Sunday, September 10, 2006

Five years of errors since 9/11

VICTORIA - Five years on from the World Trade Centre, and it looks we have got it mostly wrong since then, starting with the fiction that as a result of the 9/11 terror attacks "everything had changed."
That just wasn't true. Terror had taken a shocking new form, deadly on a mass scale and symbolically powerful.
But the world hadn't changed. People still worried about their jobs and their children. Countries still struggled with a host of problems. Bad states still oppressed their people and threatened their neighbours. None of that was different.
That was the terrorists' big victory. A relatively small gang of them staged one spectacular attack and convinced us that we had to change everything. We let them decide our future.
We could have said no. That would not have meant ignoring the attacks. We could have gone after the terrorists who were responsible and looked at what we needed to do improve basic security. Modest, pragmatic responses.
Instead, we accepted the fiction that everything had changed.
In the last five years, that belief has been expensive. Thousands of people have died as a result, and hundreds of thousands have suffered terribly. Canadians have accepted the loss of some basic civil liberties through anti-terror legislation. America has sacrificed its position as champion of democracy and the rule of law, joining those states which sanction kidnapping and secret prisons.
We've spent billions on security and made travelling and trade much more difficult.
We - that is Canada and the rest of the West - have spent something like $1 trillion in total in responding to the 9/11 attacks. That's an astonishing amount of money that could have done quite a lot of good.
And we've gone to war in Iraq and Afghanistan.
You could make an argument that those things were all necessary for our safety.
Except for a large problem. They haven't worked. The aim of all these efforts - the laws that eroded our rights, the airport security, the wars - was to make us safer by punishing the bad guys, deterring other terrorists and reducing the risk of attack.
At best, they have been unsuccessful. They may have made things worse.
The U.S. State Department reports there were 11,111 terror attacks in 2005, up from 3,192 the year before. The increase may be misleading, it warns, because it's tough to count accurately. But the trend since 2001 and has been steadily upward. The greater our efforts to increase safety, the more terror attacks.
New terrorists have emerged, organized in autonomous cells, like the people who blew up bombs in London's subway. Perhaps that would have happened anyway. But perhaps the response has fuelled the fire.
Everyone in the world must have expected the West to hunt attack Osama bin Laden and the people responsible for the attacks. The 2001 Afghanistan campaign, which saw the Taliban removed and some 3,000 Al Qaeda operatives killed or captured, was even quietly welcomed by some in the Muslim world.
But the war in Iraq, the confrontation with Iran and the rest have left too many people convinced this a war with Islam.
It's time to rethink our assumptions, in light of the failure so far. You can speculate that things might be worse if we had not responded as we did, but the evidence indicates our efforts have been ineffective.
We can't turn back the clock. We can take a different approach going forward. Canada's commitment to fighting in Afghanistan, for example, rests on the belief that the war reduces the risk of a terror attack in our country. (Humanitarian work and regime stabilization are part of the mission, but no one could seriously argue that Canadians would be fighting based on those issues alone.)
If that belief is wrong and if we are not reducing the terror threat, then we need to rethink the mission.
We've given up a lot in the last five years, for too little.
Footnote: Canadians have given up more than the right to take toothpaste on airplanes. Anti-terror laws passed after 9/11 allow people to be held indefinitely without a charges, a trial or appeal if they are deemed a threat. Police can arrest people who have broken no laws on the suspicion that they are involved in terrorist activities. The prime minister can outlaw groups based on secret evidence. You can be jailed for refusing to answer police questions.


Anonymous said...

If this sort of practice gets Bush's party reelected, and Steve Harper a few points in the polls, heck who cares about the rest of us. Keep em scared and they will rally around you. Works everytime so far, but a lot of folks are starting to figure out what the reasons for the air attack on New York was all about. American meddling in everybodies elses countries. Tony bLair has to leave before he gets booted.

Anonymous said...

"Everything has changed" was a massive, self-fulfilling prophesy that has made all those who least deserve it very happy at our expense. Time to wake up, America, and let us help you figure out how to find our way out of this appalling mess.