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Could we actually lose the war on terror?
May 2, 2004 12:30 PM   Subscribe

Lesser Evils

The chief ethical challenge of a war on terror is relatively simple -- to discharge duties to those who have violated their duties to us. Even terrorists, unfortunately, have human rights. We have to respect these because we are fighting a war whose essential prize is preserving the identity of democratic society and preventing it from becoming what terrorists believe it to be. Terrorists seek to provoke us into stripping off the mask of law in order to reveal the black heart of coercion that they believe lurks behind our promises of freedom. We have to show ourselves and the populations whose loyalties we seek that the rule of law is not a mask or an illusion. It is our true nature.
posted by y2karl (41 comments total)

 
On a related note, Jeffrey Record, author of Bounding The Global War On Terror, is interviewed in Salon. An excerpt of his new book Dark Victory can be found there as well.

While not entirely on topic to this post, they are worth reading, which is why I link them here.

The unfortunate part is you will have to click through a four screen ad for Tom Cruise's The Last Samurai to read them.

On topic, I think Ignaitieff's sections on the Detention Archipegalo and Torture are especially germane in light of recent news.
posted by y2karl at 12:38 PM on May 2, 2004


When did it go from the 'war on a tactic' (terrorism) to 'war on a feeling' (terror)? Are we going to go to war on meloncholiness next?
posted by Space Coyote at 12:44 PM on May 2, 2004


No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a Grand Jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the Militia, when in actual service in time of War or public danger; nor shall any person be subject for the same offence to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb; nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.
posted by matteo at 12:46 PM on May 2, 2004


law AND order
posted by quonsar at 1:41 PM on May 2, 2004


Despite the hyper-promotion of the Straw Man Bin Laden, no non-governmental organization has ever caused nearly the amount of death/destruction/oppression/grief as a bad government, and the only ones with any potential to do so are supported by some government somewhere, and that potential is in proportion to the size of the supporting government. The U.S. kicked the Taliban government of Afghanistan out with one arm tied behind its back, so it is therefore quite logical that WalMart is a greater threat to our freedom than Al Queda.

And, in case you didn't remember Thursday's "Terrorist Threat to L.A. Malls", nothing happened. If the threat were anything more than a bad prank, the very publicising of the threat most likely forced the terrorists to cancel their plans (I just hope the courageous 'stool-pigeon' survives to spoil future plans).
posted by wendell at 1:46 PM on May 2, 2004


Are we going to go to war on meloncholiness next?

Goths are so fucked.
posted by Wulfgar! at 2:05 PM on May 2, 2004


Laws require enforcement, and international law (including the laws of war) have no enforcement mechanism. Except one: those who choose not to respect the rules of war may not receive the protection provided by the rules of war. If the United States unilaterally commits to honoring the humanitarian rights of terrorists without a reciprocal promise from Al Qaeda, then Al Qaeda and other terrorists (and, more importantly, other States) can target civilians and violate the laws of war without concern for the consequences of their violations. This principle of reciprocity is quite obviously built into the Geneva Conventions, for this reason.
posted by gd779 at 2:34 PM on May 2, 2004


...If we were to add up all the suspects, citizens and noncitizens held in U.S. institutions, together with those in Guantanamo, Iraq, Afghanistan, Diego Garcia and U.S. brigs and stockades in between, the number might run into the thousands. No one knows how many detainees there are, and that is the crux of the problem: the United States may be operating a global archipelago of detention beyond the law and ken of its citizens. Clearly, there need to be rules to govern detention, and the key rule -- one that defines democracy itself -- is that no one, citizen or otherwise, should be held without access to public review of his detention by independent judicial authorities. Where they are held, whether offshore or at home, should be immaterial. If they are detained by Americans, they are America's responsibility, and basic due process standards should apply.

Philip Heymann of Harvard Law School has argued that we have to stop holding American citizens indefinitely without charge. We should try them or let them go. If a suspect cannot be brought to trial without revealing evidence that would endanger key informants, then a federal judge could order further detention, but only for a maximum period of two years. After that, the person would have to be brought to trial or released.

Overseas, in Guantanamo, Iraq and elsewhere, where combatant or terrorist detainees are held, the government should create military tribunals that offer detainees the right to challenge the basis of their detention with the assistance of counsel. Of course, this is costly, and of course, some bad characters may talk their way out of America's clutches. Release upon detention, though, does not preclude surveillance upon release. These are hard choices, but we would be better advised to let a few bad characters go than to continue to run a global network of detention facilities that, right now, are an open invitation to abuse.

posted by y2karl at 3:21 PM on May 2, 2004


It is inexplicable, and always has been to me, that anyone could seriously think 'a war on terror' might actually be winnable. Precisely because it is a meaningless phrase, and any examination of what it might actually mean has, as far as I can tell, been systematically avoided by those who declared it. I continues to amaze me that anyone can discuss such a thing with a straight face. 'Victories' in such a war, when military, inevitably lead to more combatants, in a cycle that will, by its very nature, never end.

If the United States unilaterally commits to honoring the humanitarian rights of terrorists without a reciprocal promise from Al Qaeda, then Al Qaeda and other terrorists (and, more importantly, other States) can target civilians and violate the laws of war without concern for the consequences of their violations.

I don't understand this stance at all, to be honest. It is self-evident that the world would be a better place without Al Qaeda and its handmaidens, even if the methods by which America is pursuing such an end are arguable in the extreme. But there is no question that a group that embraces means that can only be described as 'terrorism,' and thus puts itself outside any 'rules' of conflict, will never behave in accordance with those conventions. Terrorist groups are not nation-states, regardless of the fact that America is attempting to fight them as if they are.

But that this misguided policy towards battling its sworn enemies as if they were nations should allow us to forgive America from behaving in accordance with conventions on international law with regard to combatants seems spurious at best, and doubly so in this context of a nation 'at war' against ragtag bands of jihadis and insurgents against the growing American hegemony and militarism (that their actions have ironically helped to bring about). America should respect and honour these rules -- not because they are handed down by some external and self-avowedly extranational authority -- but because it is the right thing to do.

I do not murder someone with whom I disagree because the law prohibits it. I do not kill because it is a self-evident evil. That America tells itself and the world that it is doing the right thing, while so clearly struggling for excuses to do the opposite, is a source of laughing-while-crying mirth.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 5:35 PM on May 2, 2004


This article (the cover of the Magazine) was just one of two pieces in today's NYT that gave prominent mention to the idea that more terrorists are likely, if not inevitable, and we should be planning for them now. (The other piece led the Week in Review section).

I couldn't agree more, and, frankly, wonder why it has taken so long for the major media to get up on this. The next attack will, in some ways, be more shocking than 9/11. 9/11 registered as a terrible anomaly -- the next attack will register as a confirmation that our way of life has truly changed, and will demand a response of greater magnitude.

My personal belief is that it will occasion a shift to a true "war footing" in society. After 9/11, there was no general military mobilization, no imposition of war taxes or austerity measures. The war against terror is being fought by a professional corps of soldiers and spies with little connection to your typical yuppie. I really wonder how people will cope with a true war footing; won't be as easy as sticking a plastic flag on your aerial, that's for sure.
posted by MattD at 6:07 PM on May 2, 2004


America should respect and honour these rules -- not because they are handed down by some external and self-avowedly extranational authority -- but because it is the right thing to do.

This is why it's so hard to come to agreement on this particular issue. The most strident proponents of international law see it as essentially a moral issue. It's the classic idealist vs. realist debate in foreign policy.

To take Guantanamo Bay as an example: The text of the Geneva Conventions, if read fairly as a simple treaty and without the usual desire to affirm and expand a comprehensive system of international humanitarian law, would plainly classify detained Al Qaeda terrorists as "unprivileged" unlawful combatants, meaning that they have no rights guaranteed under the Geneva Conventions. This is because Al Qaeda is not a state, and furthermore it targets civilians in clear violation of the laws of war, and therefore cannot be a "party to the conflict" or qualify for POW status within the meaning of Geneva III Article 4.

Detained terrorists (and, indeed, any captured individual who doesn't qualify as a POW) should therefore qualify as "civilians" under Geneva IV Article 4, except that, again, Al Qaeda targets civilians in clear violation of international law. Article 4 of Geneva IV says flat-out that citizens of a State which refuses to be bound by the Geneva Conventions are refused protection under Geneva IV. Since the Geneva Conventions were drafted prior to the emergence of modern terrorism, Al Qaeda is best analogized as a "state" within this context.

It's very important to note that if you don't analogize Al Qaeda as a state within this context, you wind up with two absurd results: 1) Any military action against Al Qaeda or members of Al Qaeda would be unlawful under Article 27 of Geneva IV*, and 2) captured terrorists would qualify for the greater level of protection offered to civilians (as opposed to prisoners of war) precisely because they committed war crimes.

* Some have tried to counter this interpretation by pointing out that Article 51(3) of the Protocol I Additional to the Geneva Conventions confirms that unlawful combatants may be attacked while they unlawfully participate in hostilities. However, Protocol I does not enjoy the universal acceptance that the Geneva Conventions enjoy, and in fact has not been ratified by the United States.

But that's not enough for some proponents of international law. They see international law (or, I should say, they see their conception of international law) as morally binding and ultimately comprehensive, and therefore they attempt to massage the Geneva Conventions to achieve this result. The end goal itself is laudable - strengthening international law to combat terrorism is necessary. But it should be done democratically, and it should be done pragmatically, without moral heavy-handedness. But the formalist conception of international law cannot conceive of slow steps and moral compromises, because it rests on an appeal to rules as an end in themselves.

So as far as I'm aware, the United States has violated international law in only one way: President Bush has determined that the Guantanamo Bay detainees are unlawful combatants, whereas a court should have made that adjudication. However, even here the Bush administration has a plausible (if stretched) legal argument: Article 5 of Geneva III says that a competent tribunal must adjudicate the status of detainees only where "doubt arises" as to their legal status. The Bush administration believes that there is no doubt as to the legal status of the Guantanamo Bay detainees, and further that the determination of whether any doubt has arisen may be made by the executive. This is not, in my view, the best interpretation, but neither is it completely implausible or a clear violation of the US's obligations under international law.

These are my preliminary thoughts. They may change with time. Draft - Not for Distribution. Void where prohibited.
posted by gd779 at 6:43 PM on May 2, 2004


It's very important to note that if you don't analogize Al Qaeda as a state within this context, you wind up with two absurd results: 1) Any military action against Al Qaeda or members of Al Qaeda would be unlawful under Article 27 of Geneva IV*, and 2) captured terrorists would qualify for the greater level of protection offered to civilians (as opposed to prisoners of war) precisely because they committed war crimes.

I understand what you're saying, gd779, and thank you for more detailed context than I was previously aware of, but I suppose the thrust of my point is this : that interpreting America's (or any other actor's) actions according to the Geneva conventions is in effect a sort of strawman. It limits interpretation (and throws up absurdity) because it addresses mechanics and interpretations of writ, using reason in a self-defeating utilitarian way (I refer you to Equilibrium, John Ralston Saul's latest and only-sometimes halfbaked book, for lengthy discussion of what I mean by that, which I'm not going to go into here), and thus ignoring the meat of the matter.

That the meat might be salted with heaveyhandedly moralizing is entirely possible depending on who's making it, but if, like me, you try to draw a useful distinction between morals and ethics, I can't see that that's an effective argument for a state behaving in a manner effectively indistinguishable from those it declares to be its enemies.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 7:30 PM on May 2, 2004


I see that I was unclear (as usual) upthread. For what it's worth, this 'I do not murder someone with whom I disagree because the law prohibits it' should read 'I do not refrain from murdering someone with whom I disagree merely because the law prohibits it'.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 7:42 PM on May 2, 2004


I suppose the thrust of my point is this : that interpreting America's (or any other actor's) actions according to the Geneva conventions is in effect a sort of strawman.

So if I understand you, you don't care about international law all that much in this context, and your previous comment that "that this misguided policy towards battling its sworn enemies as if they were nations should allow us to forgive America from behaving in accordance with conventions on international law with regard to combatants seems spurious at best" was just an attempt to use international law as a convenient club with which to bludgeon America.

If you don't care all that much about international law, then don't condemn America for violating it's international agreements. Make your argument solely in moral and ethical terms. That's fair.

I refer you to Equilibrium, John Ralston Saul's latest and only-sometimes halfbaked book, for lengthy discussion of what I mean by that, which I'm not going to go into here

I'm not familiar with John Ralston Saul, except by reputation, but I've added the book to my list of Things to Read.
posted by gd779 at 7:53 PM on May 2, 2004


just an attempt to use international law as a convenient club with which to bludgeon America.

Hehe, that came off more harsh than I intended it. I mean, people coopt arguments they don't care all that much about in service of a political agenda all the time. My point was simply that the internationalist wing of the American political left is very muddle-headed when it comes to international law - they think it's a moral imperative, in and of itself, and they know it shouldn't get in the way of doing the "right thing". That seems like a contradiction to me - how can something be an intrinsic moral imperative only when it serves a higher moral end?
posted by gd779 at 7:56 PM on May 2, 2004


By the way, what is the distinction you draw between morals and ethics, Stavros?
posted by gd779 at 8:00 PM on May 2, 2004


you cant lose whatcha cant win
posted by Satapher at 10:20 PM on May 2, 2004


just an attempt to use international law as a convenient club with which to bludgeon America.

Well, any club in a melee, as they (don't) say. But I think I've been unclear again, either in my thinking or my writing. One more (brief) bash at it then:

I was attempting to say that arguing in an instrumental way about the clauses and paragraphs of the law is distraction from a more relevant point about what the law was intended to achieve, at least in this case. It is not to America's credit that it would offer what amounts to lawyerly sophistry (but is the way in which issues of this nature are addressed, or better, avoided, within the American criminal justice system itself, so it's not surprising, perhaps, that it is also the case as the next meta-level) as an excuse not to do the right thing.

What I was (badly) trying to say through all that tortured syntax was that whether or not the international convention is a good one, the intent behind it is one that is to be respected, and the restrictions on behaviours of combatants that it was intended to impose cannot, I don't think, be argued with, from a perspective of what is good.

A nation that perceives and presents itself as a force for good in the world should be exhibiting those behaviours whether or not it is bound to do so by law. Just as most individuals do not commit criminal acts, not because the law prohibits it, but because they realize that they are bad.

By the way, what is the distinction you draw between morals and ethics, Stavros?

Well, that's a big one, one that I'd want to spend a good few hours hashing out over many cocktails, in person. Rather than write too much of an essay, I'll point you at this and this and say that the only way I have been able to cut my way through the thickets of meta-ethics has been to kind of make my own philosophical way. Then again, I haven't thought deeply about this in a fair few years, so there are probably nuances that I'll miss here.

First, this :
"However, the term ethics is actually derived from the ancient Greek ethos, meaning moral character. Mores, from which morality is derived, meant social rules or etiquette or inhibitions from the society. In modern times, these meanings are often somewhat reversed, with ethics being the external "science" and morals referring to one's inmost character or choices. But it is significant that the origins of the words reflect the tension between an inner-driven and an outer-driven view of what makes moral choices consistent."
from here, is in line with my understanding of how the terms have been inverted in common usage these days.

Here's a very quick summary of my thoughts, which can probably be picked apart by a better philosopher than I :

I use 'ethics' (from ethos) to denote those evaluations of good/bad which are self-evident to the overwhelming majority of humanity - killing people is bad, for example. There aren't really that many of those. They do not come, I believe, from teaching or learning.

I use 'morals' (from mores) to denote those evaluations of right/wrong that are taught, are passed on during the acculturation of children, by their parents, peers, teachers, literature and so on. They are a product of society.

I am of the opinion that the first can be seen to be absolute, and the second relative, and that to get an accurate picture of how we actually work, we need to consider both. I am less comfortable with talking about these things in a prescriptive sense than I am in a descriptive one.

There's more, and I could pre-emptively respond to counterarguments, I suppose, but I've gone on way to long already.

So anyway, here's a quote from Saul, and a whole bunch more, that may be apposite :
"The grotesque assertion of the last few years, that there is no society, that we are led by machinery and self-interest and economic determinism, has as a direct outcome the practical marginalization of ethics in the name of instrumental reason-cum-corporatism."

- On Equilibrium
I highly recommend that book, as I do with most of his nonfiction stuff.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 11:56 PM on May 2, 2004


The question remains, of course, even if one agrees with me on the difference between ethics and morals, whether we can then bootstrap ourselves to the next level, think of nations as individuals and the world as a society (or better, a community of trans-national societies) and expect the same sort of calculus to work.

Brain calisthenics, there. Clearly my implication from everything that I've said above is that I think we can, but to be honest, I'd need to sit down with a bottle and a couple of friends and puzzle that one through before I was actually sure.

*disappears up his own butt*
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 12:10 AM on May 3, 2004


While Ignatieff wrestles with those "lesser evils" of his - which certainly bear lengthy discussion - he misses the larger picture so completely that I am left scratching my head while my eyes cross.

Yes, we lose the "War on terror" from the git-go both when we, even such as Ignatieff (arguing on the Grey Lady's elevated stage), buy the fundamentally incoherent notion of a "War on terror" - but also, far more crucially, because the real conflict between the US and Islamic extremism, is at base, a PR conflict.

And the US, in this PR conflict, is in the midst of an almost total rout.

Wars are fought with bullets and bombs, and they always inflict varying levels of "collateral damage" - civilian injury and death - and asymmetric military conflicts such as the US is now involved with in Iraq inevitably claim an especially high toll of innocent civilian lives. Wars are not effective for their PR value - usually quite the opposite, in fact. They often amount to PR disasters.

It would be hard for all but the most stridently ideological partisans on the American right to ignore the fact that the Bush Administration's post 9-11 foreign policies - on a number of fronts and especially by way of the invasion and occupation of Iraq - have amounted to an ongoing catastrophic public relations disaster for the United States - and, at best and with concerted effort, it will take a decade or two to repair this damage.

In short, world hatred of US foreign policy and skepticism of American intentions may be at an all time historic high, and a tide of outright hatred of most things american is steadily rising in the Islamic World.

But, there's more.

While the US has been preoccupied first with Afghanistan and then Iraq, efforts to thwart the proliferation of nuclear technologies have been effectively overrun through the collaborative efforts of Pakistan and North Korea - and now, bomb and centrifuge designs are certainly in the hands of many terrorist groups and - significantly - a model for the production of bomb components at remote locations around the globe has been demonstrated.

Nuclear weapons component production can now be outsourced.

So, under the Bush watch, the bar to the possession on nuclear weapons has fallen so far that it's reasonable to expect that a number of terrorist groups are busily at work assembling and building bomb components and - what's more :

Bush Administration neglect of programs designed to safeguard nuclear stockpiles in ex-Soviet Union nations have increased the likelihood that terrorist group might acquire complete, professional ( that is tiny, or high-yield) nuclear weapons. It would be hard to call these policies - the diametric opposite of benign neglect ( even to the extent that it has been reported that equipment from Iraqi nuclear facilities is being stolen and smuggled out of that country ) - anything but a fiasco which has advanced the nightmare scenario of mushroom clouds on US soil by many years.

Be afraid yes, and all the more so for the fact that while most - experts on terrorism, as well as foreign policy cognoscenti such as Ignatieff and also Bush Administration officials - have scheduled a pre-2004 election Al Qaeda attack on domestic a US target/s into their calendars* - the chances that terror groups will obtain (or have obtained) nuclear devices has recently grown quite substantially.

So, to put it most brutally, the Bush Administration - especially in it's monomaniacal obsession with Iraq - has served as a hapless waterboy aiding certain aims of Osama Bin Laden and his followers - the destruction of the US or it's complete transformation and polarization - by way of devastating attacks on US soil - from an open, tolerant society to an authoritarian and zealous participant in a full blown holy war between Islam and Christianity.

*they're speaking in such unison on this that they might as well bargain with Al Qaeda - so that it's terrorists carry out their scheduled attack on a date most conducive to the vacation schedules of all concerned.
posted by troutfishing at 6:39 AM on May 3, 2004


And, that's all I have to say about it.
posted by troutfishing at 6:43 AM on May 3, 2004


arguing in an instrumental way about the clauses and paragraphs of the law is distraction from a more relevant point about what the law was intended to achieve

But how are we supposed to figure out what the law was intended to achieve, if not be reading the clauses and paragraphs of the treaty documents? By asking you for your opinion of what is ethical? By asking me?

By appointing the International Committee of the Red Cross as the King among Nations, empowered to settle disputes and compel compliance?

The law is not morality. The law is the system of rules which we all agree to for our mutual benefit. The law can include morality, but it must acknowledge the rules and procedures of law first and foremost (i.e., the clauses and paragraphs). If it doesn't, then it ceases to be law, it ceases to effectively resolve disputes, and it becomes a pure power play, with each side trying to gain a position of authority allowing them to say what the law is. Law has then become politics by other means, and we all know how much honesty and consensus and trust usually come out of political fights.

That is why the instrumentalist view of the law matters. It is the only view of the law that is objective, and is therefore the only mechanism we have available for building consensus and resolving disputes.

the intent behind it is one that is to be respected, and the restrictions on behaviors of combatants that it was intended to impose cannot, I don't think, be argued with, from a perspective of what is good.

The intent of the Geneva Conventions, as I have started to show through the text of the treaties and could easily demonstrate through the legislative history, was (at least in part) to refuse the protection of international law to those groups which refused to be bound by it. The United States has respected that principle, modifying it only so as to jettison the Westphalian system of thinking that says that moral authority and responsibility lie only in nation states.

A nation that perceives and presents itself as a force for good in the world should be exhibiting those behaviors whether or not it is bound to do so by law. Just as most individuals do not commit criminal acts, not because the law prohibits it, but because they realize that they are bad.

The United States doesn't commit "war crimes" (in the sense of, say, refusing POW protection to the Guantanamo Bay detainees) because it is an evil empire posing as a force for good. It commits these war crimes because all wars are crimes. We sometimes forget that. And then we begin to believe that we can whitewash away the essential horror of what must be done in pursuit of the greater good. We can't.

It would be nice, wouldn't it, if wars were unnecessary, and instead of sending in the marines to take down Saddam we could have sent in some cops with harmless tear gas. Unfortunately, the United States lacks that level of overwhelming force. We're working on it, but until that day comes, wars are necessary. The lesser of two evils.

There have been and will continue to be casualties in war, and I for one prefer that those casualties be the terrorists who refuse to conform to international law, rather than the innocent civilians who want nothing but to live their lives in peace and freedom. To accomplish that, I am willing to allow the United States to live up to my own ethical standard but ignore yours, so long as I can do so without violating international law.

Oh beautiful, for spacious skies, for amber waves of grain! For purple mountains, majesty! And so on!

*Wraps himself in the flag, then disappears up his own butt*
posted by gd779 at 9:29 AM on May 3, 2004


Of course, I would impose my own ethical limits on the conduct of the United States. Which just underscores the problematic nature of trying to import ethics into law without going through the legislative (or treatymaking) process.
posted by gd779 at 9:31 AM on May 3, 2004


I need to be more explicit. The question is, what should govern the conduct of the United States? The most natural answer is ethics. But whose ethical beliefs? Yours, mine? We need a way to arbitrate between differing ethical beliefs, a set of ground rules that helps us to resolve disputes fairly. That is the function of law.

So while your question (What should the US do?) is good, it can never be answered satisfactorily. The only question that can be answered is, has the US lived up to its minimum obligations under international law? If you say yes, but then condemn the US anyway, then you discarding international law in favor of your own pursuit of ethics. Which is, coincidentally, the neoconservative agenda.
posted by gd779 at 10:27 AM on May 3, 2004


I don't think ethics should govern American. I think Americans should, by vote of their various systems of belief, and take responsibility for the consequences.

On another note, somebody on the radio was talking about how religious Bush was, how Bush loved Jesus and wanted to do God's work in the (WH) White House. No doubt this was foremost in Bush's mind when the WH formulated its energy policy. My point is: dissonance will destroy you. If the WH sends the signal that it likes Jesus and then gives uncompeted contracts to haliburton, conflicts will emerge.

If we are defending ourselves against people who intend to bomb pregnant women, we shouldn't be concerned with making sure those people get lawyers. This doesn't include our own citizens, of course.

There is nothing inherently wrong with torture. There should be rules, these rules should be made clear to everyone, especially voters, and they should be enforced. But if the only chance (if, IF) democracy had for survival required the US to torture suspected terrorists, then hey: Generations of free democratic society should be weighed against the suffering of those who practice terror or associate with those practicing terror.

If a good man does and evil thing, and afterward continues to be a good man, then he is preferable to a bad man who does that same evil thing.
posted by ewkpates at 10:45 AM on May 3, 2004


"If a good man does and evil thing, and afterward continues to be a good man, then he is preferable to a bad man who does that same evil thing." - well, that's a big " if " there. But I'm also not sure why I should believe that assertion. Also, on the point in the paragraph above that, I'll just note that once you move beyond terrorists to those they associate with (family ? Friends ? Fellow travellers ? Random acquaintances ? ) you're already talking about a lot of people - some of them quite innocent. (and some not).

As I said, the "War on Terror" (how about "Combating terrorism" - or perhaps simply "Un-learning hatred") is not a military conflict. Terrorism has no nation or capital, and combating it will take cooperation, on a world scale. It is a PR war.

The money the US has spent so far in Iraq would have gone very, very far in addressing the basic needs of the world's poor. A course such as that - unthinkable to many - would have gone a long, long way in drying up the wells of support for global terrorism.
posted by troutfishing at 11:38 AM on May 3, 2004


Yes, the War on Terror is fundamentally a PR war. Our enemy is a particular interpretation and culture related to Islam. Specifically, some parts of the Muslim world are currently convinced that they are God's chosen people and destined to be blessed. Then they look around, and they notice their economic failures and their political and military weakness, and they blame the West for oppressing them. The shame produced in this cultural environment leads to terrorism, or so the argument goes.

The purpose of Iraq is therefore to build a safe, prosperous, and free Muslim nation where once there was only despotism, poverty, and fear. By doing so, we demonstrate to the Muslim world that they problem is not Western oppression, it's Islamic fundamentalism. And, hopefully, they see this as a way out, and the roots of this particular brand of terror finally die.

Will this take decades? Yes. Is it almost unimaginably risky? Yes. Is it quite possibly the only long-term solution to terrorism that doesn't involve perpetual war of the sort that Israel faces? Maybe. At any rate, it is the direction chosen by the government.

The money the US has spent so far in Iraq would have gone very, very far in addressing the basic needs of the world's poor. A course such as that - unthinkable to many - would have gone a long, long way in drying up the wells of support for global terrorism.

If only it were that easy. There is absolutely no evidence that prosperous societies are any less likely to go to war. Osama bin Laden is a billionaire, after all, and wealthy nations go to war all the time.
posted by gd779 at 11:56 AM on May 3, 2004


It is absolutely clear that the U.S. has failed to use its economic power as effectively as it might.

However, when we look at the priorities of muslim theocracies or dictatorships or whatever over the last couple hundred years, when we look at the agendas of terrorist organizations (kill people, destroy stuff, muslims rule!) we have to acknowledge that PR isn't going to help us much.

Terrorists aren't soldiers, they are psychotic criminals. We can't treat them like soldiers, we can't treat them like citizens, because they aren't either. They are fundamentalist lunatics bent on world domination with a very slim chance of rehabilitation. If they are allowed to rule themselves, they will be just as destructive and harmful to each other as they would to anyone else they could get their hands on. We kind of have to imprison them or shoot them.

Poor countries need more than just money. They need teachers and business persons and skilled labor. Its easier to topple nightmare regimes than it is to build a country... where our dollars and guns might easily do one, our dollars and science would probably fail to do the other. People have to fix their own societies, and all we can do is stop them from being shot while they try this.
posted by ewkpates at 11:59 AM on May 3, 2004


Will this take decades? Yes. Is it almost unimaginably risky? Yes. Is it quite possibly the only long-term solution to terrorism that doesn't involve perpetual war of the sort that Israel faces? Maybe. At any rate, it is the direction chosen by the government.

'Lowering Our Sights'

All but the most blindly devoted Bush supporters can see that Bush administration officials have no clue about what to do in Iraq tomorrow, much less a month from now. Consider Fallujah: One week they're setting deadlines and threatening offensives; the next week they're pulling back. The latest plan, naming one of Saddam Hussein's Republican Guard generals to lead the pacification of the city, is the kind of bizarre idea that only desperate people can conjure. The Bush administration is evidently in a panic, and this panic is being conveyed to the American people.

Events in Fallujah have also conveyed another impression: The administration is increasingly reluctant to fight the people it defines as the bad guys in Iraq. This reluctance is perfectly understandable. No one wants more American casualties. And no one doubts that more violence in Iraq may alienate more of the Iraqi population. But this reluctance can also appear both to Iraqis and to the American public as a sign of declining will. Among the many lessons of Vietnam is that American support for that war remained remarkably steady, despite high American casualties, until Americans began to sense that their government was no longer committed to what had been defined as victory and was looking for a way out. If Americans see signs of wavering by the Bush administration -- and Fallujah may be one of those signs -- support for the war could decline sharply.

posted by y2karl at 12:15 PM on May 3, 2004


I told you it was risky, y2karl. It's risky and difficult and almost unprecedented in the scope of its ambition, and you can oppose it on those grounds quite reasonably. (Of course, it is always a lot easier to play Monday Morning Quarterback than it is to call the plays in advance). If the Bush administration's plan for Iraq fails, it will fail spectacularly, with potentially disastrous consequences. I'm just saying that there is an ultimate aim consistent with troutfishing's conception of the war on terror as a PR war.
posted by gd779 at 12:31 PM on May 3, 2004


(Of course, it is always a lot easier to play Monday Morning Quarterback than it is to call the plays in advance).

Not when it is obvious there is no game plan beyond empty rhetoric.
posted by y2karl at 12:36 PM on May 3, 2004


The Protean Enemy ( Published in Foreign Affairs, July/August 2003 issue. Stern is widely regarded as one of the US' foremost authorities on terorism )
"Why do religious terrorists kill? In interviews over the last five years, many terrorists and their supporters have suggested to me that people first join such groups to make the world a better place -- at least for the particular populations they aim to serve. Over time, however, militants have told me, terrorism can become a career as much as a passion. Leaders harness humiliation and anomie and turn them into weapons. Jihad becomes addictive, militants report, and with some individuals or groups -- the "professional" terrorists -- grievances can evolve into greed: for money, political power, status, or attention."

Terrorism's new Mecca

"Even before the United States initiated the war, a revivalist, Islamist movement was growing in Iraq, as it was in other parts of the world. Nonetheless, few Iraqis were supporters of al-Qaeda and its affiliated groups. Now, Iraqis say, increasing rage at perceived atrocities committed by U.S. troops, coupled with the ongoing lack of basic services and security, are fomenting strong anti-American sentiment, persuading some Sunnis to join the swelling ranks of home-grown Islamist guerrilla groups or support the foreign mujahadeen who have arrived to fight their common enemy — America.

Osama bin Laden has long tried to demonstrate to potential supporters that the United States is engaged in a crusade against the Islamic world. The unprovoked attack on Iraq, followed by an occupation that is widely perceived as inept, is confirming this view among potential sympathizers. Every time U.S. troops shoot into a crowd, even in self-defence, it reconfirms the image of America as a reckless, ruthless oppressor. Even those Iraqis who saw Americans as liberators during the first heady days after Saddam Hussein was ousted from power now see America as an ignorant, brutal, occupying power.

Not surprisingly, terrorist recruiters are using the war and the continuing occupation to mobilize recruits — not only inside Iraq, but outside as well. Baghdad could well come to serve the same role that Peshawar did during the 1980s — as a Mecca for international jihadists."

....Professor Stern served as Director for Russian, Ukrainian, and Eurasian Affairs at the National Security Council, where she was responsible for policies to reduce the threat of nuclear smuggling and terrorism

"........My answer six months ago would have been that we need to pay a lot more attention to the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, to non-state actors, and to Afghanistan and Pakistan —now every American knows about these threats. Across the board, the issue of weapons of mass destruction—any vulnerabilities in securing them, in terms of the supply of weapons and high-value targets—are at the top of the agenda. Naturally, there is no longer a debate about how seriously we should take the threat of terrorism.

....One thing to bear in mind is that terrorists aim to make governments overreact, and there is the danger that they will succeed in that effort. I want to be clear that at the same time, we do need to react, in terms of the kinds of material they can get their hands on and how many people they want to kill. Extremists have an audience, a sympathetic one in some parts of the world. Part of the war on terrorism has to do with the image of ourselves, the “white hats,” making sure that we aren’t perceived as the “black hats”.

.....The U.S. is a big, rich country, that actually can afford to help—and it’s obvious that [foreign assistance] is helping. Poverty doesn’t cause terrorism, but failed states facilitate terrorism. We shouldn’t sit idly by when states fail. " [ Jessica Stern, in an interview March 18, 2002 ]

I have to say, I do think there is a place for expert analysis here.
posted by troutfishing at 2:14 PM on May 3, 2004


people first join such groups to make the world a better place -- at least for the particular populations they aim to serve. Over time, however, militants have told me, terrorism can become a career as much as a passion.

If the professional terrorists seek money and power rather than fanatical ideology, then they are somewhat rational and denying them protection under international law might actually serve as a deterrent. Check.

(I question this, but as you say, this is expert analysis).

Even before the United States initiated the war, a revivalist, Islamist movement was growing in Iraq

Ignoring the breeding grounds of terror won't make the problem go away. Check.

Nonetheless, few Iraqis were supporters of al-Qaeda and its affiliated groups. Now, Iraqis say, increasing rage at perceived atrocities committed by U.S. troops, coupled with the ongoing lack of basic services and security, are fomenting strong anti-American sentiment

It is getting worse in the short term, but if we pull Iraq together and provide basic services, security, and prosperity then things will get better in the long term. Check.

Also, "Iraqi's say". Hmm. Which Iraqis?

Even those Iraqis who saw Americans as liberators during the first heady days after Saddam Hussein was ousted from power now see America as an ignorant, brutal, occupying power.

That was expected; even I predicted it, and I'm no expert. But, again, this whole "it will get worse before it gets better" thing was part of the plan from the beginning.

Baghdad could well come to serve the same role that Peshawar did during the 1980s — as a Mecca for international jihadists.

Another word for Mecca might be honeypot - attracting all the terrorists, in the short term, to one place where they can be delt with without posing a threat to American civilians. Good idea? Beats me, I'm not an expert. But, again, this was anticipated - it's part of the plan, or at least it's a contingency.

Poverty doesn't cause terrorism, but failed states facilitate terrorism. We shouldn't sit idly by when states fail.

If poverty doesn't cause terrorism, then just handing out money probably won't prevent terrorism. But if poverty facilitates shame, and is therefore one element in promoting terrorism, then establishing a prosperous, independent, and free Iraq might eliminate shame, thereby preventing terrorism. Check.

I'm not sure what your point was.

Now would also be a good time to point out, again, that who knows whether or not this will work? And I'm not even taking a position on whether or not it's a good idea. I'm just saying, the Bush administration is at least trying to address these concerns. The job is risky, and it might fail - but it is an attempt to get at the root of the problem by showing the Muslim world how to make their lives better.
posted by gd779 at 2:56 PM on May 3, 2004


Another recent piece by Stern: How the war in Iraq has damaged the war on terrorism
posted by homunculus at 3:03 PM on May 3, 2004


Bush Administration neglect of programs designed to safeguard nuclear stockpiles in ex-Soviet Union nations have increased the likelihood that terrorist group might acquire complete, professional ( that is tiny, or high-yield) nuclear weapons.

Which is exactly why we need more nukes!
posted by homunculus at 3:07 PM on May 3, 2004


I know I'm coming late to the party, but I felt that I had to say something in response to gd779's argument regarding the obligations of the United States vis a vis the Guantanomo detainees, under the Third Geneva Convention ("Geneva III"). (The relevant text can also be found here.)

One of the principles of the rule of law is that a state's actions must always be circumscribed by law - that it is never free to act arbitrarily against anyone. This principle does not waiver when the state deals with the perpetrators of organized violence. Such violence comes in many forms. In the context of peace, organized violence is a crime, and subject to criminal law. In the context of war, organized violence may or may not be a crime, depending on where we draw the lines. Article 4 of Geneva III attempts to draw that line, distinguishing members of armies and militias from civilians. If we take the Taliban to be a militia under Geneva III, then Taliban detainees are prisoners of war. If not, then they are civilian criminals. Considering that they were captured on the battlefield as belligerents openly carrying arms and working under a hierarchical command structure, there's a pretty good argument to be made that the Taliban are in fact a militia, and its captured soldiers entitled to POW status. If that is not the case, then they are civilians, subject to trial by military tribunal. But to say that these persons, or any persons, have no legal rights is to say that a state has unlimited power over them, which intuitively runs counter to the very notion of the rule of law.

Also, much of international law is customary and based on precedent; this Washington Post article cites precedent for granting POW status to combatants fighting for unrecognized regimes (Chinese Communists in the Korean War), and without distinctive emblems (Viet Cong in the Vietnam War). Also, just to clarify, I would distinguish between Al-Qa`ida and Taliban members in granting POW status; however, that distinction, as well as whether a prisoner submitted to the U.S. by a friendly local militia is actually a combatant of any kind, should be determined on a case-by-case basis by some sort of tribunal.

Also: I would direct ewkpates to carefully reread the texts of the 5th and 14th Amendments to the U.S. Constitution. To wit: ... nor shall any state deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws. Note that the operative word here is "person", not "citizen". Due process rights do not depend on citizenship status. This makes perfect sense, if you think about it: I don't need some foreign government throwing me into indefinite solitary confinement and claiming that I have no right to better treatment because I'm not a citizen of France/China/Mexico/Canada/wherever. A good rule of thumb: if it's bad for Cuba or China to do it, then it's bad for the U.S. to do it.

A good man is one who does good; if he does evil, then he isn't really such a good person, is he?

On preview: War is horrific; it should not be undertaken to provide a demonstration project. Also, it is a PR disaster, as anyone can clearly see, and that was not an unanticipatable result. Historical precedent shows that invasions and occupations can make the invaders and occupiers look very bad (cf. the Soviets in Afghanistan, Israel in the West Bank and Gaza), regardless of intentions or internal justification. Plus, the immense worldwide demonstrations against the war, before it had even started, should have been a big tipoff that it would not be well received internationally, especially if things went wrong. Not to mention that America and Israel are seen as joined at the hip in the Middle East.
posted by skoosh at 3:51 PM on May 3, 2004


I would distinguish between Al-Qa`ida and Taliban members in granting POW status; however, that distinction, as well as whether a prisoner submitted to the U.S. by a friendly local militia is actually a combatant of any kind, should be determined on a case-by-case basis by some sort of tribunal.

I agree. The Taliban fighters unaffiliated with Al Qaeda do qualify for POW status. I would argue, however, that the Taliban fighters which are affiliated with Al Qaeda lose their POW status as a result of their war crimes (targeting civilians). This is true under the four factors outlined for non-official militias under Article 4(A)(2) and it is also true (because of customary law) if the Taliban are the official armed forces of Afghanistan (which I think they are) under Article 4(A)(1).

And, as you say, all of this should be determined by a court on an individual basis. No one, not even an unprivileged combatant, should be subjected to indefinite detention without any possibility of judicial review.
posted by gd779 at 4:02 PM on May 3, 2004


gd779: So while your question (What should the US do?) is good, it can never be answered satisfactorily.

In this, I must regretfully disagree.

ewkpates : If we are defending ourselves against people who intend to bomb pregnant women, we shouldn't be concerned with making sure those people get lawyers. This doesn't include our own citizens, of course.

What?

ewkpates : There is nothing inherently wrong with torture.

What?

ewkpates : Terrorists aren't soldiers, they are psychotic criminals. We can't treat them like soldiers, we can't treat them like citizens, because they aren't either. They are fundamentalist lunatics bent on world domination with a very slim chance of rehabilitation. If they are allowed to rule themselves, they will be just as destructive and harmful to each other as they would to anyone else they could get their hands on. We kind of have to imprison them or shoot them.

It's you and people like you -- in stark opposition to gd779, who I also disagree with -- that build in me that fear and hatred of America, ewkpates. You are the terrorist. Take a look in the mirror.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 4:43 PM on May 3, 2004


But, again, this whole "it will get worse before it gets better" thing was part of the plan from the beginning.

Dream on. I tend to agree with Josh Marshall:

One of the things I've found difficult about writing about Iraq in recent days is imputing some level of seriousness to the arguments of the president and his retainers who continue to press an optimistic view of what's happening in Iraq. From them, on any given day, you can still hear the argument that, notwithstanding some tough days, things are still getting better in Iraq and the key to success is sticking with it.

At the same time, I talk to, or have conversations related to me with, various foreign policy, intelligence and military experts, all of whom --- across the political spectrum --- seem to believe that things are about as bleak as they can be. On top of this, they they seem uniform in the belief -- sometimes based on inference, other times based on direct knowledge -- that the White House is fresh out of ideas about what to do, and basically hasn't any idea how to proceed.

...There's all this talk about what might be the best critique of the president's policies (politically and substantively), what the best alternative policies might be, and so forth. But all of that, I think, misses the point. This president is too compromised by his deceptions, his past lack of accountability and his acquiescence in failed policies, ever to correct the situation. Like C.S. Lewis's metaphor about the road to hell being easy to walk down, but the further walked, harder and harder to turn back upon, this president is just too far gone with misleading the public, covering up and indulging incompetence, and embracing venality ever to make a clean break and start retrieving the situation.


There was no plan, there is no plan and it's going to get much worse than we thought possible much faster than we thought possible, I'm afraid.
posted by y2karl at 5:10 PM on May 3, 2004


y2karl - there is a new word among certain Iraqis, I've heard :

"The student has gone. Now, the master is here." - The student was Saddam.
posted by troutfishing at 8:39 PM on May 3, 2004


Mr. WonderChicken,

If we are willing to shoot people who use violence as a political solution, then we should be willing to use torture on those people we were planning on shooting anyway. Come on now. "If you aren't willing to kick a man when he's down, don't kick him when he's up, either."

Rights are the result of a mutual obligation, even natural rights. The state grants rights in exchange for loyalty. So, if no state has granted you rights, and you offer no state your loyalty, then you gotta-no-rights.

It would be great to say that people have rights and should be treated legally regardless of whether they have a relationship with a state, but this doesn't make sense to me. Rights are the result of the social contract, aren't they? We gave England its terrorists back, but what about Egypt? Saudi Arabia? Terrorists in those countries may be better off as enemy combatants.

I don't think the MEANS define the agent, I think the ENDS define the agent. Killing and torturing don't make me a terrorist if I do these things to prevent violence used against the political system.
posted by ewkpates at 8:16 AM on May 4, 2004


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