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Terrorism:  "Good" vs. "Evil"

Another response to Terrorism:  "Good" vs. "Evil"—a debate with correspondent John:

>> If we've decided we must get rid of the Taliban- and I'm pretty sure that is a good idea- constant bombing will not do it. <<

Getting rid of them is probably a good idea...but it's a separate issue from ridding the world of "evil" or "terrorism." We could've taken out the Taliban when they first came to power four years ago, or four years from now, regardless of any terrorist activity. It appears we're using terrorism as a pretext to overthrow hostile governments.

Similarly, we could take out the repressive government of, say, Cuba or Syria or Zimbabwe if we wanted to. It would be highly irregular and arguably immoral, but we could do it. Now that we've begun an endless war against evil, we can find (or fabricate) a terrorist threat in any country, then bomb it into smithereens.

>> Unfortunately, I'm not enough of a military expert to know when it is best for one phase of an attack to begin and another to end. <<

I don't think our military knows either. Recall that they exercise their power only once every few years, in unique circumstances each time. With all the dire warnings of how rough Afghanistan is, I'd say they lucked out. They didn't have a clue the Taliban would give up as easily as they have.

A good example of our military "intelligence": A couple of weeks ago, they were talking about how they'd locate Bin Laden by detecting heat and carbon dioxide emissions from caves. If Bin Laden tried to escape by truck or donkey, they'd see him via satellite.

Now they're mobilizing war ships to catch Bin Laden at sea. Does anyone see a disconnect here? If our military thinks Bin Laden is already on the coast chartering ships, they must admit he escaped from Afghanistan long ago. So the talk about catching him in his cave was either incompetence at work or more propaganda for the folks at home.

"If he's in a cave, we'll catch him there. If he's on a ship, we'll catch him there. If he fled to a secret retreat halfway around the world a month ago, we'll catch him there. Don't you worry about how many people we kill, because we've got him cornered, wherever he is."

Is one kind of warfare better than another?
>> As for our penchant for bombing versus ground attack, and accusations of this being "cowardice", I say "so what". War is a stupid, evil, wasteful practice and the idea that one way of waging it is better than another just suggests that war can be "better". <<

The more civilians you kill, the worse the war is.

If a war is necessary—which this one isn't—I don't mind if we smart-bomb the enemy from afar. I do mind if we proclaim ourselves noble and courageous while we demonize the enemy as cowardly and evil. That's hypocrisy at its worst.

I believe most German soldiers in WW II were conscripts who didn't have much choice and didn't know what they were fighting for—not "evil" Nazis trying to take over the world. I wouldn't be surprised if your typical Taliban soldier is similar. I.e., if he's brainwashed by propaganda into believing his side is good and ours is evil. Which is exactly how we brainwash our soldiers, ironically.

>> She said, "well if they want to live in a cave or hole some place and make their own lives miserable, why don't they just do so and leave us alone? " <<

Don't we need to leave "them" alone first? If we end the Israeli oppression of Palestinians, the US bombing of Iraq, and the repressive regimes in Saudi Arabia and elsewhere, we might have a fair test of whether "they" are willing to live and let live.

>> The problem is that our very existence threatens them. No Palestinian state, destruction of Israel, etc. would satisfy them. <<

That's highly speculative and basically unprovable. And it begs the larger question: What would satisfy most of the Islamic world? If we address the root causes of terrorism, the widespread Islamic support for fundamentalists would dry up. Osama Bin Laden might not change his views, but he'd be more like a Tim McVeigh than a Michael Jordan to Muslims.

>> Only if we were a fanatic governed "Islamic" society would these people "leave us alone"- and they wouldn't because they'd be bossing us around. They are influenced and driven by thoughts that cannot accept the existence of a tolerant, open, secular society. <<

Again, you need to distinguish who "they" are in statements like these. The terrorists themselves? Or the wider Islamic world that supports and harbors terrorists in their midst?

>> So, I'm convinced, therefor, that negotiation with Al Qeda, Taliban and other religious fanatics (including Robertson, Falwell etc.) is pointless. <<

I agree that negotiating with religious fanatics is probably pointless. I've often mused that the only way to handle them is to quarantine them like rabid dogs. But that isn't the point.

Opportunities to negotiate missed
There are at least three levels of negotiations we could've done but didn't. Negotiations with Bin Laden and Al Qaeda, negotiations with the Taliban, and negotiations with the larger Islamic world. I'll repeat that the Taliban didn't do anything worse than "harbor" terrorists. They're no more evil than Mao Zedong, Nikita Khrushchev, or Fidel Castro—all of whom harbored terrorists or were "terrorists," all of whom were fanatical about their beliefs, all of whom we negotiated with.

We negotiated with Saddam Hussein for years before he invaded Kuwait and for years since then. We negotiated with the Ayatollah Khomeini, going so far as to sell him arms to fund the contras. We've negotiated with dictators, zealots, and thugs throughout the 20th century. Three thousand dead Americans, none of whom the Taliban killed, doesn't make this situation any different.

Incidentally, there's evidence that even the worst of the Al-Qaeda "fanatics" weren't beyond reason. See Inside the Terrorists' Minds for details. So I wouldn't rule out negotiations in any case. Not until we've given them a fair chance.

>> They are criminals and need to be captured, or neutralized (preferably with the least "collateral" damage possible). <<

Bombing isn't the way you capture criminals. It's the way you get revenge on people you deem monsters and beasts. It's how you exterminate vermin, which you should appreciate as an entomologist.

>> From what I've seen and heard, the Taliban and Al Qeda are pretty much interchangeable. <<

I think you've "heard" that because Bush has repeated it like a mantra: there's no difference between a terrorist and someone who harbors a terrorist. He said it to justify anything he did, so he could bomb Afghanistan and kill civilians without incurring the world's wrath.

With Bush censoring the media and planning secret tribunals to hide the truth, I wouldn't trust him if he told me how to find the nearest gas station. I'm surprised you're more, er, accepting than I am. <g>

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