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Who's Winning the War on Terror? Sorry, George
Published on Tuesday, September 9, 2003 by the Globe & Mail/Canada
Who's Winning the War on Terror? Sorry, George
by Anthony Westell

It has been two years since U.S. President George W. Bush declared war on terrorism, and it's time to ask who's winning. Here's the score so far.

The United States is divided from its friends and allies. It dismissed the UN as irrelevant and now has to ask for its help. It is embroiled in guerrilla wars in two Muslim countries: Afghanistan and Iraq (for which the struggling U.S. economy is asked to produce $87-billion in new funding). All of that must delight Osama bin Laden or his heirs and successors.

His declared purpose always was to launch a holy war of Muslims against the West. Mr. Bush has met him half way, and while he has closed down al-Qaeda's training camps in Afghanistan, more bombs are going off in more countries than ever before.

The latest scare is that al-Qaeda is planning to hijack planes flying over Canada. It's possible, but the more time passes and security forces around the world continue to chip away at terrorist networks, the less likely it is that al-Qaeda can mount a sophisticated attack.

Perhaps they don't need one. It's a classic terrorist tactic to attack with the intent of provoking an over response that arouses opposition in the target country and draws others into the battle abroad. If that was Mr. bin Laden's plan, he succeeded brilliantly in 9/11. But even he could not have imagined Mr. Bush would use that provocation as an excuse to invade Iraq.

That Mr. Bush has several times changed his story about Iraq has tended to undermine his credibility. First, Iraq was part of an axis of evil because it sponsored terrorists. Next, Iraq was a direct threat to the United States because it had weapons of mass destruction. Then, when no WMD were found, the fact that Saddam was a brutal dictator was enough. Now, as of Mr. Bush's broadcast on Sunday, the attack is justified because Iraq has become the central battlefield in the war against terrorism.

What is clear is that Iraq had little or nothing to do with terrorism, but it is now a new battlefront for terrorists, a huge political problem for Mr. Blair and a looming problem for Mr. Bush. Without question, Iraq is a bonus for Mr. bin Laden.

From the beginning, Mr. Bush has ignored the lesson of history: Terrorism can be contained but not defeated by armed force, no matter how smart the bombs. The Nazis had total control when they occupied France, and no scruples about how to use their power, but they could not defeat the underground resistance. The might of the British army, emergency laws and special courts could not defeat the IRA; an uneasy peace descended only when both sides realized that neither could defeat the other. Israel, with all its tanks and helicopter gunships, cannot stop the Palestinian suicide bombers.

Terrorism can be defeated only by political measures that, over time, remove the grievances that breed terrorists. There can be no settlement with Mr. bin Laden because he is a religious fanatic. The young men who follow him are a different matter: Given reasonable prospects in life, they would not be so eager for death.

r. Bush, to give him credit for good intentions, hopes to develop in Iraq a model democracy that will offer those better prospects, and attract other Arab states to follow its example. The problem is that it looks increasingly unrealistic, a naive idea produced by ideologues with little experience on the Middle Eastern ground. As we have seen in Britain's former colonies, democracy is not easy to teach; people have to learn it for themselves.

In Iraq, that will take a long time and huge amounts of U.S. cash, which the country can't afford -- and right now, civil war seems an equally likely outcome.

So who's made the most yards so far? The answer is surely obvious.

Anthony Westell is a retired journalist and an author.

© 2003 Bell Globemedia Interactive Inc


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