Thursday, January 15, 2009

Miliband regrets 'war on terror.'

I have always argued that there is no such thing as a "war on terror"; it's simply a silly concept, which I regard as meaningless as the "war on drugs".

Wars are fought between nations, they cannot be fought against nouns.

And bin Laden and his supporters are not warriors, they are criminals. They are people who seek to kill civilians in the hope of advancing their cause.

Declaring war on them and treating them as if they represent some great threat to the future of civilisation bestows more prestige on them than they actually deserve.

Now, maybe David Miliband is finally making his bid for the leadership of the Labour party, but he has, at last, stepped up and said what many of us have long been arguing.

The idea of a "war on terror" is a "mistake", putting too much emphasis on military force, Foreign Secretary David Miliband has said.

Writing in the Guardian, Mr Miliband said the idea had unified disparate "terrorist groups" against the West.

He said the right response to the threat was to champion law and human rights - not subordinate it.
He hits the nail on the head here. This has been the basic dichotomy at the centre of the west's response to al Qaeda. We are told that they want to change our way of life and take away our basic freedoms. And yet, the government has also argued that the only way to defeat them is to surrender more and more of our civil liberties.

Those are contradictory claims. By surrendering our civil liberties aren't we therefore giving al Qaeda exactly what they want?

Miliband is merely picking up on a theme which the director of public prosecutions, Sir Ken Macdonald, has already articulated:
"It is critical that we understand that this new form of terrorism carries another more subtle, perhaps equally pernicious, risk. Because it might encourage a fear-driven and inappropriate response. By that I mean it can tempt us to abandon our values. I think it important to understand that this is one of its primary purposes."

Sir Ken pointed to the rhetoric around the "war on terror" - which has been adopted by Tony Blair and ministers after being coined by George Bush - to illustrate the risks.

He said: "London is not a battlefield. Those innocents who were murdered on July 7, 2005 were not victims of war.
And the men who killed them were not, as in their vanity they claimed on their ludicrous videos, 'soldiers'. They were deluded, narcissistic inadequates. They were criminals. They were fantasists. We need to be very clear about this. On the streets of London, there is no such thing as a 'war on terror', just as there can be no such thing as a 'war on drugs'.

"The fight against terrorism on the streets of Britain is not a war. It is the prevention of crime, the enforcement of our laws and the winning of justice for those damaged by their infringement."
Karl Rove sought to denigrate anyone who portrayed bin Laden and his cohorts as "criminals" for purely political purposes. After all, Bush could not claim the extraordinary powers he was citing as a "war president" without an actual war.

But, as Miliband is finally noting, the phrase "war on terror" gives bin Laden and his cohorts more legitimacy than they actually deserve.

The foreign secretary wrote that since 9/11 the phrase "war on terror" had "defined the terrain" when it came to tackling terrorism and that although it had merit, "ultimately, the notion is misleading and mistaken".

The phrase was first used by President Bush in an address to a joint session of Congress on 20 September 2001, in the aftermath of the attacks on New York and Washington.

Mr Miliband wrote that the phrase was all-encompassing and "gave the impression of a unified, transnational enemy, embodied in the figure of Osama Bin Laden and al-Qaeda" when the situation was far more complex.

Calling for groups to be treated as separate entities with differing motivations, he wrote that it was not a "simple binary struggle between moderates and extremists, or good and evil" and treating them as such was a mistake.

"Historians will judge whether [the notion] has done more harm than good", he said.
It is abundantly clear that the British Foreign Secretary, in the final days before Bush finally limps out of office, is of the opinion that the phrase has done much more harm than good.

He stated:
"Terrorism is a deadly tactic, not an institution or an ideology."
It is an act committed by criminals, which is why Bush's response of removing these people from the judicial process and dumping them in Guantanamo Bay was so wrong. We are nations of laws, and there are no criminals so severe that the law is unable to deal with them.

Bush, Rumsfeld and Cheney appeared to argue that, as these men were the "worst of the worst", normal courts would be insufficient to deal with them.

I always suspected that they made these arguments because they didn't have proper evidence against the people they were holding and that they were scared to release them in case they went on to commit further crimes which would reflect badly on the administration.

Whatever their reason for doing what they did, they have elevated these people way beyond anything they deserve. They are criminals pure and simple. And they should be treated as such.

That's not weakness, that is the very strength of our system of justice. It's counterproductive to declare "war" on these people. They are not warriors. They are criminals.

And Miliband, for whatever reason, has done well to say so.

Click title for full article.


Steel Phoenix said...

Very good post, as usual.

So much of what he said was not only true and very important, but also said in a way that makes sense.

I was discouraged by his tone on Israel and action though.

He seems to suggest that what should happen now, is both sides should declare another cease fire and call the whole thing even.

This is exactly what Israel wants. They want to go in, bomb everything flat, destroy any vestige of civilization, and then lave Gaza sick, starving, and walled in. Then they want to go home and ask that all this unpleasantness be forgotten.

Unfortunately, it is also the only outcome I see as likely. I can't imagine Obama is willing to expend the political capital taking a hard line against Israel would entail when he has so much he wants to accomplish here at home. I hate to say it, but I wouldn't. Maybe in a year or so.

Kel said...

SP, Miliband's tone on Israel is exactly what I would expect from New Labour. Blair was schooled on the Middle East by Lord Levy and decided that New Labour would be pro-Israel, something which he declined to share with the rank and file, who continue to favour the side that are being occupied rather than the occupiers.

Obama has said he will make this a priority from day one but, as you say, he'll have his work cut out there as the Democrats are as blindly pro-Israeli as the Republicans are.