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Guardian: Wrong tool for the job
By Jonathan Freedland
2/11/2001 11:26 am Fri
[Bagai tikus membaiki labu? Amerika sudah teraib walaupun baru
beberapa minggu. Sebentar tadi ia telah mengebom empangan hidro
terbesar di Kajaki, Afghanistan yang sekaligus akan menyebabkan
ribuan nyawa terkorban jika sungai melimpah.
'America wants to destroy everything in Afghanistan. There are no
military installations in Kajaki, not even in the district. Winter
is coming and the Americans want to deprive Afghans of all living
facilities.' - Taliban spokesman
Wrong tool for the job
Bombing Afghanistan is not the way to defeat al-Qaida - instead,
we must use all the creativity we can muster
Guardian Wednesday October 31, 2001
I remember September 11. The short attention span of the modern,
round-the-clock media has not made me forget. I remember the
slow-motion pictures of the second plane. I remember the plaintive
voices on the answering machines. I remember that vast dust cloud
chasing people through the Manhattan streets. Of course I remember
September 11. We all do.
It is not forgetfulness which explains the current wobble in public
support for the war on Afghanistan, despite Tony Blair's plea
yesterday for us to recall the anger we felt that day. The problem is
Nor is it complacency. Fear of al-Qaida remains paranoically high,
especially in the United States, where anthrax-in-the-mail has
brought the country to the verge of a nervous breakdown. Here, too,
people are jittery, weighed down by the fear that we could be next.
Lack of resolve is not the problem: people are desperate to stop the
terrorists from striking again.
Nor can the slide in public backing for the bombing - confirmed in
our poll yesterday -be put down easily to a collective yellow belly,
a national loss of nerve at the first sight of blood. Ministers may hint
at that, but Britons know wars exact a heavy cost and bring few
immediate results; they are not put off that easily.
Instead the explanation might be one which reflects rather better on
our country. Perhaps Britons have simply decided that bombing is
not an effective way to defeat al-Qaida. Maybe some of them accept
that aerial assault can only boost Osama bin Laden's standing in the
Muslim world, spectacularly confirming his claim that this is a clash
of the west against Islam - pitting the richest country in the world
against the poorest. Perhaps they now accept that killing Bin Laden
would merely make a martyr of him, and that his chosen hideaway
was the worst possible place to pick a fight. Maybe they have heard
the Afghan national epigram: "When God wants to punish a nation,
he makes them invade Afghanistan."
Or they might be beginning to worry, like me, that our leaders do not
understand the threat facing us. Both Blair and George Bush keep
pretending this is a traditional, familiar conflict - one between states,
against an enemy you can name, see and hit - when, in fact, it is a
clash pitting us against an invisible network, dispersed across the
globe. Our leaders want us to believe Kabul is the power behind
al-Qaida, making Afghanistan a sensible target. Unfortunately the
truth seems to be the other way around, with the Taliban taking its
orders from Bin Laden. With his enormous fortune and international
following, he is stronger than they are. This is a wholly new kind of
enemy: not so much state-sponsored terrorism as a terrorism-sponsored
Given all that, bombing is just not going to do the trick. Bin Laden's
reach goes far beyond a mere country; even obliterating it (and
killing many of its civilians) would not remove the threat he poses.
Remember, the men behind September 11 did their crucial training
not in Kandahar, but in Florida.
So far, the best response the governments can fire back at those
opposed to the bombing is, "All right - but what would you do?" Until
we have a powerful answer to that, they and their policy will
probably remain on just the right side of that crucial 50% approval
So we need to have our own, alternative strategy for countering
al-Qaida. Most in the peace camp have confined their thinking so
far to the long term, demanding the western powers tackle the
underlying causes of terrorism. It's suddenly become fashionable to
quote Chairman Mao's axiom that, if you can't catch the fish, you
can at least drain the sea in which they swim. In Bin Laden's case,
that means the sea of grievances he's so adroitly exploited - chief
among them, western support for the raft of vile regimes across the
Arab and Muslim world which deny their peoples opportunity, free
expression and basic human rights.
That makes good sense and, in Britain at least, has become
government policy. Blair's "Let's reorder this world" speech at
Brighton showed he had understood that ultimately the best way to
defeat terrorism is to soothe the rage which fuels it.
That process will take years and cost billions. It will be worth it,
because every time an injustice is remedied another recruiting
sergeant for Osama bin Laden is slain. But it will not deal with the
immediate threat - the young men already recruited to Bin Laden's
cause. One estimate has al-Qaida counting on 50,000 sympathisers
around the world, another 10,000 activists, including 2,000 who
would be ready to kill and be killed and 800 who qualify as leaders.
That is a huge network consisting of people already won over to Bin
Laden's Islamist nihilism. They might never go anywhere near
Afghanistan - and yet they pose a clear danger to us all.
It is in combating this threat, rather than the familiar enemy of a
nation-state, that London and Washington are left scratching their
heads. The Pentagon has even launched a public competition
seeking ideas for fighting terror - with a lucrative defence contract
offered to the best one. That's how desperate things have got.
Luckily, others are doing some fast thinking. At yesterday's day-long
conference on the crisis, hosted jointly by the Guardian and the
Royal United Ser vices Institute, Air Marshal Sir Tim Garden said
Britain should at least realise that if this war is going to be fought on
our home soil we ought to start protecting that turf properly. He wants
a British equivalent of America's new chief of homeland security, as
well as a new role for the Territorial Army and extensive retraining of
the police - so they can protect us against an enemy that strikes not
on a foreign battlefield, but on our planes, in our cities and even via
our morning post.
Others say that since the terrorists are waging "asymmetrical
warfare" - a superpower laid low by a few Stanley knives - we
have to learn to fight asymmetrically, too. More than one analyst has
suggested this conflict is more Don Corleone than D-Day, forcing us
to learn the techniques of the Mafia - finding individuals bent on
mayhem and getting them before they get us.
That notion will send chills down liberal spines, especially for
anyone with memories of the shoot-to-kill policy in Northern Ireland
or the CIA's bungled assassination sprees. There are practical
problems, too. Finding the enemy requires first-class human
intelligence, but one former mandarin says reliable agents can take a
decade or more to cultivate. A veteran of US counter-terrorism
admits al-Qaida cells are particularly impervious to infiltration.
Maybe there is no quick fix that passes both the ethics and
efficiency tests. But we have to start looking. We need to get going,
recruiting the very best brains to get inside the minds of this new
enemy, unlocking their modus operandi and finding their weak spots
- a Bletchley Park for the 21st century. It will require all the smart
creativity we can muster. For this enemy will not be beaten by
flattening Afghanistan. He lives right here among us, and it will take
more than moral fibre to defeat him.