With the death of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, purported to be the al-Qaeda number one guy in Iraq, the American military is working itself up into a fine old state of excitement. After military personnel combing through the wreckage of the bombsite found Mr. al-Zarqawi's diaries, phone books and computers, Major General William Caldwell said the troops had found a "treasure trove" and that 56 raids had already been carried out as a result.
That after a bombing raid that was strong enough to kill five people, and reduce a house to a large amount of rubble, soldiers were able to find diaries, phone books and one working database in a computer, pushes credibility somewhat. To believe that any of the information written down or recorded at this location is pertinent to the workings of al-Qaeda either in Iraq or anywhere seems a little ludicrous.
You live in an city that's occupied by one of the largest occupying armies ever seen and you head up the operations of the most wanted terrorist group in the world and you're going to leave information like Osama's home number in your diary? Better yet your personal notebooks are going to be filled with detailed plans of all future operations in Baghdad, down to the detail of everyone's name and address that's going to be involved.
Just in case your memory has really gotten bad, you also create a database that lists all the names, addresses, and phone numbers of all contacts. Even more fortuitous is that it's the one database that manages to survive the bombing attack. Amazing.
There's no denying that some journals or phone diaries survived, or that the American army may have carried out 56 raids as they claim to have in today's Globe and Mail newspaper. But did you notice they're awfully silent as to the nature of whom they've exactly raided and what the raids have accomplished.
Oh, they can spout security issues all they want, but have you noticed if they ever do anything right they make damn sure we know about it no matter how important the security issue might be. The only time there are security issues are those occasions when saying something will look embarrassing. It's not quite as impressive to say 'we hit three take-out Falafel stands, an all-night grocery store, and the guy's grandmother's house last night', as it is to say 'we've already conducted 56 raids'.
Sure there might be one or two genuine bits of information that they picked up, but remember this guy also ran a web site and most of the stuff he's going to have just lying around in his computers will be the usual propaganda garbage that is of no use to anyone. Why do these guys always feel the need to exaggerate the importance of what's happened? They've been doing it for so long now that it gets harder and harder to know when anything of genuine importance happens.
That they killed Abu Musab al-Zarqawi is without question, but you have to wonder why they had to do it in this manner. Why bomb a house when you occupy the territory the guy lives in. Why not just stake out the place and pick him up off the street one-day when he leaves so you can have him for questioning. If he's as important as they claim he was, wouldn't he have been more valuable alive than dead as a source of information?
If the terrorists are able to pick up anybody they want at random off the streets no matter how well protected they are and hold them for ransom, how come the U.S. military and Intelligence forces aren't capable of doing the same thing? They don't seem to have any hesitancy about using torture on low-level Iraqi soldiers to try to find out information, why not pick this guy up and try to find out the location of Osama or details of al-Qaeda's upcoming attacks?
What advantage is to be gained by killing one individual, and any civilians that happened to be in that building at the time? All they've successfully done is create another martyr who has died for the cause and created more victims to be held up as proof of American perfidy.
Haven't they learned anything from watching the Israeli attempts to cut off the head of the snake by targeting leaders? These groups are like a hydra; you cut off one limb and two more grow to replace it. You may cause a temporary lull in activities, if you're lucky, but the more likely reaction will be an increase in terrorist attacks.
In fact the first word out of Al-Qaeda has been that they are planning a series of reprisal attacks. General George Casey, the top U.S. general in Iraq, responded by saying he expected them "to try to do what they said".
He continued by saying:
I think what you're going to see is an enhanced security operation here announced by the prime minister in Baghdad over the course of the coming week and a tightening of security in the Baghdad area. So … it's expected, but I think we'll be prepared for it. But again, you can't stop terrorist attacks completely.
I thought the point had been to prevent that sort of thing from happening by getting rid of this guy. Isn't that what this all about, the whole war on terror, a matter of ending the attacks and keeping people safe? So why is it that not only when they do bump one of these guys off they not only expect the attacks to increase, but admit that they really can't do anything about them?
Is it because, even though they know this strategy doesn't work, they have no option but to keep exercising it because they've closed the doors on all other options, too securely too long ago, for them to be reopened? That all of a sudden if they change the focus of their foreign policy to more Marshall Plan and less "bomb them back to the stone age" no one will trust them anymore?
Or is it even worse and they still believe that they are on the right track despite all contrary evidence. The Taliban have regained more of a foothold in Afghanistan and are making life miserable again for the Coalition troops. A Taliban-like force has just captured the capital of Somalia and has taken over ipso facto rule of the country (including banning televising the World Cup which might see an end to their rule quickly if they are not careful). A homegrown terrorist cell, not of immigrants but of people born in Canada, was uncovered in parts of Ontario Canada this past week. Although it waits to be seen how real a threat they were, the fact they exist at all should be worrisome.
In other words the conditions that existed five years ago haven't changed and the motivations, real or otherwise, for young Islamic men to become involved haven't decreased. It's very easy for charismatic leaders to whip starving people into frenzied states of hatred against an enemy. It's immaterial whether that enemy is to blame for their woes or not.
Whether it's Israel, the U.S. or just the West in general, it doesn't seem to matter any more. We’ve all come to symbolize in the eyes of the terrorists the cause of their problems for one reason or another. Our current actions are doing nothing to dispel that image among too many of the people who would be most likely to join the ranks of the terrorists.
Not finishing the job properly in Afghanistan was the first mistake made by the American administration. Instead of scurrying off to Iraq and committing all its resources there, it should have capitalized on the universal support it had for the action against the Taliban and commenced with a serious rebuilding program. That would have been the heaviest blow they could have struck against al-Qaeda. Don't give them any ammunition of substance.
It might take a while, but people will believe their own eyes sooner or later, and if they saw American troops working with farmers building irrigation ditches instead of foxholes they would know who was and who wasn't the enemy. Sure it won't be universal, but not everybody is going to like everybody anyway.
But twenty-twenty hindsight is pretty much useless except as a means to hopefully learn from previous mistakes. I'm sure the last thing most people expect to hear from me is that troops have to stay in Iraq until the jobs done, but that's just the way it is. Coalition troops cannot abandon that country to civil war and the infrastructure disaster that exists now.
The quickest way out now is to put as much energy and money into helping the country rebuild, but not by depleting their oil reserves to generate the funds necessary. This has already proven a nightmare of graft and corruption as millions of dollars of that money has gone missing in the hands of the American civilians responsible for the reconstruction and the military in one part of the country.
Tangible proof has to be given of the Americans' desire to rebuild and not just to invade Iraq for them to gain the respect and trust needed to quell the terrorists. Withdrawing the troops without that sort of commitment will leave a vacuum like the one in Afghanistan that will be filled by the terrorists and will be further "proof" of the fact that Westerners don't care about Muslims.
The real war on terror has to be fought in the hearts and minds of the people living without hope in refugee camps and amongst the young men who believe they have no future. There has to be some sort of viable alternative offered to the false lure of heroism that is promised by the terrorists. If not all the victories on the battle field will be for nought, and all the lives of the young men and women that have been spent to this point will have been wasted.
It's still not too late to change from a war on terror to a war on the causes of terrorism, but we need to make that distinction soon, or we may find ourselves trapped in a never-ending cycle of violence. That should be the real terror we are fighting against.