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Advice on Drugs, Terrorists, and the Wars that Fight Them

Special Edition.

by Dear Jon
September 18, 2001

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Advice on Drugs, Terrorists, and the Wars that Fight Them_Dear Jon-Special Edition. My first advice is to the public. The public needs to hold their elected officials and public servants accountable for the words they use. In the wake of the terrorist attacks last week, our President, Vice-President, Secretary of State, and Attorney General, have made, what are at face-value, incautious and ill-considered statements regarding a "war on terrorism." My first warning is that these statements, supported nearly unanimously by Congress, have created an environment in which the only "war" being considered is a war in which the enemy is international in scope and unlocatable as a target, objectives are abstract, the mission for forces is unclear, and the victory is undefinable. All that we have going for us is tremendous fire-power and the rhetoric of bluster and arrogance. These two weapons, fire-power and arrogance, did not carry the day in Vietnam. A million dead Vietnamese later, we pulled out and Vietnam reunified under a Communist flag.

My second warning regarding official rhetoric is this: On Sunday the President said, "We are a nation of law and liberty, we are also a nation at war." A war which, according to others in the administration, could take "decades." Now the attorney general is asking Congress for a domestic intelligence package which will allow privacy to be invaded in ways honest citizens cannot defend against. When government takes that kind of power, it is hard for government to let it go. Many governments get addicted to the crisis of "war" if the crisis means they can take more and more control.

My third warning is for the squeemish, the knee-jerks and the bleeding-hearts. The administration intends to rebuild an intelligence apparatus which will involve becoming bedfellows with "unsavory" characters. This means making deals with slave traders, drug-dealers, private weapons dealers, and, if all goes well, using pro-American agents to infiltrate the terrorist organizations themselves. These "unsavory characters" may have tortured Christian missionaries; they might believe things about a woman's role in the house and hold other beliefs that you will find patently unAmerican and grotesque.

Some of these unsavory characters might be Israeli intelligence agents responsible for God-only-knows-what human rights violations against Intifada and Hezbollah suspects. However, many of our non-Israeli helpers will not be pro-Israel by virtue of being pro-American. They may only be anti-Taliban, anti-Khadafi, anti-Hussein. As happened in the Afghan war against the Soviets, many of these agents who help us now, may turn against us later.

In light of these complex realities, I would like to give some advice to the U.S. government.

As far as I can fathom, the Taliban government in Afghanistan is an extremist Shiite faction that is in partnership with extremists from Algeria to Iran. Many Arab presidents, kings, and dictators in the region, despise these violent Shiite fundamentalists, including Saddam Hussein. I suggest a time of rapproachment with Saddam Hussein (unsavory character, remember?), while at the same time, encouraging rapproachment with the growing moderate influence in Iran. It is time to start lifting sanctions and providing incentives for partnering with America. The nation-states themselves know the personalities and the realities on the ground, and it is better to work with them then to try to work despite them.

In this way, the "War on Terrorism" should be conducted similarly to the "War on Drugs." The lessons learned from one can, in many ways, be transferrable to the other. Partner with the governments, and provide vehicles, ordnance, satellite intelligence, training, and advisors.

That should be the ongoing commitment that will take decades. In the short term, we need a war where we can declare victory. So my final suggestion to the government is this: Ratchet down the rhetoric and get to the business of constructing a diplomatic/intelligence apparatus in the Middle East. Meanwhile, target Osama bin Laden and stake the claim of victory on the damage to his network. Let this be a test-case for the long-term cooperation between NATO and the Arab world, but at the same time, when bin Laden is brought to the Hague or his head is shipped to the White House on a platter, however it goes, that is the time to "declare victory" in the "war."

To the extent that this will require troop movements, I recommend using German and Canadian combat forces from NATO, with Egyptian and Pakistani forces, supported by American sea and air power.

If the Taliban must be defeated in order for bin Laden's protection to be removed, take care that we establish friendly relations with Afghan moderates. There are rebels in Afghanistan which can become valuable allies. Teach civilians that the Arab World (Egyptian and Pakistani troops along with moderate Afghan factions) wants to help them restore a legitimate government. Teach the civilians that the defeat of the Taliban is not the defeat of Afghanistan, but a victory for Afghanistan.

Parsing out the rhetoric, one can see that indeed, America might be able to establish an intelligence infrastructure that does make the Arab World a dangerous haven for terrorists. This cannot happen until we separate the bluster from the objectives. As a candidate, George Bush talked about engaging our world "with humility." Do not forget, Mr. President, that's my advice for you.

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