On a Tuesday morning in September America was reduced to a cloud of ash muffled screams. After taking control of four commercial airliners using only handheld box-cutters, three teams of five men and one team of four took out both towers of the World Trade Center in Manhattan and the eastern wall of the Pentagon. Reactions were various. Star spangled banners emerged from every orifice as Americans, in shock, picked themselves and each other up off the floor.
Across the Atlantic, for a brief moment, American flags there too were flown as Chirac declared “We’re all New Yorkers now. But others, mainly in the Arab world, rejoiced and were seen dancing in the streets of retribution. To Americans everywhere it was a wake-up call, an irreversible exploitation, an unveiling of American vulnerability, something that was both inconceivable and inevitable. Liberty in its purest sense had been compromised. And so began the twenty first century. Today the air quality in and around the area of what came to be known the world over as ground zero is still far below its pre-“nine-eleven” standards.
It was then, long before the smoke had cleared, in the wide wake of what otherwise would have been a pleasant early autumn Tuesday morning that President George W. Bush declared a “war on terrorism of global reach. ” The Global War on Terrorism (GWOT), as it was officially labelled was designed to maintain parameters and a nature that are defined broadly and vaguely providing for the utmost leeway in execution, and therefore to it the attribution of all success, a theoretically fail-safe political asset. The elements of this design have been a subject of much domestic as well as international controversy.
The very use of the word war in this context is contested as the actions of the US government in the name of the GWOT are far too broad to fit the standard definition of war, being defined loosely as an armed conflict between two or more sovereign nations. The GWOT seems to have more in common with the war on drugs than it does to any other event in recent history to take the name war. On the other hand one might consider it a war as it is used as a justification to more easily declare war on nations and states that fit the mold.
This unclear definition also lends itself to a lack of strategic clarity which has given way to the moral imperative held sacred by this administration. 1 This is a cause of rancor for military professionals and a source of ammunition for opposition within and without the US. This moral drive at the heart of the GWOT and all that falls under its umbrella is what makes it, in and of itself, an ideology, an anti-terror-ism.
This provides a sound basis for the Former Director of Central Intelligence (DCI) R. James Woolsey’s claim that the GWOT “parallels the Cold War… n the importance of ideology. “2 The war has been declared specifically on those who do not share the anti-terror-ism ideology of the US Government. A series of enemies have been identified, including rogue states and, more specifically, members of the “Axis of Evil” who share in common either generous support of groups the administration has deemed terrorist in nature or a desire to proliferate weapons of mass destruction (WMD) with intent to distribute to undeterrable terrorist organizations or to directly use them against “forces for peace” or both.
On the table as well are all terrorist groups everywhere, be they global, regional or national. Last but not least is terrorism itself. Central to this vague definition is the conflation of all these elements as part of “a general undifferentiated threat. “3 This is detrimental to the strategic efforts of potential allies as well as those being made by the military establishment and serves as more fodder for the critical. The administration works around the soft definition of this undifferentiated threat by establishing a neo-Machiavellian precedent.
After decimating the Al-Qaeda haven in Taliban Afghanistan, an operation with relatively universal support that stood more as retaliation than a move to set precedent, the US decided to take out Iraq. With Iraq comes the controversy, a new clarity in the objective and mandate of the GWOT, and the new legacy of what at one point was the politically and ambiguously fail-safe GWOT. Beyond domestic politics, and before we cover Iraq, the question of why we were attacked on September, 11th must be fielded for without it there would be no GWOT.
Woolsey suggests that for the last twenty-five years the US has been telling the Arab world that their role is to provide the west with oil and that “we [the US] are paper tigers,” with the emphasis on the latter. By referring to the US as “paper tigers” he highlights a core factor of the Arab fundamentalist tribal mindset that is difficult if not impossible for the “enlightened,” industrialized western masses to comprehend. Every US action or reaction in the Middle East has been performed with a directive to limit hostilities and to limit casualties on both sides, to show restraint.
This restraint has been misinterpreted. “Nine-eleven” is just one example of fundamentalist Islam seeing restraint as weakness and a lack of will. The concept was much better illustrated in 2000 when Israel withdrew from Lebanon. Israeli forces in Lebanon were suffering heavy losses from Hezbollah and the Israeli government saw their pending withdrawal as an opportunity to gain diplomatic ground with the Europeans, the Americans and, feasibly, with the hostile Arab nations.
Instead it was seen as a sign of weakness. Two months later Arafat rejected a deal for Palestinian statehood that dwarfed even Clinton’s expectations. Three months after that, using Sharon’s visit to the Dome of the Rock as a casus belli, the Palestinian Authority initiated the second Intifada. There is a great deal of evidence to support this theory/. First, if the Intifada had been a people’s revolt caused by Sharon’s “walk” then there would have been rioting later that day.
There was none. The uprising would have shared a great deal of similarity with the first Intifada, in the 80’s, however these latest riots and attacks were organized. The Palestinians were armed with guns and bombs instead of stones and Molotov cocktails. Shortly thereafter, Arafat’s Communications Minister was quoted on two separate occasions, once by a Lebanese newspaper, al-Safir, and once by a Palestinian newspaper, al-Ayyam, as saying that the Intifada had been planned since Camp David.
Woolsey claims that the same thing happened with “nine-eleven,” al-Qaeda thought the US was weak, they had a plan and they executed it successfully. Woolsey then addresses the single most important element of the GWOT. There lies a fundamental conflict between liberty and security. Do the “preservation of democracy” and the concept of liberty implore us to sacrifice our own liberty to provide for our common defense or do they implore us to preserve liberty at home and impose security measures abroad at the sources of threat?
One’s opinion regarding the war on terror must be based on their interpretation of America’s mandate among the nations. Much criticism has been offered refuting proposed links between terrorist organizations and rogue states, specifically regarding justifications for the US invasion of “Saddamite Iraq. “5 On countless occasions representatives of the Bush administration, including Bush himself, have suggested ties between those who perpetrated the attacks on September 11th, al-Qaeda, and Saddam Hussein, Former President of Iraq.
However, Saddam Hussein was known to be virulently secular and completely opposed to Al-Qaeda who justify their actions with an invocation of Allah. Woolsey responds to this by first grouping the aforementioned elements and others into three groups including secular fascists like the Ba’ath party in Iraq and Syria, and two Islamist groups, one Sunni, including Egyptian and Palestinian groups and one Shia, including Iran and Hezbollah. Woolsey then brings them together by comparing them to three mafia families who hate each other but will band together to fight a common enemy.
Woolsey, though, like the Bush administration, ignores the critical differences between the two in character, threat level, and susceptibility to US deterrence and military action. The US started a preventative war, rather than a preemptive one, that was not necessary against an Iraq that had been successfully deterred and contained. Now we have a largely lawless arena slightly larger than Idaho twice over, providing ample ground for terrorist activity and an opportunity to fight the infidel at home. This operation further diverted attention and resources away from homeland security, our last defense against an undeterrable al-Qaeda.
The war on Iraq had little place in the GWOT to protect America, “rather it acted as a detour from it. “6 The root cause of the war and therein one of two main obstacles for any learned critique of the GWOT or the Bush foreign policy is that in the words of Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Douglas Feith, “there was and is no practical alternative to a strategy of offense. “7 Any lesser response would have not been sufficient to avenge the exploitation of America’s inherent vulnerability and ensure future security.
The second obstacle for any critique of the administration’s handling of the situation is a variation on a theme from challengers of incumbent presidents who pose the question, “are you better off than you were four years ago? ” Both Douglas Feith and Michael Gordon make this point central to any discussion of the GWOT. They cite recent events such as the deposition of Saddam Hussein, Syria’s newfound cooperation and Qaddafi’s voluntary surrender of his nuclear program as evidence showing the effectiveness of the GWOT.
The argument here does stray from the challengers’ question in which their ends are a justification for future action. Especially in light of the lessons of recent history, the statement can be vexing, that the ends justify the means. Since the mass popular awareness of all things remotely associable with terror, the definition of terrorism, historically murky at best, has softened. Many revise their definition with great frequency in order to allow for whatever inclusion or exclusion supports their needs at any given time.
A 1988 study shows more than one hundred varying “official” definitions. 8 The only common strand among these varying definitions is that “terrorism involves violence or threat of violence”. 9 It is doubtful that a feasible definition is possible as Walter Laqueur, author and student of the Arab-Israeli conflict, observes, “even if there were an objective, value-free definition of terrorism, covering all its important aspects and features, it would still be rejected by some for ideological reasons. ” 10 Today, we are dealing with a new kind of terrorism.
In the past terrorists acted with pointed precision to achieve goals. Most targeted military installations and avoided civilian casualties, although showed little remorse at the loss of innocent life. Today we see an ideological terrorism with a larger goal and a common source. As hard as one tries to be objective and unbiased, it is difficult not to see the trend of distinctly Islamic terrorism. To say Islam is inherently violent is a ridiculous statement. 11 To say any religion is a religion of anything is a ridiculous statement.
You can say Christianity is a religion of peace, but you would be wrong as evidenced by the crusades and multiple wars that contain the word “years” in their titles. You have examples of both violence and non-violence both in the name of Islam, neither defines it. “Within Islam, there are Muslims who have created an ‘-ism’ out of Islam… They defy the world. ” This broad group within Islam holds strictly to their interpretations of the ancient Islamic doctrines, holding fast the ideas that Islam is the true religion and that it must have power.
Islam as perceived by these fundamentalists is not a religion similar to anything we commonly think of in the west, but a system of ideology, a system of belief about the organization of the state and of the world. Absolute law, Shari’a, must be implemented through the establishment of an Islamic state, with Allah as its sovereign. The formation of this state may be pursued by any means that can be rationalized from the sacred texts, including the use of coercive force. 12 Within Islam there are two main religious groups that only differ in their views of Islamic history and the caliphate, the Shi’a and the Sunni.
Both groups have their moderates and their fundamentalists. If one looks through the history of Islamic terrorism they will find that most aggressions and issues existed primarily between perceived apostate factions. Today, stories of Muslim men walking into mosques of the either faith with C4 strapped to their chests permeate the media such as the one in Quetta, Pakistan on July 4th, 2003. 13 Until now these were not the problem of the west. One such group that declared holy war, or Jihad, against the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia called themselves al-Qaeda.
The war should not be seen as a clash between the US and Islam, a clash of whole civilizations, but a “war going on within Islam where the [US] is allied with the opponents of this extremist… Islam. “14 This conflict can be seen, in part, as an internal clash of civilizations. On one hand you have the Islamist fundamentalists, tried and true, and on the other you have a new civilization, a hybrid of Islamic heritage and tradition with western liberalism infused. Western support of such moderates affirms the fundamentalist idea that in some way the west is responsible for the transformation of their brethren.
Whether you see it as an internal clash of civilizations or simply an ideological rift between two groups of the same, still the root source is not “us. ” This is happening now because independent and modernizing Arab rulers are new to the global scene. “From the 15th century until 1918… there were no independent Arab countries anywhere,” they were all under Ottoman rule. Arab states in North Africa were under French or British colonial rule. 15 This brings up a second issue that is instrumental in the advent of modern Islamist terrorism.
After the fall of the Ottoman Empire, which left its lands devoid of any industrialization or infrastructure for future economic development, the new Arab rulers were despotic because it was what they knew, emerging from a community of tribal warfare. The first industrialization seen in the area was brought in by the Seven Sisters in the middle of the twentieth century. The Arab world has, not only some of the most undeveloped countries in the world, but especially in the oil-rich countries it teaches an ethic to perpetuate that lack of development.
Further and more important is the class stratification that exists in the Arab world, again especially in the oil-rich states. Walking through the streets of Saudi Arabia you are either one of thousands of princes or you are a peasant. There is virtually no middle class. This modified version of Huntington’s thesis illuminates inter-Arab conflict and the anger at the US for sustaining regimes like the one of Saudi Arabia, whose only power is their strangle-hold on the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC).
Arab anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism have two sources. The first is the connection with the US, acting as Americans by proxy. However Arabs have their own dispute with the State of Israel. The propaganda calls on Israel to alter its treatment of the Palestinian people, however the Palestinian people are more hated within the Arab world than any other. They are the most secular, the most western, and maintain a large Christian population. The Palestinians have been kicked out of every Arab country in the region, including Egypt, Jordan and Lebanon.
The Arab world at large mutters under its breath about the Palestinian people. The issue the Islamists have with the Israelis is that they challenge Islamic, and thereby Allah’s, sovereignty on Islamic holy ground. The Shari’a has two doctrines regarding specific plots of land, the first classifying Mecca and Medina as the Holiest of Cities, and the second calling the entire Arabian peninsula up through Levant across the northern tier and down the Persian/Indian border Islamic Holy Land. It is illegal, according to Shari’a for any non-Muslim to control any Islamic Holy Land.
Non-Muslim monotheistic people living as permanent visitors, or dhimmis, is not prohibited, although these dhimmis are treated poorly as they have not recognized the true evolution of prophecy, but control of land by non-Muslims is prohibited and that is the fundamentalist’s problem with the Israelis. This notion of tolerance, but not equality is an element of the inherent triumphalism identified by Bernard Lewis to still be a central tenet of Islam.
Triumphalism is the idea within a religion that says “my religion is the only true religion and thus the only path to salvation. This may be a factor when it comes to Islamist rejection of the western world and all things Jewish and Christian. Further, Islam is the most recent of the three major monotheistic religions so it deems itself to have a more accurate perspective on the will of God. Because Christianity and Judaism preceded Islam, their versions are outdated and incomplete although somewhat accurate in their own right. This is the reason Jews and Christians are tolerated in the Arab world, although not necessarily respected.
Triumphalism can also be invoked when talking about Israeli-Arabs and the perpetuation of Islam within the Jewish State as Judaism is the only of the three to maintain, throughout its history an anti-triumphalistic world view, as the Talmud says, “the righteous of all faiths have a place in paradise. ” Sayyid Qutb, Egyptian literary critic known for his involvement in the Arab Brotherhood and first-hand rejection of American “ignorance” took the notion of Islamic Holy Land and triumphalism to the next level, declaring all lands that were not Dar al-Islam (World or Abode of Islam) as Dar al-Harb (World or Abode of War).
This meant that all the world that failed to apply Shari’a law was subject to invasion even if one’s own kin was to be found there. 16 As Christianity is the other of the two triumphalistic religions who happen to dominate a civilization, it is only natural that it is their heads that crash. And therein lies the irony, Christianity and Islam clash not because of their differences, but because of their similarities. 17 A large, seemingly unintended, effect of the GWOT has been what appears to be the deep, wide ocean that has been forged between the NATO allies.
However, upon second glance, one realizes that the ocean has always been there. The fact is that although the words are bitter and the cartoons are more bitter still, the relationship the US has with its European allies on a functional and practical level have not changed as a result of the war on Iraq or any other action by either side since the end of the Cold War. Regardless of what stories they hide behind of moral clarity and intellectual superiority, they are people and nations before they are Europeans.
They, the French, the Germans and the Russians will do what they need to do when they need to do it. They will always act in their best interest irrespective of what constituents they offend. French nationalism is stronger than American nationalism. This means, as Jean-Francois Revel highlights, they will always ignore or play down the bad and justify their actions for the sake of France and they will not hesitate to take pot-shots at the Americans. The US-European relationship is a sibling one, that of two brothers.
You have the American older brother, big and strong, on the wrestling team, gets straight As, sometimes can be a little aggressive, makes his own money, and is all around confident with a few inner demons. Then you have the European younger brother who is a little smaller, a little less confident with where he is going to go or what he is going to do, a little less willing to admit to wrongdoing, a little more likely to over compensate for insecurity and can be a little jealous of his older brother. Now these two guys, boy, do the tussle.
They get into fights, they call each other names, but they never quite come to blows and they have this mutual unspoken love between the two. And both of them will always do what is in their own best interest. Even Joseph Wilson, UCSB alumni and former Ambassador to Iraq, who is deeply entrenched in strong Leftist, even Arabist ideology, said that the Europeans were more motivated by oil than the Americans were in the Iraq situation. As it stood, France and Germany, through the “Oil for Food program” were saving millions in trading food to Iraq for a ridiculously low price for oil, far below market value.
Even though they draw drastically different conclusions, Fuad Ajami and Jean-Francois Revel say the same thing about sentiment towards America abroad, in their contrasting pieces they both say that regardless of what may be said, America is idolized, revered, and simultaneously vilified and glorified. 18 No such schism in NATO exists. This is further evidenced by the vast cooperation Coalition Forces are now receiving from NATO and the rest of the world.
This is not to say that NATO as a group or as individuals agree with the GWOT or the war in Iraq, nor would they necessarily agree with the assessment of the situation, however neither would many patriotic Americans. NATO allies, from a strategic point of view, may even see legitimately that the deposition of Saddam Hussein was a destabilizing action that both encouraged made more probable new attacks against Europe, especially because the European powers had Saddam Hussein in their pocket. What some may refer to as the split in NATO is nothing more than an European public relations, stunt.
European governments threw fuel on the fire of a rising anti-war movement, to pressure the US into slowing or stopping their actions in and against Iraq, and while scuffles may result, economically interdependent democratically elected governments are not going to confront one another, their all in the same boat. The US is just the stupid older brother who went to pick a fight, and won. Any negative energy between NATO allies will only and has only manifested itself through provocations of the respective populations. Stunts like the freedom fries and the freedom toast are what this schism ultimately amounts to.
The GWOT is no laughing matter. The US has been attacked and feels the need to project its power in attempt to destroy the Islamist threat and deter whatever it does not destroy. The Europeans believe this to be, in part, ill-advised, specifically the methods. The Europeans are weary of ongoing arguments in which the ends justify the means. NATO and the US-European relationship have not been struck any fatal blows and as ineffective as the UN is, it too will persist. On what was to be a clear Tuesday morning in September has become the delineation between the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. The future is inevitable.