‘Terror’ Is the Enemy
By PHILIP BOBBITT, New York Times, December 14, 2008
GENERALS are not the only ones who prepare to fight the previous war. Our experience with 20th-century nation-based terrorists — the I.R.A. in Ireland, the P.K.K. in the Kurdish areas of Turkey, ETA in Spain’s Basque country, the F.L.N. in Algeria and others — still dominates much of our thinking about how to deal with 21st-century global terrorists. Indeed, the lack of new concepts may well be as deadly to our national security as any lack of vaccines.
New approaches to dealing with global terrorism must first be integrated into our foreign security policies generally. Allies in Europe must be reassured that the United States will not violate the human rights accords to which we are a party. We must also devise a policy that aligns the interests of Afghanistan, India and Pakistan while isolating the terrorists that threaten them all. We must seek common ground with many states around the world against our universal threats — global terrorists and pirates, the proliferation of nuclear and biological weapons and civilian catastrophes — even if, in other contexts, these nations are our adversaries.
The “war on terror” is not a nonsensical public relations slogan, however unwelcome this conclusion may be to Pentagon planners or civil-liberties advocates. The notion of such a war puzzles us — after all, who would sign the peace treaty? — because we are so trapped in 20th-century expectations about warfare. But success in war does not always mean the capitulation of an enemy government (as we have seen in Iraq); rather, it varies with the war aim.
In a war against terror, the aim is not the conquest of territory or the advancement of ideology, but the protection of civilians. We are fighting a war on terror, not just terrorists. That is evident from the list of targets in the attacks in Mumbai, India, in which national liberation terrorists from Kashmir were apparently the outsourced operational arm of a global network with far more ambitious, and more anti-Western, objectives. The Mumbai terrorists did not even bother to issue demands; what they sought was terror itself.
Mexico is potentially our Pakistan — a failing state on our border that can provide haven for our adversaries, at least some of whom will be privatized terrorists. Imagine a poorer, less-democratic Mexico; then imagine it harboring extortionists with a small arsenal of deliverable nuclear or biological weapons. This may be a long-term threat, but it requires immediate assistance and cooperation.
But Pakistan is our Pakistan, too, and not just India’s or Afghanistan’s problem. “Homeland security” is a dangerous solecism when we are fighting a global adversary that moves easily across borders. If terror is our adversary, then our own health system, for example, is only as secure as the most vulnerable health system overseas that might spawn an epidemic that could quickly reach our shores.
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