May 01, 2007
AS the conflict in Iraq has worsened, most Americans have come to realise that the war was a mistake. Many Australians feel much the same way. There were no weapons of mass destruction to seize. There was no operational relationship with al-Qa'ida to disrupt. There was no cohesive, democratic Iraqi nation to reclaim.
Nevertheless, President George W. Bush claims: "To protect our citizens at home, we must defeat the terrorists." Prime Minister John Howard has taken much the same position. Yet it was the invasion of Iraq that unleashed the domestic insurgents and foreign terrorists he now says we must suppress. Indeed, the war is making the problem of terrorism worse across the world.
Too many Americans apparently believe that Osama bin Laden and others hate them because they are so free and prosperous. Others ascribe to Islamic jihadis an ideology of world domination akin to that of Soviet communism.
If these arguments were true, Islamic jihadis should be targeting the entire world, hitting Europeans especially hard since they are even more morally licentious than Americans. But as historian Thomas E. Woods Jr notes: "I don't see anyone flying planes into Big Ben or the Eiffel Tower." Indeed, in one of his videotapes, bin Laden scoffed: "Contrary to Bush's claim that we hate freedom ... why don't we strike Sweden?" Because the US, not Sweden, is an interventionist superpower, routinely acting well beyond its own borders.
The Madrid and London bombings (as well as the Bali bombings in Indonesia, largely directed against Australia) responded to decisions by other nations to join the US.
Terrorism became a common tactic throughout the 20th century, used to achieve specific geopolitical objectives. The Islamists who have focused their transnational attacks on the US and its allies are no different.
To state the obvious in no way justifies terrorism. But it is important to understand why terrorists act as they do. Michael Scheuer, a former CIA analyst, points to the US's earlier military presence in Saudi Arabia, support for Israel's occupation of Palestinian lands, sanctions against Iraq and support for a variety of corrupt, undemocratic Arab governments. Because of these policies, bin Laden said in his October 2004 video: "It entered my mind that we should punish the oppressor in kind and that we should destroy the towers in America in order that they taste some of what we tasted, and so that they be deterred from killing our women and children."
Many of the most celebrated strikes against US forces were retaliation for US intervention. For instance, the 1983 bombing of the marine corps barracks in Lebanon followed US support for the minority Christian government in a civil war, in which US warships bombarded Muslim villages. Other attacks, such as 9/11, were a response to broader US Middle Eastern policies.
Unfortunately, the invasion and occupation of Iraq have made the problem worse. Daniel Benjamin of the Brookings Institution in Washington, DC, warns that "the invasion of Iraq gave the (jihadis) an unmistakable boost".
London's Royal Institute for International Affairs, or Chatham House, similarly concludes that the Iraq conflict "gave a boost to the al-Qa'ida network's propaganda, recruitment and fundraising".
What the US Government has done does not justify terrorism but it has helped motivate people to become terrorists.The US and its allies must kill and capture those who would kill Americans. But, in the longer term, grievances should be addressed when possible and, more important, not created in the first place.
The continued occupation of Iraq guarantees more terrorists and more terrorism across the world.
To defeat terrorism, the US (and its coalition partners) must withdraw from Iraq.
Doug Bandow, a former special assistant to president Ronald Reagan, is author of Foreign Follies: America's New Global Empire (Xulon Press, 2006)