Stop Thinking, and See What You're Told
By Steve Weissman
t r u t h o u t | Perspective
Thursday 07 October 2004
How do we score a War on Terror? How do we tell who's winning?
The New Republic offers a telling answer, one that will please you immensely if you love Israel's Ariel Sharon, which I do not.
"The Intifada is Over," blares the cover of the September 27th issue. "How Sharon Beat It."
The white type stands boldly against a photograph of the giant fence Sharon has built to keep the Palestinians in bounds. In the lead story, two well-known Israeli intellectuals - Yossi Klein Halevi and Michael B. Oren - proudly declare "Israel's Unexpected Victory Over Terrorism."
The authors make a dramatic - and premature - claim, echoing a major theme these days in Sharon's psychological warfare against the Palestinians. More important, they seek to limit even farther the way Americans view radical Islamic terrorists and how best to defeat them.
Their logic goes like this. Earlier this year, the Israelis assassinated Sheik Ahmed Yassin, the spiritual head of Hamas, and Abdel Aziz Rantisi, the group's political leader. Hamas announced that it would immediately and massively retaliate. It took them over five months and dozens of failed efforts to finally bomb two busses in the southern town of Beersheba in September, killing 16 Israelis.
To Halevi and Oren, the difficulty Hamas had in making good its threat "proves just how successful Israel's war against terrorism has been."
In the intervening months, "the Israeli army destroyed most of what remained of Hamas's organization in the West Bank and a substantial part of its infrastructure in Gaza," the authors explain. "Hamas leaders, who once routinely led rallies and gave interviews to the media, don't dare show their faces in public anymore. Even their names are kept secret."
On the other side, "life inside Israel has returned to near normalcy." The economy is booming, tourists have returned, and the Israelis now see attacks like the Beersheba bombing as an aberration rather than as part of an endless and unwinnable war. "Terror that no longer paralyzes is no longer terror."
How did Sharon score this unexpected victory?
With "a systematic assault on terrorism that emerged only fitfully over the past four years," say the authors. They credit several different elements:
- The fence, which the Israeli left originally championed, kept most of the terrorists out.
- Isolating Arafat and curtailing his movements delegitimized him and encouraged a Palestinian revolt against his corrupt rule.
- Targeted assassinations erased any distinction between the political and military wings of Hamas, Hezbollah, and Islamic Jihad, or between Arafat's mainstream Fatah movement and supposedly dissident groups like the Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, which he funded.
- Constant military forays into Palestinian areas further decimated the terrorist leadership.
- "And roadblocks have intercepted hundreds of bombs, some concealed in ambulances, children's backpacks, and, most recently, a baby carriage."
Each of these highly publicized steps damaged Israel's already sullied reputation around the world. As the authors put it, "Arafat may be a pariah, but Israel is becoming one, too."
They also argue that Sharon's single-minded military solution contributed to an already growing anti-Semitism, both in Europe and throughout the Arab countries.
Nonetheless, the authors stick to their guns. In their view, Sharon has proved that a nation can defeat terrorism militarily without addressing the political grievances that sustain it. His success, they insist, provides "valuable lessons for the United States in its own war on terrorism."
In many ways, it already has, with disastrous results. Even before The New Republic declared Israel victorious, Mr. Bush had sold his "War on Terror" to the American people primarily as a military crusade to kill or capture al-Qaeda terrorists and boot out any regime that gave them shelter. He and his counter-terrorists never gave much thought, at least not in public, to winning the hearts and minds of the world's Muslims by dealing seriously with their political grievances. This would have entailed cutting back U.S. support for Sharon, the Saudi princes, and the Egyptian dictator Hosni Mubarak. For Mr. Bush and most American political leaders, no way.
The cost of not even considering such options has been obvious. From Nigeria to Indonesia, increasing numbers of proud Muslims call their sons "Osama," and even those who abhor his terrorist tactics see them as their only road to justice.
Paradoxically, the Bush Administration has tried a more mixed approach in its occupation of Iraq, swerving back and forth between cackhanded political maneuvers and politically disastrous military muscle. Neither has proved all that effective, and the awkward mix has probably made matters worse.
In Fallujah and the rest of the rebellious Sunni triangle, on-again, off-again military offensives have alternated with futile negotiations, while the U.S.-led military attack on Moqtada al-Sadr in Najaf helped turn the rebel Shiite cleric into a major political force. Now the American emphasis seems to be swinging toward muscle, using the poorly performing Iraqi National Guard to front brutal assaults. This is all to provide security for national elections in January, we are told.
The danger here is that "security" will become the overpowering goal, as it has for Sharon against the Palestinians, and that Washington will try to lump all the insurgent groups together as "terrorists" and batter them into submission. Whether or not Sharon can make that work for long in Gaza and the West Bank, and at what long-term cost to Israel, remains to be seen. But, in Iraq, it will only turn more Shiite and Sunni Arabs into rebels, recruit more terrorists throughout the world, and drag America ever deeper into an old-fashioned colonial war we - and our handpicked puppets - can never win.