A Change We Need

On this day, December 1, 2008, seven weeks after the death of my mother, it’s time for me to break my self-imposed cyber-silence and talk about current events once more.

Today, President-Elect Barack Obama has announced his national security team. He is laying the groundwork for change by starting out with a strong foundation of people who know how things work, and thus are more likely to be able to actually implement changes system-wide when decisions are made. I want to talk about one very necessary change that has already been made by a number of governments, and should be made by this one on day one. I’m talking about a complete repudiation of the term “war on terror” as a counterproductive way of describing the actions of handfuls of stateless criminals, who act for the most part without the knowledge or support of any government.

By adopting the “war” rhetoric in the first place, the effect has been to elevate Osama bin Laden to the stature of a head of state.

For this and other reasons, it is time to abandon the “war on terror” rhetoric and start treating international terrorism, on every level, as a law enforcement issue of international scope, rather than as a matter of state or of purely military response.

Right now, in the aftermath of sophisticated, coordinated terrorist attacks in the Indian city of Mumbai, the “war” rhetoric about terror seems tragically likely to spill over into actual war between India and neighboring Pakistan, not because of any government action from that country, but because of the mind-set that associates governments, automatically, with the actions of people who come from those places. (Ironically, if such a mind-set had been in place in the U.S. on September 11, 2001, America would have immediately threatened war on Saudi Arabia and perhaps Yemen.) It’s time to re-brand the “war” on terror and call it an international crackdown on a specific kind of organized crime.

So long as terrorists are treated as international players, as opposed to stateless criminals, it can only raise tensions such as we now see between India and Pakistan. While states like Pakistan have tacitly supported militancy in the past, this policy was reversed after 9/11; but that reversal should be reinforced all the more with reminders that Benazir Bhutto, the leader of the now-governing party, was herself a victim of a terror attack.

This should be an occasion for all governments within the region to come together to cooperate on cracking down on this type of criminality, wherever it arises. This will accomplish several goals at once:

  • Promoting cooperation at the highest levels
  • de-legitimizing the terrorists by calling them criminals
  • arriving at more effective anti-terrorist strategies and tactics that work across international boundaries
  • and generally restoring the idea of the rule of law to supremacy  for the 21st century.

Under the leadership of the incoming Obama administration, perhaps this could even extend to some internationally recognized protocols governing the activities of clandestine agencies worldwide. Would there be opposition to such an idea? You betcha! But this is a change someone like me could really believe in.


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