André Glucksmann on modern terrorism:
For a long time, the mental sin of Western armies was to dive into a new conflict as if they were fighting the previous war. This weakness now affects pundits and politicians, who reproach the U.S. for getting bogged down in “another Vietnam.” But Zarqawi was not Ho Chi Minh. No geopolitical fact permits us to impose the framework of the last great hot war of the cold war on the current situation in Iraq. Every month, thousands of Iraqis fall, indiscriminate victims of terror—over 500 peaceful Iraqi Yezidis on August 14 of this year, in the deadliest terrorist attack since September 11—while the total number of American soldiers killed in four years is approximately 3,600. In Iraq, then, what rages is a war of terror against civilians, not a war of independence against an occupying foreign army and its indigenous military supporters. Vietnam is far away; those who miss Woodstock forget that the world has changed in 40 years.
What threatens Iraqi society is not Vietnamization but Somalization. Recall Operation Restore Hope, in which an international force, led by Americans, disembarked in Mogadishu in 1993, seeking to ensure the survival of a population that was starving and being massacred by rival clans. After losing 19 in a horrific trap, the GIs left. The rest is well known. An angry President Clinton swore “never again,” and a year later refused to intervene in Rwanda, where 5,000 blue helmets would have been enough to interrupt the genocide that wiped out as many as 1 million Tutsi in three months.
The Somalian model has spread across the planet, from the Congo to chaotic East Timor to Afghanistan, where the Taliban have violently resurfaced, to Iraq. Populations are taken hostage, terrorized, and sacrificed, the spoils of wars by local gangsters. Under various pretexts—religion, ethnicity, makeshift racist or nationalist ideology—commandos contend for power at the point of AK-47s. They fight against unarmed populations; most of their victims are women and children. Terrorism is not the prerogative of Islamists alone: the targeting of civilians has been used by a regular army and by militias under the command of the Kremlin in Chechnya, where the capital city of Grozny was razed to the ground. Where the killers appeal to the Koran, it is still primarily Muslim passersby who suffer. Algeria, Somalia, and Darfur (at least 200,000 dead and millions of refugees in just a few years, with the Sudanese government, protected by China and Russia, acting with impunity) are live laboratories of the abomination of abominations: war against civilians.
Between 1945 and 1989, the war between Eastern and Western blocs was a cold one, in Europe as in North America. Everywhere else, however, there were outbreaks of revolution and counterrevolution, coups d’états and massacres. Never before were human societies so shaken as during that brief half-century, in which colonial empires crumbled, but in which, all too often, the uprisings, insurrections, and wars of liberation gave birth to new despotisms. Centuries-old regimes, customs, and bonds were destroyed. As a result of this world-historical earthquake, two-thirds of the globe’s population lost its bearings. These people can no longer live as before. Nor can they—yet, says the optimist—exist as tranquil citizens of Western-style liberal democracies.
Across the world, breeding grounds have as a consequence formed for young and not-so-young warriors, who—uniformed or not—prove equally eager to conquer homes, women, and wealth, equally ready to use machine guns or mortars to take control of the countryside or to use car bombs or human bombs to dominate urban slums. Ambitious and unscrupulous forces readily exploit these breeding grounds, sponsoring diverse terrorist groups to gain power.
The war unleashed this process in Iraq. Would it have been better, therefore, not to have overthrown Saddam Hussein and to have allowed him another decade to complete his horrible record of tortures, mutilations, and corpses—1 or 2 million victims in a quarter-century? The Iraqis, despite the threat of murder, have gone to the polls three times, en masse; they do not seem to regret the dictator’s fall. Should the GIs and their allies now withdraw, as in Somalia? Even some anti-American governments must cross their fingers against the possibility of abandoning the terrain to the beheaders.
The fight to avoid the Somalization of the planet is just beginning, and it will probably dominate the twenty-first century. If they resist the sirens of isolationism, Americans will learn from their mistakes. Europe will either resolve to help them or abandon itself to the care of the petro-czar Vladimir Putin, who stands ready to police the old continent, while preaching antiterrorist terrorism, with his devastation of Chechnya as a case in point. The borderless challenge of emancipated warriors allows us little leisure for procrastination.