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Sent: Sunday, July 10, 2005 7:55 PM
Subject: From the Guardian: Taking Arab Grievances Seriously; David Clark

This terror will continue until we take Arab grievances seriously

Our focus must now be on the conditions that allow Bin Ladenists to recruit
and operate

David Clark
Saturday July 9, 2005
The Guardian

It must now be obvious, even to those who would like us to think otherwise,
that the war on terror is failing. This is not to say that the terrorists
are winning. Their prospects of constructing the medieval pan-Islamic
caliphate of their fantasies are as negligible today as they were four
years ago when they attacked America. It is simply to point out that their
ability to bring violence and destruction to our streets is as strong as
ever and shows no sign of diminishing. We may capture the perpetrators of
Thursday's bombings, but others will follow to take their place. Moreover,
the actions of our leaders have made this more likely, not less. It's time
for a rethink.


The very idea of a war on terror was profoundly misconceived from the
start. Rooted in traditional strategic thought, with its need for fixed
targets and an identifiable enemy, the post-9/11 response focused
myopically on the problem of how and where to apply military power. Once
the obvious and necessary task of tackling Bin Laden's presence in
Afghanistan had been completed, those charged with prosecuting the war
needed a new target to aim at.


In his book Against All Enemies, the former White House counterterrorism
chief Richard Clarke chronicles the inability of senior administration
officials to grasp the nature of the threat directed against them. Even
before 9/11 they were fixated with the notion that behind a successful
terrorist network like al-Qaida must be state sponsorship; destroy the
state, destroy the threat, ran the theory. In this environment it was easy
for the neoconservatives to win approval for their prefabricated plan to
attack Iraq.


But al-Qaida has never depended on state sponsorship, except in the wholly
unintended sense that the US-funded campaign against the Soviet occupation
of Afghanistan brought its members together and gave them their first taste
of jihad. Indeed it is a mistake even to regard al-Qaida as an organisation
in the traditional sense of the term. At most it is now little more than an
idea, fusing ideology with operational method, both of which can be
accessed freely via the internet. It is quite meaningless to talk about
destroying the "terrorist infrastructure", unless we propose to carpet bomb
Microsoft. We have entered the era of do-it-yourself terrorism.


Bin Laden must be brought to justice, but he has become a strategic
irrelevance in the struggle against terrorism. Wherever he is - on the run
in the badlands of Waziristan or holed up in someone's cellar - he is not
directing operations. He doesn't need to. He has provided the inspiration
and example for a new generation of terrorists who have never been to his
training camps in Afghanistan and whose only connection to al-Qaida is a
shared desire to lash out at the west.


It should be clear by now that we cannot defeat this threat with
conventional force alone, however necessary that may be in specific
circumstances. Even good policing, as we have found to our cost, will have
only limited effect in reducing its capacity to harm. The opposite response
- negotiation - is equally futile. How can you negotiate with a phenomenon
that is so elusive and diffuse? And even if you could, what prospect would
there be of reaching a reasonable settlement? The term "Islamofascism" may
be a crude political device, but those who coined it are right to see in
Bin Ladenism a classic totalitarian doctrine that accepts no limits in
method or aim. What they want, we cannot give.


An effective strategy can be developed, but it means turning our attention
away from the terrorists and on to the conditions that allow them to
recruit and operate. No sustained insurgency can exist in a vacuum. At a
minimum, it requires communities where the environment is permissive enough
for insurgents to blend in and organise without fear of betrayal. This does
not mean that most members of those communities approve of what they are
doing. It is enough that there should be a degree of alienation sufficient
to create a presumption against cooperating with the authorities. We saw
this in Northern Ireland.


From this point of view, it must be said that everything that has followed
the fall of Kabul has been ruinous to the task of winning over moderate
Muslim opinion and isolating the terrorists within their own communities.
In Iraq we allowed America to rip up the rule book of counter-insurgency
with a military adventure that was dishonestly conceived and incompetently
executed. Tens of thousands of innocent Iraqis have been killed by US
troops uninterested in distinguishing between combatant and noncombatant,
or even counting the dead. The hostility engendered has been so extreme
that the CIA has been forced to conclude that Iraq may become a worse
breeding ground for international terrorism that Afghanistan was. Bin Laden
can hardly believe his luck.


The political dimensions of this problem mean that there can be no hope of
defeating terrorism until we are ready to take legitimate Arab grievances
seriously. We must start by acknowledging that their long history of
engagement with the west is one that has left many Arabs feeling humiliated
and used. There is more to this than finding a way of bringing the
occupation of Iraq to an end. We cannot seriously claim to care for the
rights of Arabs living in Iraq when it is obvious that we care so little
for Arabs living in Palestine. The Palestinians need a viable state, but
all the indications suggest that the Bush administration is preparing to
bounce the Palestinians into accepting a truncated entity that will lack
the basic characteristics of either viability or statehood. That must not
be allowed to succeed.


At its inception post-9/11, the war on terror was shaped by the fact that
it was American blood that had been shed. This gave President Bush the
moral authority to tell the world "you're either with us or against us".
Having stood with America, and paid a terrible price for doing so, it is
now time to turn that demand back on Bush. We have a vital national
interest in defeating terrorism and we must have a greater say in how that
is done. The current approach is failing and it's time for a change. If
Tony Blair cannot bring himself to say this, he owes it to his country to
make way for someone who can.


David Clark is a former Labour government adviser


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