Syria, Iraq, And The Misnamed War On Terror

blackhawk2.JPGPartly as a result of the U.S. raid into Syria last weekend, the Iraqi government has decided to reopen negotiations on the U.S.-Iraqi status of forces agreement:

The call for changes in the proposed accord came as the government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki criticized an attack by Iraq-based U.S. forces on alleged al-Qaeda operatives inside Syria last weekend. The cabinet now wants the agreement to include language to “confirm that Iraqi land would not be the center for aggression” against its neighbors, said Planning Minister Ali Baban, who attended Tuesday’s meeting.

Ministers also want the pact to grant Iraq more legal authority over U.S. soldiers accused of crimes, to harden a tentative 2011 departure date for U.S. troops and to allow Iraqi inspection of U.S. military shipments. The inspection demand, along with an explicit ban on attacks on neighboring countries, reflects concerns that the United States might launch an attack on Iran from Iraqi territory.

Bush administration officials have said repeatedly that the current text of the document, concluded just weeks ago after nearly eight months of difficult negotiations, reflects the limit of U.S. concessions.

Iraqi government spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh “said the Iraqis want the right to declare the agreement null and void if the U.S. unilaterally attacks one of Iraq’s neighbors.”

Iraq’s Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani that he has also indicated fresh concerns with the agreement:

A statement issued by al-Sistani’s office said the Iranian-born cleric wants to ensure that “Iraq’s sovereignty not be breached” by the accord and that he was monitoring the situation “until the final content of the security agreement becomes clear.”

It’s unclear whether Sistani’s displeasure with a pact that he had previously signed off on is the result of the U.S. action in Syria, but it doesn’t seem unlikely.

Praising the Syria strike, Eli Lake declares that “we have entered a new phase in the war on terror.”

In July, according to three administration sources, the Bush administration formally gave the military new power to strike terrorist safe havens outside of Iraq and Afghanistan. Before then, a military strike in a country like Syria or Pakistan would have required President Bush’s personal approval. Now, those kinds of strikes in the region can occur at the discretion of the incoming commander of Central Command (Centcomm), General David Petraeus. […]

The new order could pave the way for direct action in Kenya, Mali, Pakistan, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen — all places where the American intelligence believe al Qaeda has a significant presence, but can no longer count on the indigenous security services to act. In the parlance of the Cold War, Petraeus will now have the authority to fight a regional “dirty war.”

Yes, but why would he want to? “Dirty war” refers to the campaign of state-sponsored terror by authoritarian Latin American regimes against domestic political enemies in the 1970’s and 80’s, which was at times supported by the United States in the name of anti-Communism. Needless to say, America’s support for kidnapping, torture, and murder as a way to spread freedom did not do wonders for our image in the region (nor did it do much for freedom) so I’m puzzled why Lake seems to think that this is a policy worth reproducing all over the place.

Further, the various implications of the events in Syria and Iraq show again how counterproductive is the whole “war on terror” framework, and why it should be scrapped as soon as possible. Positing U.S anti-terrorism policy as an existential struggle in which there are two sides — A) “with us” or B) “against us” — needlessly puts a potentially unpopular and thus politically costly choice before those regimes whose cooperation we’re trying to secure. The government of Iraq has an interest in preventing foreign fighters from entering its territory and attacking its citizens, but it has no interest in signing on to a global war which looks to its own citizens too much like neo-imperialism. The government of Pakistan has an interest in stopping the spread of Salafist extremism, but no interest in publicly siding with John Bolton against Osama bin Laden. Why ask them to?

Additionally, the “war on terror” plays right into the propaganda of our enemies. Bin Laden has proclaimed a war of civilizations between Islam and the West. Declaring a “war on terror” in response only helped to affirm him. By recognizing bin Laden and his gang as adversaries worthy of a “twilight struggle” with the world’s most powerful country, we’re effectively granting them a status they don’t deserve. We should cut it out.

UPDATE: Dan Levy has an excellent post gathering and examining some of the theories about the Syria strike.

UPDATE 2: Eric Martin has more.