May 1, 2001

 

Don't let states get away with terror

 

Alexander Rose

National Post

 

WASHINGTON - For foreign affairs junkies, the U.S. State Department's annual patterns of Global Terrorism report is akin to those encyclopedias for baseball fans which, with beetle-browed devotion, catalogue every RBI since the birth of Christ.

 

Of all the fascinating esoterica in the report released yesterday, the most interesting is the section on State-Sponsored Terrorism, which catalogues those countries that "repeatedly provide support for acts of international terrorism."

 

The List includes Iran, Iraq, Libya, Syria, Cuba, North Korea and Sudan.

 

Iran, as usual, is the world's No. 1 state-sponsor. Tehran aids, trains, shelters and arms every Palestinian terror group it can dig up. But, say some critics, The List has remained unchanged for nearly a decade, making it appear ossified. They want a more dynamic set of categories for dubious states one of enablers, sponsors and co-operators -- instead of the Manichaean bad-on/good-off system.

 

Another school of criticism believes The List is skewed. Why is Cuba -- where it's been a wile since Havana actively helped terrorists pull the trigger --on The List but not our Afghan friends? After all, by sheltering Osama bin Laden and with its open-door policy to any radical Islamist maniac with a grudge, Afghanistan is the perennial candidate. The answer? Washington doesn't recognize the Taleban as a government, so it can't be on The List.

 

Then, most influentially, there are those critics who feel The List is becoming obsolete. This has been the read-between-the-lines view of -- surprisingly the State Department since the Clinton years.

 

First, as Secretary of State Colin Powell said yesterday, "terrorism shows the dark side of globalization, as it exploits the easing of travel restrictions, the improvements of communication or the internationalization of banking and finance, making it easier for terrorists to do some of their work." Secondly, for years the report has been declaring that "state sponsorship has decreased over the past several decades."

 

In its place is the New Terrorism, which is one of "amorphous cells" comprising small numbers of "independent actors" performing their self-selected [Image] attacks and only vaguely connected to each other via the Internet and cellphones. Terrorism, so the theory goes, is reflecting the alleged erosion of state sovereignty in this borderless, wired world. The most terrifying of these entities is Al-Qaeda, the "movement" -- because it's not an organization of Osama bin Laden.

 

Among opinion-makers, State's boys and various instant media experts, this theory represents reality. After all, there have been some remarkable successes against these independent actors lately.

 

A conviction was obtained for the accused in the Libyan bombing of Pan Am 103; the alleged East Africa embassy bombers were brought to trial in New York; Ahmed Ressam was sentenced the same day in two courtrooms in two countries for terrorist offences; another three Islamists were arrested in Yemen in connection with the USS Cole attack; and the Italians have rounded up an Islamist cell with suspected links to bin Laden. Not bad, eh?

 

Well, yes, but only if you believe these semi-literate men possessed the wherewithal and initiative to plan and execute complex operations, smuggle explosives, acquire false papers and recruit conspirators all by themselves.

 

In the most perceptive book on terrorism in years, Study of Revenge: Saddam Hussein's Unfinished War Against America, Iraq expert Laurie Mylroie demonstrates that Baghdad covertly sponsored the 1993 World Trade Centre bombing, which the Clinton administration later claimed was the work of a small, shadowy cell. In actuality, it was a false-flag operation: The bombers were first manipulated, then sacrificed by a state -- Iraq -- which did not want to be seen openly declaring war on the United States. Which raises the questions, who's really behind Al-Qaeda's operations and how many other terrorist

acts are false-flags?

 

Essentially, by falling into the Clintonite trap of conflating the guilt and innocence of accused individuals with the weightier security aspects of state-sponsorship, the State Department can avoid tackling the very real problem of Iraq, Afghanistan and the rest.

 

While The List should be modified to take into account current realities, it would be shortsighted to retire it for the sake of some illusory New Terrorists.