Global Trends by Martin Khor

Monday 13 September 2004

Tragic lessons 3 years after Sept 11

Last Saturday marked the third anniversary of the September 11 attacks in the United States.   Three years later, the world is an even more dangerous place.

More people are now calling for a review of the US policy in Iraq, as well as its doctrine of pre-emptive military strike.  Already Russia has announced it too may use pre-emptive strikes.  Where will it all end?

Last Saturday marked the third anniversary of the September 11 attack on the New York twin towers and the Pentagon headquaters in Washington. That day in 2001 was the most traumatic and tragic watershed event, a mark of and on the new millennium that few, if any, could have predicted.

Three years later, the world is an even more troubled place.   The horror of what happened in a school in the Russian town of Beslan, where up to 500 died, was still fresh in people’s minds, when a bomb went off in Jakarta, killing nine and injuring 180.

The Jakarta bombing seems to be particularly senseless.  Obviously it was targeted at the Australian embassy. But all the nine people who died were Indonesians, as must have been most of the wounded.  They just happened to be in the vicinity.  

Last week also saw the 1000th American soldier killed in Iraq since the United States-led invasion.  A less-publicised and more tragic reality is that at least 10,000 Iraqi civilians, and possibly three times that number, have also died, and many more are dying daily.

For four days running, US jets bombed Fallujah and Tal Afar.  By the weekend, at least ten Iraqis were killed in Fallujah and dozens more in Tal Afar. 

The US actions aroused angry responses.  Abdel-Aziz al-Hakim, leader of the biggest Shite political party, said the Americans were causing “catastrophes” and the Turkish government called on the US to stop the operations and avoid using excessive force in Tai Afar, whose casualties were mostly ethnic Turks living there.

More commentators in mainstream newspapers in the US and UK are now talking about the “quagmire” in Iraq and calling for a quick pull-out.   .

“Fewer and fewer Americans believe the war in Iraq is worth the human treasure the US is losing and the staggering amounts of money it is costing,” wrote Bob Herbert in the International Herald Tribune.  “But no one can find a way out of this tragic mess, which is why that dreaded word from the Vietnam era - quagmire - has been resurrected.

“To what end?  You can wave goodbye to the naïve idea that democracy would take root in Iraq and then spread throughout the Middle East.  That was never going to happen.  So what is America there for, other than to establoish a permanent military stronghold iun the region and control the flow of Iraqi oil?

“If (President Bush) has an idea of hauling the country out of thie quagmire, he hasn’t bothered to reveal it.  The troops who are fighting and dying deserve better.”

The Financial Times of London was even sharper in its editorial comment, entitled “Time to consider Iraq withdrawal:  US forces are part of the problem rather than the solution.”

It says that after the invasion that promised them freedom, Iraqis have seen their security evaporate, their state smashed and their country fragment into a lawless archipelago, while the transitional political process has been undermined as the US handpicked interim Iraqi governors was no standing among their people.

“The aftermath of a war won so quickly has been so utterly bungled, moreover, that the US is down to the last vestiges of its always exiguous allied support.  The occupation has lost control of big swathes of the country.”

The time has come to consider whether a structured withdrawl of US and allied troops, in tandem with a workable handover of security to Iraqi forces and a legitimate and inclusive political process, can chart path out of the current chaos, stated the Financial Times, adding that the US will have to do something like this, whether Bush or Kerry wins the elections.

“Chaos is a great risk, and occupiers through the ages have pointed to that risk as their reason for staying put.  But chaos is already here, and the power that is in large part responsible for it must start preparing now to step aside and let the Iraqis try to emerge from it.”

You can hardly get stronger and more direct words than these from a very conservative paper in Britain, which is Bush’s strongest ally.  The editorial may be signaling the awareness of the establishment, at least in the United Kingdom, that going to war in Iraq (or at least the way the occupation was run after the war) was a great mistake, and it is time to for the US, the UK and their few remaining allies to quit Iraq altogether.

Three years after 9-11, the US administration has squandered away the sympathy and goodwill given to it by the rest of the world in its moments of grief and shock.  History will probably conclude that President Bush made the following major mistakes.

Firstly, he formulated the concept of the right of the US state to pre-emptively strike militarily at other countries which it believes is or can be a threat to its security.

When they US bombed and took over Afghanistan to oust the Taliban regime for supporting Al Queda, it was the first time the new doctrine was applied.  However, that action had the sanction of the United Nations Security Council;  the US was still playing according to the international rules of the game.

But then it went to war in Iraq, without UN sanction.   That meant it had applied the “pre-emptive strike” principle without international permission, creating a dangerous precedent.

Moreover, there was no evidence to link Iraq or Saddam Hussein to the 9-11 incident.  There has been no evidence of “weapons of mass destruction” in Iraq.  Thus, the rationale of invading the country, to prevent a security threat, has been found to have no basis.

When the officials and commissions that were tasked to find the weapons and the Iraq-terrorism links found no evidence, and when the strong Iraqi resistance movements showed the people’s opposition to occupation, the US and its allies should have prepared to leave as soon as possible, and after that to make amends to Iraq through aid and other means.

Instead, the US is still very much the occupying force, and the heavy military operations continue.

Just as bad, other countries can now be expected to also make use of the doctrine of pre-emptive strike that Bush created and used so brutally in Iraq.

After the hostage deaths in Beslan, Russian President Vladimir Putin critisised Western leaders for suggesting that Russia end its repression in Chechnya and negotiate with its  rebel leaders.   He replied that the US and European Union should invite Osama bin Laden to discuss his grievances and meet his demands.

Russian leaders have also declared that they have the right to launch pre-emptive attacks against terrorists that threaten Russian security, anywhere in the world. This will probably prove not to be just an angry threat.  

That other states will want to resort to the pre-emptive strike doctrine, and to apply it unilaterally without obtaining authorization from the UN, is something that was already predicted when Bush announced his doctrine two years ago.  

Having created this approach, and used it in Iraq, it would be difficult for the US to warn Russia or other countries from adopting and applying the same doctrine.  The road is open for so many states be tempted to strike out at targets located in other countries (or even at another country), using the rationale not only that that their security is threatened, but that it could be threatened.

Thus, three years after the New York 9-11 tragedy, the world has become an even more dangerous place.   The US actions in Iraq, and its evident support for Israel vis-à-vis the Palestinians, have generated anger and frustration in many countries and among many people. Out of that bitterness may emerge the breeding ground for more acts of terrorism.

And now at least one other country, Russia, has given advance warning that it too will use the pre-emptive strike unilateral approach to solve its problems.

Let us hope that the major powers will soon come to the realization that this kind of doctrine is not going to be the solution and that the root causes of terrorism should be addressed.