To win the fight against terrorism, the US must stop approaching it as a war
Stabroek News
September 22, 2001

Dear Editor,

Emotional energy is a powerful force and it is about to run the US into a minefield which could have catastrophic ramifications across the globe. Escalating military threats are increasing regional instability as many populations are growing resentful of US ultimatums. Terrorists have vowed to widen their attacks beyond US territories if a war ensues. It's time for the international community to step forward before the US makes matters worse.

Thus far, Colin Powell has held two rules in his foreign policy: respond with overwhelming force and always maintain a clear exit strategy. The problem with terrorism is that overwhelming force removes all exit strategies. The more forceful the US military reaction, the greater the increase in enemies, the less the opportunity for withdrawal. Indeed, this is a different type of war. It will be lost with brute force or won with smart pressure.

The perpetrators of this heinous crime must be brought to justice and their support networks taken out of operation permanently. The exact opposite will be achieved by a US military response. Bombing or sending in troops may help

restore the nation's self-confidence. But it will also increase Bin Laden's recruitment by arming him with images of American aircraft attacking Islamic states and killing civilians. At the root of anti-Americanism is the perception of the US as a global bully. The US does what it wants because it can. Bombing or invading will only prove this perception correct, thereby creating more militants willing to sacrifice their lives to show that even the strongest nation in the world cannot act with impunity.

The alternative is to employ smart pressure. That means acting through the law not above it. Bring forward the evidence, which surely exists, and indict bin Laden as a mass murderer. Using global law enforcement collaboration plus moral leverage is an approach with twice the effectiveness and half the blowback. Pursuing the problem as an international criminal investigation, as with other terrorists, will lend the US the ethical and legal credibility it needs to remove bin Laden rather than merely drive him underground where he thrives.

Smart pressure will entail that the US shifts from its unilateralism of force to an internationalism based on UN resolutions, international law and a fight for justice not vengeance. A first step in this direction will be for the US to end its opposition to an International Criminal Court and instead recognize how such a court is needed precisely to deal with international problems like terrorism. An internationally accountable police agency to enforce the court's jurisdiction would go much farther than any single-handed US approach.

If the US drops its war rhetoric, governments in the Middle East will be much more inclined to co-operate with requests for assistance in tracking down and arresting bin Laden and his associates. The deliberate murder of innocents is as much a crime and an abomination in Muslim societies as it is in Christian societies. It would be foolish to forget that it is only a fringe element of the world's 1.2 billion Muslims who have seized upon violence to address their grievances. Yet, US unilateralist rhetoric and military manoeuvres are quickly alienating countries throughout Middle East and beyond.

Using military might to intimidate world leaders into unequivocally backing US decisions will only sow instability and popular resentment. Even the Taliban initially stated that they would hand over bin Laden if there was proof of his role. But as the US grew more forceful in its threats, the Taliban became more entrenched in their defensiveness. Now, many Afghanis in the region who have stated that they despise the Taliban are also saying that they will return to fight if the Americans continue their aggressive course.

To win the fight against terrorism, the US must stop approaching it as a war and begin attacking it as a crime. Understandably, Americans are still deeply angry from the recent tragedy. Before it is too late, the international community must provide the necessary calm and perspective to put forward more effective solutions. Global security and stability lie in the balance.

Yours faithfully,

Ian Urbina

Middle East Research and Information Project