Deciphering Headlines from the Front Lines of (Failed) War on Terror

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The Toronto Star

Deciphering Headlines from the Front Lines of (Failed) War on Terror

A headline announces: "Al Qaeda threat escalating."

Is it really? Is the threat higher now than the day before the Christmas Day bomb plot? Or is this more a case of, "Al Qaeda man goes undetected despite multiple warnings?"

If the failed plot does represent a greater overall threat, a more accurate summation would've been: "Asleep at the switch as Al Qaeda threat escalates."

But we live in the age of spin, in which the media are either complicit in official narratives or just too lazy/too pared down to do anything other than take dictation.

Another headline: "Kill Western diplomats in Yemen, Al Qaeda says/U.K. and U.S. close embassies."

More truthful would've been: "A.Q. threatens/U.K. and U.S. fold."

Not that precautionary steps should not be taken to protect diplomats. But the reality is that NATO nations run from danger as far as they can and wage wars from afar.

Bombs are dropped by pilots from on high or from pilotless drones, and cruise missiles are fired from hundreds of kilometres away. Mostly they die, not us.

While that's been the goal of all wars for all time, we've taken it to a level where the tactics have become an issue, evincing local fury and resistance in Iraq, Afghanistan, Yemen and elsewhere.

(Which is why the disproportionately high sacrifices of Canadian soldiers in Afghanistan have been so heroic. They have been on the ground where the war is.)

The Christmas Day plane plot was said to be in retaliation for the U.S. involvement in the bombings of Al Qaeda targets in Yemen, killing many innocent civilians.

So also perhaps was the massacre at Fort Hood, Tex., where the gunman, a Muslim American army major, had reportedly been in touch with a militant cleric in Yemen.

We see other patterns as well.

War is waged in Afghanistan. Al Qaeda finds refuge in Pakistan. The U.S. gives Gen. Pervez Musharraf $10 billion to tackle the terrorists in remote mountains inhabited by lawless tribes.

Amid increasing anti-Americanism, he walks a fine line between befriending and bombing them, and their local affiliates, for breaking promises of peace. They retaliate by taking the war to the urban south with suicide bombers. He's toppled, partially because of that.

An elected government, headed by a man best known for corruption, convinces the Americans to keep the money and arms coming.

He, too, assures them that the war is going well, even while civilians continue to be blown up (within the last week, at a Shiite religious procession and a volleyball match).

Now the U.S. is embracing Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh, an ex-military man who combines authoritarianism and corruption.

He, too, has been milking the U.S. to fight terrorism in the Musharraf mould: alternating between buying off tribesmen and making deals with militants or attacking them.

Yemen has at best a few hundred Al Qaeda operatives who have found a haven there and in Somalia, following crackdowns in Pakistan and neighbouring Saudi Arabia.

The Christmas Day incident catapults Yemen as the new epicentre of terrorism. Overnight, U.S. counterterrorism aid is tripled from $67 million to $190 million for 2010.

The U.S. ends up with three corrupt allies in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Yemen. They take aid from Washington but their loyalty to the (flawed) American agenda is suspect. They must do their own balancing between pleasing the man in the White House and assuaging the man on their own streets.

Across the Gulf of Aden in Somalia, the U.S. backed the 2006 Ethiopian invasion to topple an "Islamist" regime. Then it reversed itself when the latter regained power. In 2008 and 2009 it launched airstrikes against an affiliate of Al Qaeda. "Fierce levels of anti-Americanism took root among many Somalis, at home and abroad," writes Ken Menkhaus, an American expert on the Horn of Africa. Some young Somali Americans got radicalized. Two dozen ended up in Somalia, perhaps some Canadians, too.

The war on terror continues on multiplying fronts.

Haroon Siddiqui

Haroon Siddiqui is the Toronto Star's editorial page editor emeritus. His column appears on Thursday and Sunday (hsiddiq@thestar.ca).

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