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What Happened:  Results of the So-Called War

Continuing the analysis of the 9/11/01 terrorist attack on America....

Rumblings of discontent
In November, people began to realize this war had little or nothing to do with its stated objectives: bringing terrorists to justice. Some quotes on the subject:

From the letters to the LA Times, 11/10/01:

While doing an exemplary job of extolling the virtues of stealth weaponry, the U.S. media have not proved as adept at informing the public about stealth policy, wherein our war against terrorism has cannily evolved into a war against the Taliban.


From the LA Times, 11/11/01:

Warning that mounting civilian deaths are increasing public unease about the war, the Pakistani leader urged the United States to make the military operation "short and accurately targeted." Earlier, speaking to reporters at the United Nations, Musharraf recoiled when asked for a professional assessment of the war against the Taliban regime.

"I don't like this word 'war,' " he said. "There is no war going on. There is an operation against terrorists and their supporters."

From "The Political Clock Is Ticking" by Kevin Phillips. In the LA Times, 11/11/01:

This year, however—and it's probably inevitable, given that terrorists attacked Manhattan and Washington—the U.S. military response came quickly, before all the strategic, diplomatic and conceptual ducks were in a row. The consequences to date, unfortunately, have been lots of dropped bombs but few big-time hits, a slow response to the anthrax crisis, a furor in the Muslim world that has prompted talk of the U.S. losing the public-relations war and an obvious edginess on the parts of erstwhile allies like Saudi Arabia and Pakistan. Worst of all, the U.S. failure to track down shadowy terrorist chieftain Bin Laden has forced the Pentagon to start emphasizing the havoc it has rained down on Afghanistan's Taliban regime, as if our aerial capacity was ever in doubt. On these issues, the opposition, not surprisingly, is largely quiet or in hiding.

From Playing the WWII Card by Tim Wise, 11/12/01:

Destroying Afghanistan might prevent that nation from attacking the U.S. But as they never had done so in the first place, this hardly seems an outcome for which we should be willing to kill even one innocent civilian. Meanwhile, the current bombing cannot logically be expected to have much effect on reducing the danger posed by al-Qaeda, few of whose members actually live in Afghanistan, and who hardly need that nation's particular support for terrorist training camps in order to continue operations.

In fact, with information technology spreading so rapidly, they could plan and plot future attacks via the internet, without even having to set up base camps in remote mountain passes. And their steady stream of recruits would only be likely to increase the longer we continue to bomb Muslims, contributing to the refugee crisis, and "accidentally" killing entire families as has already been done, even by State Department admission.

From the letters to the LA Times, 11/19/01:

I am glad to see that President Bush is doing something for the recently unemployed. There must be many former workers at the Ministry for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice who are now out of a job since the Taliban is no longer running the show in Kabul. These folks should be perfect for taking care of the secret tribunals Bush has planned. They'll feel right at home with the secret proceedings, lack of any appeal and easy imposition of death sentences.

I have heard Bush and Atty. Gen. John Ashcroft justify this nightmarish idea as a necessary measure during wartime, but we are not at war. No matter how many times they or anyone might say it, we are not at war and will not be until Congress declares war, as the Constitution gives it solely the right to do. This "war" that people keep talking about is no more a war than the war on poverty or the war on cancer.


And my letter to the LA Times on the subject, 11/16/01:

Now that we've overthrown the nasty Taliban regime, can we begin the war against the terrorists?

Another letter to the LA Times, 12/6/01:


Americans seem satisfied that we've helped overthrow the illegal and immoral Taliban regime. No one much cares that we haven't brought many (or any) terrorists to justice. I guess most people just wanted payback for the pain they felt, and demolishing a country sufficed. They killed us, we bombed them, and now everyone's happy.

Yet another letter to the LA Times, 12/7/01:

2 Die, Six Hurt as Worker Opens Fire at Indiana Factory

After a quiet couple of months, we've seen several mass shootings in the news recently. Coincidence? It seems disgruntled employees, lovers, and students were stunned, or perhaps sated, by 9/11 and the subsequent "bomb 'em!" chest-thumping. Now that the "war" in Afghanistan is winding down, can we expect gun-toting nuts to return to their usual mania?

See also the responses to Terrorism:  "Good" vs. "Evil"—especially #39 and up, which I posted after the fall of Kabul. That was the beginning of the end of the war. From that point on we can begin assessing whether the results were worth killing Afghanistan's people and destroying its infrastructure.

Tallying the results
In late November and December, the results from the Bush-censored "war" began coming in. From Professor Marc Herold's research as reported by Democracy Now!, 12/10/01:

3,500 Civilians Killed in Afghanistan by US Bombs

The Pentagon has repeatedly denied reports of civilian casualties in Afghanistan, and most U.S. media outlets have qualified their reports of casualties with the statement "could not be independently confirmed." But Professor Herold has been able to confirm the number of casualties and has found that the number is climbing toward 4,000. "People have to know that there is a human cost to war, and that this is a war with thousands of casualties," said Herold. "These were poor people to begin with, and, on top of that, they had absolutely nothing to do with the events of September 11."

Subsequent reports have said this death toll may be exaggerated. But since these analyses tend to discount "unverified" reports, we'll probably never know the true death toll.

Next, a report on what the public really thinks about the war. From the Stirling Media Research Institute, 11/21/01:

World opinion opposes the attack on Afghanistan.

David Miller

21 November 2001

According to Tony Blair and George Bush respectively, 'world opinion' and the 'collective will of the world' supported the attack on Afghanistan. Yet analysis of international opinion polls shows that with only three exceptions majorities in all countries polled have opposed the policy of the US and UK governments. Furthermore there have been consistent majorities against the current action in the UK and sizeable numbers of the US population had reservations about the bombing.

World opinion

The biggest poll of world opinion was carried out by Gallup International in 37 countries in late September (Gallup International 2001). It found that apart from the US, Israel and India a majority of people in every country surveyed preferred extradition and trial of suspects to a US attack. Clear and sizeable majorities were recorded in the UK (75%) and across Western Europe from 67% in France to 87% in Switzerland. Between 64% (Czech Republic) and 83 % (Lithuania) of Eastern Europeans concurred as did varying majorities in Korea, Pakistan, South Africa and Zimbabwe. An even more emphatic answer obtained in Latin America where between 80% (Panama) and 94% (Mexico) favoured extradition. The poll also found that majorities in the US and Israel (both 56%) did not favour attacks on civilians. Yet such polls have been ignored by the media and by many of the polling companies. After the bombing started opposition seems to have grown in Europe. As only the Mirror has reported, by early November 65 per cent in Germany and 69 per cent in Spain wanted the US attacks to end (Yates, 2001). Meanwhile in Russia polls before and after the bombing show majorities opposed to the attacks. One slogan which reportedly commanded majority support doing the rounds in Moscow at the end of September was 'World War III -- Without Russia' (Agency WPS 2001). After the bombing started Interfax reported a Gallup International poll showing a majority of Moscow residents against the US military action (BBC Worldwide Monitoring 2001).


The most fundamental problem with the polls is that they assume the public has perfect information. But, notwithstanding some dissent in the press, the media in the UK, and even more emphatically in the US, have been distorting what is happening in Afghanistan especially on civilian casualties and alternatives to war. To ask about approval of what is happening assumes that people actually know what is happening. But given that a large proportion of the population receives little but misinformation and propaganda (especially on TV news which is most peoples main source of information) then it is less surprising that some should approve of what they are told is happening -- that the US and UK are doing their best to avoid civilian casualties, that Blair exercises a moderating influence on Bush. When they are asked their own preferences about what should happen (rather than approval questions about what is happening) then there is much less support, even in the US.

In other words there is no world support for the attack on Afghanistan and public opinion in the US and UK is at best dubious and at worst flatly opposed to what is happening. If Bush and Blair were really democrats, they would never have started the bombing.

See the rest of this article for an excellent analysis of how polls misrepresent the support for diplomatic rather than military solutions to the conflict.

Bush begins the real battle
After taking out the Taliban government, which wasn't what Bush promised us, he finally got around to fighting terrorism, which was. He finally began following the recommendations of countless peace activists, who were intelligent enough to understand you can't fight a conventional "war" against an anonymous global enemy. If only this cowboy doofus had an ounce of gray matter in his Stetson, we might not have killed a few thousand Afghan civilians while overthrowing the Taliban.

From the LA Times, 12/2/01:

U.S. Presses Terror War in 7 Nations

Strategy: Washington has quietly broadened its campaign against Al Qaeda. Officials say some of the countries will cooperate in the effort.


WASHINGTON — The Bush administration has quietly begun dispatching diplomatic, military, intelligence and law enforcement agents to Asia and Africa to lay the groundwork for the next front in its war against terrorism, taking aim at Al Qaeda hubs in at least seven countries, officials said Saturday.

This far broader campaign against Osama bin Laden's terror network was initiated in recent weeks with a flurry of discreet but high-level overtures from U.S. officials, including President Bush.

The effort marks a significant shift in foreign policy, according to both the officials and outside counter-terrorism experts. Several administration officials specifically cited the Philippines, Somalia and Yemen as top priorities, but they also mentioned Malaysia, Indonesia and the former Soviet republics of Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. In recent years, the Al Qaeda network has made a concerted effort to expand its activities in those nations, which now pose a serious threat to U.S. interests, the officials said.

"All the places where there is a significant Al Qaeda presence, there is an effort underway to deal with them," said one Bush administration official who, like others, spoke on condition of anonymity. "We are going to ratchet up the amount of time, energy and capability that are being devoted to these areas."

Asked if the administration had deployed an increased CIA and FBI presence in and around those countries, the official said: "Of course."

The official said U.S. counter-terrorism authorities want to move swiftly to apprehend at least several hundred of the Al Qaeda operatives believed to be in those countries before their trail gets cold. Many of them are believed to be hiding in anticipation of crackdowns similar to ones in Europe that have resulted in the arrests of dozens of suspected Al Qaeda associates, the officials said.

Al Qaeda operatives fleeing the war in Afghanistan and the European dragnet are also believed to be seeking sanctuary in those countries, the officials said.

The initiative focuses on Al Qaeda and is unrelated to the debate over what to do about suspected state-sponsored terrorist activity in Iraq. It has taken on added urgency based on recent indications that Al Qaeda cells around the world might be plotting additional attacks.

"The global moujahedeen network is now looking for payback," said one official. "And there are plenty of sympathizers and associates out there interested in doing something against us" in response to the Bush administration's aggressive counter-terrorism offensive.

The disclosures provide an early glimpse of what the administration has in mind once the military campaign in Afghanistan winds down—how it intends to wage war on terrorism worldwide, as Bush has vowed to do since Sept. 11. Officials provided few details of the new initiative, except to say that it is underway and still a work in progress.

"We're not going to go into a hostile environment and start bombing," said another official. "We're going in with the host government and [will] work together on diplomacy, law enforcement and intelligence.

"It will be a cooperative effort," the official added. "Some of them didn't understand the need to go after Al Qaeda before 9/11. Now they understand it. Gone are the days when we had to convince other governments that Al Qaeda was a threat to us and to them."

All seven countries cited by the administration officials are believed to have terrorist cells linked to Bin Laden and Al Qaeda, including some with ties to the Sept. 11 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.

But not all of them are expected to participate willingly.

Bush administration officials said that the crackdown will be done in conjunction with the countries' governments whenever possible and that leaders of at least some nations have been receptive. In particular, Bush has met with the presidents of the Philippines and Yemen at the White House in recent weeks to discuss joint counter-terrorism offensives.

Bush pledged tens of millions of dollars to aid the Philippines in its fight against terrorism and sent at least 22 U.S. military and counter-terrorism advisors there in November for three weeks.

Military Force Will Be Last Resort, Officials Say

If the other nations cooperate, U.S. officials will provide intelligence, guidance, investigative and financial assistance, and, perhaps in some cases, military support, the officials said.

If they do not cooperate, authorities are considering a range of options, from covert operations to, as a last resort, military force, the officials said.

White House spokesman Gordon Johndroe said Saturday that he could not comment on or confirm details of the new initiative except to say, "We are really very focused right now on phase one—on Afghanistan and worrying about Al Qaeda cells wherever they might be."

No information was available on the number of U.S. representatives dispatched to the countries or on which nations are cooperating. But U.S. officials have for years been deeply troubled by the growing presence of terrorists in African and Asian countries, particularly extremists with known connections to Al Qaeda.

Yemen, for instance, was a hotbed of terrorist activity even before suspected Al Qaeda members blew up the U.S. destroyer Cole in that country nearly 14 months ago, killing 17 sailors. Somalia has long given sanctuary to cells believed to be key to the terrorist network, as have Malaysia and Indonesia. Bush recently singled out the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan as a particularly virulent subset of the Al Qaeda network.

A number of U.S. officials wanted to intervene earlier in some of the countries involved in the new initiative, but others were loath to intercede and considered those countries' problems with terrorists to be a political issue that was best left for them to handle internally, according to officials in both the Clinton and Bush administrations.

In addition, most, if not all, of these countries resisted U.S. efforts even to discuss terrorist cells as they flourished within their borders, or to share intelligence on the cells' potential connections to a wider terrorist network, the officials said. Some refused outright to cooperate, fearing political or violent retaliation.

But that changed with the Sept. 11 attacks.

"There was dissent here, in the Clinton administration: How much do we want to get involved in other people's problems, especially in some faraway places?" said one official. "Now there is a greater appreciation that these things need to be addressed, that no matter how far away they are, they can come up and bite you."

The new phase of the war on terrorism will be particularly sensitive, said Juliette Kayyem, a terrorism expert at Harvard University and a former member of the National Commission on Terrorism.

"We've long known that there are Al Qaeda members in those countries," Kayyem said. But many of the newly targeted countries are allies, "unlike Afghanistan, so we can't just go in there and disrupt Al Qaeda cells with bombs. We will have to be very, very dependent on these host countries.

"It will not be done with military effort, but rather with diplomacy," Kayyem predicted. "It will be a carrot-and-stick approach."

The Bush administration is placing a special priority on the Philippines, where the Abu Sayyaf, an extremely militant terrorist organization associated with Al Qaeda, has been bedeviling U.S. counter-terrorism authorities for years.

Philippine Rebels Among Priorities

As long ago as 1995, terrorists in the Philippines were involved in plots to assassinate Pope John Paul II and President Clinton, to bomb U.S. and Israeli embassies and to blow up 11 U.S. commercial airliners over the Pacific Ocean. More recently, Abu Sayyaf militants have been holding a U.S. couple hostage for six months.

"In the Philippines, we certainly tried to do what we could" in recent years, said one U.S. official, but "the level of resources spent to deal with them . . . was inadequate."

On Saturday, a spokeswoman for the Philippine Embassy in Washington confirmed that her country and the U.S. have agreed to work together to try to take down the Abu Sayyaf network and other terrorists.

The United States and its allies recently gave Philippine authorities a detailed list of suspected terrorists, "especially with links to Bin Laden, for us to find out if some of those people are in the Philippines or might attempt to enter the Philippines," spokeswoman Patricia Paez said. She added that U.S. military, law enforcement and intelligence representatives are helping the Philippines with "communications, mobility and firepower capabilities, and in planning and strategizing the war against terrorism."

Copyright 2001 Los Angeles Times

From the San Diego Union-Tribune, 6/21/02:

Unified action vs. al-Qaeda said to pay off

LONDON – Law enforcement sweeps of al-Qaeda militants from the suburbs of Paris to the kingdom of Saudi Arabia in the past two weeks provide evidence that new international coordination by counterterrorism officials is succeeding in penetrating the terrorist network, several top U.S. and European security officials said yesterday.
Hundreds of international law enforcement leaders and specialists have gathered in London this week to assess their intelligence and enforcement efforts, especially since the Sept. 11 attacks.

"The arrests we have seen in France and in Saudi Arabia and other places this month are the result of three factors," Caruso said. "They are evidence that investigators are digging in all over the world based on evidence picked up off the desert floor in Afghanistan, from the information taken from individuals being interrogated, and increased international cooperation among investigators."

Dozens of suspected al-Qaeda operatives – some believed to have been in the process of planning attacks – have been arrested and held for interrogation in recent months in police operations around the world.

My letter to the LA Times on these developments, 12/4/01:

US proves war unnecessary

Using diplomatic, intelligence, and law enforcement means, the US and its allies have arrested dozens of suspected Al Qaeda associates in Europe. Now they're planning to expand their efforts into countries like the Philippines, Somalia, and Yemen. US officials say they'll consider covert operations and military force only if these countries don't cooperate, as a last resort.

That we're aggressively but peacefully pursuing terrorists around the world is welcome news. Our success indicates these nonlethal methods would've worked as well in Afghanistan, if not as quickly. But methodical police work isn't nearly as satisfying as killing people, is it?

Oh, well. A few thousand Afghans are dead but only one American. I guess that's all that matters.

Bush-war fails as terrorism thrives
Months later, the evidence is in. The war on Afghanistan did nothing to end the threat of Osama bin Laden, Al Qaeda, or worldwide terrorism. Repeat: Nothing. We overthrew the Taliban government, which wasn't our goal, but didn't bring terrorism to heal, which was. Our Bush-league "president" is either a liar or an incompetent for failing to do what he said he'd do.

From the LA Times, 9/15/02:

Bin Laden's Henchmen Seen to Be Regrouping

Terrorism: Al Qaeda members have moved to Iran, Syria and Lebanon, intelligence sources say.


CAIRO — Members of Osama bin Laden's Al Qaeda network who fled Afghanistan have blended into the volatile Middle East, regrouping in such places as Iran, Syria and Lebanon, where they may be even harder to detect and combat, highly placed Arab intelligence sources say.

Two key leaders are among those who have fled to Iran, and many other Al Qaeda members have gone to Syria and Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon, according to the sources. Al Qaeda has also refined its use of the Internet to communicate, simplified its means of sending cash to operatives and continued to aggressively plot major terrorist strikes, said the sources, who spoke on condition that neither they nor their country be identified.

Although the United States and its Afghan allies killed or arrested hundreds of Al Qaeda fighters and destroyed Bin Laden's camps and sanctuaries in Afghanistan, they destroyed neither the core of the terrorist network nor its commitment to keep fighting.

With no base of operations, and even less of a structure than it had before, Bin Laden's network is becoming more difficult for intelligence services to track and may be even more dangerous.

Authorities in the region fear that if Al Qaeda takes root in the Middle East, it will find plenty of partners who may not completely share its ideology, but do share common enemies: the United States and Israel. Operating under the cloak of the Arab-Israeli conflict, it might thereby increase its following and credibility in the region.

"The result of so many people leaving Afghanistan is, it is now very difficult for us to follow them," said an intelligence officer whose agency has a proven record of infiltrating and cracking terrorist cells.

"It broadened their sphere of operation and increased the danger. It gave Al Qaeda members the opportunity to give their expertise to other people in other countries."

The intelligence official said he was more concerned about Al Qaeda members turning up in Palestinian camps in Lebanon than in Iran. In Lebanon, the source said, "Al Qaeda will be able to operate under a false flag."


Suspects Turned Over

Lebanon, Syria and Iran have all denied that Al Qaeda members are living in their territory. Indeed, Iran has turned over more than a dozen Al Qaeda suspects to Saudi Arabian authorities. Syria also has arrested some terrorists and provided valuable intelligence information to the United States.

But Arab intelligence sources said some power centers such as Iran's Revolutionary Guards are actively supporting the organization, providing everything from safe houses to phony travel documents.

Arab sources say there may be hundreds of Al Qaeda members in Iran alone.

Senior U.S. intelligence officials concur that Al Qaeda operatives have probably reached Iran, Syria and Lebanon, but say they believe that the number in Iran is lower than estimated by the Arab sources, perhaps only dozens.

"When you step on an ant pile, as we did in Afghanistan, the Al Qaeda members run off in different directions," said a U.S. official, who spoke on condition of anonymity. "Many are from different areas in the Middle East, and you expect them to go back to where they or their friends came from."

The Arab intelligence sources say they have solid information that Bin Laden, his right-hand man Ayman Zawahiri and Taliban leader Mullah Mohammed Omar are alive, still in Afghanistan, and using the Internet to communicate. U.S. officials say they don't know the fate of Bin Laden or his top aides but continue to hunt them because there is no evidence that they are dead.

CIA Director George Tenet agreed that war has failed to halt or even curtail terrorism. From the LA Times, 10/18/02:

"The threat environment we find ourselves in today is as bad as it was last summer, the summer before 9/11," Tenet told lawmakers. Recent attacks in Yemen, Kuwait and Indonesia show that Al Qaeda has "reconstituted, they are coming after us, they want to execute attacks."

From the LA Times, 10/31/02:

Hearts, Minds and Terror

U.S. should be wary of alienating Muslims through its focus on Iraq.

By Fawaz A. Gerges

Fawaz A. Gerges is a professor in international affairs and Middle Eastern studies at Sarah Lawrence College and author of the forthcoming "The Islamists and the West" (Cambridge University Press).

President Bush and his senior aides seem to have a good grasp of the threats still posed by Al Qaeda. However, they lack a nuanced understanding of this radical fringe's appeal to alienated young Muslim men who increasingly may be acting on their own. The White House, instead of preparing for war with Iraq, should be seeking creative strategies to decrease the pool of recruits and block further inroads into the world of Islam by the militants.

Connecting the Bali nightclub massacre to an attack on American troops in Kuwait and the bombing of a French oil tanker off Yemen, Bush said earlier this month that "it is going to take a while to fully rout Al Qaeda. We just learned a lesson.... It's going to take a while to succeed."

In recent testimony before a congressional panel, CIA Director George J. Tenet emphasized that Al Qaeda was still capable of planning and carrying out attacks in multiple theaters of operation.

Al Qaeda's senior leaders, though weakened and on the run, survived the first phase of the war in Afghanistan. They have succeeded not only in motivating hardened foot soldiers but in inspiring sympathizers to launch independent terror attacks, sowing fear and inflicting economic damage. Al Qaeda's strategy seems to aim at affirming its existence and defying the U.S.

For example, a recent audiotape by Osama Bin Laden's closest lieutenant, Ayman Zawahiri, assumed responsibility for suicide bombings against French engineers in Pakistan and German tourists in Tunisia. While Zawahiri also praised "holy warriors" for the attack on the French oil tanker and gun battles with U.S. Marines in Kuwait, he did not accept direct responsibility in Al Qaeda's name.

This post-9/11 campaign relies on small-scale, decentralized operations and aims mainly at "soft" nonmilitary targets. Deadly and effective, these operations are easier to plan and carry out than were the complex, spectacular World Trade Center and Pentagon attacks and the 1998 bombings of U.S. embassies in East Africa. They also do not require as much supervision by Al Qaeda's surviving leadership and depend largely on the initiative of loyalists.

Young men who are unconnected to Al Qaeda but outraged by U.S. policies toward the Palestinians or Iraq can apparently be nudged by the inflammatory rhetoric of Al Qaeda leaders to pursue freelance terrorism and kill Westerners on their own, complicating and prolonging the U.S. war on terror. The assassination of a senior American diplomat in Jordan appears to fall into this freelance category.

The U.S. must take seriously the rage against U.S. foreign policies in the world of Islam. The festering Palestinian wound fuels anti-Americanism, as does the U.S. stand toward Iraq even as Washington maintains cozy relations with more pliant dictators. A U.S. invasion of Iraq, with large civilian casualties, would only make these young Muslims more inclined to join jihadi cells of the Al Qaeda variety.

Although most Arabs do not care for Saddam Hussein, neither do they buy the administration's attempt to link him with Al Qaeda. They know full well his brutal suppression of Muslim activists and the loathing that Bin Laden has for his secularism.

The dominant Arab-Muslim narrative stresses that an attack on Iraq would be designed to settle old scores and make Washington the arbiter of Arab destiny and resources, particularly oil. "This is a war against Islam and Muslims, not against terrorism," is the common complaint. U.S. unilateralism and insensitivity to Muslim concerns threaten to turn Bin Laden, alive or dead, into a martyr and rallying point for the dissatisfied.

Initially after 9/11, Bin Laden's politics of despair and suicide were discredited in Muslim eyes, thanks mainly to the administration's coalition-building and limited goals. Arrests of key Al Qaeda lieutenants in Pakistan, Morocco, Yemen, East Asia and Europe and the freezing of financial assets took their toll on the network. The most effective means of putting Al Qaeda out of business is to work more closely with European and Muslim allies to tackle the political and social roots of extremism.

To reach the large "floating middle" of Muslim society, the U.S. should pay more than lip service to the urgent tasks of peaceful resolution of international conflicts, to sustainable development and to a consistent, persuasive approach to human rights and liberty for all.

Copyright 2002 Los Angeles Times

White House tries to spin failure of Bush-war
From the LA Times, 11/16/02:

White House Insists Its Focus Is on Al Qaeda

The recent capture of a top operative is cited to rebut charges that the U.S. effort is foundering.

By Greg Miller and Josh Meyer, Times Staff Writers

WASHINGTON — Struggling to account for a torrent of fresh threat warnings and the reappearance of Osama bin Laden, the Bush administration scrambled Friday to defend its handling of the war on terrorism and counter criticism that it is preoccupied with Iraq.

National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice, bristling at questions about the administration's priorities, said President Bush's first order of business each day is assessing the nation's progress against Al Qaeda and other terrorist groups.

"He does not begin his day on Iraq," Rice said. "He begins his day on the war on terrorism and the threat levels, and the threat information that we have about the United States."

The administration sought to bolster its case by presenting new evidence of success against Al Qaeda, declaring that one of the terrorist network's top operatives was recently captured and is in American custody. Officials declined to identify the figure.

Rice's remarks and disclosure of the capture were part of a concerted effort by the White House to blunt renewed criticism from legislators and foreign leaders that the hunt for Al Qaeda is failing from neglect.

In Germany on Friday, Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer warned that the administration's focus on Iraq is dangerously misguided.

"International terrorism is the No. 1 danger," Fischer told the German parliament. "I need it explained to me how we ended up making Iraq the priority."

The White House is suddenly sensitive to such second-guessing largely because of the reappearance this week of Bin Laden — who some U.S. officials assumed was dead — as well as a flurry of ominous new intelligence signals.

Citing an increase in intelligence traffic not seen since before the Sept. 11 attacks, the FBI issued an alert late Thursday that Al Qaeda may be planning spectacular new strikes on U.S. targets.

Officials said there was no specific information indicating where or when possible attacks might take place. And the warnings prompted no change in the nation's color-coded alert scheme, which remained at yellow, indicating an elevated risk of attack.

Friday's developments underscore how the White House increasingly finds itself in the seemingly contradictory position of claiming significant success in disabling Al Qaeda even as it warns that the nation may be no safer now than it was before Sept. 11.

Rice straddled both those positions Friday, recounting the success of the war in Afghanistan and citing "numerous senior leaders of Al Qaeda that have either been eliminated, incarcerated or detained someplace."

She echoed Bush's frequent warnings that the struggle against terrorism is long-term. "It took a while for Al Qaeda to become the organization that it is," she said. "It's going to take a while to break them up."

She also stressed that Al Qaeda is "an adaptable organization. We have to assume that it's trying to adapt."

Indeed, legislators and terrorism experts said Al Qaeda appears to have evolved considerably over the past year. The conflicting signals emanating from the White House, they said, can be explained at least in part because the genuine successes in the war on terrorism have in many ways shifted — rather than eliminated — dangers.

"Paradoxically this recent spasm of Al Qaeda activities could be a reflection of our success," said Bruce Hoffman, Washington director of Rand Corp., a think tank based in Santa Monica. "We've forced them onto softer, more accessible targets."

Hoffman cited recent Al Qaeda strikes on a nightclub in Indonesia and a French tanker off the coast of Yemen. "It's little consolation for those tragically involved," Hoffman said, "but we're talking about a different level of operation between attacking the Pentagon and a bar in Bali."

Sen. Richard C. Shelby of Alabama, the ranking Republican on the Senate Intelligence Committee, concurred.

"We disrupted their sanctuary [in Afghanistan]," he said. "It's going to be harder for terrorists to continue to train, plan and execute big terrorist attacks. But it doesn't preclude dispersed terrorists from acting."

The latest FBI warning was prompted in part, officials said, by the Bin Laden audiotape that surfaced this week, in which he praises recent strikes in Indonesia and Yemen and calls for stepped-up attacks against the United States and its allies.

Gordon Johndroe, a spokesman for the U.S. Office of Homeland Security, said state and local authorities have been put on heightened alert.

"In selecting its next targets, sources suggest Al Qaeda may favor spectacular attacks," the bulletin said, citing targets that offer "high symbolic value, mass casualties, severe damage to the U.S. economy, and maximum psychological trauma."

It mentioned the "aviation, petroleum, and nuclear sectors" in particular, but allowed that "softer targets would be easier for sleeper cells already in the U.S. to carry out."

Comment:  We "disrupted" Al Qaeda in Afghanistan? The dangers have "shifted"? Is that the most anyone can say?

Al Qaeda disrupted the USA much worse on 9/11. We're spending billions on protecting airports, almost nothing on safeguarding other targets. We're reducing our nation's civil rights, not increasing the world's human rights. We're doing everything to destroy Saddam Hussein, almost nothing to snare Osama Bin Laden.

In terms of disruption and shifting dangers, one could argue the terrorists are winning the war, not losing it.

More evidence that Bush-war has failed
From the LA Times, 12/18/02:

U.N. Says Al Qaeda Is Active in 40 Countries

Terrorist network has opened new training camps in Afghanistan, according to a report.

From Times Wire Services

UNITED NATIONS — Al Qaeda continues to command an extensive network of well-financed terrorist operatives in 40 countries and has opened new training camps in eastern Afghanistan near the Pakistani border to prepare a new generation of Islamic extremists for attacks on the West, a U.N. report released Tuesday says.

"Let's face it, the sympathy for this organization is actually quite widespread in many countries," Michael Chandler, the report's chief author, said.

The report cites the recent bombings aimed at tourists in Bali, Indonesia, and Mombasa, Kenya, as evidence of Al Qaeda's wide reach and the existence of a coalition of extremist groups in Southeast Asia and East Africa. Those attacks also demonstrated a shift in the group's tactics, the report says.

"Soft targets, preferably with maximum casualties, would now appear to be the order of the day," it says.

The 40-page report surveys the status of the international war on terrorism. Though it credits the United States and other governments with making important strides in breaking up Al Qaeda cells and freezing the group's financial assets, it says those governments have been unable to prevent the organization and other extremist groups from raising enough funds — through religious charities and informal money-changing operations known as hawalas — to "support major operations."

From the LA Times, 10/18/02:

"The threat environment we find ourselves in today is as bad as it was last summer, the summer before 9/11," Tenet told lawmakers. Recent attacks in Yemen, Kuwait and Indonesia show that Al Qaeda has "reconstituted, they are coming after us, they want to execute attacks."

From the NY Times, 11/8/04:

Evolving Nature of Al Qaeda Is Misunderstood, Critic Says

WASHINGTON, Nov. 7 -- The Bush administration has failed to recognize that Al Qaeda is now a global Islamic insurgency, rather than a traditional terrorist organization, and so poses a much different threat than previously believed, says a senior counterterrorism official at the Central Intelligence Agency.

Michael Scheuer, the former chief of the C.I.A.'s Osama bin Laden unit and the author of a best-selling book critical of the administration's handling of the fight against terrorism, said in an interview with The New York Times this weekend that the government "doesn't respect the threat" because most officials still regard Al Qaeda as a terrorist organization that can be defeated by arresting or killing its operatives one at a time.

He noted that President Bush and other officials had repeatedly said two-thirds of the leadership of Al Qaeda has been killed or captured, but he said the figure was misleading because it is referring to the leaders who were in place as of Sept. 11, 2001.

Al Qaeda has replaced many of those dead or captured operatives and continues to thrive as a guiding force for Islamic extremists around the world.

"I think Al Qaeda has suffered substantially since 9/11, and it may have slowed down its operations, but to take the two-thirds number as a yardstick is a fantasy," Mr. Scheuer said. "To say that they have only one-third of their leadership left is a misunderstanding. That is looking at it from a law enforcement perspective. They pay a lot of attention to leadership succession, and so one of the main tenets of Al Qaeda is to train people to succeed leaders who are captured or killed."

Pentagon admits US is failing
From the Sunday Herald, 12/5/04:

US admits the war for ‘hearts and minds' in Iraq is now lost

Pentagon report reveals catalogue of failure
By Neil Mackay, Investigations Editor

THE Pentagon has admitted that the war on terror and the invasion and occupation of Iraq have increased support for al-Qaeda, made ordinary Muslims hate the US and caused a global backlash against America because of the "self-serving hypocrisy" of George W Bush's administration over the Middle East.

The mea culpa is contained in a shockingly frank "strategic communications" report, written this autumn by the Defence Science Board for Pentagon supremo Donald Rumsfeld.

On "the war of ideas or the struggle for hearts and minds", the report says, "American efforts have not only failed, they may also have achieved the opposite of what they intended".

"American direct intervention in the Muslim world has paradoxically elevated the stature of, and support for, radical Islamists, while diminishing support for the United States to single digits in some Arab societies."

Referring to the repeated mantra from the White House that those who oppose the US in the Middle East "hate our freedoms", the report says: "Muslims do not ‘hate our freedoms', but rather, they hate our policies. The overwhelming majority voice their objections to what they see as one-sided support in favour of Israel and against Palestinian rights, and the long-standing, even increasing support, for what Muslims collectively see as tyrannies, most notably Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Pakistan and the Gulf states.

"Thus when American public diplomacy talks about bringing democracy to Islamic societies, this is seen as no more than self-serving hypocrisy. Moreover, saying that ‘freedom is the future of the Middle East' is seen as patronising … in the eyes of Muslims, the American occupation of Afghanistan and Iraq has not led to democracy there, but only more chaos and suffering. US actions appear in contrast to be motivated by ulterior motives, and deliberately controlled in order to best serve American national interests at the expense of truly Muslim self-determination."

The way America has handled itself since September 11 has played straight into the hands of al-Qaeda, the report adds. "American actions have elevated the authority of the jihadi insurgents and tended to ratify their legitimacy among Muslims." The result is that al-Qaeda has gone from being a marginal movement to having support across the entire Muslim world.

"Muslims see Americans as strangely narcissistic," the report goes on, adding that to the Arab world the war is "no more than an extension of American domestic politics". The US has zero credibility among Muslims which means that "whatever Americans do and say only serves … the enemy".

The report says that the US is now engaged in a "global and generational struggle of ideas" which it is rapidly losing. In order to reverse the trend, the US must make "strategic communication" – which includes the dissemination of propaganda and the running of military psychological operations – an integral part of national security. The document says that "Presidential leadership" is needed in this "ideas war" and warns against "arrogance, opportunism and double standards".

"We face a war on terrorism," the report says, "intensified conflict with Islam, and insurgency in Iraq. Worldwide anger and discontent are directed at America's tarnished credibility and ways the US pursues its goals. There is a consensus that America's power to persuade is in a state of crisis." More than 90% of the populations of some Muslims countries, such as Saudi Arabia, are opposed to US policies.

"The war has increased mistrust of America in Europe," the report adds, "weakened support for the war on terrorism and undermined US credibility worldwide." This, in turn, poses an increased threat to US national security.

America's "image problem", the report authors suggest, is "linked to perceptions of the US as arrogant, hypocritical and self-indulgent". The White House "has paid little attention" to the problems.

The report calls for a huge boost in spending on propaganda efforts as war policies "will not succeed unless they are communicated to global domestic audiences in ways that are credible".

American rhetoric which equates the war on terror as a cold-war-style battle against "totalitarian evil" is also slapped down by the report. Muslims see what is happening as a "history-shaking movement of Islamic restoration … a renewal of the Muslim world …(which) has taken form through many variant movements, both moderate and militant, with many millions of adherents – of which radical fighters are only a small part".

Rather than supporting tyranny, most Muslim want to overthrow tyrannical regimes like Saudi Arabia. "The US finds itself in the strategically awkward – and potentially dangerous – situation of being the long-standing prop and alliance partner of these authoritarian regimes. Without the US, these regimes could not survive," the report says.

"Thus the US has strongly taken sides in a desperate struggle … US policies and actions are increasingly seen by the overwhelming majority of Muslims as a threat to the survival of Islam itself … Americans have inserted themselves into this intra-Islamic struggle in ways that have made us an enemy to most Muslims.

"There is no yearning-to-be-liberated-by-the-US groundswell among Muslim societies … The perception of intimate US support of tyrannies in the Muslim world is perhaps the critical vulnerability in American strategy. It strongly undercuts our message, while strongly promoting that of the enemy."

The report says that, in terms of the "information war", "at this moment it is the enemy that has the advantage". The US propaganda drive has to focus on "separating the vast majority of non-violent Muslims from the radical- militant Islamist-Jihadist".

According to the report, "the official take on the target audience [the Muslim world] has been gloriously simple" and divided the Middle East into "good" and "bad Muslims".

"Americans are convinced that the US is a benevolent ‘superpower' that elevates values emphasising freedom … deep down we assume that everyone should naturally support our policies. Yet the world of Islam – by overwhelming majorities at this time – sees things differently. Muslims see American policies as inimical to their values, American rhetoric about freedom and democracy as hypocritical and American actions as deeply threatening.

"In two years the jihadi message – that strongly attacks American values – is being accepted by more moderate and non-violent Muslims. This in turn implies that negative opinion of the US has not yet bottomed out

Equally important, the report says, is "to renew European attitudes towards America" which have also been severely damaged since September 11, 2001. As "al-Qaeda constantly outflanks the US in the war of information", American has to adopt more sophisticated propaganda techniques, such as targeting secularists in the Muslim world – including writers, artists and singers – and getting US private sector media and marketing professionals involved in disseminating messages to Muslims with a pro-US "brand".

The Pentagon report also calls for the establishment of a national security adviser for strategic communications, and a massive boost in funding for the "information war" to boost US government TV and radio stations broadcasting in the Middle East.

The importance of the need to quickly establish a propaganda advantage is underscored by a document attached to the Pentagon report from Paul Wolfowitz, the deputy defence secretary, dated May.

It says: "Our military expeditions to Afghanistan and Iraq are unlikely to be the last such excursion in the global war on terrorism."

My two cents' worth
In response to an article, I wrote the following letter to the LA Times, 2/10/03:

Peaceniks were right; war has failed

The Times reported that Al Qaeda is "perhaps stronger than ever," according to a top-ranking intelligence official. When will someone say the emperor has no clothes? The peaceniks were right. The war in Afghanistan has failed. It toppled the Taliban regime, which wasn't our goal, but didn't topple Al Qaeda, which was. After spending billions and killing thousands, we're no safer from terrorism than we were before.

Who's responsble for further deaths?
I wrote the following letter to the LA Times, 11/20/02:

Let's review the facts:

1) The Taliban supposedly had Osama bin Laden under their control after 9/11.

2) President Bush refused to negotiate with the Taliban for Bin Laden's surrender and Bin Laden went free.

3) Bin Laden is now threatening and planning to kill more Americans.

Hmm. The logical conclusion is that Bush will be partly to blame for any more American deaths attributed to Osama bin Laden. Bush could've prevented such deaths but didn't.

More evidence of war's failure
"[T]he government's top terrorism center concluded that there were more terrorist attacks in 2004 than in any year since 1985...." (4/15/05)
"Al Qaeda and its allies are winning because we remain mired in old ways of thinking about fighting an enemy" (7/18/04)
"[T]he U.S. battlefield victory in Afghanistan did not destroy Al Qaeda and the Taliban but drove them underground" (1/1/04)
"War in Iraq has swollen the ranks of al-Qaida and 'galvanised its will' by increasing radical passions among Muslims" (10/20/03)

Related links
What the world needs now
Diplomacy works, violence doesn't
Dubya-speak:  justice means killing people

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