From Gaza to Kandahar, the new Obama administration is confronted with two kinds of Islamist movements: the ones with a global agenda (al-Qaida and its local subsidiaries) and the others with a territorial and national agenda (Taliban, Hamas, most of its Iraqi opponents). There is nothing to negotiate with the global jihadists, but the Islamo-nationalist movements simply cannot be ignored or suppressed.
Hamas is nothing else than the traditional Palestinian nationalism with an Islamic garb. The Taliban express more a Pashtu identity than a global movement. The Iraqi factions are competing not over Iran or Saudi Arabia, but over sharing (or monopolizing) the power in Iraq.
The “war on terror” during the Bush years has blurred this essential distinction by merging all the armed opponents to U.S.-supported governments under the label of terrorism. The concept of a “war on terror” has thwarted any political approach to the conflicts in favor of an elusive military victory. [continued…]
Seven years on from 9/11 it is clear that we need to take a fundamental look at our efforts to prevent extremism and its terrible offspring, terrorist violence. Since 9/11, the notion of a “war on terror” has defined the terrain. The phrase had some merit: it captured the gravity of the threats, the need for solidarity, and the need to respond urgently – where necessary, with force. But ultimately, the notion is misleading and mistaken. The issue is not whether we need to attack the use of terror at its roots, with all the tools available. We must. The question is how.
The idea of a “war on terror” gave the impression of a unified, transnational enemy, embodied in the figure of Osama bin Laden and al-Qaida. The reality is that the motivations and identities of terrorist groups are disparate. Lashkar-e-Taiba has roots in Pakistan and says its cause is Kashmir. Hezbollah says it stands for resistance to occupation of the Golan Heights. The Shia and Sunni insurgent groups in Iraq have myriad demands. They are as diverse as the 1970s European movements of the IRA, Baader-Meinhof, and Eta. All used terrorism and sometimes they supported each other, but their causes were not unified and their cooperation was opportunistic. So it is today.
The more we lump terrorist groups together and draw the battle lines as a simple binary struggle between moderates and extremists, or good and evil, the more we play into the hands of those seeking to unify groups with little in common. Terrorist groups need to be tackled at root, interdicting flows of weapons and finance, exposing the shallowness of their claims, channelling their followers into democratic politics. [continued…]
Editor’s Comment — Baby steps in the right direction are to be welcomed but David Miliband’s recognition that the concept of a “war on terror” has been counterproductive only goes so far. What he advocates is replacing the Bush paradigm with the Thatcher paradigm: “The best response is to refuse to be cowed.” Up to a point…
The problem is that this philosophy — we will not let the terrorists disrupt our lives — does nothing to address the grievances that are being channelled into violence.
Resistance movements don’t come out of nowhere. If you want to dismantle a resistance movement, cutting off the flow of weapons doesn’t go to the root. You have to take away the foundation of the movement by showing that there are effective non-violent means through which its aims can be achieved.
Many Israelis will counter that there is no political approach to an organization like Hamas if its sole aim is the destruction of Israel.
Hamas’s actions, however, paint a different story than the rhetoric with which it gets stereotyped.
Qassam rockets and calls for the destruction of “the Zionist entity” do not pose an existential threat to Israel. Hamas’s willingness to hold the reigns of government, on the other hand, places it in a much more vulnerable position than it would be in as a purely militant organization. In other words, by pursuing practical political goals Hamas has taken a bigger risk than it would have had it chosen to remain outside the political domain. (Well before it entered the democratic arena, it had demonstrated its ability to survive a campaign of Israeli “targeted assassinations” and “surgical strikes.”)
Suppose the attempted US-backed coup through which Mohammed Dahlan’s security force tried to oust Hamas in June 2007 had succeeded. And suppose Fatah and the Palestinian Authority had effectively swept Hamas off the political stage. Would this have destroyed Hamas? Of course not. The Islamist group would simply have re-focused its efforts on militant operations while Israel’s “peace partner” would be wringing its hands saying it was doing all it could to limit attacks on Israel. Gaza would have been spared the current onslaught but rockets would still be fired on Israel — as they were before Hamas won the elections.
The irony is that if Israel ever decides it really wants to negotiate peace, the group that can really deliver is the group most Israelis want to see destroyed.
But this isn’t news to Israel’s current leaders. Despite all their claims that they refuse to negotiate with Hamas that is what they are currently doing — again through Egyptian mediation. The difference now from the negotiations last summer is that Hamas will not be satisfied with a verbal understanding on which Israel can renege. This time the deal — if there is one — needs to be codified in a written agreement.
The fighting in Gaza is “war deluxe.” Compared with previous wars, it is child’s play – pilots bombing unimpeded as if on practice runs, tank and artillery soldiers shelling houses and civilians from their armored vehicles, combat engineering troops destroying entire streets in their ominous protected vehicles without facing serious opposition. A large, broad army is fighting against a helpless population and a weak, ragged organization that has fled the conflict zones and is barely putting up a fight. All this must be said openly, before we begin exulting in our heroism and victory.
This war is also child’s play because of its victims. About a third of those killed in Gaza have been children – 311, according to the Palestinian Health Ministry, 270 according to the B’Tselem human rights group – out of the 1,000 total killed as of Wednesday. Around 1,550 of the 4,500 wounded have also been children according to figures from the UN, which says the number of children killed has tripled since the ground operation began.
This is too large a proportion by any humanitarian or ethical standard.
It is enough to look at the pictures coming from Shifa Hospital to see how many burned, bleeding and dying children now lie there. History has seen innumerable brutal wars take countless lives.
But the horrifying proportion of this war, a third of the dead being children, has not been seen in recent memory. [continued…]
Israel hoped that the war in Gaza would not only cripple Hamas, but eventually strengthen its secular rival, the Palestinian Authority, and even allow it to claw its way back into Gaza.
But with each day, the authority, its leader, Mahmoud Abbas, and its leading party, Fatah, seem increasingly beleaguered and marginalized, even in the Palestinian cities of the West Bank, which they control. Protesters accuse Mr. Abbas of not doing enough to stop the carnage in Gaza — indeed, his own police officers have used clubs and tear gas against those same protesters.
The more bombs in Gaza, the more Hamas’s support seems to be growing at the expense of the Palestinian Authority, already considered corrupt and distant from average Palestinians.
“The Palestinian Authority is one of the main losers in this war,” said Ghassan Khatib, an independent Palestinian analyst in the West Bank city of Ramallah. “How can it make gains in a war in which it is one of the casualties?”
Israel is proposing, with the tacit agreement of Egypt and the United States, to place the Palestinian Authority at the heart of an ambitious program to rebuild Gaza, administering reconstruction aid and securing Gaza’s borders. But that plan is already drawing skepticism. Mr. Khatib, for example, called the idea of any Palestinian Authority role in postwar Gaza “silly” and “naïve.” [continued…]
Editor’s Comment — Since George Bush has been the preeminent proponent of this piece of strategic folly, it seems fitting that he should be remembered in what I now dub The Bush Law.
How does it work?
Find an opponent you want to weaken and then set about making him stronger. Find an ally you want to strengthen and then set about making him weaker.
It can also be described as: What George Bush could have learned from George Costanza — but never did.