'War on Terror' Will be Won at Home

Comment by Mark Weisbrot

It is now accepted by most experts and, according to the latest polls, 60 percent of Americans, that the decision to invade Iraq has increased the threat of terrorism. Five years after the twin towers crumbled in a horrifying spectacle, our government’s foreign policy has done more to recruit terrorists and sympathizers than anything that Osama Bin Laden could have imagined.

The United States today faces no real security threat from any country. Russia and China have nuclear missiles that could reach the United States, and theoretically they could use them. But so, too, could Britain or France. For now, at least, none of these countries have any significant probability of attacking the United States.

Countries deemed as hostile by our government, such as Iran, Syria, or North Korea, do not even have the capability to threaten the United States. The trick that our political leaders have played on us is to confuse the real threat from certain individuals – e.g. Al Qaeda and its sympathizers or ideological allies – with an imaginary threat from selected countries. This gives them a workable justification, for political and public relations purposes, to pursue military and other actions against governments that they find inconvenient to their plans for any particular region.

This pretext could last for a long time if we allow it. During the Cold War, which lasted for more than four decades after World War II, a “Communist threat” that turned out to be more mythical than real was used to justify a whole number of foreign interventions and disasters, including the Vietnam War.

The “war on terror,” if left unchallenged, has perhaps even greater potential than the Cold War to put the United States in a state of perpetual conflict and militarism. For one thing, the blowback is more immediate. The U.S military rained bombs, napalm and defoliants on Vietnam, destroyed villages and committed countless atrocities. But it never occurred to the Vietnamese revolutionaries to blow up buildings in the United States. They were Leninists, and Lenin disparaged terrorism as “an infantile disorder.”

Americans were lucky that the people that our government chose as enemies during the Cold War were Leninists or Marxists of some sort, or social democrats, all of whom were either ideologically or tactically opposed to terrorist retaliation. Not so today. There are tens of thousands who even be willing to blow themselves to bits, just to rid their part of the world of American “crusaders.”

To reduce the threat of real terrorism – which for Americans at home is still less than the threat of being struck by lightning – we will have to stop making so many enemies. That means getting out of Iraq. And calling a halt to the threats of military action against Iran. And not torturing prisoners at Guantanamo or elsewhere. And using diplomacy, negotiations, and international co-operation generally rather than relying on bullying and threats.

Most importantly, it means giving up on the project of America as an empire. This will also put an end to the phony “war on terror,” the one that is little more than pretext for unnecessary wars such as the one that our government started in Iraq.
In other words, the war on terror will be won at home, by changing our foreign policy. It may take some years to do so. But the alternative is an endless cycle in which our government’s militarism generates more hatred and terrorist attacks, which then are used to justify further military actions – further eroding our civil liberties, living standards, and the moral fabric of our society.

Mark Weisbrot is Co-Director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR), in Washington DC.

Posted: 11 September 2006.

Recommended citation: Weisbrot, Mark (2006) ''War on Terror' Will be Won at Home', World Economy & Development In Brief, 11 September (www.wdev.eu)

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