Is there a War on Terror?

Posted By Elgin Hushbeck

The following will begin a series of posts on the Iraq war.  I find writing is one of the best ways to organize my thoughts and the criticism of others the best way to discover and remove errors, so here goes. 

Following a direct attack on the US, the initial response by the United states was to respond against the country most directly involved, and few questioned this action. Nearly a year later, the US opened what it claimed was another front in the larger war by invading an Arab country, even though there was no evidence directly linking the Arab country to the initial attack against the US. Questions were raised about whether there were enough troops, and whether the troops were properly equipped. Following the attacks, problems soon developed. Things did not go as planned and hopes that opposing forces would not resist proved unfounded… The Iraq war? No, the Arab country attacked was Algeria. The initial attack on the United States was not 9/11, but Pearl Harbor. The initial military action was against Japan, not Afghanistan. Yet given the parallels why is there such a different reaction to Operation Iraqi Freedom, then there was to Operation Torch?

By virtually any measure the key issue in the world today is the war in Iraq. It is not only splitting the country, it is dividing the world. The first step in trying to resolve any issue is to understand the various sides. On one side of the divide over Iraq, are those that see terrorists attacks like 9/11, the Bali bombing, the bombing of the trains in Spain, and the bombing subways in London, etc, etc, etc, as similar to the attack on Pearl Harbor, as acts of war, in this case perpetrated by militant Islam as part of a global effort to impose their extremist view of religion on the world. In short they are part of a global effort that must be combated . On the other hand, are those who see such actions as, however horrible, as not acts of war, but as fundamentally criminal actions where those guilty must be apprehend and punished. Iraq for these people is at best a distraction and at worst a crime.

At the heart of the issue is a difference in goals. Whereas a defensive war seeks to remove a threat, law enforcement seeks to punish past actions. This difference is very visible in the rhetoric used by both sides. While one side speaks frequently of the “War on Terror” and the global threat of militant Islam, the other side complains that there is no evidence linking Saddam to 9/11. While one side is focused on getting intelligence about the current operations of militant Islam, the other focused on whether those we capture have access to the legal system. While one side is focused on preventing future attacks, the other side is focused on funding first responders to handle the next attack.

Thus when considering the war in Iraq, the first question that must be settled is: Are we at war? How you answer this question will largely shape everything else. If you see terrorist attacks such as 9/11 as primarily a criminal action, where those responsible must be brought to justice, then there is very little reason to have gone into Iraq. On the other hand, if you see terrorist attacks such as 9/11 as part of a larger war, then the war in Iraq may be justified even if Iraq may not have been involved in 9/11. Algeria had no involvement in the attack on Pearl Harbor, in fact even though they were allies, there was virtually no “operational ties” between Germany and Japan. (In fact some historians have argues that if Germany and Japan had coordinated their actions the war might have gone differently) So if direct responsibility was a key issue there would have been no reason to have Patton invade Algeria.

In any war, as Sun Tzu pointed out one of the most important things in war is to know your enemy. Our enemy extends far beyond Al Qaida. The enemy is militant Islam that has declared a jihad against Western civilization as a whole and the United States and Israel in particular. Now since there is such confusion these days it is probably necessary to point out that term “militant Islam” is not a reference to all Islam (thus the modifier ‘militant’). Militant Islam is that portion of Islam that seeks to use force to impose it belief on the rest of the world. Not only is this not all of Islam, militant Islam is also a threat to the rest of Islam that does not agree with them. What percentage of Islam falls into the category of militant is unclear and I have hear estimates has high as 50%. Some scholars put the number between 100-150 million. But given the number of Muslims in the world even a small percentage would mean tens of millions of supporters. More importantly, as history has shown, passion and commitment are often far more important than numbers when it comes to political movements, especially when combined with a willingness to use force, as militant Islam clearly is.

So are we at war? One way to answer this question is to ask ‘Can there only be one side in a war?’ It is clear that the Islamic Extremist believe they are at war with us, and have repeatedly said so. In I996 , bin Laden declared a war against US forces. At a news conference in May 1998, bin Laden said “we have formed with many other Islamic groups and organization in the Islamic world a front called the International Islamic Front to do jihad against the crusaders and Jews” and claimed that they will have “a successful result in killing Americans and getting rid of them.” They are at war with us, and they seek to, in bin Laden’s words get rid of us. So the only real question is whether or not the Islamic extremists represent a serious threat, or are they some annoyance.

A century ago, perhaps the latter view could be entrained with some seriousness, but in an age where the risks of biological, chemical and nuclear weapons falling into the hands of those who would not hesitate to use them is very real, ignoring such threats can be extremely costly. Before 911, Islamic terrorism was viewed as a manageable problem. Sure attacks would come from time to time, people would die, but not too many to take as a serious problem. The main response was to tighten airport security, or launch a few cruise missiles. Even thought the attacks were becoming larger and more frequent, sometimes, such as after the bombing of the USS Cole, we did nothing at all. Then came 9/11. We were told at the time that 9/11 changed everything. But as the memory of 9/11 fades with no further attacks in the US and with the war bogged down in Iraq, people are falling back into the old complacency. Was a war in terror really necessary? Is it really worth it? Are we really at war? Unfortunately it may take another even larger attack before we realize the answer to these questions is yes.

May 14th, 2007

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