The American-British invasion of Iraq was supposed to open up a new front in the war against terrorism. Its most obvious fruit, though, has been to open a new front in the terrorist war against Western countries, by adding to the offence of the West against Islam.
There should never have been a ‘war against terrorism’, still less ‘global terrorism’. Even Al Qaeda, the main terrorist organisation, is a loose network of locally-based groups with local grievances. The idea that it is a ‘paradigm of globalisation’ –lacking any firm national or territorial base but consumed by an abstract hatred of ‘the West’ or ‘Christianity’ or ‘modernisation’ – is a fantasy, which diverts attention from attending to the local causes in each case of terrorist outrage.
This is not to deny that most terrorists today are Muslims, or that radical Islam is a rallying cry, or that terrorist groups are ‘wired up’ to each other through cyberspace. But only a small minority of Muslims are terrorists, and in each case it is for a specific reason. A recent American best-seller Imperial Hubris: Why the West is Losing the War on Terror, written by an anoymous CIA officer, makes the important point that jihad is a defensive weapon aimed at what is perceived as US occupation of Islamic lands, chiefly in the Middle East, and its support for Russia, China, and others against their Muslim militants. Russia is a victim of terrorism not because Islam hates Russia but because Russia occupies and brutalises Chechnya.
In theory a war against terrorism is winnable, through the use of sufficiently brutal methods. A Hitler or Stalin would not have been intimidated by the present level of terrorist activity. In fact, Stalin ‘solved’ the Chechnyan problem for fifty years by deporting hundreds of thousands of Chechnyans in the 1940s. ‘Anonymous’ similarly argues that America could ‘win’ the war on terrorism by killing Muslims in large numbers and destroying their infrastructure –much as the Romans did against Carthage.
Given that Western countries cannot, will not and should not use such methods, the ‘war on terrorism’ is unwinnable. Those who argue for a new imperialism as the only viable political organisation for a globalising world simply do not understand how costly this will be in terms of lives and liberties. This does not mean that we are condemned to live under the shadow of terrorism. It means that we need to change the policies which give rise to terrorism.
The United States must find a way of disengaging from the Middle East. This involves withdrawing its troops, its support for corrupt and tyrannical Muslim governments, and its unconditional support for Israel. It must also reduce its dependence on Middle East oil. The Muslim world must be left free to work out its own destiny.
The choice for Russia is equally clear. It must give up the goal of a military victory in Chechnya, coupled with the attempt to impose fraudulent political solutions, like the referendum of 2003. Pursuit of this double strategy will only bring more tragedies like the recent massacre in Beslan. The task is to get a government in Grozny which is not regarded as a stooge of Moscow. I doubt if this can be done short of independence. The centralised rule which Putin has just imposed on the rest of Russia anyway makes it an anomaly in the Russian system. Russia will have to get out in the end. It’s only a question of how much bloodshed it takes on the way.