like trying to eradicate cancer cells with a blow-torch
November 8, 2001 1:32 AM   Subscribe

like trying to eradicate cancer cells with a blow-torch...and other choice insights into the "war on terrorism" by military historian Sir Michael Howard. While this is already a week old, and has been mentioned on MeFi (albeit without link) , I don't think that many people have read the full speech yet. And I think as many people as possible ought to.
posted by snarfois (18 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
His speech is idiotic. He pretty much advises that we should have kept the status quo and proceeded by treating terrorist activities as criminal matters. We have done that for many years and it has not been effective. He also cites the British as being successful against terrorism. Yeah sure.

"The British in their time have fought many such 'wars'; in Palestine, in Ireland, in Cyprus and in Malaya, to mention only a few".

He also makes the idiotic claim that this should have been a police action done through the United Nations, as if the United Nations could ever be beneficial to the United States in a military scenario. I have to laugh at this "police action" business. Bin Laden commands an army of several thousand troops including his elite trained "brigade 055".
Great lets have another mogadishu U.N. fiasco like when we sent in U.N. "peacekeeping" troops and special forces to get Somalian warlord General Aidid.

I swear, the Brits are admirable for being a staunch ally, but perhaps they may prove to be too p.c. to crush the enemy.

This is a war, and we should remember the 1804-1805 campaign by Marine Lieutenant Presley O'Bannon against the Barbary pirates. They were terrorists, and they were Muslims. The naval and land campaign continued through Ramadan, and the pirates were hunted down and hung.

Thomas Jefferson ignored the critics and whiners of the day until success was achieved. And nobody accused the United States of pursuing a "war against Islam." But O'Bannon reportedly underlined in the Bible he carried with him the consoling words of John's Gospel (15:18), "If the world hate you, ye know that it hated me before it hated you.
posted by rabbit at 2:20 AM on November 8, 2001

It's nice to see that even reactionary conservatives are having doubts about the developments. Howard is annoying but right.
Rabbit, so tell us please, how is the current target-deprived bombing helping to fight terrorism? It doesn't take a genius to realise that the cancer/blowtorch metaphor is exactly right. Colombian drug lords also command thousands of heavily armed troops but thankfully no one has taken this whole "war on drugs" thing literally...
The barbary pirates were, well ... pirates. They were not "terrorists" by any reasonable definition in that their aim was financial profit and not political points.
The British were indeed unsuccessful against terrorist (or "terrorist" depending on one's view) activities as long as they relied solely on brute force. Now that they are attempting a political resolution of the N.Ireland situation they are succeeding- food for thought, no?
For a similar (but less nostalgic for the imperial "good-ol'-days") viewpoint check out John Le Carré's piece in the Nation.
posted by talos at 2:58 AM on November 8, 2001

No, the barbary pirates were savages just like the taliban. These are not rational people. The U.N. rebuilt the the afghan soccer stadium and it is used for weekly public executions and limb amputations, we're talking about a place less civilized than the Roman Empire at best, but maybe closer to the wild west (except with huge armies and brigades).

Political dialog and diplomacy with al Qaeda is impossible because the things they are asking for are ridiculous and completely non negotiable unlike the British situation with Northern Ireland.

“You’ve only got to look at his recent statements to see a man of fanaticism, hatred and deceit. In truth, a raving madman.” — French president Jacques Chirac on Osama bin Laden.

Perhaps the U.S. could have been diplomatic with
William Cooper as well. Yeah right
posted by rabbit at 3:18 AM on November 8, 2001

No, the barbary pirates were savages just like the taliban. These are not rational people.

IMHO, rabbit is right. The Taliban want to die. They mock the Americans for loving life. They make fun of their precision bombing, saying it's stupid: all they have to do is move next door. They maintain that the Soviets were better fighters because they bombed willy-nilly.
You could say they're brave and fearless - I suppose they are. But if you think that they actually want to be martyrs in order to gain the rewards of Heaven, then it kind of looks a lot more like opportunism, fueled by manic religious fervour.

Loving life and loving the after-life are incompatible. Whether we like it or not, this is what separates normal Jews, Christians and Muslims - who have the duty to enjoy God's gift and "choose life" as it says in The Book which joins all three great monotheistic religions - from the bigoted and death-crazy fanatics on all sides.

That this may also mean that this "war" cannot be won by those who stand up for common sense and glorify existence, here and now, is almost beside the point. Unfortunately.
posted by MiguelCardoso at 4:46 AM on November 8, 2001

Great lets have another mogadishu U.N. fiasco like when we sent in U.N. "peacekeeping" troops and special forces to get Somalian warlord General Aidid.

Er.. shouldn't that 'N' be an 'S' -- I thought it was the US Rangers & Delta that went into Mog? The same guys who raided Mullah Omar's pad on October 20th.
posted by dlewis at 5:32 AM on November 8, 2001

i like "Military action to destroy terror ... will be like hitting a fully mature dandelion with a golf club."

and there's also "Money is the oxygen of terrorism."

have to get the right similes/metaphors down in order to win TWAT.
posted by kliuless at 6:01 AM on November 8, 2001

The naval and land campaign continued through Ramadan, and the pirates were hunted down and hung.

They were hanged. Meat is hung. People are hanged.
posted by spnx at 6:02 AM on November 8, 2001

John Holmes was hung.
posted by dlewis at 6:06 AM on November 8, 2001

I guess that makes sense, in the context of my second sentence...
posted by spnx at 6:33 AM on November 8, 2001

people are hanged, pornstars are hung :)
posted by kliuless at 6:33 AM on November 8, 2001

Dropping bombs is not the way to go. Making war is not the way to go. Going to the UN is the way to go. They would close down the 12 terror training camps and close the spigot for the money being shunted about for terror support. The UN would tell Syria that they can not sit on the Security Council unless they tell Hezbullah to stop being a terror group. The UN would round-up the illegals who are terrorists in America and some 25 other countries and send them back to their homes. Let's hear it for Law and Order and the UN.
America is hated because we do not always rely on the UN.
posted by Postroad at 6:41 AM on November 8, 2001

Er.. shouldn't that 'N' be an 'S' -- I thought it was the US Rangers & Delta that went into Mog?

Read all about it. It was Rangers & Delta that went on that infamous mission to nab two Aidid honchos, but UN forces were there (in Somalia).
posted by transient at 6:44 AM on November 8, 2001

this is not a war, you cannot take up arms against an abstract verb.
that is the crux of the article, an understanding of this may help the us to persuade people that america thinks it is doing the right thing. although how you would convince anyone that the present action is little more than a revenge attack, without revealing that the operation is to do more with oil than justice, i would be interested to hear.

rabbit, the situation in northern ireland was once considered to be non-negotiable by the hard liners. still is, by many. that has not changed the reality of the situation.
as in most areas of life, a flexible approach is more likely to result in an advantageous outcome.
again, a war against terrorism is about 'the winning of hearts and minds', and cannot be won by any other means.
using terror and violence will only engender more of the same (and qualifies as terrorism).
your scorn for international courts and the effectiveness of the UN belies a dislocation from reality. there can be no end to violence without co-operation.
peace through superior firepower is a contradiction in terms.
it's a good job i can find the time and energy to respond, eh. i think that despite some repetitious elements i have managed to focus my arguments to the thread in question, in most cases. hurrah for me. i mean, i knew no good would come of the wto disaster, but the whole thing is eclipsing world affairs in a particularly hebetude inducing way.
posted by asok at 6:57 AM on November 8, 2001

that link will only work on the 8th of november 2001, but if you really want to know what hebetude is, this one will work forever, possibly
posted by asok at 7:01 AM on November 8, 2001

if'n a day of too much hebetude, engage in a bit o raillery :)
posted by kliuless at 7:32 AM on November 8, 2001

Good natured banter, ridicule and jest.

Sounds like a good basis for a discussion forum. Anyone want to register
posted by dlewis at 7:52 AM on November 8, 2001

dlewis: First, the US Marine Corps landed as the vanguard of a UN peacekeeping force made up of Italians, Pakistanis, Malaysians (and others, I think), and supplemented by US Army Rangers. The former had ongoing interests in Somalia; the latter two were largely Muslim. Aidid had crowds attack and dismember a UN police patrol ... consisting of Pakistanis. At that point the US mission changed (crept....) and we began using the Rangers, supplemented by D-guys, as a snatch-and-grab force with police powers granted by "UN" arrest warrants. The political compromises between the US objectives and UN objectives kept us from bringing in sufficient armor and air support for this mission. Nevertheless, we had no clue at the time that the crowds were not just serving the purposes of the warlords by creating chaos, they were seeded with fighters trained by al-Qaeda and supplied with RPGs -- prior to this point, thought a bizarrely inappropriate anti-aircraft weapon -- to take down US choppers as we had helped the mujahedin do against the Soviets. The Rangers and D-boys held out on the ground until the UN peacekeeping force could organize a joint armor column (mostly Malaysian vehicles and Pak tanks) to move in and rescue them.

It wasn't the fault of it being a UN operation per se. Having the US there led to a need to challenge our prestige and that set us on a course of conflict with the warlords, when a true peacekeeping force might have been able to remain neutral. There was insufficient coordination between the military/police arrest actions, and negotiations in the person of Jimmy Carter. (A lot like Waco in that regard.) There are lessons to be learned that go beyond labeling it a "fiasco": for one thing, the US forces accomplished their objective for that day, and though they took casualties, they gave them back twenty-fold. The soldiers themselves were ready to stay and finish the job. Clinton had inherited this operation, and had let it sputter on remote control; and now he was under fire from the Republicans asking "why are we in Somalia?", questions he had no asnwer for, and no political stake in defending. (It was Bush pere's gig, after all.) So he pulled out, which was a mistake in many ways. But there are other considerations than just labeling it a "UN fiasco".

Clearly, the experience of acting under a UN mandate to achieve US geopolitical objectives was not a happy one. The US would prefer to act unilaterally now, taking on allies as we can who will not deflect the course we set; and under the UN charter, self-defense is an allowed response. We duly notified the Security Council that we were going to exercise our rights under the charter.

The UN has had two years to pressure the Taliban to comply with international law and UN sanctions regarding our previous indictment of bin Laden for the 1998 embassy bombings. The UN didn't have any political pull to stop them blowing up statues, for pete's sake; the Taliban feel a lot more strongly about protecting bin Laden. In those two years the Taliban only increased their religious persecution of non-Muslims, their cruelty toward prisoners, their subjugation of women. All of those were met by international calls for moderation, and ignored by the Taliban. There's no trade with the country other than guns, so sanctions only ban the trade of things which are not being traded. There's nothing the UN can do other than issue more resolutions to be ignored and more useless sanctions. And now even though we eschewed the use of the UN, and the UN is getting slammed from one end of the US to the other for wanly asking that we not bomb long enough to let aid trucks through, bin Laden chooses to slam the UN and Arab states who work with them. It's a damned if you do, damned if you don't situation.

asok: you believe that the present action is "revenge", but that is just your opinion. Mine -- and the stated policy of the administration -- is that our aim is to eliminate the ability of al-Qaeda to recruit, train, plan, and execute terrorists and terror actions. So far, we've put a major crimp in each one of those abilities. The Taliban were given ample opportunity to hand over the mass murderer whom they are protecting, and we would have been happy not to have to bomb them. As it is, they have chosen their fate, and have cruelly forced a war that is killing their own people.

When there's a hole in New York with 3000 bodies in it, we don't have time to win hearts and minds. We have to arrest the bad guys now -- before they escalate their activities for 10x more casualties.
posted by dhartung at 4:34 PM on November 8, 2001

dhartung- Yes you are correct in that Somalia was actually a military victory for the U.S., when I said "U.N. fiasco" I was referring to the politics of it. The fact was, Americans weren't willing to accept any casualties in Somalia because there wasn't much reason for us to be there (other than the U.N. talking us into helping). The main reason for U.S. vunerability, was the refusal of Clinto's secretary of Defense Les Aspin's refusal of the General Harrisons request for amored support. Not to mention the Italians supposedly had a deal with Aidid and were signaling the Somalian tribes when the U.S. was about to perform a raid.

By the way, here the U.N. goes again.

October 31, 2001; The UN is again looking into sending another peacekeeping force to Somalia. The new government in Somalia has approached the UN about this, as the new government still lacks the military resources to take care of the various warlords that control most of the country. The last UN peacekeeping effort lasted from 1992 to 1995, before the UN withdrew because of the warlords.
posted by rabbit at 5:35 PM on November 8, 2001

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