Obama’s Track and Whack War: An Afterthought

August 27, 2013 § Leave a comment

Before I read Jeremy Scahill’s book I stated my objections to President Obama’s Globle War on Terror.  See “Lynch Law” and “Lynch Law Two”.  Now, having read the book and written some of my reaction to it [see “Bush’s Dumb War and Obama’s Track and Whack War”], last night I re-read the President’s speech on terror, delivered May 27, 2013, at the National Defense University in Wahington D.C. .  Here is link to it, as delivered, not the official transcript distributed in advance.

Near the end of the  speech, a member of the audience challenged the President on some of the issues that trouble me.  The President acknowledged that the issues she raised were important and stated that he would try to deal with at least one of them:  The prisoners held at Guantanamo without charges or trial.

As I have reconsidered the President’s speech in light of the reality of his global war, I have another question I believe is more serious than those I have appreciated before:  The President’s speech recognized that a perpetual war is unacceptable and promised that he would seek an end to it.  My question is, “How do you end a war on terror?  What if we are ready to end it, but those who have endured years of bombings, raids  and missile attacks without any way either to defend themselves or effectively fight back are not ready?  What then?

The President’s speech seemed to assume that when we had administered a sufficient thrashing and thoroughly established that we are capable of inflicting unlimited death and destruction on any who oppose us or challenge us, the objects of that lesson in real politic will be eager to stop the carnage and grateful for our agreement to stand down and withdraw.

I find that doubtful.  I think of the experience of Israel.   After more than 50 years of defending themselves in wars and against endless terrorist bombing, I assume the Israelis would be delighted if the bombers would declare they had inflicted enough damage, killed enough innocent people and were ready to end their effort to harm Israel.

Despite many determined efforts to effect that result, none have succeeded.  Why?  Because the Israelis, based on their bitter history with their tormenters, have little reason to agree to any peace that does not guarantee the violence will stop.  And the Arabs, having sustained a long series of defeats at the hands of the Israelis, nursing centuries of grievances, convinced they have a right to reclaim the land formerly occupied by them and now the nation of Israel, have no interest in ending the only form of war of which they are capable, terrorism.  All of these issues are embedded in the context of opposing religious doctrines, thus branding compromise as apostasy.

I think ending the present war on terror will have similar, but not identical problems.   We have one advantage:  We have not been foolish enough to present our war effort as one based on religious obligation.  We have left ourselves an honorable way to simply stop the war.

Those who have suffered injury from our efforts, however, do perceive the conflict as a religious one.   When our side sustains a lost life, we grieve and feel anger at the senselessness.   Those whom we kill, however, are perceived by our enemies as martyrs.  Those who choose to sacrifice themselves with lethal vests of explosives are perceived as heroes.  Every time we destroy a village or immolate innocent bystanders, we create new enemies in their tribe and their surviving family.   It seems logical to me that the number of people who hate us, who will be willing to harm us, will grow with every drone attack, every JSOC raid and every Hellfire missile launch.  If I am right, then  our ability to end the Global War on Terror becomes less likely with every victory we achieve on the global battlefield where we wage this war.

When I re-read the President’s speech, I felt he omitted something important:  How is our global war on terror being perceived by the 1.6 billion Muslims in the world?  Are our methods and strategies increasing or decreasing the percentage of that number who regard us as an enemy?   How likely is it that those who hate us will be willing to make peace with us without avenging the deaths and wounds we have caused?  President Obama’s speech was apparently designed to convince us that the war is just and that it is succeeding.  I think the question I just posed deserves more attention.

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