Combat terrorism with respect, not invasions

by Mike Heral

In “The Princess Bride,” our hero, the man in black, receives sage advice from his enemy, Vizzini. By proclaiming that one should never get involved in a land war in Asia, Vizzini makes an apt analogy to the folly that was America’s involvement in Vietnam. America’s leaders are either poor history buffs or inattentive students of fiction because they repeated the folly 10 years ago on March 21, 2003. The connection ends there, though. In Vietnam, the U.S. only received a rare military defeat. But in Iraq, the U.S. surrendered its right to call itself a human rights champion.

It seems longer than 10 years ago that the U.S. could call itself a shining light of freedom without the rest of the world snickering. It’s hard to believe now that America ever had the world’s sympathy. In what might be the last time the world stood with the U.S., 75 nations expressed support for Operation Enduring Freedom, the October 2001 response to 9/11.

It’s amazing what 16 months of political missteps can do to a country’s image. During the 16 months following the beginning of OEF, former President George W. Bush saber’s rattled against the effectively handcuffed, but still defiant, Iraqi tyrant Saddam Hussein, and the world wondered who was crazier: Bush or Saddam. Only four nations provided troops when Bush ordered a preemptive incursion to remove Saddam.

A lack of support made it obvious to the Middle East—a region sensitive to imperialism—the second Iraq War was solely an American enterprise. Those skeptical of the U.S.’s intent were not buying Bush’s insistence Saddam was aiding and abetting terrorism. When the other reason for invasion couldn’t be located—Saddam’s mythical weapons of mass destruction—the stage was set for backlash.

Bush blundered into revolt in two different ways, both tainting U.S. prestige in the process. First, as only he could, he mismanaged a tenet of his own doctrine: regime change. Bush believed initial fighting would be done quickly. In a rare occurrence, he was right. It took only 20 days from the invasion’s outset until Iraqis toppled Saddam’s statue. Yet Bush’s prescience didn’t lead to a conclusion that should’ve been obvious to any competent leader; Iraq needed a transitional government set up without delay. Fourteen months passed between Bush’s fateful “mission accomplished” speech and establishment of the first post-invasion government headed by an Iraqi. By then, both the war and America’s reputation was lost.

A free Iraq never had a chance for success. Bush needed only to look to Bosnia to see what was going to happen once a totalitarian government was removed. To no one’s surprise, Shiites and Sunnis, longtime enemies held in check by Saddam, wasted no time fighting each other once they no longer had to worry about Saddam punishing them. In sad irony, al-Qaida, allegedly funded by Iraq, eagerly entered into the power vacuum, punishing the U.S. in the same manner Osama bin Laden allegedly participated during the 1980s U.S.-funded Afghanistan rebellion against the Soviet Union. Bush, well-known for his disdain for academia (but even the infamous Yale University C-student was still an Ivy League grad), ought to have been able to anticipate the danger of destabilizing a tyrannical nation into anarchy.

Second, Bush was besieged by charges of human rights violations. Al-Qaida couldn’t have imagined the good hand it was dealt when Bush compounded the error of an unjust invasion—and rumors of condoning torture tactics—with his decision to try terrorists by way of military tribunals instead of criminal courts. International law expressly forbids trying civilians using military tribunals. Since al-Qaida isn’t a sovereign nation, the U.S. cannot declare war against it. Therefore, terrorists captured during OEF or Iraqi Freedom aren’t prisoners of war. Any prisoner held at Guantanamo Bay is held in blatant violation of human rights. Further, Amnesty International documents only six Guantanamo detainees receiving adjudication. They say 240 detainees remain in captivity, some for as long as nine years, despite consistent U.S. Supreme Court rulings declaring detainees are entitled to habeas corpus.

It’s hard to be concerned about the welfare of people who might just want us dead. However, the U.S.’s intentional violation of basic standards of dignity resulted in victory for terrorists. Al-Qaida now has certifiable proof of evils caused by the U.S. With it, terrorism enjoys a resurgence. It’s not hard to see the 2012 U.S. embassy slaughter in Benghazi has roots in U.S. maltreatment of prisoners at Abu Ghraib.

Perhaps the ultimate irony to our misguided Iraq foray is that the U.S. was the weapon of mass destruction. It employed terroristic methods to capture terrorists. If a sequel to “The Princess Bride” is developed, the new taunt by the man in black’s enemy is you can’t fight terror with terror. Ten years of human rights abuse is enough. It’s time for the U.S. to change course and begin acting just. It’s the only way to defeat terrorism.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email