Swans Commentary » swans.com August 29, 2005  



A New Kind of Warfare


by Philip Greenspan






(Swans - August 29, 2005)  The 9/11 attack was interpreted by the Bush administration as an act of war. An alternate interpretation was that it was a crime. Which is correct?

The bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City, an analogous attack, was without doubt a criminal act whose perpetrators were duly tried and punished. To treat the 9/11 attack as war in more than a metaphorical sense such as the "war on drugs" or the "war on poverty" is stretching the definition of war where military means are employed. Military wars involve conflicts between nations or factions within a nation. No nation was explicitly involved in 9/11 and none took responsibility or approved of the action. Wasn't it therefore disingenuous to name the intended military hostilities a "war on terrorism"?

How could "terrorism" as distinguished from a tangible country become a belligerent? A couple of quotations by well-known historical figures might enhance our understanding of war. The Prussian general and military strategist regarded as the "father of modern warfare," Karl von Clausewitz (1780-1831), provided this description: "War is the continuation of politics by other means." A somewhat similar quotation attributed to Chou En Lai (1989-1976), a premier and foreign minister of the People's Republic of China, states: "All diplomacy is a continuation of war by other means." Whichever way you read it, war and diplomacy are two sides of the same coin. The words nation, country, or their synonyms do not appear in either statement. A belligerent could be any party whose interests are frustrated by an adversary party. An inability to negotiate a satisfactory compromise of those interests could provoke war. War as such does not necessarily involve nations.

Osama bin Laden is the leader of an Islamic organization, al-Qaeda, whose ethnically diverse membership comes from many countries around the world. Back in 1998 he issued a public statement denouncing: one, US troops in Saudi Arabia; two, US support of Israel; and three, sanctions against Iraq. These three interests were ignored by the U.S., the adversary party. After the 9/11 attack, bin Laden claimed responsibility. If war was the answer, he and al-Qaeda alone, not "terrorism," are the appropriate enemy.

Who is bin Laden? Where did he and his belligerent organization come from? Why did they attack? Bin Laden and al-Qaeda emerged through the intrigue and finances of the CIA. With assistance from the Saudis and Pakistanis they were recruited and trained to fight the Soviet Union in Afghanistan. At that time they were regarded as "freedom fighters" by the Reagan Administration and were considered similarly when they fought alongside NATO in Kosovo. Although al-Qaeda sided with the U.S. in those struggles it did not take sides in the cold war lineup but opposed both Western and Soviet influence in Muslim countries.

Long before 9/11 the US government knew of al-Qaeda's demands and intentions because its 1998 manifesto included a threat. "To kill Americans and their allies, both civil and military, is an individual duty of every Muslim who is able, in any country, until their armies, shattered, and broken-winged, depart from all the lands of Islam." The U.S. was aware that by ignoring this threat, hostile actions could be expected.

Shortly thereafter, in the summer of 1998, bombings at the US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania killed over 250 people, including 12 Americans. And then in 2000 the USS Cole was attacked while refueling in Yemen; 17 sailors died.

Many suspected that Bill Clinton's cruise missile strikes in Sudan and Afghanistan were a "Wag the Dog" response prompted by the latest Monica Lewinsky sex scandal exposé. Seven defenseless locations claimed to be terrorist sites were targeted. The biggest casualty: a pharmaceutical factory that deprived tens of thousands of Africans critically needed drugs.

The attack on 9/11 was the "catastrophic and catalyzing event -- like a new Pearl Harbor" (1) that Bush's neocon advisors had prayed for and dreamed of. Bin Laden and his gang were clearly the enemy but the neocons who spearhead the drives to war gave priority to the conquest of Middle East countries. 9/11, however, allowed them to fraudulently convince a traumatized public that each intended victim is somehow deserving of its fate.

Afghanistan's ruling Taliban had refused Unocal's generous offer to build an oil pipeline across their country, so they had to go. Next on the agenda was Iraq, whose vast oil deposits were there for the picking. Iran, Syria and others were to follow. But those rapacious dreams are turning into nightmares.

Bush declared wars -- the conventional kind, against countries -- and wars are what he is getting -- but of a new kind. Over time, strategies and tactics change to offset advantages of new weapons, superior forces, favorable locations, etc. The invention of new weapons -- machine guns, tanks, airplanes, etc. -- each changed the way wars were fought. Recent wars have delivered the most ghastly and indescribable horrors to unprotected innocent civilians, people who previously were untouched by the savagery of war. In this new wartime environment those formerly considered terrorists are in reality the manpower of the underdog armies. In the aftermath of World War II, powerful and overconfident first world colonial powers, superior forces, were ousted by those freedom fighters. The U.S. experienced such strategies and tactics in Vietnam. It was a jarring experience that was designated the "Vietnam Syndrome."

The Vietnamese took on three major powers in succession: the Japanese, the French, and, finally, the Americans with their token allies. During all those years, the Vietnamese were delivering a message to the invaders -- "Go Home! Get out! O-U-T, OUT! OUT!! OUT!!!" It was apparent, even to a child, that without a formal treaty, a cease fire, or the least bit of cooperation from the Vietnamese, peace was readily available to all. How? Just get the hell out of their country.

In today's war an additional tactic is now being successfully exploited, to amplify the "GET OUT!" message -- attacks by insurgents in the home territory of opposition countries that result in, euphemistically, collateral damage. It knocked Spain out of Iraq and some other countries pulled out as well. Favorable locations are no longer safe wartime territories.

Britain has already received a couple of doses of al-Qaeda shock treatment. In time, other countries who do not get out while the getting is good will also feel the sting. Al-Qaeda seems as determined to accomplish their goals as the Vietnamese were. On August 3, Ayman al-Zawahri, al-Qaeda's second in command reiterated their warnings. "What you have seen in New York, Washington and Afghanistan, are only the initial losses. If you continue the same hostile policies you will see something that will make you forget the horrors you have seen in Vietnam. Our message to you is clear, strong and final: There will be no salvation until you withdraw from our land, stop stealing our oil and resources and end support for infidel, corrupt [Arab] rulers." (2)

US presence in Vietnam lasted over ten years. The Vietnamese prevailed because they outlasted all of their opponents. The U.S. has a lot more at stake now than it had in Vietnam. The neocons are determined to stay the course. They have stated that a l-o-n-g war can be expected, far longer than Vietnam. But troop strength is low and diminishing. Recruiting quotas are not being met. For the first time the military has devised plans to respond to an attack in the U.S. The public, according to the most recent Newsweek poll, has lost confidence in Bush. Over eighty percent say a terrorist attack is likely.

If the U.S. were to suffer more home-front casualties, what would the reaction be? Will the US public be willing to stay the course, or will they then demand that the administration throw in the sponge?

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1.  "REBUILDING AMERICA'S DEFENSES: Strategy, Forces and Resources," A Report of the Project of the New American Century September 2000 is a product of a neoconservative think tank. Prominent names among the participants of the report are: Paul Wolfowitz, I. Louis Libby, William Kristol, and Abram Shulsky. The quoted phrase appears on numbered page 51 (pdf page 63 of the 90 page document). A pdf file is located at: http://www.newamericancentury.org/RebuildingAmericasDefenses.pdf.  (back)

2.  "Al-Zawahri warns UK of more attacks"; aljazeera.net, Friday 05 August 2005.  (back)


Internal Resources

Iraq on Swans

Patterns which Connect Swans


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Philip Greenspan on Swans (with bio).



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Published August 29, 2005