22 Dec, 2015
BANGKOK – The defining development of 2015 was not a success story but a tragic failure — the total and absolute failure of the war on terror (WoT). That was accompanied by a complete absence of demands for accountability for the thousands of lives lost, the trillions of dollars squandered, the people displaced, the monumental damage to properties and heritage sites, and the rise of racism, fascism and xenophobia.
The only beneficiaries have been the security companies and defence contractors who are laughing all the way to the bank. Meanwhile, travel & tourism industry leaders fiddle and crow about resilience while Rome burns.
This WoT began with the Sept 2001 terrorist attacks. 2001 was the first year of the 21st century, which was widely projected to be an era of freedom, democracy, economic growth and environmental sustainability. The Berlin wall had fallen. Asia had emerged from the economic crisis. Global leaders had just signed off on the Millennium Development Goals. Led by the United States, then a free and democratic nation and the world’s only superpower, there was enormous expectations of better global future.
That euphoria lasted only nine months.
The 15 years since September 2001 have been marked by year after year of instability, insecurity and uncertainty, with the WoT holding centre stage.
The Al Qaeda terrorist group, led by a certain Osama bin Laden, was identified as the perpetrator of the 9/11 attacks. This group was supposedly operating out of Afghanistan, which was attacked just a month later, in October 2001.
That was not enough. To defeat the terrorists, the world was told that Saddam Hussein, the dictator of Iraq, was also a threat because he had weapons of mass destruction. In March 2003, the U.S./U.K.-led coalition of the willing rained death and destruction on Iraq. Two months later, in May 2003, former U.S. President George W Bush Jr made another of his grandiosely televised speeches from the deck of an aircraft carrier and declared “Mission Accomplished.”
The mission was anything but accomplished. No weapons of mass destruction were found. No one was held accountable. The story was then changed in line with the newly-shifted goalpost: The pursuit of freedom and democracy in the Arab world.
As the death toll mounted in Afghanistan and Iraq, the world was told that Iran too was a threat and needed to be attacked because it was developing a nuclear bomb. Pakistan was also identified as being in need of a “fix” to squash extremism. Since then, the regime-change agenda has advanced in Libya, Syria and Yemen. In Egypt and Tunisia, regime change came through public protests against dictators. In Egypt, a free and democratic election in 2012 handed a victory to the Muslim Brotherhood. The wrong guys won, and by 2014, they were also out, replaced by yet another military general.
All the while, terrorist attacks have continued worldwide – Mumbai, Madrid, Bali, Paris, Boston, Cairo, Nairobi and many more places.
Let’s look at the results.
In Afghanistan, the bloodshed continues. Just yesterday (21 Dec 2015), a suicide bomber blew up six NATO soldiers. Iraq is devastated and nearly dismembered. Al Qaeda has been replaced by an even more formidable and ferocious organisation known as ISIS. Or is it ISIL? Or Daesh? Syria is in flames. Turkey and Russia are now involved. Yemen and Libya are battlegrounds of feuding sects and political parties. Thousands of refugees are fleeing their home countries to seek shelter in Europe.
The terrorist attacks are continuing and have been joined by white supremacist terrorists shooting Muslims or those they mistake for Muslims. In July 2011, blonde-haired blue-eyed Scandinavian homegrown terrorist Anders Behring Breivik shot 77 people in two attacks in Norway. In August 2012, American terrorist Wade Michael Page killed six Sikh worshippers at a gurdwara in Oak Creek, Wisconsin.
All through this, Iran was kept under tight sanctions. Like Saddam Hussein, the Iranians were pronounced guilty and had to prove their innocence. Now, the Iran file has been closed and companies are rushing into the new El Dorado which will prove as financially lucrative as Cuba and Myanmar. The Iranians are smart enough to know that the regime-change plan for their country has only undergone a change in strategy. Their leader, Ayatollah Khamenei, has publicly said that the new strategy will be to undermine Iran from within, with the same lure of sex-alcohol-money used successfully to blackmail decision-makers in the Arab world.
At the forefront of the anti-Iran campaign was Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu with his repeated warnings that Iran wanted to wipe Israel off the map. In reality, he was only distracting world attention while working actively to wipe Palestine off the map, as desired by the Jewish fanatic extremist terrorist Yigal Amir, the Nov 1995 killer of Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, a Nobel Peace Prize winner. Netanyahu is ensuring that Amir succeeds. Every few months, Israel announces more new Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank. Under him, Israel’s attacks on Gaza in 2008 and again in 2014 have killed thousands of virtually defenceless people whose only crime is to seek the same freedom from Israeli occupation that the people of Timor-Leste gained from Indonesia in 2002. The Israelis kill Palestinians at will but face no sanctions or regime-change attacks.
Indeed, the Israelis are the primary winners of, and profiteers from, the WoT. Claiming to be global leaders in security, their mercenaries, intelligence agents and military operatives are embedded in governments and private companies worldwide, supposedly to advise on anti-terrorism strategies. It’s a great policy; like lawyers, they make money regardless of whether the client wins or loses. No-one ventures to ask them why they can’t even protect their own people from stabbing attacks by the desperate Palestinians. Even the best Israeli security experts are flummoxed how to combat this new threat.
Right after 9/11, the United States set up an entire Department of Homeland Security and gave it multi-billion dollar budgets. The defining statement used to justify sending young American men and women to fight in Afghanistan and Iraq was that “we have to fight them there so that we do not have to them fight them here.” That has also failed. The latest two husband-and-wife killers in San Bernadino went apparently undetected by the entire security chain of command, from visa checks to social media monitoring. That came just three years after the July 2013 Boston Marathon bombings.
The chickens have come home to roost. The American sheeple, instead of demanding some kind of accountability for these failures, are calling for more security. Billionaire Donald Trump, a candidates for the 2016 Presidential election, has suggested keeping out all Muslims.
In July 2009, President Obama gave a famous speech in Cairo calling for a “new beginning” with the Islamic world. That, too, went nowhere. Men/women of conscience such as Australia Julian Assange and Americans Edward Snowden and Chelsea Manning, have blown the whistle to expose the high-level litany of lies, deceit, double standards and hypocrisy for which there should be zero tolerance in a free and democratic society. For their courage, they are now, in one shape or form, incarcerated. That was a fate once suffered only by dissidents such as Andrei Sakharov and Alexander Solzhenitsyn rebelling against Soviet totalitarianism in the 1970s and ‘80s.
So what’s the difference between today’s democracies and yesterday’s totalitarian states?
Indeed, what has 15 years of attacks, speeches, security upgrades, regime-change, etc, achieved? I would wager, absolutely nothing. If this was a corporate environment, or maybe even a global football association, senior executives would not only have been forced out, but they would be facing jail terms. In global geopolitics, no such luck.
Travel and tourism is not only bearing the brunt of this WoT, but also having to pay both the costs and the price of increased security. A self-proclaimed industry of peace has been hijacked by the merchants of death. Security contractors make billions suckering hotels, airports, convention centres into buying outdated and obsolete equipment. Even that, they say, can never provide foolproof security. That absolves themselves of all responsibility even as their revenue stream remains intact.
No-one in travel & tourism has mustered the courage to seek accountability. Where is the sense of outrage? How long will these policies continue? Do our industry leaders have any principles, any sense of shame, any desire whatsoever to demand a more hard-nosed assessment of the status quo and a long overdue change of tack? The UNWTO has a so-called Ethics Committee. How ethical is it to fiddle while Rome burns?
This intellectual cowardice and lack of courage gives the faulty decision-makers a green signal to stay their course. Hence, in 2016, the industry can expect more of the same. Travel & tourism is a money-spinning new outlet for the merchants of death. The silence of the lambs continues unabated, and so does the bloodshed.