Saturday, September 02, 2006

Errors of the war on terror

By George Soros
Israel's failure to subdue Hezbollah demonstrates the many weaknesses of the war-on-terror concept. One weakness is that even if the targets are terrorists, the victims are often innocent civilians, and their suffering reinforces the terrorist cause. In response to Hezbollah's attacks, Israel was justified in wanting to destroy the movement and to protect itself against the threat of missiles on its border. However, Israel should have taken greater care to minimize collateral damage. The civilian casualties and material damage inflicted on Lebanon inflamed Muslims and world opinion against Israel, and converted Hezbollah from aggressors to heroes of resistance. Weakening Lebanon has also made it more difficult to rein in Hezbollah.
Another weakness of the war-on-terror concept is that it relies on military action and rules out political approaches. Israel withdrew from Lebanon and then from Gaza unilaterally, rather than negotiating political settlements with the Lebanese government and the Palestinian Authority. The strengthening of Hezbollah and Hamas was a direct consequence of that approach. The war-on-terror concept stands in the way of recognizing this fact because it separates "us" from "them," and denies the fact that our actions may shape their behavior.
A third weakness is that the war-on-terror concept lumps together different political movements that use terrorist tactics. It fails to distinguish between Hamas, Hezbollah, Al-Qaida or the Sunni insurrection and the Mahdi militia in Iraq. Yet all these terrorist manifestations are different and require different responses. Neither Hamas nor Hezbollah can be treated merely as targets in the war on terror because they have deep roots in their societies, yet profound differences exist between them.
Looking back it is easy to see where Israeli policy went wrong. When Mahmoud Abbas was elected chairman of the PA, Israel should have gone out of its way to strengthen him and his reformist team. When Israel withdrew from Gaza, the former head of the World Bank, James Wolfensohn, negotiated a six-point plan for the Middle East on behalf of the Quartet (Russia, the United States, the European Union and the United Nations). It included opening crossings between Gaza and the West Bank, an airport and seaport in Gaza, opening the border with Egypt, and transferring the greenhouses abandoned by Israeli settlersinto Arab hands. None of the six points was implemented. This contributed to Hamas' electoral victory. The Bush administration, having pushed Israel to hold elections, then backed Israel's refusal to deal with a Hamas government.
The effect has been to impose further hardship on the Palestinians. Nevertheless, Abbas was able to forge an agreement with the political arm of Hamas for the formation of a unity government. It was to foil this agreement that the military branch of Hamas, run from Damascus, engaged in the provocation that brought a heavy-handed response from Israel - which in turn incited Hezbollah to further provocation, opening a second front. That is how extremists play off against each other to destroy any chance of political progress. Israel has been a participant in this game and President Bush bought into this flawed policy, uncritically supporting Israel. Events have shown that this policy leads to an escalation of violence. The process has advanced to the point where Israel's unquestioned military superiority is no longer sufficient to overcome the negative consequences of its policy. Israel is now more endangered existentially than it was at the time of the Oslo Accord.
Similarly, the United States has become less safe since President Bush declared war on terror. The time has come to realize that today's policies are counterproductive. There will be no end to the vicious circle of escalating violence without a political settlement of the Palestine question. In fact, the prospects for engaging in negotiations are better now than they were a few months ago. Israelis must realize that a military deterrent is not sufficient on its own. And Arabs, having redeemed themselves on the battlefield, may be more willing to entertain a compromise.
Strong voices argue that Israel must never negotiate from a position of weakness. They are wrong. Israel's position is liable to become weaker the longer it persists on its present course. Similarly, Hezbollah, having tasted the sense but not the reality of victory (and egged on by Syria and Iran), may prove recalcitrant. But that is where the difference between Hezbollah and Hamas comes into play. The people of Palestine yearn for peace and relief from suffering. The political - as distinct from the military - wing of Hamas must be responsive to their desires. It is not too late for Israel to encourage and to deal with an Abbas-led Palestinian unity government as the first step toward a better balanced approach.
What is missing is a U.S. government that is not blinded by the war-on-terror concept.
Financier and philanthropist George Soros is author of "The Age of Fallibility: Consequences of the War on Terror" (Public Affairs, 2006?).
Copyright: Project Syndicate, 2006.

6 Comments:

Blogger James Quigley said...

I can't believe you just quoted an idiot among idiots.

10:13 PM  
Blogger HCB said...

James - first, a clarification, please. Do you mean Soros is an idiot among other idiot writers? Or do you mean he is an idiot who has been quoted among the idiots who make up the commenters on this blog?

To you he's an "idiot" but the piece makes sense. Do you not agree the world has gotten less safe - especially for Americans - as the direct result of the "war on terror?" In fact, what IS the "war on terror?" How do we go about "winning" it and how will we know when we've "won?" Olmert said he was going to defeat Hezbollah - did he? Can he? He's sure made a lot of new enemies for himself and Israel, though. Is there ANY hope, even, for an end to the "war?" Will we continue to chase that dream at the rate of hundreds of deaths and billions of dollars a week forever? Will Israel be satisfied with a very expensive anti-missile system when the missiles come in the hundreds and thousands of them can be bought for the price of a single anti-missile missile?

Soros may be an "idiot" in the minds of some but I don't see it. Does that make me an "idiot" as well? And, if so, is the logical conclusion anything other than "if you don't agree he's an idiot, you're an idiot?"

The piece should not be so simply dismissed as the product of an idiot unworthy of consideration. If we ignore thoughts - even those with which we first disagree - then how in the world are we ever going to stop the madness?

10:42 PM  
Blogger sarah mac said...

this piece is so well put. viewing acts of aggression and warfare as a solution to terrorism has been and always will be the absolute worst course of action. america is learning that the hard way, but unfortunately with bush in office, we probably won't see any kind of public acknowledgement of this policy's complete failure until he's termed out. my fear is that if the international community doesn't sidestep him and initiate talks for a resolution, we'll have to wait 2 more years...in which time we will only see an escalation of the many conflicts brewing.

as an american who loves to travel, i got the bug early when i began going abroad as a young child. these experiences were instrumental in the development of my ability to recognize, appreciate and RESPECT cultural differences. back then no one cared that i was an american. if anything, it was hip. within 10 years that had changed and i claimed to be canadian while traveling in the middle east in my early 20's. now, 10 years later still, i view this white lie as an absolute necessity. some people have such incredible hatred for my country's international policies that i can't begin to build a relationship with them if they know my true nationality in advance. only after we've established some kind of rapport do i venture to admit the truth.

i hope that the international community recognizes and is willing to act on the need for a more peaceful approach to problem solving. big guns are undoubtedly feats of engineering, but they only have one purpose: to destroy.

6:47 AM  
Blogger Mr Wrath said...

One big problem at the moment, in my opinion, is the lack of balance in the U.S. government. Both the Senate and the House are Republican majority, and with a Republican President, this gives no balance at all, and too much power to the president.

I hope to see congress with a democratic majority in November to counter-balance the Republican President and make his last two years a lot less destructive.

I personally like to see a mix of both parties so that the U.S. citizens are less divided constantly, and bills are passed into law that satisfy a greater number of Americans.

1:12 PM  
Blogger M2Timechange said...

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5:11 PM  
Blogger M2Timechange said...

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5:19 PM  

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