Obama’s doctrine refutes Harper’s: Siddiqui
Stephen Harper continues to exploit the ‘war on terror’ for political ends.
By Haroon Siddiqui, Toronto Star, May 26, 2013
America, turn the page from fear-mongering at home and warmongering abroad. Stop exaggerating the terrorist threat. The post-Sept. 11 era is over. Get back to normal.
That was the courageous message Barack Obama delivered Thursday, calmly and cleverly.
He confronted the hysteria that has defined America and affected much of the world, including Canada, for 12 years.
What he said is a rebuke to Stephen Harper and others who have profited from the politics of the “war on terror” and its by-products — militarism, narrow nationalism and cultural warfare.
While the media highlighted Obama’s edict to curtail but not kill the drone program, and his renewed determination to close Guantanamo Bay, what should command our greater attention is his clarion call to abandon perpetual war.
Al Qaeda has been defanged. Its affiliates are local and limited in reach — “not every collection of thugs that labels themselves Al Qaeda will pose a credible threat.” There are homegrown extremists, for sure, including “deranged and alienated individuals” who go on killing sprees.
“We must take these threats seriously, and do all that we can to confront them. But as we shape our response, we have to recognize that the scale of this threat closely resembles the types of attacks we faced before 9/11.”
So, let’s get back to where we all were before that horrible day.
“Our victory against terrorism . . . will be measured in parents taking their kids to school; immigrants coming to our shores; fans taking in a ball game; a veteran starting a business; a bustling city street. The quiet determination, that strength of character and bond of fellowship, that refutation of fear — that is both our sword and our shield.”
The president spoke several other truths:
•The Iraq War, which Harper was gung-ho for, “carried grave consequences for our fight against Al Qaeda, our standing in the world, and — to this day — our interests in a vital region.”
•Some Muslim extremists say that “Islam is in conflict with the United States and the West. This ideology is based on a lie, for the United States is not at war with Islam. And this ideology is rejected by the vast majority of Muslims, who are the most frequent victims of terrorist acts.”
Obama could have added that equally misguided are the Islamophobes who say that the West is at war with Islam and Muslims.
•Terrorists are not incubated in madrassas and mosques alone.
Given the Internet, “a person can consume hateful propaganda, commit themselves to a violent agenda, and learn how to kill without leaving their home.”
“The best way to prevent violent extremism is to work with the Muslim American community — which has consistently rejected terrorism — to identify signs of radicalization, and partner with law enforcement when an individual is drifting towards violence.
“These partnerships can only work when we recognize that Muslims are a fundamental part of the American family. Indeed, the success of American Muslims, and our determination to guard against any encroachments on their civil liberties, is the ultimate rebuke to those who say we are at war with Islam.”
Harper, on the other hand, has shunned the mainstream Canadian Muslim community.
Unlike Harper’s aversion to “committing sociology” to understand the “root causes” of terrorism, as Justin Trudeau suggested, Obama stressed the need to address “the underlying grievances and conflicts that feed extremism.”
It includes “patiently supporting transitions to democracy” in the Arab world, something that Harper has shown little inclination for.
It entails “working to promote peace between Israelis and Palestinians — because it is right and because such a peace could help reshape attitudes in the region.”
It involves foreign aid, which “cannot be viewed as charity. It is fundamental to our national security and . . . strategy to battle extremism.“What we spent in a month in Iraq at the height of the war, we could be training security forces in Libya, maintaining peace agreements between Israel and its neighbours, feeding the hungry in Yemen, building schools in Pakistan, and creating reservoirs of goodwill that marginalize extremists.”
By contrast, Harper is increasingly using foreign aid as a tool to advance Canadian corporate mining interests abroad.
Jameel Jaffer, a Canadian who directs the Center for Democracy at the American Civil Liberties Union, said Obama’s message is “powerful and compelling and long overdue.” But we need to see how the president would translate his rhetoric into action.
This will be most tested by his decision to continue the drone attacks, albeit in a controlled way. He bathed his rationale in a legal and moral framework — a necessary evil, a last resort, employed in “a just war waged proportionally, in self-defence.” But he was unconvincing.
Strikes will be aimed at militants “who pose a continuing and imminent threat to the American people.” But he didn’t define “imminent.”
Worse, in Afghanistan, he will use drones to safeguard troops. That means attacking not only suspected Al Qaeda targets — in Afghanistan as well as Pakistan—“but also forces that are massing to support attacks on coalition forces.” How would he know what they are planning?
He argued that drones are necessary in places where “foreign governments cannot or will not effectively stop terrorism in their territory,” or are not “capable of effectively addressing the threat.” In other words, governments that won’t do as America orders them to or won’t formally let America come and do whatever it wants.
Obama offered another strange rationale — drone attacks as a favour to the Muslim world by eliminating those who kill fellow-Muslims. “The terrorists we are after target civilians, and the death toll from their acts of terrorism against Muslims dwarfs any estimate of civilian casualties from drone strikes.”
It was as though Obama was speaking because he had to. Drones are unpopular, especially in Pakistan. They are undermining his stated goal: improve America’s image abroad. Drones are also under greater scrutiny in the U.S., among others, by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism and New America Foundation.
However, it’s his larger mission — to wind down the war on terror — that marks a most welcome milestone.
When one is merely a general practitioner on public affairs, one defers, respectfully and almost reverentially, to those who can be legitimately termed, specialists. Haroon Siddiqui is such a man, and his balanced, mature, yet still 'edgy' views are among those most respected by theacorncentreblog.com.
He can be reached at hsiddiqui@thestar