In an article that I published in Clarín on Nov. 22, 2001, I suggested that the “war against terror” launched by George W. Bush against al-Qaida after the attacks of Sept. 11 would run the risk of erasing “the distinction between war and peace.” If the war against terrorism is limited in time and space, I said, at that time, that peace would become diluted due to the constant state of warfare. In short, I believed that we could be at the gates of a perpetual war. The goal of the form of warfare that the United States chose to confront the threat of terrorism was “to make [terrorism] impractical.” This threat is derived from an asymmetric conflict where the weak have the tactical advantage in obtaining the objective, method and moment of their lethal action. This goal implied the danger of the powerful becoming like the weak.
Guantánamo, Abu Ghraib, the Patriot Act, the so-called “interrogation techniques,” extraterritorial kidnapping of people, extrajudicial executions, punitive attacks against countries that have not threatened or attacked the United States, the “drone war” deployed across various nations among others are part of the arsenal of a model of permanent war. It is a model that for certain can temporarily sustain itself using vast defense budgets, cutting liberties internally, militarizing foreign policy, and returning violence to its original source — in this case, the Muslim world.
Largely, the U.S. achieved its goal of reducing the impact of terrorism within its population: Since 2001, more U.S. citizens have died per year because of tornadoes and lightning strikes than because of acts of terrorism in and outside the country. However, with its operations in Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya (“failed states"), the U.S. eroded its legitimacy in the Middle East by supporting Saudi Arabia, the main financier of Sunni jihadism, and supporting the coup d'état in Egypt. Also, the U.S. generated more resentment among young and vulnerable segments with its drone wars in Islamic countries, where there have been many innocent victims. Furthermore, its politics in Syria, along with the supporting and training of presumed “moderate rebels,” have eroded its legitimacy in the Middle East.
The new phase of terrorism initiated after the invasion of Iraq in 2003 sought to return the conflict to the heart of the East and polarize the combat in the breast of Europe where more than 44 million Muslims live.
In the article written in 2001, I underlined that Europe's great challenge was to make terrorism “improbable, unnecessary and illegitimate.” In fact, that was the implicit method of the Europeans when they confronted domestic political terrorism in the 1960s and ‘70s. It was suggested that for that [to happen], there would be required a combination of dissuasion, development and dialogue that would involve all of the state (dissuasion), public and private actors (development), and civil society (dialogue). But out of conviction or convenience, Europe preferred to join the initiatives of U.S. politicians against terrorism, undertaken in North Africa, the Middle East and Central Asia. European leaders of the center-left or center-right equally believed that by accompanying Washington, they could modify some of their tactics in the Middle East and persuade the United States of the advantages of a just solution to the conflict between Israel and Palestine.
However, the truth is that even in light of these acts, Americans and Europeans, liberals and conservatives, indistinguishably appear convinced that in the Muslim/Arab world the chaos is “manageable,” and they simultaneously preserve good business with petroleum and weapons. Realpolitik is old but more unwise.
In the midst of a context that multiplies the “hot points” and utilization of distinct forms of annihilation emerges the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant with its project of re-establishing the caliphate. It is very probable that it won't achieve its ambitious goal. However, its rise checks the persistence of the asymmetrical conflicts, as well as the radicality of their practitioners. On this occasion, France was the objective of Islamic State group terrorism anew. Recall that Paris was the objective of the first act of jihadi terrorism in Europe on July 1995, when a bomb killed eight people. Years later, Europe could dismantle attacks planned by al-Qaida, which through its affiliations in Maghreb, has returned to place France on the watch list after the intervention in Mali in 2013. But now, the dimension of what occurred and the generated panic are very important to what Charlie Hebdo did as an immediate antecedent.
François Hollande declared that France is at “war” against jihadi terrorism. He promotes drastic legislative changes and relentless battles in foreign lands — more of the same. I dare thus to repeat my conclusion from 2001: “We should be critical of a 'new war' that not only will have little probability of solving the problem of terrorism, but that could make it harder to manage.”