No single front line, no common enemy

Insurgency: Some see mostly unconnected conflicts over political, social and religious issues, with terrorism only a tactic.

'War on Terror'

September 02, 2004|By Todd Richissin | Todd Richissin,SUN FOREIGN STAFF

LONDON -- When guerrillas took Russian schoolchildren hostage yesterday, their actions came on the heels of Islamic fundamentalists killing 12 Nepalese nationals in Iraq, which came about the time Palestinian suicide bombers blew up two buses in Israel and about the time a bomb exploded outside a Moscow subway station.

In each case, the response was the same: The perpetrators were labeled terrorists, then governments vowed not to give in to them and forged ahead with tactics that have been used for years despite utter failure.

Analysts say the incidents show that not only are there no front lines in the "war on terror" but that there is no single war against it because there are few common causes, no common enemy and no common strategy for fighting one.

Instead, the events have shown that the so-called war is really a series of mostly unconnected clashes over political, social and religious matters that military might has failed to resolve.

"My objection to calling it a `war on terrorism' is that the term implies there's a military solution to each of these problems, and there isn't," said Tim Garden, senior fellow and former director of the Royal Institute of International Affairs. "People don't like to hear this, but here goes: The military may be needed to help, but most of all, it's about education and economics."

Like others who study violence, he acknowledges that not every Islamic fundamentalist or every nationalist willing to blow up civilians to achieve political goals is going to be turned around by improved living conditions.

Terror as tactic

But what the West commonly refers to as terrorism is a tactic that whole segments of the world -- those who feel oppressed, desperate or cheated and have no other practical way of fighting -- see as legitimate.

Chechens who want an autonomous country, Arabs who view their slums as the result of corrupt governments propped up by the United States, Palestinians who blame Israel for woeful living conditions, might not take part in attacks against civilians, but many are willing to put up with and even protect those who do.

"You'll only have an effect on terrorism when you get the broader society to withdraw support for the terrorists," Garden said. "To do that, you need to make things more just. You've got to get the broad population to think terrorists are a bad thing. And in the case of the Chechens, for example, as long as people think the Russians are monsters, people aren't going to be too upset about what the Chechens are doing."

Iraq, in this view, proves the point, demonstrating how violence for political means can take root.

In the immediate aftermath of the fall of dictator Saddam Hussein, the U.S. military was greeted by many Iraqis as a liberating force. The insurgency, by most accounts, did not hit its stride until about September last year, five months after U.S. forces entered Baghdad.

Iraqis had gone through a long, dangerous summer with scarce electricity and water and no sense of order, and then the insurgency began to swell. The looting and utility woes did not create the insurgency, but there is little doubt that the dismal conditions left many Iraqis so angry at U.S. forces that they were willing to stand by while insurgents carried out attacks, or, in some cases, to give them cover.

"Iraq was a very good example of how to create conditions that create a violent movement," said Dominique Moisi, senior adviser to the French Institute of International Relations. "The object is to fight the radicals without losing the moderates. Because of the planning in Iraq, or the lack of planning, the moderates were lost.

"It would have been unacceptable to most Iraqis to see soldiers attacked who made things better for them. It became perfectly acceptable for attacks against an invading army that failed to protect the country. This is an example, in my opinion, of conditions affecting outcomes."

For decades, Israel's policy has been to retaliate for Palestinian bombings. After attacks Tuesday that killed 16 people on two buses, the Israeli military leveled the house of one of the suicide bombers. In the past, Israel has responded to violence with widespread curfews, military actions in Palestinian cities and targeted attacks on suspected militants.

"Clearly, what that leads to is a continuation of the status quo -- attacks," said Paul Wilkinson, professor of international relations and chairman of the Centre for the Study of Terrorism and Political Violence at the University of St. Andrews, in Scotland. "I don't think anybody would bet their house that the Palestinians will not bomb again or that their next attack will not be answered by the Israelis -- and on and on."

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