The Times of India
Beware the Bushfire
Use of Force and the Pathology of Terror
By SIDDHARTH VARADARAJAN
ANY nation that has been the victim of such an unspeakable crime as
the killing of thousands of innocent people in New York and Washington
will find it difficult to resist the urge to retaliate against
suspects and their backers with overwhelming force.
This is especially true for the United States, which is the world's
most powerful country and one whose mainland has been immune to the
depredations of terror and war.
Nevertheless, the Bush administration would do well to resist the
temptation to lash out. Tuesday's terrorist outrages call for
painstaking investigation in order to identify the individuals or
groups responsible so that they may be brought to justice.
Any use of force by the US will probably be illegal in international
law and counter-productive as well. America cannot buy security for
its own people by making life more insecure for people elsewhere.
US airstrikes will invariably lead to the 'collateral' killing of
innocent civilians and provide more fuel to the already incendiary
mindset of those who have historically been victims of US policies.
Far from stopping terrorist outrages, US airstrikes will make future
occurrences even more likely.
When the use of force in international politics has been raised to the
level of a cult by the US in the years since the Cold War ended, it is
inevitable that America's enemies and victims around the world will
adopt equally monstrous methods.
The attack on the World Trade Center is a product of the same diseased
moral compass which allows the slow strangulation of Iraq's civilian
population through economic sanctions, the destruction of Sudan's main
pharmaceutical plant, the killing of journalists in the deliberate
bombing of Belgrade's television station, or the continuing
humiliation of the Palestinians.
Thanks to US insistence on sanctions remaining in place, more than
500,000 Iraqis have been sent to an early grave, most of them
children. The official Iraqi reaction to Tuesday's carnage was
appallingly callous; but no more so than Madeleine Albright's ghastly
declaration that the death of half a million Iraqi children ''is a
price worth paying''.
In the past, Washington has used force against those it considered
responsible for acts of terrorism but none of its actions brought the
US greater security.
In 1986, the Reagan administration sent bombers to blast an area
around the residence of Libyan leader Muammar Gaddhafi in retaliation
for the bombing of a Berlin discotheque in which two American soldiers
Scores of innocent people, including Gaddhafi's infant daughter, were
killed but Washington has still been unable to prove the complicity of
the Libyan government in the Berlin bombing.
If that bombing was meant to serve as a 'deterrent', it was, by
Washington's own reckoning, a spectacular failure since, according to
the US, Libyan agents later planted a bomb on PanAm 103 which exploded
over Lockerbie in Scotland.
In 1998, the Clinton administration fired cruise missiles at a
medicine factory in Khartoum, Sudan, and a suspected training camp of
Osama bin Laden at Khost in Afghanistan.
The attack was in retaliation for the bombing of its embassies in
Kenya and Tanzania. The US claimed the Sudanese factory was a chemical
weapons plant but blocked an attempt by the UN to investigate the
veracity of this charge.
The owner of that factory is now suing the US in a Washington court
for millions of dollars. As for the former CIA operative, Osama, the
Khost attack did nothing to blunt his enmity or capacity to hit back.
Earlier this year, militants believed to be linked to the Saudi
millionaire blew a huge hole in USS Cole, a US warship anchored off
Aden. And now, if initial leads by US investigators prove correct,
Osama's men have delivered their most catastrophic and brutal blow
Even as they mourn the thousands who died in New York and Washington,
the American people must resolve to force their government never to
undertake military operations which violate international law and
place innocent civilians at risk.
Rather than seeking to build an international coalition against
'terrorism' in order to try and eliminate the problem though the use
of force, the US must confront the historical legacy of its flawed
policies towards West Asia and other parts of the world.
US support for repressive regimes like Israel and Saudi Arabia, its
interventions in Lebanon and Afghanistan, and its use of sanctions as
a weapon of mass destruction against the people of Iraq have caused so
much death and suffering that irrationality has become an integral
part of the region's politics. As the grievances pile up in
combustible layers, fanatics have no difficulty in finding and
motivating others to do the unthinkable.
In the territories occupied by Israel, for example, young Palestinians
are prepared to blow themselves up just so that they can kill one
Israeli in the process. No cruise missile or world coalition can ever
provide protection from such a perverse and self-destructive sense of
Only the implementation of UN Security Council resolutions and the
chance for Palestinians to live in dignity can help. Full statehood
for the Palestinians and the dismantling of Israeli settlements in the
West Bank and Gaza will do more to take the wind out of Osama's sails
than the bombing of Kabul, Kandahar or Khost.
Since several hundred Indian nationals are thought to have been killed
in the attack on the World Trade Center, India is very much an
But instead of counselling the Bush administration that it is
embarking on a foolish and dangerous path which can only make the
world's peoples more insecure, the Vajpayee government has indicated
that it will offer the US military facilities for the 'war' against
Of course, the government is being driven primarily by its desire to
use Washington against Islamabad but what this will also do is to make
the US even more of a player in South Asia than it already is.
Those desirous of an alliance between India and the US may ask whether
that is necessarily a bad thing. What they should realise is that
America has its interests and will stick to them.
'Global' coalitions are summoned only when those interests are
endangered. Helping India to develop, feel secure or combat terrorism
do not figure anywhere in Mr Bush's list of priorities.