The Failed War on Terrorism

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The savage attack in London, for which al Qaeda has reportedly taken credit, is just one more indication that the War on Terrorism is not working.

Just recently, the Bush administration cancelled the publication of the annual "Patterns of Global Terrorism" report, which would have embarrassingly revealed that major terrorist attacks worldwide increased from 175 in 2003 to 625 in 2004. The War Party has been arguing for almost four years that the Bush administration’s War on Terrorism has reduced the number of terrorist attacks throughout the globe, but all data seem to demonstrate an increase.

The most loyal Terror Warriors weren’t even shaken by the leaked Rumsfeld memo of October 2003, which candidly and simply conceded the most basic limitations inherent in the U.S. government’s bureaucratic central-planning approach to wiping out global terrorism:

Today, we lack metrics to know if we are winning or losing the global war on terror. Are we capturing, killing or deterring and dissuading more terrorists every day than the madrassas and the radical clerics are recruiting, training and deploying against us?

Does the US need to fashion a broad, integrated plan to stop the next generation of terrorists? The US is putting relatively little effort into a long-range plan, but we are putting a great deal of effort into trying to stop terrorists. The cost-benefit ratio is against us! Our cost is billions against the terrorists’ costs of millions.

This all made perfect sense, and was refreshing to see coming from the Secretary of Defense. Terrorism is a tactic, "a form of action available to virtually any determined adult anywhere anytime," as Robert Higgs once wrote. For this reason, a "War on terrorism… can be only a figure of speech." And it can only be a failure. Short of wiping out the human race, all the nuclear bombs in the world and preemptive strikes until the end of time cannot prevent what happened in London. Only by looking at the Western policies in the Middle East to which this fundamentalist violence is a response do we have a chance of isolating our countries from such hostility.

Many have warned that the War on Terrorism, and especially the Iraq war, would only augment the threat of international terrorism, serving as just the example of genuine grievances that such maniacs as bin Laden need to gain followers and garner support in dollars and lives. Some Middle Easterners certainly hate Americans and Westerners for no reason other than our cultural identity. But they become folk heroes only when the Osamas of the world have such incidents of imperialism as Shock and Awe to point to.

The horrific atrocity in London is simply the latest and most pronounced incident of the terrorism incited by the War on Terror, at least since the attack in Madrid. When the Spanish were attacked, they did the wise thing. They pulled out of Iraq, on schedule, and distanced themselves from the belligerent U.S. foreign policy of perpetual war for its own sake. They did not shy away from the principle of justice for actual terrorists, only from a policy of cyclical violence guaranteed to make matters worse.

How horrible it is that innocent Britons would pay for the crimes of their own government and the U.S. government of which London is one of the most loyal satellites. The victims were not responsible for what their government had done, but thanks to the unfortunate realities of partisan democratic politics, the hawkish Blair was reelected and the English State has continued to side with the U.S. State in its terrible foreign misadventures.

And yet, like clockwork, we can expect calls for redoubling the efforts to solve Islamic terror with State terror, to vanquish this fanatic violence with well-calculated and engineered violence of our own. As far as the warmongers are concerned, any apparent decline in terrorism is a great reason to continue the war, the only better reason being if the war is utterly failing to reduce terrorism at all.

We will likely also hear another argument riddled with bloody paradoxes. In the midst of this bloodshed we will hear about the tragic loss of innocent life and the preciousness of every victim of the attack. But if Britain considers pulling out, as Spain did, we will likely hear that such loss of life is the price "we" must all pay to maintain international order and ensure the progress of the civilizing forces of the Global War on Terror. The British will be accused of being wimps, as were the Spanish when they decided that the hopeless project in the Middle East was not worth any more Spanish blood — and as were the French and Germans when they decided from the beginning that they had had enough war in the past and did not need any more unnecessary militarism just to please a hyper-powerful bloodthirsty Uncle Sam. And so the attack described today as being beyond the sensibilities of all civilized people, and thus warranting an amplified campaign of Anglo-American aggression against Arabs and Muslims, may tomorrow be shrugged off nonchalantly as the price great Empires must pay in the blood of "their" subjects for the benefit of leading the world to a Brave New future.

These words are not unpatriotic in any real sense, nor do I mean the least bit to slight those whose loved ones were murdered in Britain. Like the thousands of innocents who died in New York on September 11, 2001, the nearly two hundred who died in Madrid on March 11, 2004, and the tens of thousands who have died in Iraq and Afghanistan since even before the official War on Terror began, they were all victims of aggression, mass violence and insanity. It is never right to attack innocent people for the crimes of a guilty few. Never. Nor does it ever bring about the end of violence always promised of it. This truth applies to the War on Terrorism just as it applies to the terrorist attacks conducted by Muslim extremists, for there is no moral or practical reason to support either type of violence. The cycle of bloodshed will only continue now, but it is largely up to the British people whether or not the role of their own government in the cycle will be greater or lesser than it has been.

The real triumph of civilization is the extent to which coercion is banished from human relations. Brute force is not our salvation, especially as directed by State central planning and done so with little regard for the innocents who inevitably die in warfare. Such violence did nothing to save the innocents who died in London, nor can it do anything to bring those people back or solve the underlying problem.

Anthony Gregory [send him mail] is a writer and musician who lives in Berkeley, California. He is a research analyst at the Independent Institute. See his webpage for more articles and personal information.

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