prosecution of that war and brought it to a halt after 30 days (as opposed to three years and counting for Iraq).

But the valid comparisons between Iraq and Lebanon are numerous and obvious. A vastly superior invading military force failed to defeat a local insurgency driven by religious conviction and/or a defense of their country against invasion. The more military force that was used, the worse the problems became. The belief that attacks on militants would turn the population against those militants and in favor of the invading force turned out to be completely false. Indeed, the opposite was true: the invasion and military attacks did more to enhance the prestige and popularity of the extremist group than anything the group itself could have done. It resulted in vastly increased radicalism and resentment. And the invasion weakened the invading country on every level -- militarily, diplomatically, economically, and perhaps most importantly, by virtue of the vastly diminished perception of its invincibility.

There is, at long last, a growing recognition that waging more wars does not make us stronger or more secure. It does exactly the opposite. Those who want to pursue our failed policy in Iraq indefinitely or who want to attack more countries -- in the process alienating the whole world even more and exacerbating the Islamic radicalism which even the President says is what causes terrorism -- are not people who are "strong on security." They are gradually, though inexorably, destroying our security through a mindless militarism which becomes more reckless and crazed the more it fails. And this bloodthirsty militarism becomes more desperate as the sense of weakness and humiliation felt by its proponents -- including those in the White House -- intensifies.

If George Will can come out and say that John Kerry was right about how best to approach terrorism and the Bush approach does nothing but increases it, then perhaps we can soon reach the point where national journalists will understand that there is nothing "strong" about wanting more and more wars, and nothing "weak" about opposing warmongering and advocating more substantive, rational and responsible methods for combating terrorism.

Anyone rational can see that our invasion of Iraq did not make us "safer." Nor will attacking Syria and/or Iran or fueling more proxy wars in the Middle East make us any "safer." Quite plainly, those measures have had, and will continue to have, the opposite effect. And all the while, we neglect the genuinely effective methods for protecting against terrorism because those methods are boring and unappealing and unexciting to the increasingly crazed warriors looking for militaristic glory and slaughter for its own sake. Untold benefits will accrue if journalists can finally understand that whatever adjectives accurately describe such individuals -- especially those in the Bush administration and their Congressional loyalists -- "strong" is not one of them.

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