Permanent war cries out for end

15 March 2019

Permanent war cries out for end

Since 2001 the Netherlands has supported every war of intervention in the Middle East and beyond. These wars have been waged under the leadership of the United States in order, in their own words, to defeat world-wide terrorism. It began in Afghanistan, where even after some seventeen years of fighting no end to the conflict is in sight.

- By Sadet Karabulut

In Afghanistan, since the US invasion of 2001, the Taliban and other armed groups have only become stronger, committing ever more attacks. The Dutch government, at the request of President Trump, last years sent additional troops to the country, troops who will stay in place until at the earliest the end of 2021. If you look at the goals in the light of the hundreds of billions of euros spent, the millions of refugees and deaths which have resulted, you might ask yourself what possesses the government that it should continue to support this war without end.

In Iraq war has been raging since 2003, with an interval of a couple of years. What began with lies about the presence of weapons of mass destruction and the dictator Saddam Hussein's ties with Al Qaeda, culminated in 2014 in the rapid rise of ISIS. Once again the reaction was western bombing of Iraq, and later of Syria, where the terrorist group had succeeded in gaining a foothold. Dutch soldiers are also stationed in Iraq.

Just as in Afghanistan there seems no chance as things stand of an end to the conflict. The country remains extremely unstable. Minorities are being marginalised and oppressed, perpetuating the breeding ground of terrorism. Despite these poor results, western countries by their own account remain attached to the instrument of war as a means of defeating the terrorists and bringing stability. This is what is happening also in countries such as Yemen, Pakistan, Somalia and Libya, where the US commits regular drone attacks.

After seventeen years of war we must surely conclude that terrorism and the threat of terrorism have grown enormously. On the basis of figures from an American university and the federal government, the Cato Institute calculated that in the year 2000 there were thirteen Islamist-inspired terrorist groups, a figure which had risen to forty-four by 2015. In 2000 those thirteen organisations involved more than 32,000 fighters, while in 2015 the number had risen to almost 110,000. Globally the number of attacks has risen by a factor of eight to nearly 15,000.

Europe too has to cope with increased terrorism, with France, Britain, Germany, Belgium, Spain and the Netherlands having been confronted since 2001 with bloody attacks, many committed by young people raised on the soil of those same countries. Tensions among different population groups has risen rapidly. Foreign policy has increasingly become domestic policy. Growing insecurity domestically and internationally should set national and international leaders to rethinking their chosen security strategy.

The course chosen is one of unending war, with leaders promising to defeat terrorism by deploying their armed forces. Yet despite the collapse of ISIS' caliphate and the death of Osama bin Laden, one can only conclude that this approach has been a total failure.

Not only has there been, since 2001, far more terrorism and a greater terrorist threat, but in the name of the fight against terror, in the name of the US and its allies, death and destruction have been sown on an immense scale. More than a million people have died, millions have been forced to flee their homes and whole towns have been devastated. At the same time, moral red lines have been crossed, with torture employed in the prison at Guantanamo Bay and elsewhere. International law has been violated, by the illegal, Netherlands-supported invasion of Iraq as well as other actions.

It's absolutely clear that this military approach to terrorism is a major reason for the adverse results. The bizarre reality is that the 'war against terrorism' is feeding on itself. Rash military interventions have meant that countries in which the Jihadists had previously had little or no foothold are now providing them with safe havens. And every attack with a drone or an F-16 bomber plane in which civilians are killed - and there are many – motivates the next generations of young people to take up arms against the West. The exact same conclusion has for years been drawn by western intelligence services.

Attacks on the West in particular are then used by supporters of endless war as a reason to continue and intensify the fight. They want to bomb still more and expose even more soldiers to danger. It's a senseless vicious circle.

If we persist with this failed approach what it will mean is war without end, a permanent war. Aside from the military industry and a few oil giants who have hugely enriched themselves in Iraq since 2003, this fight knows only losers. This idiocy must stop.

The question of what should then be done is not easy to answer, but what's certain is that when western countries are no longer guilty of creating innocent victims in the Middle East and elsewhere, Jihadist organisations will have lost the most powerful argument used to recruit people willing to commit attacks. This won't mean an immediate disappearance of the terrorist threat against the West, as military interventions have alienated whole generations. That goes for certain groups within Dutch society, amongst whom some individuals are prepared to commit unacceptable acts.

This must of course be combated. This is primarily a domestic task, one for effective deradicalisation programmes, while for the police and secret services more funding is needed. It's also important that the exclusion of migrant communities and discrimination and racism be effectively combated, because these too are factors in shaping breeding grounds for terrorism. At the same time it's essential that undesirable financing, running into billions of euros a year, by Saudi Arabia and others via which radical, bigoted ideas are spread, is ended.

After seventeen years of war with no positive results it's above all of the utmost importance that the role of the armed forces in foreign policy be strongly reduced. It's bizarre that western policy-makers have been convinced that they can address complex problems in far-off countries, such as terrorism and dictatorship, using military means. At a time when the malleability of our own societies in the West has been called into question with the rise of neoliberal thought in the last quarter of the twentieth century, this same malleability of countries such as Afghanistan and Iraq has been an article of faith. Nation-building, it's called. This idea must be abandoned.

This surely must have consequences for the organisation of the armed forces. The results of the permanent war provide no justification for an army capable of acting far from home in the highest spectrum of violence, an idea currently held dear, as shown by, amongst other things, the purchase of the JSF fighter planes. A major increase in the defence budget, over which there is a broad political consensus, is equally unjustified. Terrorism can't be bombed into oblivion. It's precisely the violence of war on which it feeds.

Concomitant to ridding ourselves of the conviction that military intervention can resolve complex problems on the other side of the world must come a reevaluation of diplomacy. History does not reveal its alternative course, but what might have happened if the UN arms inspectors in Iraq early in 2003 had been given more time to determine that the country did not have weapons of mass destruction available to it? Would Iraq then not have been illegally invaded? Would more than a million deaths been avoided? Would ISIS not have been created? Would the horrific attacks in Europe have never occurred? Would fewer refugees have fled to Europe?

All of this leads us to the conclusion that the UN must be strengthened. The war on Iraq, fought with no UN mandate, and NATO's war in Libya, where a UN mandate authorising actions for the protection of civilians was misused to pursue regime change, caused the UN enormous damage. More recently, illegal military actions, for example Turkey's incursion into northern Syria from January 2018, and the American-French-British attack on the same country a few months later, show that the UN's crucial principles continue to be under huge pressure. Every form of illegal action, of actions outside the UN, must be prevented.

Instead of still more violence, the countries where the US and its allies have performed air-raid after air-raid are in need above all of humanitarian aid. Not bombs but bread. It's unacceptable and hypocritical that 'Coalitions of the Willing' are prepared to spend trillions of dollars on waging senseless wars, while time after time inadequate contributions are made to UN aid appeals, appeals which amount to a fraction of the costs of the 'War on Terror'.

Reconstruction can also be an effective way to counter Jihadist groups. Take Iraq. The Iraqi army and militias loyal to it had, with extensive western support, bombed to rubble large parts of the area where ISIS was pulling the strings. Many hundreds of thousands of people, most of them from Sunni backgrounds, were forced to flee the area as a result of this violence and now live in camps for those made homeless. The Sunni are the religious tendency from which ISIS had previously recruited thousands of fighters, and if the position of the Sunni community in Iraq is not improved, this could lead to further problems in the future. Reconstruction is therefore crucial, in addition to which an inclusive political executive is necessary, as are respect for human rights and, on another level, lowering the rate of poverty.

There's no more need for additional arms than there is for more bombing. Already, in a country such as Syria, where during the horrific struggle which began in 2011 more than half a million people have lost their lives and millions more have been forced to flee, virtually everything is in short supply, from clean drinking water to medical provisions. But of one thing there is emphatically no shortage – weapons. Still more arms, whether they come from Russia or Iran, or from the US and countries such as Turkey and Saudi Arabia, mean still more violence.

It's in this context bizarre that the Netherlands has for years been sending military materiel to opposition groups in Syria, a matter about which the government has once again lied to Parliament. This is referred to euphemistically as 'non-lethal support'. If Syrian civilians and those in other war-torn countries need anything, it's less military materiel - and an arms embargo. Feed armed conflicts from outside the affected area and what generally happens is that you prolong the fighting.

The refugee crisis, exacerbated by western interventions in the region, also calls for a serious response. Some seventy million people the world over, who have been forced to flee their homes, are in large majority accommodated in their own regions. Refugee camps are bursting at the seams. A country such as Lebanon, where more than one in three inhabitants is a refugee, cannot carry still more of the burden. The west must take its responsibility and accept more refugees from war, providing them with generously financed accommodation.

After seventeen years of war things must change drastically. It's time for peace. Or, so that President Trump can also understand the message: ‘Make peace great again!’

This article orginally appeared in the SP editorial "Spanning". Sadet Karabulut is a member of parliament with the Dutch socialist party SP

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