After the attacks in Mumbai last week, should the United States bomb suspected terrorist cells in India? Send the Marines to Kashmir where one of the suspected groups behind the attacks — Lashkar-e-Taiba — originates? Or initiate regime change in Pakistan, which has provided support for several terrorist outfits operating in South Asia?
These are, of course, absurd options.
And yet the Bush administration, in its “global war on terror” (GWOT), pursued just such tactics against the Taliban in Afghanistan, Saddam Hussein in Iraq, and suspected terrorist hideouts in Pakistan. Fat lot of good it’s done us. The Taliban is back in Afghanistan. Al-Qaeda, which didn’t exist in Iraq before the invasion, has a foothold there now. And Pakistan, thanks to former dictator Pervez Musharraf and his intelligence agency, remains Terrorism Central.
This military approach to terrorism has generated ineffectual, counterproductive, and quite often surreal policies. Declaring a war on terror elevated al-Qaeda and its brethren to the status of warriors. It served as a great recruiting tool for Osama bin Laden, and made the United States and its citizens a lightning rod for attacks. Other countries — China, Russia, Sri Lanka, the Philippines — have drawn inspiration from the United States for their own crackdowns on a range of purported terrorists.
This follow-the-leader effect may prove most horrific in the case of India. Believing neighboring Pakistan to be behind the Mumbai attacks, India is edging closer to its own war on terror. According to the Times of London, “The Indian government is now considering a range of responses, including suspending its five-year peace process with Pakistan, closing their border, stopping direct flights and sending troops to the frontier.” It’s one thing when the United States squares off against the ragtag army of the Taliban. But with both India and Pakistan in possession of nuclear weapons, any “war on terror” between the two can go global at a moment’s notice.
When a group of militants wages a ruthless campaign against civilians, a government certainly must respond. But the issue is: what kind of response? Instead of using the military, the British have largely used their heads, relying on police work to track down and neutralize terrorists. Both the United Nations and Interpol have useful lists of best practices that focus on sharing information among police forces and shutting down the financing of terrorist networks. Instead of fighting fire with fire, we should be thinking of dousing the flames with water. In this case, the most effective fire extinguisher is the rule of law.
In an essay in the forthcoming Institute for Policy Studies book Mandate for Change, I argue that the Obama administration must replace GWOT with GDOL: Global Defense of Law. This alternative counterterrorism approach prioritizes international and domestic law rather than the projection of military force beyond borders. Who better than a former law professor to launch such an initiative? President Obama should embed counterterrorism in the international laws governing institutions such as the International Criminal Court as well as the domestic laws that safeguard the civil liberties of those living in the United States.
“September 11” entered our vocabulary as both an epochal shift and the starting point for the GWOT. “Mumbai” should likewise enter our vocabulary as the end of the GWOT and the beginning of a more sensible approach to countering terrorism.
The global financial crisis is like a natural disaster in its effects on rich and poor. The winds and water of Hurricane Katrina made no distinction between millionaires and derelicts. But somehow the rich managed to weather the storm while the poor were inundated.
“Even as more money is found to rescue yet another banking giant, additional resources are scarce for the developing world,” Foreign Policy In Focus contributor Eveline Herfkens writes in The Impending Development Aid Crisis. “Yet without strong action by world leaders at the Financing for Development conference in Doha, Qatar, which begins on November 29, this subject will likely be another victim of the financial crisis, with grave repercussions for global poverty and the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals.”
The initial signs are not good. As FPIF guest columnists Sarah Anderson and John Cavanagh write in Bailout Dwarfs Spending on Climate and Poverty Crises, the world’s banks have largely escaped the rising floodwaters: “The approximately $4.1 trillion that the United States and European governments have committed to rescue financial firms is 40 times the money they’re spending to fight climate and poverty crises in the developing world.” As governments continue to announce more financial bailouts, this gap is growing even wider.
Drugs and Guns
Although Obama has decided to go with Robert Gates as his secretary of Defense, we still might see some significant movement on Pentagon policy in the next administration. As I argue in an op-ed distributed by Minuteman Media to small-circulation newspapers, the Obama administration can deal with the economic crisis, the energy crisis, and the climate crisis by thinking big. “Thinking big must begin with the Pentagon,” I write. “By cutting the U.S. defense budget — which, at more than half a trillion dollars, represents nearly half of all global military spending — the new president can immediately find money to address both the economic crisis and climate crisis. A “green” stimulus package financed by Pentagon cuts — achieved by scrapping obsolete weapons systems, eliminating administrative waste and scaling back our overseas bases — could support alternative energy sources. That would reduce our dependence on foreign oil and remove a motive for the country to engage in wars to secure that oil.”
And even though Gates maintains a Cold War position on nuclear weapons, arms controllers can take heart from the new window of opportunity. As FPIF contributor Daryl Kimball writes in Change Nuclear Weapons Policy? Yes We Can, “Two decades after the end of the Cold War, there is no plausible reason for U.S. and Russian leaders to maintain thousands of strategic nuclear weapons with large numbers on high alert. Besides the United States and Russia, no state possesses more than 300 nuclear warheads. China currently only has about 20 nuclear-armed missiles capable of striking the continental United States. Dramatically deeper U.S.-Russian reductions would open the possibility for the Obama team to fulfill another campaign pledge before the end of the first term: ‘Initiating a high-level dialogue among all the declared nuclear-weapon states on how to…move toward meaningful reductions and the eventual elimination of all nuclear weapons.’”
I began this week’s issue with the failed war on terror and I will end with the failed war on drugs. “Across Latin America, frustration with the failed and protracted ‘war on drugs’ is leading countries to experiment with new policies, from Bolivia’s ‘coca yes, cocaine no’ strategy, to the pardoning of small-time offenders in Ecuador, to efforts to decriminalize consumption in countries as diverse as Argentina and Mexico,” FPIF contributor Coletta Youngers writes in Beyond the Drug War. “The incoming Obama administration should take advantage of these new trends in Latin America to seek more effective and more humane drug control policies, at home and abroad.”
FPIF, December 2, 2008