The Transatlantic Disagreement on Terrorism
Paris, June 3, 2008 – The difference in transatlantic policy on terrorism is that "the United States sees the fight against terrorism as a global war, [and the] European nations perceive the terrorist threat as a law enforcement problem." That is how CIA Director Michael Hayden accurately describes it, as President George Bush prepares another trip to Europe. Hayden adds that this is a "transatlantic divide" that will widen.
Actually, those European states that have joined the NATO operation in Afghanistan have already accepted the American argument that "terrorism" there, meaning the return of the Taliban, has a tangible connection with their own "homeland security" -- to employ the vaguely totalitarian expression, redolent of the fear and panic in that city, that was adopted in Washington after the 9/11 attacks.
For a number of reasons in American political culture, and amidst the drama of the first attacks, the attack was interpreted by the president, his staff, his writers, and his foreign policy advisors according to the historical models of the cold war and the second world war. This attack was treated as part of a global assault by terrorists bent on destroying the free world because they hated freedom and the American way of life.
The equivalent of national mobilization was ordered, the government reorganized to conduct "homeland defense," and citizens were instructed in how to prepare for the chemical, biological, and nuclear attacks the enemy was said to be preparing. Neither America nor the world has been the same since. They will not be until the U.S. government can be disabused of the notion that it is fighting a third world war.
In September 2001 Osama bin Ladin was recognized as a threat to American bases in Saudi Arabia, and was monitored by intelligence agencies. He was himself a millionaire, and had a few thousand followers committed to jihad against an America considered an enemy of the fundamentalist version of Islam in which he believed. Objectively speaking, he was a danger to American interests, but scarcely a "global" threat. He was far less of a menace to the United States or Europe than organized international crime.
However the globalized Washington language and conceptions came into international use, with little effort made to analyze what they really meant and implied. How does a "war against 'global terrorism'" seriously differ from a "war against global crime"? Neither can be won. Would Hayden say that there will be a widening gap between the U.S. and Europe so long as the latter sees crime as a law enforcement problem?
Terrorism is a crime, but crimes are not terrorism. There is a difference that every sensible person sees. A crime is specific; criminality, like terrorism, is general. The distinction is not semantic but substantial. Governments all know how to enforce criminal law.
They understand perfectly what crime is, when it occurs, and what to do about it. There cannot be perfect success in fighting crime, but this is not due to a failure to understand the problem. There is no master-criminal to capture, whose seizure will put an end to crime.
There is no way to fight crime "globally." You can only deal with crime in a realistic way, case by case. Experience has demonstrated that the systematic arrest and prosecution of criminals produces a measurable level of deterrence of crime. But crime is part of living in society.
George W. Bush, Michael Hayden and other American officials do seem to understand that their global war against terrorism would not be won even if they killed or captured their most visible enemies, Osama bin Laden, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, and the leaders of Hamas and Hizbollah. New terrorists emerge daily from extremist mosques in Moslem nations (not to speak of immigrant European neighborhoods), and from fanatical madrasa in rogue states, or failed or failing nations.
However American leaders do seem convinced that the global war on terror can be won when the rogue nations are no longer rogues, and the Islamic world has been cleansed of extremist teaching, taught democracy, and has new leaders, formed in the West, who will bring their nations into democratic and progressive alliance with the United States. What they seem incapable of recognizing is that this is actually to say that it will never be won.
In that case the forecast by John McCain that American troops will still be in Iraq a decade from now vastly underestimates where the nation's existing policies are leading, and what the Pentagon is preparing for.
It is possible that a newly-elected president might come to understand the need to disengage from this policy, which is fundamentally a permanent war policy, but it would be very hard for him to alter the course on which the nation is now set. In one or another way, the ambition to install democracy globally still enjoys the firm support of a very large and bipartisan segment of America's governing elites. I am not sure that European leaders understand this, nor even that most Americans do.
© Copyright 2008 by Tribune Media Services International. All Rights Reserved.
This article comes from William PFAFF
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