Security Scholars for a War on Terror

Last week an antiwar news wire sent me “An Open Letter to the American People”, by the Security Scholars for a Sensible Foreign Policy. After reading it I immediately wondered why this document was being circulated on antiwar lists, because, as it occurred to me, this was in essence a pro-war document. I soon discovered that numerous progressive and radical Left media outlets had uncritically reported on it, using it, it seems, as an argument against the current US administrations policies in Iraq. CounterPunch carried the letter, so did Electronic Iraq, Democracy Now reported on it in their news headlines, and Jim Lobe’s review appeared in OneWorld.net, AlterNet and IPS. And this was only a quick survey…

The letter was signed by 725 foreign affairs “specialists” who oppose “the Bush administration’s foreign policy and [are] calling urgently for a change of course.” The signatories are from over 150 colleges and universities. They include former staff members at the Pentagon, the State Department, and the National Security Council. They also include six of the last seven Presidents of the American Political Science Association, and twelve former Presidents of the International Studies Association.

These “Foreign Policy Experts” openly declare “that the current American policy centered around the war in Iraq is the most misguided one since the Vietnam [war]”, and that one “result has been a great distortion in the terms of public debate on foreign and national security policy—an emphasis on speculation instead of facts, on mythology instead of calculation, and on misplaced moralizing over considerations of national interest.” They then state their noble purpose, “We write to challenge some of these distortions.” Sadly, these “Foreign Policy Experts” are limited in the facts they produce and as a consequence extend and promote the mythology that the US “War on Terror” is based on. The outcome is to direct the American people down a misplaced moral road that is really not all that different than the one they claim to oppose.

They write that they “applaud the Bush Administration for its initial focus on destroying al-Qaida bases in Afghanistan”. However, they continue, “its failure to engage sufficient U.S. troops to capture or kill the mass of al-Qaida fighters in the later stages of that war was a great blunder.” This is an applause for US imperialism on the one hand, but a criticism, from a pro-imperialist perspective, that the Bush Administration didn’t send enough troops to do the job correctly i.e. “capture or kill” so called “al-Qaida fighters”, on the other.

Then they elaborate on the rational behind their dissatisfaction, “the early shift of U.S. focus to Iraq diverted U.S. resources, including special operations forces and intelligence capabilities, away from direct pursuit of the fight against the terrorists.” They simply do not question the illegality of the war on Afghanistan, as a preemptive war violating Articles 2.4 and 51 of the UN Charter. Article 2.4 states “All Members shall refrain in their international relations from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state, or in any other manner inconsistent with the Purposes of the United Nations.”

Article 51, which was exploited to attack Afghanistan, states “Nothing in the present Charter shall impair the inherent right of individual or collective self-defence if an armed attack occurs against a Member of the United Nations, until the Security Council has taken measures necessary to maintain international peace and security. Measures taken by Members in the exercise of this right of self-defence shall be immediately reported to the Security Council and shall not in any way affect the authority and responsibility of the Security Council under the present Charter to take at any time such action as it deems necessary in order to maintain or restore international peace and security.”

There was no reason to act in self defence towards Afghanistan because the Security Council had already passed two resolutions condemning the Sept. 11 attacks and announced measures aimed at combating terrorism. So the results is a subsequent violation of Articles 51 and 2.4.

In addition, Milan Rai’s Oct. 16th ZNet commentary reminds us that the Taliban had agreed to extradite Bin Laden which would have removed the US rational for the pummeling of Afghanistan. As Rai says, “This story blows an enormous hole in the government’s rationale for war. The British and US people were told that we were being forced to go to war because the Taliban had refused point-blank to hand over Bin Laden. The…story revealed, however, that in fact the Taliban, far from refusing to contemplate extradition, had agreed to hand over Bin Laden for trial, possibly in the US.”

Not any mention of this in the Security Scholars letter… Rather it is assumed that the war on Afghanistan, as pointed to above, was a just and rational war.

How about the war on Iraq? The letter says that the justifications offered by the “Bush Administration for the war in Iraq have been proven untrue” and that there is no evidence linking Iraq and al-Qaida, and the threat of “weapons of mass destruction” were virtually nonexistent. Okay, we can agree here. But then we are told that in “comparative terms, Iran is and was much the greater sponsor of terrorism, and North Korea and Pakistan pose much the greater risk of nuclear proliferation to terrorists.” Why stop at these countries? In “comparative terms” why not include the US and Israel in the list of states that sponsor terrorism? Or why not look at how these two states proliferate WMD?

They acknowledge that Iraqis are worse off now then under Saddam Hussein. However, their answer to this problem is that “the Administration committed an inadequate number of troops to the occupation [of Iraq]”. Nowhere does the letter mention UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan’s recent statement that the US led war on Iraq was “illegal”. Nor do they discuss Washington’s grand strategy, which as Noam Chomsky outlined in 2003, distinguishes preemptive from “preventive war”, “Whatever the justifications for pre-emptive war might be, they do not hold for preventive war, particularly as that concept is interpreted by its current enthusiasts: the use of military force to eliminate an invented or imagined threat, so that even the term “preventive” is too charitable.  Preventive war is, very simply, the “supreme crime” condemned at Nuremberg.”

Slamming the US invasion of Iraq — albeit for some of the right, but mostly wrong reasons — the letter goes on to state that “the excessive U.S. focus on Iraq led to weak and inadequate responses to the greater challenges posed by North Korea’s and Iran’s nuclear programs, and diverted resources from the economic and diplomatic efforts needed to fight terrorism in its breeding grounds in Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, and elsewhere in the Middle East.” This is not a letter in the interest of stopping an unjust, illegal war. This a letter arguing how best to fight the “war on terror”.

These “Scholars” concern is one of strategy, how best to build empire without completely alienating those being occupied. How to best wage the “war on terror” without spurring on an international anti-war movement. The over all question is “how best to exercise imperial power?” The answer is as Eliot Cohen says in the July/August, 2004, issue of Foreign Affairs, “effectively, even against the wishes of it’s allies, it should do so with a bland smile, not boastful words”, and that is what this letter suggests.

Chris Spannos is an American residing in Canada.

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