Friday, January 16, 2009

David Miliband: Bush’s War on Terror was misleading and mistaken

The Times, UK, January 16, 2009

The Foreign Secretary attacked the legacy of George Bush yesterday, branding the outgoing President’s War on Terror a “misleading and mistaken” doctrine that had united extremists against the West.

Speaking in Mumbai, David Miliband said that the idea of a war on terror gave a false notion “of a unified, transnational enemy, embodied in the figure of Osama bin Laden and the organisation of al-Qaeda”.

He suggested that the phrase had “inadvertently sustained al-Qaeda’s propaganda” and risked magnifying the threats faced. “The more we lump terrorist groups together, the more we play into the hands of those seeking to unify groups with little in common,” he added.

The speech, which was given at the Taj Mahal Palace, one of two hotels struck in November’s terrorist attack, ranked among the British Government’s harshest critiques of Mr Bush’s foreign policy, but came just five days before the 43rd President makes way for Barack Obama.

Mr Miliband shrugged off suggestions that his comments would have been braver had they been delivered earlier in Mr Bush’s tenure. The key issue was one of semantic accuracy, he said. “Terrorism is a deadly tactic, not an institution or an ideology.”

Democracies must respond to terrorism “by championing the rule of law, not subordinating it”, he added, citing Guantánamo Bay and endorsing Mr Obama’s pledge to close the controversial detention camp.

Mr Miliband said that the term War on Terror had some merit — for capturing the need to tackle terrorism urgently and with force. But it also invited “invidious comparisons” between organisations as diverse as the Tamil Tigers, who are fighting for an ethnic Tamil homeland in Sri Lanka, and Lashkar-e-Taiba, the Pakistan-based faction that Indian and British officials believe was behind the Mumbai atrocities, which was founded to drive India out of Kashmir.

The phrase also suggested that terror had to be tackled primarily by military means, Mr Miliband said, but history showed that American and British forces “could not kill [their] way out of the problems of insurgency and civil strife” in Iraq.

The term War on Terror was first used by President Bush in an address to a joint session of Congress on September 20, 2001.

Hillary Clinton coined a slogan this week when she peppered her remarks before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee with the term “smart power”. The New York Times said: “It means using all the levers of influence — diplomatic, economic, military, legal, political and cultural — to get what you want.”

— Kamal Shah, Pakistan’s Interior Secretary, said that 71 people had been arrested and 124 were under surveillance in a crackdown on groups allegedly linked to the Mumbai attacks. (AP)

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