The Real Enemy

- The Methods being used in the war on terror by the British, American and Israeli governments have failed and can only fail because economic sanctions, torture and military force do not treat Iraqis, Palestinians and Afghans as humans like us who react as we do to threats and suffering

By Duncan McFarlane


Economic Sanctions – a form of warfare that targets civilians and military alike

When British and American forces were preparing for war on Iraq in 2002 and 2003 the biggest killer of Iraqis was not, as the British and American governments would have us believe, Saddam Hussein or his torturers or his secret police (though all of these existed – and many now carry out similar jobs whether for Shia militias, the new ‘democratic’ government of Iraq, the Ba’athist (minority) in the insurgency or the Pentagon. As Human Rights Watch has pointed out Saddam committed massacres in the 80s (when the US was his ally) but was not carrying our or preparing any massacres in 2003. When Saddam was carrying out the genocide of the Kurds in the 1980s the US and Britain continued to arm and fund him - US financial aid continuing after Halabjah in the form of what were supposedly agricultural subsidies)

The biggest killer in Iraq after 1991 was comprehensive economic sanctions on Iraq pushed through the UN by the US at the end of the 1991 Gulf War..

The dead from sanctions on Iraq included around 600,000 children – 5,000 a month more than died of other causes in Iraq before sanctions were imposed. (The 2003 invasion, the current occupation and the insurgency/resistance have managed to make things even worse than they were under sanctions and Saddam..)

An Iraqi mother with her child in 2000 during the sanctions which lasted from the end of the 1991 war till the 2003 invasion

Two heads of the UN sanctions programme resigned in disgust. First Dennis Halliday left in 1998 calling sanctions “ a totally bankrupt concept” Then his successor Hans Von Sponeck resigned in 2000 denouncing sanctions as a form of genocide – which, given the millions killed by them in Iraq, was no hyperbole.

In November 2001 they jointly wrote an article denouncing both sanctions and the threat of war on Iraq.

Dennis Halliday – the first director of the UN ‘oil for food’ programme , meant to alleviate sanctions, resigned in 1998

True Iraq was permitted to sell limited amounts of oil under the ‘oil for food’ programme – but the amounts were hopelessly insufficient to rebuild hospitals, water supplies and sewers destroyed by the 1991 war or to treat the wounded of it never mind all the longer term casualties of lack of access to clean water, food and medical supplies.

It’s also true that the sanctions were supposedly meant to prevent Saddam re-arming – but in truth the ‘threat’ from Iraq was always non-existent. If Saddam couldn’t even defeat Iran with US support how was he going to threaten the US when he was isolated? The WMD ‘threat’ was already known to be non-existent in 1991 when Saddam fired scud missiles into Israel. He had 30 chemical warheads available for them. Yet every missile fired at Israel had a conventional warhead (see offline source 1 at foot of page). The US and Israel had warned Saddam any WMD attack would lead to a nuclear counter-strike. He got the message.

This didn’t stop over a decade of sanctions which killed millions of the people we were meant to be saving from the genocidal dictator. By this point we, not Saddam, were the ones committing genocide.

Hans Von Sponeck, Halliday’s successor, resigned in 2000 denouncing sanctions on Iraq as a form of genocide.

When UN Secretary General Kofi Annan assembled experts to write a report on when, how and under what rules humanitarian interventions should be carried out the carefully considered and thought out response of ‘The Responsibility to Protect’ report included a warning that comprehensive economic sanctions had failed in both Kosovo and Iraq and should not be used again as they killed the very people they were meant to save without removing the governments they targeted from power.

This lesson was applied in a half-hearted way to the Sudanese government and rebel leaders in Darfur.


Sanctioning Hamas

However when Hamas was elected by a landslide in the Palestinian Authority the Bush administration , the EU and the Israeli government ignored the warnings of the commission and decided to re-use the bloody sheet of blanket sanctions against an entire people.

Now it is Iraq all over again. Patients are dying as doctors run out of the medicines to treat them. Palestinian children too young to have voted for Hamas are suffering hunger in food shortages as a punishment for their parents having the temerity to vote for a government which did not recognise the state of Israel. Adults who didn’t vote for Hamas are starving along with them – and adults who did vote for Hamas are being told that they can vote in free and fair elections as long as they vote the way they’re told to vote – or else starve.

A Palestinian father tries to comfort his child. Israeli jets have been flying low to create sonic booms after Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert reportedly gave orders to make sure no Palestinian sleeps at night until kidnapped Israeli corporal Gihad Shalit is released

After the raid that captured Corporal Shalit Hamas agreed to negotiate on the basis that it would recognise Israel’s right to exist within its pre-1967 borders - yet the sanctions continue. This was a peace proposal devised by Palestinian prisoners held by Israel and supported in polls by the vast majority of Palestinians. It condemns any attacks on Israelis within their pre-1967 borders - implicitly recognising Israel's right to exist within those borders.

Why couldn't Hamas accept the peace plan before instead of making the raid that killed several Israeli soldiers and captured Shalit? It seems many of their leaders , like Olmert and the Israeli government, must see war as a way to take support from their more moderate political rivals who want to negotiate - like Fatah and Mahmoud Abbas on the Palestinian side.

It is also worth noting - as Amnesty International has - that the armed Palestinian groups were maintaining a unilateral ceasefire until dozens of Palestinian civilians were killed in Israeli shelling and bombing :

“High numbers of Palestinian bystanders, including women and children, have been killed and injured by Israeli artillery shelling and air strikes in recent weeks and months. This situation looks set to worsen in light of the end of the unilateral cease-fire which the armed wing of Hamas and other Palestinian armed groups had been observing since last year.”

The founders of the Glasgow Palestinian Human Rights Campaign meet anti-Zionist Orthodox Jews for a joint protest against abuses of Palestinian human rights in the occupied territories

Nor is it a secret that Israel is holding thousands of Palestinian prisoners – including women and children. Some may be terrorists – it’s hard to know given that many haven’t been given a fair trial or even told what crime they are being charged with. We do know that some are not terrorists but human rights activists - and that some of the prisoners are children. In fact Hamas’ motive in kidnapping the 19 year old Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit was to get these prisoners – and especially the women and children- released.

It is no secret either that Israeli military intelligence tortures many of its prisoners or that Israeli forcescommits war crimes in its attacks on Palestinian towns and refugee camps and kill civilians with impunity.

The UN has called for Israel to withdraw its forces from the Gaza strip

None of this makes Hamas’ past involvement in terrorist attacks which targeted and killed Israeli civilians justifiable (and they should not harm Corporal Shalit). Attacks by either side which target civilians or don’t do everything possible to avoid killing them are completely wrong and one wrong cannot justify another.

What it does show is that the crime Hamas are being punished for is not being linked to terrorism but being enemies of an ally of the USA – even when they call and keep to unilateral ceasefires with that ally of the USA.

For this crime every Palestinian in the occupied territories – including Gaza which has been re-invaded and bombarded a dozen times with civilians killed almost every time since it was ‘handed back’ in - are suffering..

Blanket economic sanctions are not the right method for a democracy seeking to prevent terrorism. Like suicide bombings or air and artillery strikes they are a form of mass murder that kills innocent and guilty alike.


The Deeper Problem

The deeper problem is that our governments have the illusion that they are fighting ‘Al Qa’ida’ or ‘Hamas’ or ‘Islamic Jihad’ and that if they just kill enough of them these terrorist organisations will be defeated. Some of them even believe that if we kill enough people in the countries these organisations come from and make the rest suffer enough the survivors will turn against the terrorists and drive them from power or give us information on where to find them.

This is not only wrong it is a self-defeating strategy which strengthens nationalisms and fundamentalisms and erodes support for democracy and human rights on both sides. This failed strategy results from a failure to imagine ourselves in other people’s position. Did the September 11th attacks make Americans decide to get rid of the politicians responsible for supporting Israel’s occupation of the West Bank? Did the July the 7th bombings make people in Britain decide to get rid of Tony Blair?

No – they rallied behind them because when people are threatened, afraid , under attack and mourning people they loved many naturally turn against those responsible for the killing and the threats with every thought and feeling. Most will demand revenge and rally behind anyone fighting the killers whether they trust or distrust, like or dislike, love or hate those doing that fighting.

Some - like many September 11th relatives who formed September 11th Relatives for Peaceful Tommorrows see further and say that they do not want other innocent people to die or other relatives to suffer their loss as revenge. However most rally behind nationalism and religious fundamentalism – like the US nationalism and Christian fundamentalism which kept Bush in power after September 11th or the Palestinian nationalism and Islamic fundamentalism which led to people voting for Hamas after wave after wave of Israeli ‘military responses’ to terrorism which killed yet more innocent Palestinians to ‘punish the terrorists’ for killing innocent Israelis.

In failing to understand that Serbs, Iraqis, Iranians, Afghans and Palestinians respond to attacks on their country, killing of their civilians and threats from outside the same way we respond to them we have failed to understand that they are human beings just like us. The majority of them are not maniacs or religious zealots any more than most of us. They are human beings who have a breaking point and react to the killing of their civilians, friends and family the same way we react to the killing of ours – or who have been taken in by propaganda just as many of us have been taken in by our governments’ propaganada, or may be peace campaigners or human rights advocates. They are not a mass of identical and backward or alien members of another race.

(We even expect Iraqis and Afghans to support and die for governments imposed on them by foreign military occupations – when in the same situation many of the same people urging this would consider anyone aiding foreign forces to be traitors.)

Yes there are violent and extremist Muslims just as there are murdering atheists like Stalin and Christian advocates of mass murder like the American ‘columnist’ Ann Coulter who recommends bombing Muslim countries into submission and forcibly converting the survivors to Christianity – but these violent extremists and their advocates remain a minority except when they are provided with support by fear and hatred created by terrorism and war or the threat of it– whether that terrorism is carried out by governments or by terrorist organisations.

Anne Coulter – she has repeatedly advocate bombing Muslim countriess into submission and forcibly converting survivors to Christianity

(Hamas’ election is a good example of the false distinction between the two – if states and governments can’t be terrorists surely attacks carried out by Hamas forces would now be legitimate military action? Everyone – quite logically – says that terrorist methods such as missile attacks on towns remain terrorism whether Hamas has been democratically elected as a government or not. The same then surely holds true for Israeli, British and American military operations which use strategies which their governmental architects know will kill civilians).

If we wish to defeat Al Qa’ida and the elements of Hamas who want to continue terrorist attacks then we must stop behaving like the terrorists. We must stop using methods which indiscriminately kill people most of whom will be innocent of any crime in the vague hope of managing to kill some of the guilty in the process.

Our terrorist methods of fighting terrorism turn people who would otherwise have contempt for dictators and terrorists into supporters of anyone who will strike back against us – whether terrorists or dictators or not.


The Real Enemy

The enemy we really need to fight is not any people, religion, organisation or country. The real enemies are fear, hatred and the irrational urge for revenge against anyone who can be attacked - guilty or innocent. These are the result of terrorism – ‘theirs’ in suicide attacks and ‘ours’ in invasions, bombings, air strikes, torture, jail without trial and blanket sanctions.

We are creating mass support for a tiny minority who would otherwise be isolated fanatics and pariahs because we are not treating other humans with the simple straight-forward humanity that says that one of their lives and the rights of one of their people is worth exactly as much as one of ours.

Even Zarqawi – a senior member of Al Qa’ida (and hard for anyone to mourn) – when he was killed died along with 5 other people. The other 5 killed included a woman and a child. Were they his wife and child or people being brainwashed into giving up their lives in suicide bombings? We may never know. What we do know is that even when the USAAF targeted the right house they killed 5 people who may have been innocent along with the one guilty – and this was a relative success.

In thousands of air strikes and raids in Afghanistan and Iraq tens or hundreds of thousands of civilians have been killed along with (often instead of) enemy combatants. President Karzai, the US-backed President of Afghanistan, has begged for an end to US-led offensives in his country – but is ignored. Is that us bringing democracy? Do we value Afghan or Iraqi or Palestinian lives the way we value our own citizens lives? Would we tolerate tens of thousands of dead British or Americans or Israelis as a price worth paying in innocent lives to kill some of the guilty? Do we even value our own troops’ lives if we are willing to lose them in wars in which we have no idea of how they could realistically achieve victory?

President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan , elected and backed by the US, has called for a change of strategy in the ‘war on terror’

How is this strategy different in practice from Al Qa’ida’s? How is it morally superior? Because we didn’t intend the other deaths but only knew we would cause them ? That only shows we didn’t care enough to use a strategy that might cost less innocent lives to get the guilty – or might cost some of ‘our’ troops lives rather than some of ‘their’ civilians’ lives.

Nor is it an argument which will prevent the survivors and the family and friends of the people we have killed from turning against us – of even allying with anyone who will help them get revenge against us – including Al Qa’ida – which is growing stronger every time our forces end up killing the wrong people – as they inevitably will as long as they are in Afghanistan, Iraq or the occupied territories.

In short our strategies of wars , military strikes , torture and jail without trial are not only wrong they are pointless and self defeating. They recruit new enemies faster than they kill existing ones.

Terrorists without mass support can be arrested, tried and jailed. Extremist governments can be replaced with ones committed to peaceful methods if their people choose to vote for someone else.

Terrorist organisations and extreme governments which are gaining new recruits and supporters faster than they lose existing ones due to our methods and threats are a much more difficult opponent and one that can only be defeated by removing the threats and attacks which create mass support for them..

Perhaps though that is the real intention behind these strategies.

In January 2000 Presidential candidate George W Bush said

'When I was coming up it was a dangerous world , and you knew exactly who they were. It was us versus them and it was clear who them was. Today we are not so sure who they are, but we know they're there.(Offline source 2)

This statement shows the ruling elite’s desperate desire to identify a ‘them’ to force ‘us’ to rally behind our rulers for fear of being seen as ‘traitors’ associated with ‘them’. Bush and Coulter are essentially advocates of fear and hatred just as Bin Laden is. Both of them urge us to treat other humans as if they were aliens who cannot be negotiated with or understood and whose lives are of little or no value. The only difference is Bin Laden does so more explicitly and makes no pretence of abiding by the Geneva Conventions which the Bush administration approves in rhetoric but – as Human Rights Watch reports - throws away in reality.

When Amber Amundson lost her husband Craig Amundsen in the September 11th attacks her response was very different. She wrote to President Bush saying :

“If you choose to respond to this incomprehensible brutality by perpetuating violence against other innocent human beings, you may not do so in the name of justice for my husband…. Your words and imminent acts of revenge only amplify our family's suffering, deny us the dignity of remembering our loved one in a way that would have made him proud, and mock his vision of America as a peacemaker in the world community.”

Amber Amundson – her husband Craig was killed in the attack on the Pentagon on September 11th 2001

Craig would not have wanted a violent response to avenge his death. And I cannot see how good can come out of it. We cannot solve violence with violence. Revenge is a self perpetuating cycle. Gandhi said, "An eye for an eye only makes the whole world blind." We will no longer be able to see that we hold the light of Liberty if we ourselves are blinded by vengeance, anger, and fear. I ask our nation's leaders not to take the path that leads to more widespread hatreds — that make my husband's death just one more in an unending spiral of killing. I call on our national leaders to find the courage to respond to this incomprehensible tragedy by breaking the cycle of violence.

Those are the simple, straight-forward , honest words of someone who has suffered the terrorist attacks we are rightly urged to remember. These words treat Afghan , Iraqi and Palestinian lives and suffering as equal in worth to American, British or Israeli lives and urge us to remember what our rulers would prefer we forgot – that their terrorism is no more justified than Al Qa’ida’s.

Until we listen to Amber Amundson’s words ; Until we treat ‘foreigners’ the way we treat one another our soldiers , our civilians – and theirs – will keep dying for nothing – and genocides like Darfur will continue while our troops are sent to kill and be killed in the wrong countries fighting pointless un-winnable wars to prop up and enrich a tiny handful on each side who profit from the idea of ‘them’ and ‘us’.



“Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that. Hate multiplies hate, violence multiplies violence, and toughness multiplies toughness in a descending spiral of destruction. The chain reaction of evil — hate begetting hate, wars producing more wars — must be broken, or we shall be plunged into the dark abyss of annihilation.”

Martin Luther King Junior

Martin Luther King Junior


Offline Sources

(1) = Nye , Joseph S. & Smith , Robert K. (1992) , ‘After the Storm’, Madison Books , London , 1992 , p211-216

(2) = Weisberg , Jacob (2001) ‘George W. Bushisms’, Fireside , New York & London , 2001, p48

Stop the War Coalition

September 11th Relatives for Peaceful Tommorrows

Glasgow Palestinian Human Rights Campaign

Amnesty International

Human Rights Watch

Comments? Corrections? – email me

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