by Jerome a Paris
Sat Sep 2nd, 2006 at 05:23:58 AM EST
In a 2-page editorial which is not on the front page of their website and which is strangely only available to subscribers, the Economist go through heavy contorsions to admit the wholesale failure of the War on Terra.
an honest tally of the record since September 11th has to conclude that the number of jihadists and their sympathisers has probably multiplied many times since then. It has multiplied, moreover, partly as a result of the way America responded.
They acknowledge the reality of the failure of the "War on Terra", they note the fact that US policies are a cause for such failure, but try throughout to find excuses.
Even though Mr bin Laden himself eluded America's forces in Afghanistan, the invasion deprived al-Qaeda of a haven for planning and training. This achievement, however, was cancelled out by the consequences of Mr Bush's second war: the invasion of Iraq in March 2003. There, three and a half years on, fighting and terrorism kill hundreds every month, providing the jihadists with both a banner around which to recruit and a live arena in which to sharpen their military skills.
They still see the invasion of Afghanistan as a success (because the warlords "cannot topple the government n Kabul") but, for the first time, they use unambiguously strong words about Iraq: invasion, jihad arena, etc... They still blame it on "Rumsfeldan incompetence", though.
Mr Bush and Tony Blair tried and failed to win a clear United Nations mandate for war. By invading without one, they made themselves vulnerable to the charge that the war was unlawful. The quarrel in the Security Council widened a rift between America and Britain on one hand and France, Germany and Russia on the other. But this would have counted for much less if the weapons of mass destruction had existed. When it transpired that they did not, Muslims—and many others—began to assume that they had been just a pretext.
There were those (such as this newspaper) who supported the Iraq war solely because of the danger that a Saddam Hussein with a biological or atomic bomb would indeed have posed. But Mr Bush and Mr Blair refused after the war to be embarrassed by the absence of the weapons that had so alarmed them beforehand. They stressed instead all the other reasons why it had been a good idea to overthrow Mr Hussein.
Are they finally, finally, getting a bit miffed at having been lied to and played for dunces, repeatedly? And just a bit ashamed of themselves for having supported those lies for so long and arguing all along that the invasion was a good idea but botched?
It's not clear. Their article is furiously ambiguous, alternating criticism of the situation on the ground, the execution, and the motivations with semi-lame justifications and heavy reliance on indirect sentences to hide behind third parties ("Muslims began to assume it was just a pretext" - seriously, how much more weaselly can you get?)
If it was all about dictatorship, what about the dictatorship the West continues to embrace in Saudi Arabia, and the quasi-dictatorship in Pakistan? If it was about helping Islam's moderates against its reactionaries, what is so clever about stepping in to someone else's civil war?
By what right do you invade someone else's country in order to impose a pattern of government?
Indeed? Good of them to ask these questions, but a clear and unambiguous reply would have been appropriate at this point. Nah.
Some curtailing of freedoms was inevitable. Yet Abu Ghraib, Guantánamo, the torture memos and extraordinary rendition have not just been unAmerican and morally wrong but also hugely counter-productive. In a battle that is largely about ideas, America seems to many to have abandoned the moral high ground and so won more recruits for the jihadists.
That's an issue they've been somewhat more consistent all along, so I won't bash them with it.
not every Islamist movement is inspired by the ideas that animate al-Qaeda. In Palestine Hamas is a pious (and vicious) version of a national-liberation movement with local goals, not another front in a global fight. Ditto, more or less, Hizbullah, except that it is also a tool of Iran. And Iran itself is better understood as an assertive rising (and dangerous) power that happens to have a theocratic constitution than as an ally of al-Qaeda, whose ideas come from a separate strand of Islam.
Ooh. Nuances... Local politics... Complexity...
The Economist has actually always been excellent at writing deep background stories about such multi-layered stories, bringing in the motivations of the parties in a pretty even handed way. This paragraph is itself a pretty good summary of what they can write at their best. Pity that the editorial crowd of the Economist stopped reading what the journalists of the Economist wrote - or deliberately chose to ignore it.
Al-Qaeda did not invent terrorism. In its Baader-Meinhof or Shining Path or Irish or Basque or Palestinian guise, terrorism was the background noise of the second half of the 20th century. But September 11th seemed to portend something new. There was something different in the sheer epic malevolence of the thing: more than 3,000 dead, with destruction sliding out of a clear blue sky, all captured on live TV. Most previous terror organisations had negotiable demands and therefore exercised a measure of restraint. Al-Qaeda's fantastic aims—sweeping away regimes, reversing history and restoring the caliphate—are married to an appetite for killing that knows no limits.
They are still struggling with the stupid idea that "everything is different now". All rational arguments which they bring to the table show that it's not so different. Al-Qaeda did not invent terrorism. But their ideological blinders (knee-jerk support for American exceptionalism) and the emotional impact of the 9/11 attack (promptly cultivated and abused by the Bush administration) won't let them admit it unambiguously.
What the article misses is the bigger picture.
- Not a single mention of oil, which is frankly the only reason why our politicians and pundits care about in any way about the Arab world. The vicious circle of being dependent on Arab oil, propping up "friendly" (but deeply corrupt) regimes, and seeing local opponents turn their grievances into hate for the West which steals their resources and supports their oppressors, using religion, tolerated by all the local regimes, into a tool of political expression;
- Not a single mention of the damage made to international law (which has built up over the past 60 years thanks to the USA's constant, if not always consistent, support), the terrible fact that the precedents of pre-emptive strikes, wars of choice and all out war on concepts have been handed to as a great future excuse for unscrupulous regimes around the world;
- Not a mention of the fundamental breach that has appeared between Europe and the USA. The "West" has been shattered in a probably irremediable way;
- and, finally, not a word on what could have been. In September 2001, all the governments of the planet wanted to support the USA, and would have done a lot of things not to get in their way. A massive push to close offshore financial havens, impose an international court with teeth, and real enforcement capacity for the UN would have been supported with little resistance. At home, a massive effort to change energy use patterns, and to launche a crash investment programme into sustainable energy sources would have been enthusiastically supported.
But no, the Economist is trying to justify its unflinching support for Bush's Iraq folly, and looking at the bigger picture would only serve to make them look even more foolish. The problem was not Rumsfeld incompetence, it was the perception that Al Qaida was a civilisational threat rather than gangsters with grievances, and the abuse of that perception by a power-hungry crowd in the White House, supported by shameless sycophants in the heart of what then were our more respectable papers and magazines.
No, the Economist, you won't get off the hook so easily.