Thursday, October 21, 2010
An Ex-CIA Perspective on the Global War on Terror by Robert Baer
March 28, 2010
I joined the CIA out of curiosity about other peoples and cultures. I first served in India, quickly moved to the Arab world, and was stationed in Lebanon during a very tumultuous time. I was particularly interested in the April 18, 1983 bombing of the U.S. Embassy in Beirut. It was a very good operation from a technical standpoint, The car bomber drove into the lobby, obstructed the guard's line of fire, and detonated the explosives – killing over 60 staff, CIA and military personnel. We never did identify the driver; the truck was stolen and not traceable. On October 23, 1983, a similar truck bomb attack killed 299 American Marines and French soldiers in Beirut.
The U.S. Government still blames Hezbollah for both bombings, part of the rationale for declaring it a terrorist organization today. As someone who personally investigated at the time, however, I can tell you we still don't know who was responsible for the two bombings. We do know that the perpetrators were sophisticated militants attempting to drive the United States out of Lebanon.
Never-the-less, the Reagan White House and other American Leaders denounced both bombings as unspeakable acts of terrorism. But it's just dumb to call the bombings 'terrorism.” Many Lebanese looked on the United States as colonizers. The Lebanese were waging a war of national liberation to get foreigners out of their country. Lebanon had been a formal French colony until 1943; the United States landed Marines in Lebanon in 1958. Our presence in 1983 became a rallying cry for Shiites and other Lebanese opposed to foreign occupation. The attackers used bombs to kill foreign diplomats, soldiers and intelligence officers. They were horrific, violent attacks, but they weren't acts of terrorism.
For its part, the U.S. Government employed terrorist tactics to go after its perceived enemies. The CIA was convinced, on no evidence, that Ayatollah Mohammad Fadlallah had masterminded the Marine barracks bombing. The CIA paid Saudi Arabians to assassinate him. The Saudis hired Lebanese operatives to plant a powerful car bomb outside Fadlallah's apartment building. He wasn't injured, but the bomb murdered 80 people and wounded 200.
The CIA had the wrong guy. Fadlallah was politically independent of Hezbollah and opposed Iranian influence in Lebanon. Today Fadlallah is a respected Grand Ayatollah seeking reconciliation among the various political factions. There have been far too many similar cases in the so-called Global War on Terrorism.
Far too often the definition of 'terrorist' depends upon who is throwing the bomb. It seems that most of the world has largely forgotten the Stern Gang and Irgun, two Zionist groups that used terrorist tactics against the British and Arabs in the 1940s. The leaders of these groups, Menachem Begin and Yitzhak Shamir, later went on to become prime ministers of Israel. In more recent times the United States has been happy to ally with groups using terrorist tactics. In the 1980s, the U.S. Embraced the right-wing Christian Lebanese Forces, whose members massacred civilians in Beirut's refugee camps. That same militia kidnapped four Iranian diplomats and executed them. We have a habit of not looking too closely at the actions of our allies, but in the end, we get held responsible for their actions.
U.S. credibility around the world is similarly undermined by the use of torture and detention without trial. How can we thus claim to uphold the rule of law? The U.S.'s reputation certainly suffered by supporting the Contras in Nicaragua and other human rights violators in Central America, but the Bush years made things even worse. Today, what separates the U.S. Policy from that of authoritarian regimes in the Middle East?
The American firebombing of Germany in 1945 was terrorism. We didn't focus on military or industrial targets. We wanted to terrify the civilian population so the German military would surrender [ they didn't and the destruction of cities like Dresden had no adverse effect on their ability to continue the war] but that's what Al Qaeda wants to do on a smaller scale today. But al Qaeda has no chance of success and has created the opposite effect. The 9/11 attacks alienated most Muslims around the world from Al Qaeda and rallied support for America. By invading and occupying Afghanistan and Iraq, and carrying out another war in Pakistan, however, the United States has actually helped Al Qaeda's recruiting efforts.
The United States tries to link al Qaeda to every Muslim group opposed to U.S. Policy, but it's a conscious lie. The CIA agents and analysts I know are much more intelligent than the propaganda fed to the public. They don't throw around the term “terrorism”. Terrorism is a tactic; it's not a strategy. We understood that. When the CIA chief of station in Lebanon was kidnapped, it wasn't an end in itself. It was a tactic to get the United State's out of Lebanon. We understood the differences between militant Sunni and Shia groups, and between the various governments of the Middle East. We never lumped them altogether as terrorists.
But the CIA leadership goes along with White House policy. They are selling war to the American people. So they repeat the lie that the Muslims are coming to get us. If we don't stop them at the Kabul river, they'll be pulling up to the Delaware River.
Unfortunately, President Barak Obama is continuing these same wrong policies. Continued troop escalations won't win the war. We've got to get our troops out. Foreign troops in a country only succeed in rallying people against the occupier. We've got to undermine the jihadists politically. Individual countries must fight the battle against their own extremists.
Long time Middle East correspondent Reese Erlich's book Conversations with Terrorists, of which this brief essay is the Foreword ,offers many insights into the phony War on Terrorism. Today most Americans oppose the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. They don't trust Washington, the wars cost too much, and too many American troops are dying. But the American people don't necessarily understand the situation on the ground in those countries or the extent of the lying in Washington. Conversations with Terrorists provides that important background.
Former CIA field officer Robert Baer authored the book See No Evil, which later became the film Syriana
In Conversations With Terrorists Reese Erlich writes:
I strongly believe the United States must radically shift gears. It must recognize the difference between isolated fanatics and groups fighting for legitimate causes, even if we disagree with their ideologies and tactics. It must pull all U.S. troops and mercenaries from Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan. It must take immediate steps to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian issue. Such a shift in policy will do more to undermine such groups as Al Qaeda that all U.S. invasions combined.
Like the communist menace of years past, the terrorist menace is used to terrify people into accepting aggression abroad, and repression at home. Ironically, the phony war against communism had an actual end, the collapse of the Soviet Union [though not due, as many scholars now note, to any effort on our part]. The Global War on Terrorism has no end. I don't think [ and it is hard to believe] that the American people will accept perpetual war, thousands of deaths and the waste of trillions of dollars. At some point an American administration will simply drop the disastrous policy. I hope that day comes soon and that GWOT will end, not in victory, but with [the] whimper with which it began.