The recent car bombing on the Indonesian Resort Island of Bali demonstrates why we should be worrying about the “war on terror” and not Iraq. With regards to Iraq, what has changed in the past five years? Nothing, Hussein still tries to develop weapons of mass destruction. He still brutally oppresses his people and he still violates countless U.N. resolutions. Yes, Iraq is a state-sponsor of terrorism, but so are Iran, Cuba, North Korea, Libya – the list goes on. Does the Bush administration suggest we invade each of those countries as well?
Also, the Bush administration has attempted to link Iraq to Al Qaeda, but in this venture it has pathetically fallen short. The most substantive proof of such a linkage is the report that Mohammed Atta, the lead hijacker, met with Iraqi intelligence officials prior to September 11. Currently, there is public disagreement between the Department of Defense and the CIA over the credibility of these dubious reports. Even today, the Czech government issued a statement strongly doubting whether the supposed meeting in Prague ever took place. There is simply no smoking gun linking Iraq to the planning or perpetration of the September 11 terrorist attacks. In spite of Bush administration attempts to blur the distinction between the two, Iraq is still one thing and the war on terror is something totally different.
The bombing in Bali is just the beginning. The day after the incident, the Indonesian stock market fell nearly 10 percent and the currency, the rupiah, also stumbled. Experts expect both tourism and investment will suffer. Ordinary Indonesians and businessmen have become accustomed to living and operating in this type of violent environment, so the effects should not be exaggerated. However, they have never experienced a terrorist attack of this magnitude and you can expect that the effects of any future attack will be much more severe.
Another major attack threatens to significantly undermine the Indonesian government. Democracy in Indonesia is young and weak and struggles to control a powerful and overbearing military. Indonesia is also plagued by serious separatist, ethnic and religious strife. A suffering economy and the image of an increasingly ineffectual government embolden and bolster these violent movements that seek to tear Indonesia apart. With 200 million people, the largest Muslim population in the world, and 13,700 mountainous islands, Indonesia is a good candidate to be the next Afghanistan. The Indonesian system, although by no means perfect, provides relative security and stability to its citizens and the region.
Al Qaeda and its allies seek to undermine the various weak governments throughout the Islamic world. Why else are there car bombs in Pakistan, assassination attempts in Afghanistan, explosions in the Philippines, and now Indonesia? Afghanistan was the perfect base because there was no effective government authority, because rival groups jockeyed for Bin Laden’s support in their own power struggles. Anarchy gives terrorists an environment where they have total freedom of movement and action; it even helps recruiting efforts.
A recent CIA report stated the biggest threat to American national security is not Iraq, but several well-connected terrorist organizations such as Al Qaeda and Hezbollah. Let us remember before September 11, Hezbollah had killed more Americans (most notably 241 Marines in Lebanon) than any other terrorist group in the world. Al Qaeda, Hezbollah, Abu Sayyaf, Jemaah Islamiah, and others are the greatest threat because of their ability to target American citizens, interests and allies and undermine weak governments around the world. Most frightening is the international nature of these groups. Their long and slippery tentacles have infiltrated societies all over the world. Because of September 11 we now know how close the threat is. Despite what the Bush administration contends, terrorists are much more of an immediate threat than Iraq and the public should not combine the two into the same category.
-The writer is a senior majoring in international affairs.
This article appeared in the October 24, 2002 issue of the Hatchet.