- With his book, "Against All Enemies", and his
interviews, including his March 21, 2004 Sixty Minutes session with Leslie
Stahl, Richard Clarke has put the Bush administration in a state of high
confusion. The costs of that state of mind for US interests and for any
prospects of world peace are mounting daily. But the situation only brings
into sharp focus two key areas of long term Bush team confusion: Before
9-11 the great bulk of terrorism in the world was not directed against
the United States. After 9-11 the Bush team has done an incredible job
of increasing the risks to Americans everywhere.
- In her statement and responses to questions before the
9-11 Commission on April 8, National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice
tried to contradict all Clarke statements about Bush administration performance,
but it was not a convincing rebuttal. How can the Clarke recounting of
events and the Bush/Rice statements of administration actions and intentions
occupy the same space? The problem facing the administration is they cannot,
and the portents of that fact for any future Bush administration are enormous.
- On the narrow issue of the immediate struggle against
possible terrorist attacks, Clarke is largely right and the administration
is largely wrong, but neither actually is looking at the global struggle
against terrorism. Rather both are bogged down in the "who struck
John" Washington politics of the War on Terrorism. That will burn
mega volumes of media space and professional time to no purpose, because
the global challenge of terrorism notwithstanding, we have become the main
- The evolution of our situation is compelling. Before
we invaded Iraq a year ago, the most turbulent terrorism generators on
the planet were churning away in Palestine, and we were doing little about
them. In both Israeli and American official comment on that mess, the Palestinians
are given virtually all of the blame, but the plain fact is that every
Israeli action respecting the West Bank and Gaza has been provocative.
Heavy handed military operations, targeted assassination of the elderly
Hamas leader Yassin last month, and more recently his successor Rantissi,
aggressive bulldozing of homes and businesses, and the travesty of the
"wall" have assured that terrorism generators run full blast.
And the Israelis are using money and equipment supplied by the American
taxpayer to do it.
- Prime Minister Sharon's recent threat to throw out all
so-called illegal Palestinians in Israel once the wall is finished is just
another hot coal on this fire. Israeli hardliners can be assured therefore
that enough suicide bombings and other attacks will occur to keep the Israeli
public properly cowed and agreeable to present extremist policies.
- The view of the West Bank and Gaza from Tel Aviv is that
any actions the Palestinians take to fight back against the Israeli occupation
and its excesses are terrorism, roundly condemned by the Israelis and the
US leadership. That view fits a Middle Eastern conflict model in which
national armies can terrorize whole populations but individuals who fight
back are terrorists. By signing on to the Israeli side of this conflict
the US basically says the Palestinian people have no rights, no dignity,
no claims they can assert against an occupying force, and no actions they
can take to defend themselves. The Palestinians are dehumanized in this
- But the ultimate put down of the Palestinian people and
sad proof that there is no administration understanding of the causes of
terrorism occurred in the Bush meeting Wednesday April 14 with Ariel Sharon.
So far as the Palestinians are concerned, Bush gave away the store. He
gave Sharon carte blanche to choose which settlements the Israelis will
keep or even add in the West Bank and he personally withdrew any right
of the Palestinians to return to their ancestral homes. In short, Bush
pulled the plug on Palestinian hopes for the future.
- Alongside Palestine, Iraq has an increasingly familiar
look. The view from the Coalition Green Zone in Baghdad is that people
who fight back against occupying forces are either malcontents or terrorists,
probably allied with al Qaida. As is now being carried out around the
Sunni Triangle city of Fallujah, the promise, or threat, is that the bad
actors, the militants, will be punished. In light of sharply increased
attacks over the past few days, US civil administrator in Iraq, L. Paul
Bremer, as well as US military spokesmen have stated categorically that
the Iraqis who fight back are terrorists, and the US will not negotiate
with them. In short the US is now using the same dehumanizing strategy
against the Iraqis that Israel uses against the Palestinians. Moreover,
the US has used this strategy from the beginning of the post 9-11 war in
Afghanistan, asserting that suspected terrorists, whether or not members
of al Qaida, have no rights and may be confined indefinitely without recourse.
- This strategy has perverse effects in both situations.
To be sure a number of Iraqis and Palestinians cease to resist, at least
openly, but their sympathies are clearly with the people who actually fight
back. They provide the fighters shelter, money, food, weapons, transportation,
and other assistance, and they do not appear to press their tribal or religious
leaders to find a political solution. Meanwhile, the fighters are told
they have no choice but to give up, but they appear to believe all they
will get for compliance is submission, and they are angered into fighting
back more vigorously. This all or nothing approach, which appears very
satisfying to hardliners, accomplishes nothing except that it makes more
people angry and ready to fight back. The trend of conflict in Iraq brutally
bears this out.
- A de-humanize the enemy strategy is paired with another
commonplace failing of the Bush administration: Nothing is being done about
the causes of terrorism. In her statement to the 9-11 Commission on Thursday,
Condoleezza Rice delivered her entire justification of Bush policies around
terrorism without once mentioning causes of terrorism. Only on questioning
did she admit that conditions in Afghanistan had been allowed to deteriorate
badly before any real effort was begun to improve conditions of life in
that country. After the US defeated Taliban rulers who had controlled
pretty much the whole country, warlords who were enlisted by the US to
achieve that defeat were allowed to reassert their control of major areas
of the country. As seen by some observers, Hamid Karzai, the chosen national
leader installed shortly after defeat of the Taliban, actually has become
little more than Mayor of Kabul, and that is still the condition. Meanwhile
the country is back in the heroin business.
- Rice committed another major error in her response to
questioning in that she said that the way to respond to human needs in
the area is to introduce democracy to defeat Islamic fundamentalism. The
notion that all Muslims have to do to resolve their enormous struggle with
the impact of modernization as well as to overcome severe scarcities in
their societies is to revise the way they select their leaders is incredibly
naïve. But the tragedy of it all is that her assessment totally ignores
the powerful terrorism generators that have existed for half a century
in Palestine and that are daily more intensively turned on in Iraq.
- From the perspective of service to US national interests,
the Washington debate is almost totally sterile. There can be no winner.
If the Bush team succeeds in asserting that it actually knew what it was
doing before 9-11 and was taking the necessary steps to protect the country,
its critics will say "but the towers were knocked down". If
the critics succeed in convincing the public that the Bush team screwed
up, he will likely lose the 2004 election, while the country,s protection
against a future terrorist attack will not be made better by his loss.
But the worst outcome of US actions since 9-11 is the creation of new sources
of terrorism and the aggravation of existing stresses in many societies,
not only Islamic, by conduct of a war on terrorism when what mostly is
needed is improvements in the human condition.
- The administration view conveys a sense of hopelessness.
It gives an impression that the United States has a set of implacable
and unreasonable enemies whose anger is not our fault and, implicitly,
nothing can be done about them except to fight back. This assumption is
not only false; it is most dangerous because it raises feelings of victim-hood
and fear in our country that are quite enervating. Much of the Israeli
public has been enslaved by these feelings for half a century. Such feelings
appear to be growing in the United States. The frustrations that are generated
by such feelings in turn sustain an unhealthy tolerance for violent remedies
that only feed the problems.
- Actually most of the world's terrorism does not grow
out of a dislike for the United States. Even though dislike of US policies
and actions has grown since the Iraq invasion, the primary targets of terrorism
in Islamic countries are not the United States or its citizens. We can
bring ourselves into the "enemy camp by one-sided support for Israel
and insensitivity to the real injuries being inflicted on the Palestinian
people. We can get into the "enemy" camp by supporting repressive
leaders, or simply by supporting constituted governments in countries where
there is significant popular dissent. We can be the enemy as we are in
Iraq by carrying out an unprovoked and illegal attack on another country.
We can be the enemy in a number of cases by trying to suppress the nuclear
ambitions of other countries while seeking more or less openly to expand
and improve our own enormous stockpiles of nuclear weapons. In short,
quite a bit of the risk of terrorism against us is a product of our own
behavior and therefore we are able to do something about it by changing
- There is an odd twist under the title of Richard Clarke's
book "Against All Enemies". The complete phrase is "against
all enemies foreign and domestic" and that is an apt term, because
under Bush and neo-conservative leadership the United States has become
its own worst enemy. Bush has cemented that position by the concessions
he made Wednesday to Sharon, giving away Palestinian rights the United
States does not own. Kerry will be tarred with the same brush if he does
not immediately disavow the Bush concessions. But both Bush and Kerry have
indicated strong support for Israel and neither is likely to risk loss
of Jewish support in the coming election. For the same reason, neither
appears likely to favor retreat from the hard line now being taken in Iraq.
We therefore may be locked in a pattern of stoking the flames of terrorism
- Instead of just allowing that to happen, we should put
terrorism into proper perspective. Terrorism is an asymmetrical struggle
in which small, even weak adversaries can do large and powerful states
a great deal of harm. There is no convincing evidence that terrorism can
be defeated by military means, even though special operations make good
adventure TV programs. But there is convincing evidence that economic
and social improvements in a society reduce tendencies to violence. In
trying to defeat terrorism militarily the Bush team has made asymmetry
a more critical risk for the United States by making new enemies in much
of the Middle East and offending friends virtually everywhere else. The
war on terrorism is globally provocative in the same manner as Israeli
attacks in Palestine.
- There is hope in this situation however. Because many
of the challenges are problems of our own making, many of the possible
solutions are in our own hands. We can abandon the hard line attack strategy
in Iraq as a first step toward reducing the number of enemies our country
is making. We can hand the Iraq recovery over to the United Nations, and
that will get us out of a nation-building role we have bungled from the
beginning. We surely can recognize that a one-sided and thoughtless approach
to Palestine is an enormous terrorism generator and must be corrected.
We can recognize that terrorism is a product of multiple weaknesses in
many societies, and we can put the energies we are wasting on war into
combating those weaknesses. All of those steps would take us a long way
toward reducing the risks of terrorism. Admitting that we are now a big
part of the problem and getting our country back on its historic course
will do the rest.
- The writer is a retired Senior Foreign Service Officer
of the US Department of State. He welcomes comments at email@example.com