Vicious Cycle of Violence

Noted defense and counterterrrorism expert George Soros [otbblog/jamesotb] offers some criticisms of the way the Bush administration has conducted the war on terror.

Imagine for a moment that Sept. 11 had been treated as a crime against humanity. We would have pursued Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan (hopefully with more success), but we would not have invaded Iraq. Nor would we today have our military struggling to perform police work in full combat gear, getting soldiers killed in the process.

This does not mean that we should not use military means to capture and bring terrorists to justice when appropriate. But to protect ourselves against terrorism, we need precautionary measures, awareness and intelligence gathering — all of which ultimately depend on the support of the populations among which terrorists operate. Declaring war on the very people we need to enlist against terrorism is a huge mistake. We are bound to create some innocent victims, and the more of them there are, the greater the resentment and the better the chances that some victims will turn into the next perpetrators.

On Sept. 11, the United States was the victim of a heinous crime, and the whole world expressed spontaneous and genuine sympathy. Since then, though we Americans are loath to admit it, the war on terrorism has claimed more innocent civilians in Afghanistan and Iraq than were lost in the attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon. The comparison is rarely made in the U.S.: American lives are valued differently from the lives of foreigners, but the distinction is less obvious to people abroad.

This is a novel theory. I would observe, however, that the 9/11 attacks–and, indeed, numerous other attacks by Islamist terrorists on Americans–took place before our invasion of Iraq, so it’s conceivable to me that something other than our invasion of Iraq is the root cause of Islamist hostility.

I would also note that just about every war in history cost more lives than the precipitating events. Only 49 civilians were killed during the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, for example. I don’t have the exact figures in front of me, but more people died during WWII. Should we not have fought it? Indeed, leaving aside the Holocaust–which was, after all, not a precipitating cause of the war–far fewer people were killed by all of Hitler’s actions through the invasion of Poland–the proximate cause of British declaration of war against Hitler–than were killed during the Blitz that ensued. So what?

In his September 1988 Jihad Against Jews and Crusaders, Osama bin Laden listed several justifications for declaring war against America and its allies:

First, for over seven years the United States has been occupying the lands of Islam in the holiest of places, the Arabian Peninsula, plundering its riches, dictating to its rulers, humiliating its people, terrorizing its neighbors, and turning its bases in the Peninsula into a spearhead through which to fight the neighboring Muslim peoples.

If some people have in the past argued about the fact of the occupation, all the people of the Peninsula have now acknowledged it. The best proof of this is the Americans’ continuing aggression against the Iraqi people using the Peninsula as a staging post, even though all its rulers are against their territories being used to that end, but they are helpless.

Second, despite the great devastation inflicted on the Iraqi people by the crusader-Zionist alliance, and despite the huge number of those killed, which has exceeded 1 million… despite all this, the Americans are once against trying to repeat the horrific massacres, as though they are not content with the protracted blockade imposed after the ferocious war or the fragmentation and devastation.

So here they come to annihilate what is left of this people and to humiliate their Muslim neighbors.

Third, if the Americans’ aims behind these wars are religious and economic, the aim is also to serve the Jews’ petty state and divert attention from its occupation of Jerusalem and murder of Muslims there. The best proof of this is their eagerness to destroy Iraq, the strongest neighboring Arab state, and their endeavor to fragment all the states of the region such as Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Sudan into paper statelets and through their disunion and weakness to guarantee Israel’s survival and the continuation of the brutal crusade occupation of the Peninsula.

So, the Islamists hate us for being in Saudi Arabia–under U.N. auspices and invitation by the Saudi government; for enforcing U.N. sanctions against Saddam Hussein persuant to his failure to live up to the terms of the peace treaty that was forced upon him after his forcible expulsion from a Muslim country he’d invaded; and for being allied with Israel. For these crimes,

The ruling to kill the Americans and their allies — civilians and military — is an individual duty for every Muslim who can do it in any country in which it is possible to do it, in order to liberate the al-Aqsa Mosque and the holy mosque [Mecca] from their grip, and in order for their armies to move out of all the lands of Islam, defeated and unable to threaten any Muslim. This is in accordance with the words of Almighty Allah, “and fight the pagans all together as they fight you all together,” and “fight them until there is no more tumult or oppression, and there prevail justice and faith in Allah.”

So, to al Qaeda and their supporters, we had long been at war prior to 9/11, let alone the Iraq War.

Soros’s claim that “we’ve declar[ed] war on the very people we need to enlist against terrorism” is absurd. Rather than wage a war against Muslims–a much larger percentage of whom hate us, frankly, than we seem willing to acknowledge–we have instead fought a very measured campaign against two tyranical regimes, the Taliban and Hussein. In both of these, we used extraordinary and historically unprecedented measures to ensure the safety of civilians. The level of restraint shown by the United States has been nothing short of stunning.

FILED UNDER: Afghanistan War, Terrorism, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Delta Dave says:

    Soros said, “Declaring war on the very people we need to enlist against terrorism is a huge mistake.”

    I beleive Mr. Soros has it backward. Did not OBL declare war on the US long before 9-11? The fact that the US did not acknowledge that a state of war existed between international terrorism/terrorist until after 9-11 does not make the US the instigator.

    Actually, as I read his statement literally, he is suggesting that we the “very people we need to enlist in the war against terrorism” is the terrorist themselves …. which I believe is Mr. Kerry’s platform…we must be forgiving and understanding, and change our ways if we want to be loved by the world and the terrorist.

  2. dondo says:

    Don’t be dense. The terrorists have friends who are able to give us warning, and some might have been willing to do so. But if they have just lived through bombing and open warfare, have seen friends and family killed and maimed, and are watching an occupying military using escalating force to attempt to reestablish some semblence of the imperfect but less fractured state of affairs that existed before the invasion — well, they are far more likely to be sympathetic to the terrorists, even if they disapprove of terrorism. So the warfare acts to reduce our effectiveness against terrorism.

    Remember too that there was NO connection between OBL and Iraq before the war. Also, OBL didn’t “declare war;” war can only be declared between two sovereign states. OBL attacked us, we attacked Afghanistan, and then we diverted resources to a more or less unrelated exercise in Iraq, based on an unrelated, speculative threat which has turned out to be completely non-existent.

    None of this is a “novel” line of thought — it’s basically what all the liberals and democrats have been saying since before the war. The war on Iraq was supposed to make us safer from terrorism, and it has done exactly the opposite.

  3. moghedien says:

    “Remember too that there was NO connection between OBL and Iraq before the war”

    How could you possibly know this? Are you OBL or a member of Saddam’s intel service? If the US can ally itself with a brutal Soviet dictatorship to defeat Nazi Germany, isn’t it possible that two groups with the same language and culture might join together to attack their common enemy? Just because they didn’t find an Al-Queda glow-in-the-dark decoder ring in Saddam’s “spider hole doesn’t mean the two groups never worked together before the Iraq war…

  4. Nynaeve says:

    “isn’t it possible that two groups with the same language and culture might join together to attack their common enemy?”

    I guess you think that we should attack every country in the world where people speak Arabic. “He speaks Arabic! Kill him!” “He owns a Koran! Burn his family!”

    Let me explain somethng to you, Sparky. Just because you can imagine something doesn’t make it true. I’m sure that you can see Saddam and Usama bin Laden sipping tea together in your mind’s eye, but do you really think that we should go to war over some fantasy?

    There is zero evidence that Saddam was giving support to Al Qaeda. This wild theory that Saddam would give his non-existant WMD to bin Laden is pretty crazy since bin Laden has called for Saddam’s overthrow.

    You would have to turn over a lot of rocks to find ANY state-sponsered terrorism in the 21st century. Your best chances would be in Iran where it is directed towards Isreal and not the U.S. Which must be humiliating for you considering how they speak a different language and come from a different culture in Iran.

    America had a lot of support in the Moslem world after 9/11 from moderate leaders who told their people that America was not out to destroy Islam or sieze Arab oil fields. Then Bush goes and invades and humiliates Iraq for personal reasons that he is not sharing with the rest of us. This weakens the position of the moderates while making the radicals stronger.

    It’s clear that Bush’s policies have only succeeded in making us less safe by strenghthening Islamic radicalism. Just compare the number of terrorism incidents after 9/11 to the same period before 9/11 and you will see what I mean.

  5. Dave says:

    Well, if it’s Moghedian vs Nynaeve, call me Demandred.

    The number of terrorism incidents? Like the USS Cole, the Khobar towers?

    The reason “Absence of Evidence is not Evidence of Absence” is a truism is because, well, it’s true.