By Alan W. Dowd
National-security planners have been talking about the need for a readjustment of US priorities since the end of the Cold War, arguing that America’s focus should shift away from Europe. A recent review conducted by The Atlantic Monthly illustrates that such a realignment is well underway.
According to the study, Washington has closed 32 bases in Europe and 9 in the Pacific since the Cold War’s end, while opening 15 new bases in the Middle East and Central Asia during the same period. This number does not include the new bases popping up across Iraq, many of which promise to become permanent facilities.
The shift in priorities and focus is even more pronounced from a personnel perspective: According to the survey, conducted by The Atlantic Monthly’s Bruce Falconer, there has been a 65-percent decline in the number of US troops deployed in Europe, a 32-percent decline in the Pacific and East Asia, a 38-percent drop in South America and Canada, but a 55-percent increase in deployments in the Middle East.
We can expect the trend to continue. After all, the very epicenter of the war on terror is an arc of crisis stretching from Libya and Egypt all the way to Iran and Afghanistan—a swath of earth known as the Middle East. Moreover, the newest commander of US forces in Europe, Marine Gen. James L. Jones, has openly talked about transforming America’s existing European presence from the heavy, permanent basing of the Cold War to a network of “lily pads” occupied by skeleton crews. As the name suggests, the lily pad concept is conducive with movement and flexibility—and it has little to do with permanence.
As the bombs began to fall on Baghdad, the New York-based Center for Constitutional Rights warned that the Pentagon’s plans for a campaign of “shock and awe” against Saddam Hussein’s regime could lead to war crimes prosecutions. “If initiated, this strategy will almost certainly result in the commission of war crimes,” a CCR press release happily predicted.
Sure enough, Belgian lawyer Jan Fermon is representing a handful of Iraqis who have accused Gen. Tommy Franks of committing war crimes against the Iraqi people. Among the charges, according to a Washington Times review, are that US forces fired upon an ambulance, indiscriminately attacked civilian vehicles, bombed a Baghdad market area, attacked a bus, and failed to stop postwar looting. “US military officials had the authority but did nothing to stop these war crimes from occurring,” Fermon told the Times.
The State Department made it clear that should Brussels legitimize the suit by agreeing to hear it, there would be “diplomatic consequences.” Secretary of State Colin Powell noted that the case could have a chilling effect on American travel patterns, especially political and governmental travel. “We believe the Belgian government needs to be diligent in taking steps to prevent abuse of the legal system for political ends,” observed State Department spokesman Richard Boucher.
Perhaps in response to US pressure, the Belgian government refused to take up the case and has instead referred the complaint to the United States, as allowed under Belgian law.
Given their zeal to prosecute and punish Iraq’s liberators, one wonders where the likes of Fermon and the CCR were when Saddam Hussein was perfecting war crimes into a science. After all, the world knew about the mass graves, the chemical attacks, the butchery long before the statues fell. Yet I don’t recall an effort by activist lawyers or grassroots legal societies to haul Saddam Hussein before a tribunal. In their upside-down world of moral relativism, those who use war to remove tyrants are worse than the tyrants.
The State Department has released its annual survey of terrorism, and the news is mixed. According to the 2002 Patterns of Global Terrorism Report, there was a 44-percent drop in attacks conducted by international terrorists between 2001 and 2002. The number of attacks against American targets was down 65 percent, and just 30 Americans were killed by terrorists in 2002. Perhaps most remarkably, there were no terror attacks on the US homeland in 2002, and there haven’t been since September 11, 2001.
More than 3000 al Qaeda operatives have been detained in 100 countries since 2001; some 500 of them are being held by the United States. “Al Qaeda terrorists are on the run,” explained Ambassador for Counterterrorism Cofer Black in the report. “More than one-third of al Qaeda’s leadership has been killed or captured, including some who conspired in the September 11 attacks, the 2000 attack on the USS Cole and the 1998 bombings of two US Embassies in East Africa.”
Even so, terrorists managed to conduct 199 major attacks in 2002, killing 725 innocent people. The enemy’s reach was impressive—a restaurant in Netanya, a hiking trail in the Philippines, a church in Islamabad, a university in Jerusalem, a military base in Kuwait, a resort in Bali, a theater in Moscow, a hospital in Yemen. And the carnage has continued in 2003. In the span of a week, al Qaeda and its allies struck five separate times in Morocco and multiple targets in Saudi Arabia.
Simply put, the war is far from over.
Published monthly in the American Legion Magazine, Under the Radar provides a snapshot of current challenges in international politics, U.S. foreign policy and national security.