Adapted from the European Tribune

The Economist, which used to be a smart and transparently biased magazine, and has become in the past few years a sycophantic propaganda organ parrotting the Republican lines, has 5 pages this week on the 5th anniversary of 9/11, including a 2-page editorial which, strangely enough is not on the front page of their website and which is only available to subscribers. In a very real sense, this document is the official line of the Republican establishment on the War on Terra.

an honest tally of the record since September 11th has to conclude that the number of jihadists and their sympathisers has probably multiplied many times since then. It has multiplied, moreover, partly as a result of the way America responded.

In it, the Economist goes through heavy contorsions to admit the reality of the failure of the “War on Terra”, they note the fact that US policies are a cause for such failure, but try throughout to find excuses.

Even though Mr bin Laden himself eluded America’s forces in Afghanistan, the invasion deprived al-Qaeda of a haven for planning and training. This achievement, however, was cancelled out by the consequences of Mr Bush’s second war: the invasion of Iraq in March 2003. There, three and a half years on, fighting and terrorism kill hundreds every month, providing the jihadists with both a banner around which to recruit and a live arena in which to sharpen their military skills.

They still see the invasion of Afghanistan as a success (because the warlords “cannot topple the government n Kabul”) but, for the first time, they use unambiguously strong words about Iraq: invasion, jihad arena, etc… They still blame it on “Rumsfeldan incompetence”, though. They blithely note that ben Laden “eluded” American forces – showing once again their mastery of the language and their shameless willingness to use it to obsfuscate the truth.

Mr Bush and Tony Blair tried and failed to win a clear United Nations mandate for war. By invading without one, they made themselves vulnerable to the charge that the war was unlawful. The quarrel in the Security Council widened a rift between America and Britain on one hand and France, Germany and Russia on the other. But this would have counted for much less if the weapons of mass destruction had existed. When it transpired that they did not, Muslims–and many others–began to assume that they had been just a pretext.

(…)

There were those (such as this newspaper) who supported the Iraq war solely because of the danger that a Saddam Hussein with a biological or atomic bomb would indeed have posed. But Mr Bush and Mr Blair refused after the war to be embarrassed by the absence of the weapons that had so alarmed them beforehand. They stressed instead all the other reasons why it had been a good idea to overthrow Mr Hussein.

Are they finally, finally, getting a bit miffed at having been lied to and played for dunces, repeatedly? And just a bit ashamed of themselves for having supported those lies for so long and arguing all along that the invasion was a good idea but botched?

It’s not clear. Their article is furiously ambiguous, alternating criticism of the situation on the ground, the execution, and the motivations with semi-lame justifications and heavy reliance on indirect sentences to hide behind third parties (“Muslims began to assume it was just a pretext” – seriously, how much more weaselly can you get?). But the simple fact that France is not blamed in any way in this article speaks volumes (to me anyway). It was just a “quarrel” at the United Nations. Right… We’re kindly asked to forget about “freedom fries” and the much less symbolic campaign of hate against the French and others who dared warn against the war in Iraq, and have been proved completely right.

If it was all about dictatorship, what about the dictatorship the West continues to embrace in Saudi Arabia, and the quasi-dictatorship in Pakistan? If it was about helping Islam’s moderates against its reactionaries, what is so clever about stepping in to someone else’s civil war?

(…)

By what right do you invade someone else’s country in order to impose a pattern of government?

Indeed? Good of them to ask these questions, but a clear and unambiguous reply would have been appropriate at this point. Nah. But still, suggesting that spreading democracy was just a pretext sounds dangerously treasonous and anti-American to my sensitive ears, don’t you agree?

Some curtailing of freedoms was inevitable. Yet Abu Ghraib, Guantánamo, the torture memos and extraordinary rendition have not just been unAmerican and morally wrong but also hugely counter-productive. In a battle that is largely about ideas, America seems to many to have abandoned the moral high ground and so won more recruits for the jihadists.

That’s an issue they’ve been somewhat more consistent all along, and have criticised the administration to some extent, so I won’t complain here. I’ll simply note once again that this was part of the “the war was a good idea but poorly executed” mindset which was prevalent amongst too many until very recently.

not every Islamist movement is inspired by the ideas that animate al-Qaeda. In Palestine Hamas is a pious (and vicious) version of a national-liberation movement with local goals, not another front in a global fight. Ditto, more or less, Hizbullah, except that it is also a tool of Iran. And Iran itself is better understood as an assertive rising (and dangerous) power that happens to have a theocratic constitution than as an ally of al-Qaeda, whose ideas come from a separate strand of Islam.

Ooh. Nuances… Local politics… Complexity… showing understanding of the enemy… hmm….

Actually, the Economist has actually always been excellent at writing deep background stories about such multi-layered stories, bringing in the motivations of the parties in a pretty even handed way. And they’ve kept on doing it in the past few years, which is one of the reasons why I still read them (the other being – you have to know what your opponents think). This paragraph is itself a pretty good summary of what they can write at their best.

Pity that the editorial crowd of the Economist stopped reading what the journalists of the Economist wrote – or deliberately chose to ignore it.

Al-Qaeda did not invent terrorism. In its Baader-Meinhof or Shining Path or Irish or Basque or Palestinian guise, terrorism was the background noise of the second half of the 20th century. But September 11th seemed to portend something new. There was something different in the sheer epic malevolence of the thing: more than 3,000 dead, with destruction sliding out of a clear blue sky, all captured on live TV. Most previous terror organisations had negotiable demands and therefore exercised a measure of restraint. Al-Qaeda’s fantastic aims–sweeping away regimes, reversing history and restoring the caliphate–are married to an appetite for killing that knows no limits.

They are still struggling with the stupid idea that “everything is different now”. All rational arguments – which they now bring to the table – show that it’s not so different. Al-Qaeda did not invent terrorism. But their ideological blinders (starting with their knee-jerk support for American exceptionalism) and the emotional impact of the 9/11 attack (promptly cultivated and abused by the Bush administration) won’t let them admit it unambiguously.

So, we see that the Establishment is finally admitting the total, absolute failure of the invasion of Iraq, and beginning to recognise that the “War on Terror” needs to be fought differently – i.e. that it is a law enforcement issue.

But what the article still misses is the bigger picture.

  • First of all, there is not a single mention of the topic of oil, which is frankly the only reason why our politicians and pundits care about in any way about the Arab world. They are sitting on most of the planet’s remaining oil (“our oil”, as the not-a-joke joke goes), and thus we have to keep them stable and happy enough to pump the oil and sell it to us. That background is not evedn acknowledged.

    Worse, the vicious circle that has fed terrorism is totally ignored. It goes like this: being dependent on Arab oil, we prop up “friendly” (but deeply corrupt) regimes; local opponents’ voices are suppressed and turn their grievances into hate for the West which steals their resources and supports their oppressors; organised Islam, tolerated by all the local regimes, becomes the only outlet for social and political action and easily takes extremist forms; eventually it breeds terrorism against the West and against the local regimes; the “War on Terra”, as conducted,  links us to them even more, thus feeding the discontent of the population.

  • Then, of course, there is not a single mention of the damage made to the rule of law and to the emerging bodu of international law (which has built up over the past 60 years thanks to the USA’s constant, if not always consistent, support). We now have to live with the terrible fact that the precedents of pre-emptive strikes, wars of choice and all out war on concepts have been handed to as a great future excuse for unscrupulous regimes around the world. The whole concept of the rule of law has been dealt a terrible blow by the Bush administration’s open contempt for any kind of law-imposed restriction on their actions, domestic or international.
  • There is not a single mention of the fundamental breach that has appeared between Europe and the USA. The “West” has been shattered in a probably irremediable way. For now, the Bush administration can watch content while its divide and rule policies in Europe has reinforced the naturally quarrelsome relations between European countries and kept Europe divided and thus powerless, but it makes it more likely that any European unity will have a anti-American backbone in the future.
  • and, finally, there is not a word on what could have been. In September 2001, all the governments of the planet wanted to support the USA, and would have done a lot of things not to get in its way. A massive push to close offshore financial havens, impose an international court with teeth, and real enforcement capacity for the UN would have been supported with little resistance. At home, a massive effort to change energy use patterns, and to launche a crash investment programme into sustainable energy sources would have been enthusiastically supported. None of this happened. Those that warned about the USA going beserk and hoping for a more thought out approach were mocked, but have been proved tragically right.

But no, the Economist is trying to justify its unflinching support for Bush’s Iraq folly, and looking at the bigger picture would only serve to make them look even more foolish. The problem was not Rumsfeld incompetence, it was the perception that Al Qaida was a civilisational threat rather than gangsters with grievances, and the abuse of that perception by a power-hungry crowd in the White House, supported by shameless sycophants in the heart of what then were our more respectable papers and magazines.

So, no, the Economist, you won’t get off the hook so easily.

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