As our nation prepares to respond to the attacks of September 11, it is critical that we understand what is at stake here. Most importantly, we need to know what it is we hope to accomplish. If our ultimate goal is to reduce the threat posed by terrorism, then a massive military action against Afghanistan is a bad idea. In all likelihood, it will actually invite further attacks. The key to understanding this is to call these terrorists what they are: a violent revolutionary force.
What I mean by this is that they are committed to remaking society according to their own vision, via violent overthrow of the existing societal structures. In this they are comparable to many other violent revolutionary groups throughout history. Those favoring overwhelming force as a quick fix to the threats posed by such groups would be well advised to take a quick glance at history. The protracted struggles in Latin America, the Soviet experience in Afghanistan, even our own experience in Vietnam, serve as reminders that overwhelming force seldom guarantees quick success, or even any success whatsoever. Israel has been fighting terrorism through the use of force for 60 years and has only succeeded in breeding more suicide bombers.
The reason for this is that those fighting have little to lose. For the most part, they are starving, desperate and on the brink of death anyway. When a leader arises and offers them a chance to strike back at fate, or at least a more noble way of dying than in the back streets of some mud brick town, it is no surprise that they are happy to sign up. Death is little deterrent, if any. As far as their tactics go, they don't exactly have access to jets and antiballistic missiles. In the face of overwhelming military might, they strike back however they can, their consciences long since sacrificed to the cause.
How then do you negate a revolutionary force? The key is in their motivation. Well-fed people do not fight revolutions. When their stomachs are full and their lives reasonably secure, they would much rather stay at home and watch their children grow up than be killed fighting for some ideal.
This is an easily demonstrable principle. How many Americans do you think would have been willing to go and fight in Afghanistan in August? You could appeal to any number of lofty ideals, such as improvement of women's rights or freedom from a tyrannical regime. Chances are, however, that not many of us would be too inclined to go. Ask the same question again now. The World Trade Center has been destroyed, thousands of people have died. The stable, secure world we knew has been violently shattered; we are a people under attack.
Now let's apply this to the current situation. We can send in the full force of our awesome military and bomb Afghanistan out of existence. Net result: a whole new generation convinced we are Satan incarnate. Excellent fodder for recruiting future soldiers in the Holy War against the West.
Now let's take an alternative scenario. We carry out a limited military operation, to demonstrate that there are consequences to attacking the U.S. Then we lean, very hard, on Israel and the Arab nations to come to terms in the Middle East. Then we take all the money we saved by not invading Afghanistan and invest in food, medical supplies and other aid to impoverished Middle Eastern countries.
I'm not so naive so as to think that this will eliminate all further terrorism. But it will certainly go a long way toward combating the regional image of the U.S. as an unjust aggressor. At the very least, it is a lot more productive than increasing the number of people in the world who hate us. Nor is it naive to think it possible to see peace in the Middle East. Though we tend to think of the region as a never-ending series of indistinguishable conflicts, this is really not the case. Consider the fact that Israel has made peace with Egypt. For a number of years it has also been on relatively stable terms with its surrounding Arab neighbors. Peace is possible.
The current problem is with the Palestinians currently living under Israeli control. We do have a duty to support Israel. They have long been our staunchest ally in the region. However, we should not support them so blindly that we ignore human rights violations, especially when the cost of this blindness is continued violence. Since Israel seems unwilling or unable to safeguard the rights of its Palestinian residents, the only solution seems to be partition of the area. Indeed, a partition of the region into Jewish and Palestinian regions was proposed by the British in the 1930s, when they controlled the region, and again in 1947 by UN General Assembly Resolution 18. Most likely any future Palestinian state would be based on the West Bank, where most of the Palestinians are concentrated and, theoretically, are already supposed to have some measure of autonomy.
Peace in the Middle East is more than some noble ideal, it is critical to our national security. September 11 proved that. You see, as long as people like bin Laden can point to Israel's arbitrary detainment and torturing of Palestinians, as long as he can point to Israeli violation of international law and unjust oppression, he and his kind will find it very easy to sign up new recruits.
There has been a lot of talk about the greatness and determination we Americans demonstrate in times of conflict. Here is a chance to make those words ring true. Forging peace requires infinitely more determination and greatness than loosing war. There are hurt, hungry and angry people, and not just in New York. We can give them bread. Or we can tell them to eat cake. F
Philip Schweiger is a student at Gonzaga University studying international relations.