Cross posted from TomPaine
On September 17, 2001, American foreign policy entered a dark age. On that day, President George W. Bush signed a classified presidential directive expanding CIA authority to kill, capture and detain terrorism suspects around the world. The CIA forged new connections with intelligence services in Syria and Egypt, allies all too eager to use the kind of brutal physical interrogation tactics that U.S. law formally forbade. It was the first of a series of presidential decisions to treat the world as battlefield without limits in time or space, to disregard the rule of law globally-and to replace it with the tide of war.
The practice ofextraordinary rendition has left a trail of broken lives in its wake. The Canadian citizen Mahar Arar and the German citizen Khaled Masri are but the two most well-known examples. Worse, extraordinary rendition inflicts incalculable harm on countries that cooperate with the United States. It strengthens undemocratic, brutal Middle Eastern dictatorships, including, ironically, some of the regimes that first spawned the cancer of transnational jihadism. Islamists such as Hasan al-Banna and Sayyid Qutb, precursors to Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri, were reactions to those regimes’ repressive policies. America’s continued support of undemocratic regimes, and its failure to support real democracies, is today tilling the soil once more for a new crop of jihadists.
In other regards, the Bush administration assumes violence is the sole tool against terrorism. In so doing, it illustrates the tactical limits to violence. The evidence shows that we need a thorough rethink of the administration’s “counter-terrorism as global war” strategy. Instead, we must be thinking of counter-terrorism as an effort to establish the Global Rule of Law.
Both the Afghanistan and Iraq invasions illustrate the problems with the present approach. Widely seen as a success, Afghanistan in fact has been a strategic failure. Our first post-9/11 intervention failed to net either of al-Qaida’s ringleaders. It failed to establish a working state (largely because the administration didn’t believe in providing needed security for state-building). It also left in place the world’s largest supplier of opium. So the next time terrorists hide out in the valleys of Uruzgan or Paktia, they will have a ready source of cash-and connections to transnational Russian mafias to boot.
Behind the blustering about whether we should “stay or go,” Iraq is already a massive global counter-terrorism failure. Peter Bergen and Alec Reynolds point out that Iraq is recruiting poster, training ground and networking hotspot for tomorrow’s terrorists. Difficult strategic decisions today, now the United States is knee-deep in quagmire, should not obscure the fact that the Iraq invasion was an unmitigated strategic disaster: It has enflamed the Middle East against us. It gave unwarranted flesh to the bones of bin Laden’s raving, paranoid fantasies. And it has trained a new generation of jihadi leaders. President Bush’s facile rhetoric that “we will fight the terrorists overseas so we do not have to face them here at home,” has things precisely backwards: By fighting terrorists in Iraq, we have multiplied their legions around the world.
The global reach of war has not preserved the safety or improved the security of the United States. Violence has bred insecurity, which in turn brings new violence. Worse, this cycle compromises the safety of our children and their children by inciting new violence.
Yet with stubborn monomania, the administration’s hews to its reckless course. Last week, its hubristic vision of total war came home (again) in a proposed counter-terrorism bill. Despite being presented as a response to the Supreme Court’s decision on military commissions, the proposal is largely a grab-bag of loosely connected horrors. It would permit the president to designate any one who has ever aided any group that has ever “engaged in hostilities” against the United States as an “unlawful enemy combatant”-for endless and process-free detention. Perhaps Donald Rumsfeld’s famous handshake with Saddam Hussein is grounds for his indefinite lock-up. And since the definition sweeps in all “international terrorist organizations,” if you ever marched for Nelson Mandela’s freedom, watch out: The African National Congress was once a terrorist group too.
This startling provision on “unlawful enemy combatants” is unlikely to become law-but it is a sign of this administration’s overweening ambitions. It is also a sign these ambitions are impervious to rebuke from either Congress or the Supreme Court. Moreover, other provisions in the proposal may very well be passed. Additional provisions suspend the right to habeas corpus for Guantánamo detainees, confining tens or perhaps hundreds of detainees to hopeless limbo. Some provisions authorize “torture lite”-a description of the CIA’s “alternative set of procedures,” which include water-boarding, sleep deprivation for 40 hours plus and stress positions. Yet others look back to grant retroactive immunity for the host of past crimes-all while disclosed number of tortured innocents grows ever higher.
This bill, which would be a de facto open license for the holding facility at Guantánamo, is a mark of failure. It shows the administration has no strategy beyond force. It has no way of sorting the real terrorists from the innocent, and then it has no way of dealing fairly with those caught in the crossfire.
Take the 450 Guantánamo detainees. It seems likely that many of them are in fact innocent of any culpable conduct. But many of their home countries, such as Egypt, Pakistan, and Saudi Arabia, are deeply undemocratic and deeply unjust. They are failures of the rule of law; fear and violence grow in place of stable, orderly, and predictable rules. Sending back some of these detainees may very well put them at risk of torture.
A solution to the terrible and tragic Guantánamo conundrum means stabilizing and building the rule of law worldwide. It means building a global rule of law-a key to a broader counter-terrorism strategy that might work instead of yielding repeated disasters.
This entails encouraging not merely democracy, but orderly and stable states that rule by consent and not sheer violence. It involves ceasing to support brutal and anti-democratic dictators and their ruthless secret services. It demands the creation of democratic channels of expression in countries that originally produced transnational jihadists, taking the sting out of al-Qaida’s critiques.
In practice, it also requires wholesale reform of the manner in which intelligence cooperation is conducted. It means the strengthening of above-board police cooperation on shared intelligence and evidence. And it means ceasing to ignore the malfeasance of so-called allies, in favor of rigorous attention to the rule of law.
By promoting stable, strong states that can provide true human security, rather than leaving its citizens literally stranded in the face of crisis, we make the world safer and short-circuit the cycle of violence and counter-violence from which terrorists draw succor.
Utopian? Of course. But much of the administration’s power comes from the breathtaking sweep of its ambitions. Progressives-and everyone else who cares about a safer, better world-must respond to the challenge and think in equally grand terms. And while the goal may be distant, it’s without doubt worth setting as an ideal: A world in which every state operates with stable, predictable, and generally just rules. A world in which terrorists find few takers for their fanciful condemnations and inhumane violence. And a world in which the sickness that is al-Qaida is but a terrible but increasingly distant memory.
Aziz Huq: “Thinking Beyond Violence” (PDF)