Free-Floating Hostility

Monday, October 11, 2004

The nature of the war on terror

If you have 30 minutes in the next week, read this article about Kerry's true position on the war on terror. It's already being distorted by the Bush administration, because that's what Bush does these days. Taken together, however, the pieces form the basis on a discussion we'll never have about the true philosophical underpinnings of the "war of terror."

When you take Kerry's argument as framed in the article -- that best way to combat terror is not full-on war, but actually a mixture of special-force military might, financial interdiction, alliance building, intelligence sharing and border patrolling -- you have something that can be argued as a far more effective approach. Bush acts as if this idea is absurd, that the only way to go after "terror" is militarily. This, of course, explains why our military force is currently concentrated in Iraq where al Qaida was an extremely non-existent presence before the U.S. attacked.

The Times Magazine piece (page 7 on the web version) makes clear that Kerry's ideas about combating terror groups grow from his work in the late 1980s regarding Latin American drug cartels. He found that international criminal enterprises relied on their ability to move its money around the world

Kerry did discover that a wide array of international criminals -- Latin American drug lords, Palestinian terrorists, arms dealers -- had one thing in common: they were able to move money around through the same illicit channels. And he worked hard, and with little credit, to shut those channels down.

Kerry understands terror groups as non-state actors, which seems a sound theory. In that framework, the Taliban's Afghanistan becomes the exception that proves the rule. Osama bin Laden and Mullah Omar's relationship was too close to separate one from the other. Al-Qaida was based in Afghanistan, which means that it wasn't based anywhere else. Conventional military action, i.e. removing a government from power, seemed a legitimate choice in Afghanistan because it meant pursuing a country that was essentially a terrorist base. I can't name another country that fits that bill. Certainly, Iraq was not that. Further, if Bush's belief is that only the military can stop terrorist attack then we're fucked because the troops can't even defend themselves against car bombs in Iraq.

Kerry hasn't made that argument, insisting instead that he can pursue (note the double quotation marks) "'war on terror' more effectively." The Times magazine offers a glimpse into what that actually means. It proves that the difference between Kerry and Bush on terrorism is more than just stylistic.

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