Bu-lat-lat (boo-lat-lat) verb: to search, probe, investigate, inquire; to unearth facts

Volume IV,  Number 9              March 28 - April 3, 2004            Quezon City, Philippines

Join the Bulatlat.com mailing list!

Powered by groups.yahoo.com

The "War Against Terror" Has Failed

By Gilles Kepel
Le Monde

Back to Alternative Reader Index   

The first anniversary of the invasion of Iraq by the American army and its British ally has been framed within a few days on either side by the Madrid attacks, imputable to the al-Qaeda network, and the liquidation of Sheikh Yassine, historic leader of Palestinian Hamas, killed by an Israeli missile as he left the mosque- while, in Iraq, violence takes its daily toll of victims, a situation which Saddam Hussein's arrest and detention have in no way ameliorated.

One is forced to observe, as do a growing number of Americans, who see in Aznar's defeat a foretaste of Bush's defeat this coming autumn at the hands of John Kerry, and also a number of Italians who have demonstrated their opposition to the Berlusconi government's alignment with Washington, that the logic itself of the "war against terror" is today subject to a severe test.

For Europeans, it is first of all tainted by the "original lie" in the name of which the military coalition against Iraq was put together: the pressing danger of weapons of mass destruction in the hands of the Iraqi dictator. If no one in Europe was in doubt about the appalling character of the latter, and even if everyone is glad to know he is now unable to do further harm- and is grateful to the United States for that-, the retrospective discovery of the specious character of the pretext for the invasion has had a devastating impact on the European-American relationship, especially while the true motives for the war remain obscure.

It's the trust between the two sides of the Atlantic that has been brought into question, a trust that had been given to Washington unreservedly by Mr. Aznar, Mr. Berlusconi, Mr. Blair and a few central European leaders, at a moment when the Americans being bogged down in Iraq incites one and the other to take out their marbles and look to justify the least costly disengagement that will allow them to leave before the situation gets worse.

The Madrid attack and Sheikh Yassine's liquidation, are, in this context, significant events, in that they symbolize, beyond their own inherent significance- the carnage in Spain, the symbolic charge of "martyrdom" in Palestine- that the situation given at the outset has not been changed in the least by the conquest of Iraq, and that we are in some way right back to the situation from which we started.

Iraq's democratization under American guidance was supposed to complete the "war against terror" , which was launched right after September 11, 2001 in the first place to eradicate the Taliban regime-with international approbation- to track and destroy Bin Ladin and al-Qaeda, and that to this day has not enjoyed decisive success that has inhibited the terrorist network's capacity to act.

It was supposed to release a "virtuous" process in a reconciled "greater Middle East", convincing companies and countries to participate in the common prosperity, mixing together Iraqi oil, Arab labor and petro-dollars, Israeli know-how and political-financial networks. Through it, terrorism and violence would lose their raison d'ętre : democratization and prosperity must, in the neoconservative vision dominant in Washington, treat the causes of evil, while military operations would reduce the symptoms.

Such a vision of the Middle East, largely copied from the transition of the former Soviet block countries to liberal democracy as theorized by the disciples and epigones of Leo Strauss and Albert Wohlstetter, is unfortunately revealed to be ineffective as such in a rather different context, where the today's Baghdad and Gaza of today cannot be expected to follow the same evolutionary scheme as yesterday's Prague or Warsaw. Political modernization of the region rams up notably against structural components that will not go away through the sole action of American style globalization, through some simple universal variation of the "Get rich!" by which Guizot, under the French July monarchy of the 1830s, thought to dissolve proletariat rage and aristocratic bitterness in bourgeois' enthusiasm.

The Arab East is no more "complicated" today than yesterday for those who know the language and intimately fathom the culture: the persistence of tribal, ethnic, and religious identities in Iraq, for example, should not be thought of as an anachronism destined to succumb under the combined assaults of Coca-Cola and the Internet, but as a component of the present political construction of the Middle East- without portending its future.

As for the infernal situation the Palestinian territories are living through- whether one imputes it to Sharon's ferocity, or Arafat's bad governance-, and without forgetting the unbearable climate of terror that undermines Israeli society, it cannot be resolved by sending missiles to exterminate Islamist leaders or by constraining Arafat to camp in the ruins from Mouqata'a to Ramallah. It demands that the Palestinian question be handled and that the equal dignity of the Israeli and Palestinian peoples be acknowledged, not by pretending that the latter do not exist or by imagining its identity could be leveled by so-called "intelligent" weapons.

These few 'simple ideas" figure in General de Gaulle's declaration of November 1967, which made a lot of ink flow, but the premonitory character of which takes on a terrible acuity today.

Baghdad's conquest and even Saddam Hussein's capture have not provided any leverage to diminish belligerence in the Holy Land- unlike the 1991 American victory in "Operation Desert Storm", rapidly put to good use by President Bush, the father, to launch a peace process between Israelis and Palestinians who were constrained and forced by Washington. In this sense, Sheikh Yassine's liquidation, whatever one thinks of the personage himself or of the Palestinian Islamists who, under his leadership, perpetrated bloody attacks against civilians and military, Jewish men, women, and children, is an admission of a major failure for Washington. Since Saddam's elimination and the "democratization of Iraq" were supposed to allow an economy of similar measures about which one may risklessly wager, as one observes the status of "Supreme Martyr" of the Arab and Muslim world to which he has already been consecrated by Al-Jazira, that they will contribute to the vicious circle of reprisals and never furnish the political solution Mr. Sharon expects from the execution of the principal figure of Palestinian political Islamism.

In this context, the Madrid carnage, which the Spanish trains' delay behind schedule has undoubtedly allowed to be ten times less deadly than its planners had hoped, reminds us that the other objective of the "war against terror", the eradication of al-Qaeda, has not been achieved. Still worse, it shows that the strategy of battling the "distant enemy" ("al'adou al ba'id") theorized by Ayman Al-Zawahri, the ideologue for the network of which Bin Laden is the banker, which sets out to reverse power relationships in the Middle East in favor of Islamist radicals through attacks on targets in the West, remains operative today, ruining two and a half years of Washington's counter-strategy.

All this indisputably argues for Europe to stop being a hostage and victim of the stakes intended by the al-Qaeda pyrotechnists and the Pentagon apprentice sorcerers and to take in hand its own policy and its own strategy in a Middle East that is no "greater" than before and that contributes, by virtue of its immediate proximity, by virtue of the presence in its heart of millions of Muslim and Jewish immigrants from the southern and eastern Mediterranean, to its identity.

Gilles Kepel is a professor at the Paris Institut d'études politiques (Middle East- Mediterranean Chair). 

March 24, 2004

Back to top

We want to know what you think of this article.