Open Letter to Both Sides

Come, let us play realpolitik together.

Let us check the “terrorist” moniker at the door, and agree that a B-2 bomber is as much a weapon of mass destruction as an anthrax lab. Let us talk military, political, and ethical facts.

To the Terrorists

If you think that you can gain our sympathy by blowing us up, you’re confused. The body of the living will absorb your blow and go on, hardened against your cause.

If you seek attention for your issues, be advised that we’re adults here, and not all attention is sympathetic attention. If you attract my attention by killing my neighbor, I won’t be in a reasonable mood.

If you think that senseless murder responds to senseless murder, you are shortsighted. Who is threatened? The undeserving uninfluential. Who is the audience for the act? The deserving influential. No overlap. This is a coward’s method of attack, to kill the innocent because it’s easy. Yes, I’m accusing you of cowardice. Notice I do not accuse suicide bombers of cowardice. Murder, fanaticism, schizophrenia, possession, maybe, but not cowardice. Those who plant bombs in subways are cowards. If they had a legitimate cause, these actions discredit it.

If you claim that the destruction of Fallujah was a war crime, I agree. Most of us cannot identify with a war of Christian against Muslim, or of Europe against Asia. But we can identify with a war of rich against poor. If you framed it that way, you would not be attacking the poor and the weak on our side; you would attack those who harm you. But that would be difficult; it would require courage.

If you attempt to separate the honest majority from the war crimes of governments, you ignore the fact that this separation already exists. The population of the west does not support another Crusade, regardless of the rhetoric or the actions of its governments. The governments of western democracries represent the interests of the people as a whole to the same extent the Caliphate represented the interests of the people as a whole.

To the Western Governments

Innocent blood advances no cause, except to unite those who feel themselves attacked. This goes both ways. As long as US/UK strategy involves killing innocent Afghanis and Iraqis, and paying for the killing and displacement of innocent Palestinians, the US and the UK will be targets. Here’s Robert Fisk:

“If you bomb our cities,” Osama bin Laden said in a recent videotape, “we will bomb yours.” It was clear Britain would be a target ever since British Prime Minister Tony Blair decided to join President Bush’s “war on terror” and his invasion of Iraq. We had, as they say, been warned. The G-8 summit was obviously chosen, well in advance, as Attack Day.

It’s no use Blair telling us, “They will never succeed in destroying what we hold dear.” They are not trying to destroy “what we hold dear.” They are trying to get public opinion to force Blair to withdraw from Iraq, out of his alliance with the United States, out of his adherence to Bush’s policies in the Middle East. The Spanish paid the price for their support for Bush — and Spain’s subsequent retreat from Iraq proved that the Madrid bombings achieved their objectives — while the Australians were made to suffer in Bali.

But, surprise, Blair has not yet arrived at the conclusion that his actions are directly responsible for the recruitment of terrorists:

In an interview yesterday, Blair denied that the London terrorist attacks were a direct result of British involvement in the Iraq war. He said Russia had suffered terrorism with the Beslan school massacre despite its opposition to the war, and terrorists were planning further attacks on Spain even after the pro-war government was voted out.

“September 11 happened before Iraq, before Afghanistan, before any of these issues and that was the worst terrorist atrocity of all,” he said.

However, the analysis prepared for Blair [by the Home Office and the Foreign Office] identified Iraq as a “recruiting sergeant” for extremism.

Such comments make the man seem a moron. Russia suffered the Beslan terrorism because of Chechnya, as Blair certainly knows. And the Islamic terrorism, as he well knows, is connected to the actions of Israel against the Palestinians. The West, so-called, has oppressed and stolen from Islam for a long time.

But truly, this is not a war in which there are two sides. I abhor the violence of terrorism as much as I abhor the violence of war; and unprovoked war is far more destructive than unprovoked terrorism. Thus I oppose the bombing of the London subway as I oppose the bombing of Fallujah, but I do not equate the two: many more people were killed in Fallujah.

I realize the crimes committed by terrorists of the al Qaeda sort are connected to crimes committed by my government and allied governments. I support neither of these groups morally; but I am compelled to support one of them financially.


Given this understanding of the world, is there a way forward? I think there is, but it requires changes on both sides, and that does not seem likely.

My goverment and its allies must evolve a rational foreign policy. Unfortunately this is a difficult problem.

For one thing, the Bush administration is stuck in 1970-style thinking.

In his book Against All Enemies, the former White House counterterrorism chief Richard Clarke chronicles the inability of senior administration officials to grasp the nature of the threat directed against them. Even before 9/11 they were fixated with the notion that behind a successful terrorist network like al-Qaida must be state sponsorship; destroy the state, destroy the threat, ran the theory. In this environment it was easy for the neoconservatives to win approval for their prefabricated plan to attack Iraq.

But al-Qaida has never depended on state sponsorship, except in the wholly unintended sense that the US-funded campaign against the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan brought its members together and gave them their first taste of jihad. Indeed it is a mistake even to regard al-Qaida as an organisation in the traditional sense of the term. At most it is now little more than an idea, fusing ideology with operational method, both of which can be accessed freely via the internet. It is quite meaningless to talk about destroying the “terrorist infrastructure”, unless we propose to carpet bomb Microsoft. We have entered the era of do-it-yourself terrorism.

Personally I have no problem with carpet-bombing Microsoft, but I don’t think that would help the terrorism problem much. No reasonable net server runs Microsoft software anyway.

Another problem is that US foreign policy focuses mainly on enriching US multinational corporations, especially those that deal in weapons and petroleum products. This generates a corporate requirement for oil and conflict. It seems, in fact, that the US economy depends on foreign conflict, and thus on the generation of enemies (cf. Jonathan Kwitny’s Endless Enemies).

On the other side, the terrorists divide into those who have achievable goals and those who do not.

Some terrorists are trying to draw attention to the issues they consider central. I expect, for example, that most Palestinian suicide bombers consider their acts to be as legitimate as those of the Israeli Defense Forces. All’s fair, as they say. You bomb our cities, we’ll bomb yours. Such people could be dealt with if “our side”, that is, Israel and its US supporters, were to adopt a fair approach to the conflict. There is, of course, no reason to think this is about to happen. As long as Israel continues to believe that it can take more land, it will continue to prevent peace.

However, if bin Laden and his ilk actually believe they can re-establish the Caliphate, they are Reagan-esque dreamers, and that is not a positive. Reagan was probably the only person stupid enough to believe that we could build a shield to protect the US against missiles, and one of the few stupid enough not to understand the offensive nature of such a weapon.

Bin Laden may be foolish enough to believe that he defeated the Soviet Union in Afghanistan and thereby contributed to its downfall. At least, so it is reported. Presumably, then, he believes that the training and weapons provided by the CIA were sufficient to allow a tiny group of fighters to overcome an empire. This hasn’t happened in the past, and is unlikely to happen in the future. The Soviet Union fell apart for internal reasons, and because it was starved of capital, not because it failed to dominate Afghanistan.


There doesn’t seem to be a lot of hope in the current situation.

The governments of the US and its allies are unlikely to change course, because to do so they would have to admit responsibility for the destruction they’ve caused. Although the responsibility is obvious, Blair seems oblivious, and Bush seems incapable of understanding.

The bin Laden-style terrorists are equally unlikely to change. What they hope for is no more possible than what Bush and Blair want.

The government of Israel continues to provoke terrorism, seemingly on purpose. Israelis were willing to elect a man known to have committed massacres in the past; therefore one must assume they don’t want peace.

Americans can justly claim to have been cheated of their right to elect a President; but such cheating is only possible when the margins are small, and the opposition spineless. Can three hundred million people really find no one who deserves to be President? Where’s Josiah Bartlet when we need him?

Gibbon said, “Many are the resources of courage and poverty.” Of course something similar can be said for timidity and wealth. The respective resources differ greatly, as do the aims. But as long as each side aims at something unreachable, the violence will continue.

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