Perspectives on the War on Terror

This position paper was first published here on 2004-02-29 and shows the evolution of my strategy after getting some feedback from Iraq.

Perspectives on the War on Terror : A Rational Analysis
Paul Edwards, 2004-02-29,

E-mail: kerravon@w3.to .


The War on Terror has produced extremely intense debate in the west. The right wing (strictly speaking, pro-war) is perplexed that seemingly intelligent, friendly and moral people, have essentially acted to protect one of the most obscene dictators of modern times. The left wing (strictly speaking, anti-war) is perplexed that seemingly intelligent and reasonably friendly people could exhibit all the characteristics of racist warmongers. The Muslim countries meanwhile have all the evidence needed to conclusively prove that non-Muslims with superior weaponry and sectarian bigotry are perpetrating atrocities and attempting to change the culture and/or religion of Muslims.

This document is an attempt to look at the problem from each perspective, to identify the major misunderstandings, which have come from all sides. It then attempts to set a realistic goal (secure liberal democracies), and then suggests a course of action to achieve that goal.

Right Wing Position

It has been noted before and after 9/11 that Muslims, especially Middle-Eastern Muslims, appear to wish harm on various groups, including America and other first-world non-Muslim nations. It is the attack on American soil, combined with the extreme success of the attack, that has finally proved that doing something, anything, is probably less harmful than the previous policy of essentially ignoring, or engaging in ineffective diplomacy, hoping that the problem would eventual die a natural death.

The lack of a state actor meant that a simplistic response was not an option. The “nuclear deterrent” turned out to be insufficient. A nuclear response against Afghanistan is completely pointless. None of the civilians had the ability to be deterred. They were essentially slaves, or prisoners. They may even be allies had they been freed from bondage. A dictator who does not care what happens to his “slaves” may not be deterrable. If his minions’ lives have no value, and he is willing to trade his own life for a place in the history books, as well as a place in heaven, it may be considered a worthwhile exchange. It should be noted that many Muslims are making this exact trade-off for much less. Bin Laden, instead of living a life of splendour, is hiding in a cave. Never assume that humans won’t do something because it is irrational. Err on the side of caution and assume that they are unpredictable, and look instead at capability.

A reasonable approach would be to at least make the government accountable to the people they govern, especially if the governor is dangerous. This will hopefully restore the accountability of the government, and restore the nuclear deterrent. It does not make sense to hold slaves accountable for the actions of their master. Nor is it immoral to topple a slave-master, as the west has as much right to force the will of the slaves onto the master, as the master ever did to force his will onto his slaves. Nor is it immoral to wage conventional war on the government, as it is surely less heavy-handed than waging nuclear war on the people.

World War II gave the knowledge that it is usually better to strike enemies before they acquire superior weaponry. Thus no hostile dictator should rest easy. If they can be defeated, they should be defeated. We do not have perfect intelligence, and we will never have perfect intelligence - in fact, you could argue our intelligence gets it wrong more often than they get it right. We do not know what nefarious activities hostile, secretive governments may be up to. But state-organized demonstrations with placards reading “Death to USA ” do not bode well for peaceful coexistance. When the people in these regimes have control of petrodollars, the impetus to deal with the most visible problem increases even more.

Underlying reasons for terrorist attacks or anti-Americanism in general, whether it be failure to destroy Israel, sectarian bigotry suggesting “infidel” troops shouldn’t be allowed in a Muslim country, jealousy, racism, poverty, whatever, are of some interest, as it may provide insight. This insight may be useful to destroy the enemy. There is no suggestion of altering behaviour to be acceptable to the terrorists, as that will just encourage more people to do the same, for whatever political (or non-political) grievances they may have. Plus, we behave the way we do (generally defending democracies) because we want to, not because we considered whether that was reasonable from a terrorist’s point of view.

The suggestion that this is due to poverty is seen as a cynical attempt to extort yet more money from the west, given that the poorest people, those in sub-Saharan Africa, are not reknown for terrorism. In addition, no-one in Africa or the Middle East is poor because the USA or anyone else stole all their wealth. By and large, they were a lot poorer before, but like the rest of the world, their living standard has also increased. It may not have increased as much as the USA ’s has, but this is a separate, economic question (which the right wing will be happy to answer if those who wish to improve their lot in life would like to learn about capitalism). The fact is that terrorism has increased, at the same time that standard of living has increased (at least over the long term). Increased standard of living is not likely to be a cause of terrorism, and poverty certainly isn’t.

The above recipe, toppling dictators, replacing them with accountible democracies, is not particularly expected to create a panacea. In fact, even with healthy capitalist systems giving the average citizen something to live for, rather than promised riches to die for, is not necessarily going to create a panacea. Even the fact that historically, democracies tend not to declare war on other democracies, isn’t necessarily expected to remain true forever more. However, it is expected that toppling hostile dictators would be a good step on the road to where we wish to go. One thing that military might is certainly able to achieve is to remove such odious things as institutionalized rape. It remains to be seen if much more can also be achieved, for both the people of the liberated country, and for the west itself.

Left wing position

Using force of arms is inherently wrong, as the winner is whoever has the best arms. That happens to be us at the moment, but how would we like it if it was the other way around? Might doesn't make right, and the fundamental basis of our society is "Do unto others as you would have others do unto you". Throw out this concept and there is no difference between you and those you oppose, by definition.

Western states have not historically invaded another country because of human rights violations. In fact, after Vietnam , to avoid a repeat of that situation, there was a deliberate attempt to never go to war unless there was a clear national interest, that would justify the nation's soldiers being killed. Given that that policy hasn't been rescinded, the only "national interest" visible in Iraq is secure oil supplies.

Islamic population in general

The Koran is the word of God, the Koran says so, and so did my parents, and my teachers, and my friends, and most of the country. It is ridiculous to suggest that all these people could be wrong, even people with PhDs. I am not so vain that I consider myself to be smarter than all these people. The Koran says I should love my Muslim brothers, and I can certainly feel their kinship with me. We all agree that westerners shouldn't be coming here and imposing their will on us. Sure, we have a few internal problems, but we are all Muslims, and no-one gave authority to westerners to impose their culture on us. Their superior weaponry is an unfortunate ground reality. Eventually they too will realise the truth in Islam, just like the Mongols did, and ultimately we will be victorious. In the meantime, we will use what weapons we do have, to try to get them out of our face. www.faithfreedom.org has information on the applicable "laws of war" during this campaign.


All positions make sense from the point of view of those who hold them, which is why very few are willing to change. With the inherent assumptions, they are all correct! Let us now look closer at the inherent assumptions and erroneous logic.

The assumption that the Koran is the the word of God because it says so in the Koran is a circular argument, and anything contained within therefore contains no more weight than a book by any other author. This is not something specific to the Muslim religion. Any other religion causing mayhem based on similar reasoning would be similarly dismissed.

It is not inherently wrong to use force of arms. The police use force of arms to protect the public. The criminals do not get the right to demand a level playing field. In fact, our society goes to a lot of effort to make sure every battle is an unequal one, in the police's favour.

At this point, some will counter that the UN is the police, not the US , and that if the UN were to authorize it, they wouldn't have a problem.

The trouble with this assumption is that the UN is not a police force. It may or may not be nice if that was the case. However, you should notice in your own society that there is an "entrance criteria" to join the police force. E.g. it is very unlikely that known criminals would be allowed membership of the police force. This is not the case in the UN. Membership in the UN is based on whether you control the strongest armed group in your country.

The World at War

As much as we may wish otherwise, morality plays little part in the outcome of a war. War will be won by whoever develops the next superweapon. Iceland would have been able to rule the world if they had developed nuclear missiles before anyone else, and had built sufficient quantity that it was clear that resistance was futile. The next military innovation is not guaranteed to be in the hands of the most economically powerful country (although absent revolutionary invention, or gross mismanagement, that is certainly most likely).

If Iran happens to have a brilliant scientist who is able to develop nanotechnology, enabling all nuclear silos to penetrated and disabled, then the new rulers of the world will be the current dictators in Iran. Regardless of whether they are right or wrong, good or bad, level of culture, or anything else.

Also, do not assume that guns in the hands of civilians is sufficient protection against an odious government. Guns were common in Saddam's regime. Successful revolutions were much rarer. Do not over rely on mythology and the movie "Red Dawn" for your personal safety. Also do not rely on the bravery of a volunteer army over conscripts, or democracies over dictatorships. In fact, even with superior weaponry, don't assume victory even then. In World War II, the German tank force beat a superior British/French force with superior tactics.

And even do not place all your faith in allies. A military coup can change the best friend into the worst enemy, in the blink of an eye.

The only safe assumption is that the world is inherently unsafe. The only reason we aren't living under one of a variety of potential dictatorships currently, has a lot more to do with luck than we would like to believe. It could have been you in the gulags, and there is no mathematical equation that proves that we won't have gulags and slavery in the future. The price of democracy is eternal vigilence. Unfortunately we don’t know how much vigilence is enough, nor whether we will be disciplined enough in the future to remember the lessons of the past.

Praying to a god will not solve the problem, as 6 million Jews can attest to. Nor will signing peace treaties solve the problem, as Chamberlain can attest to. The ability to organize violence in your favour will determine how many rights you get, wishful thinking aside.

One thing that the left wing and right wing in the west can agree on is they would not want to lose the freedoms that they currently enjoy. What is less agreed is whether these freedoms should be enjoyed by other countries who are currently living under dictatorship, and regardless of the answer to that question, whether they have the right, or the obligation, to change that situation.

Leaving morality aside, as it plays little part in deciding the outcome, we can at least agree that the objective is to ensure our own freedoms remain intact, regardless of what atrocities occur elsewhere. We can at least agree that anyone who attempts to impose some sort of Islamic dictatorship on us is wrong to do so, and should be defended against. Even if the Islamic dictatorship in Iran thinks that it is the kindest thing they could possibly do for us, to avoid us going to hell and being forced to drink boiling water.

Internal Threats

Let us now look at the dangers to our personal security. The danger from within is that either a revolution or a military coup will introduce a brutal regime. The chances of a revolution in a modern democracy are quite slim, as the revolutionaries would normally just vote themselves into power if they had the numbers.

A military coup is not so rare. Very few countries have a long record of uninterrupted democratic rule. At the time of writing (2004), Venezuela is at a democratic crossroad.

The likelihood of a military coup can be mitigated by getting soldiers to swear allegiance to the constitution, and require them to refuse to obey an illegal order. This ingrained allegiance, combined with a general population that is tolerant enough to accept electoral defeat, and with an economy in working order, makes the concept of a military coup absurd in some countries, such as Australia . You would be hard pressed to find a single soldier to go along with an attempt to install a dictator.

However, this situation is not guaranteed, and it is especially not guaranteed in other countries that are not in the same position. No two countries are identical, so it is not possible to just compare some aspects and assume that it won't happen in your country. If you have been subjected to a military coup, the only rights you get are what your new ruler is willing to give you.

Depending on the nature of the coup, your only salvation may come from an external power. With the current membership of the UN, there is a very good chance that that will be considered an "internal matter", and no help will be forthcoming. There is currently not even a facility where a country can ask to be put on a list with a title of "These countries wish to be invaded in the event of a coup, where the military is unwilling to hold a free and fair referendum to restore the democratically elected government". I think that such a list would help deter many would-be coup plotters, and make the others play ball regardless.

Your other opportunity for salvation comes if an external power decides unilaterally that your country in the hands of the new leader poses a threat to them, whether that be a security threat or an economic threat. This is most likely to be done on the basis of a cost-benefit analysis, although (their) morality may factor into their decision.

External Threats

At any time, any foreign power, regardless of whether it has done a cost-benefit analysis, may choose to invade you. The decision may come down to the irrational whim of a dictator. Not only that, but given the inherently uncertain nature of war, he may even be successful against the odds, especially in the absence of warning signs. An unconventional attack against air bases could do untold damage. Not many armies can survive against an opposition that dominates the skies. Israel ’s “Six Day War” remains the “gold standard” for audacity in the face of annihilation.

There are two main factors at play:

1. Incentive to attack.
2. Capability to attack.

If your neighbour is a democracy, you are less likely to be subjected to attack based on whim. In addition, if it is an open government, the attack is less likely to be a surprise, as the benefits of mounting an attack would have been debated in parliament before-hand.

In addition, in an open government, the capability of your neighbour is more likely to be known in advance too.

It is my judgement that my country is safer when it's neighbours are democratically accountable, and military purchases are able to be scrutinized.

In addition, the desire for a democracy to invade another democracy in a land grab, while theoretically possible, has no historical precedent. Democracies never, or almost never, wage war on other democracies. If this equation remains true into the future, merely invading a neighbouring dictatorship, even a peaceful one, potentially has benefits for your own security. Even more secure than installing a puppet government to do your bidding!

This is at least in as far as it democratically choosing to attack you, anyway. If you install a puppet government, there's more chance of you being able to use resources from that country to go and invade further afield. However, you also run the risk of internal rebellion.

Without considering morality, from a pure cost-benefit perspective, one attractive option is to invade any unfriendly dictators, install a democracy, and then you will most likely gain either an ally or a neutral. Neither would be expected to tie up resources.

And if your own country should ultimately have a military coup, then there is actually the potential of your new democratic neighbours to do the same cold hard calculation, and then choosing to invade your country.

Although we don't have hard data for this, it is my belief that if Australia had a coup, and New Zealand were to come and invade/liberate Australia, most Australian personnel would "defect" to the New Zealand side at the first opportunity. A small minority of Australians would wish to live under a military coup, no matter what "great" policies that military leader had. There is no history to suggest that the invaders would wish to truly occupy rather than liberate, although that is certainly technically possible.

Even greater security is made available if there are multiple democratic states "coming to the rescue", for either or both of selfish and altruistic reasons. The chances of them all agreeing to carry out nefarious activities once arriving are realistically very remote.

There's safety in democracy, and there's safety in numbers of democracies.

Questions of Morality

The west has had a checkered history of imposing religion on conquered peoples. At the time it seemed moral. As a result of this legacy, the west has become so self-critical, at least in the left wing, that they have essentially questioned their own judgement of what is right and wrong. Almost to the point where a rapist might be considered an "overenthusiastic lover".

This self-criticism only appears to be liberally applied to society as a whole, especially if a right wing government is in charge, and especially if it is the USA . The self-criticism does not appear to be so fastidiously applied to one’s own positions. Occasionally there is criticism of the left from the left... http://www.marxist.org.uk/htm_docs/comm12.htm

The right wing has not reached the point where they are unwilling to make a clear moral judgement between right and wrong. This was done in the fight against Communism. The right wing was eager to fight both Nazism and Communism. The left wing was largely only willing to fight Nazism. In fact, the fact that the right wing was willing to fight Nazism is more a sign of being “centrist” than right wing. The “right wing” terminology was basically introduced by the communists, who considered that all capitalists were right wing Nazis, and therefore needed to be defeated at all costs. The terminology stuck, along with other language changes. All designed to defeat the counter-revolutionaries. In this situation, right wing gut-feeling boils down to this:

We, with knowingly good intentions, have more of a right to impose the people of the invaded country's will onto the leader of that country, than that government has the right to violate (rape, murder) the citizens of that country. And furthermore, imposing the people's will on the govenment, should not be confused with past examples (invading South America) where our ancestors were imposing their will onto the people of the invaded country's people (to force them to adopt Christianity).

Note that another complication is that evangelic Christians are predominantly in the right wing, so others have mistakenly assumed that the right wing is doing this because they are Christian bigots invading Muslim countries, like the good old days in South America. As an atheist, I can assure you that the morals about not raping and killing have nothing to do with Christianity, and more to do with Confucius et al's "do unto others as you would have others do unto you".

Ironically, it is this "golden rule" that the left wing have missed in action. I would hope that in the event of my daughter being systematically raped by my government's representatives, that other countries out there, democratic or otherwise, would come to my rescue rather than saying "my ancestors signed the Treaty of Westphalia in the year 1648 that says we're not allowed to interfere in the affairs of another state and it’s as relevant today as it was back then". I would prefer that they instead looked even further back in history when Persia gave us a declaration of human rights in 539 BC, which made no mention of rights ending at conceptual lines in the sand.

The Evangelic Christians are unfortunately unable to put into words why they think it is OK to invade and end systematic rape. They are more likely to quote from their bible that it is wrong, because by "coincidence", what they know of the bible essentially mimics the "golden rule". But their failure to distance themselves from "religious bigotry" has led to a misunderstanding with both the western left wing, and the Muslims, which only further stokes the anger by these groups.

An Unholy Alliance

The west has evolved to a point where there is essentially no community, and nothing spiritual. A huge percentage of the population hasn't even met their neighbours. Mainstream Christianity has thrown off the shackles of creationism such that any mystery in our lives has gone. Those seeking solace in something more spiritual than rampant consumerism need to look elsewhere. Enter Islam with its worldwide brotherhood and goal of global domination. Communism, or revolutionary socialism, is another ideology that fills this void.

In each case, adherents to these causes are convinced that the ideology is sound, and the romantic implementation of them should thus be persued. But THIS time it will be done right! In the meantime, they are desperately trying to find fault with the essentially God-less west (measured by things such as church attendance rates). Terms such as "exploit" are used whenever the west, meaning no offence, decides to buy something from another country. Many variations on the theme are provided to prove that the west are living off the backs of the poor downtrodden third world. The possibility that the west may have just earned the money by working smarter, or that secular, liberal democracy has a hand, is dismissed out of hand as absurd.

Both Islamists and Communists have been attempting to undermind the fabric of our efficient economies at every opportunity. The Communists greatest success was probably getting the US Democratic Party around 1975 to refuse arms funding to South Vietnam, meaning that the North Vietnamese, after licking their wounds and rearming, were able to have another go. Territory was surrendered to the Communists without a fight. The Islamists have had success too. The US abandoned Lebanon after spectacular Islamic success. Both groups can be defeated if we stop trying to be diplomatic about it and just face up to it. It is quite logical for them to continue their campaign, given that they have been demonstrably successful. And it does obstensibly appear to be a more romantic goal than getting ever fatter on Big Macs.

I would argue that the world map that can be found at www.freedomhouse.org is considerably more romantic than that. So is www.nato.int. But just munching Big Macs is far better than horror disguised as romanticism regardless.


A series of misunderstandings (from all sides, about all sides) between the 3 main camps has led to some very unfortunate outcomes. We have liberals effectively standing up for one of the world's most brutal dictators, when in reality that is WAY against their ethos. And the right wing is incessantly claiming that "Islam is a religion of peace", when reality is that Mohammed's brutal regime, comparable only to the likes of Stalin, Hitler and Saddam, has yet to actually be defeated. You can’t get an enemy to retract his declaration of war against you just because you don’t like the terms of it. In the 21st century, we are engaged in a religious war. Dr Mahathir spelled out the enemy’s plans in sufficient detail that no-one can claim ignorance of any impending disaster that could have been avoided had appropriate measures been implemented. It is not his job to make sure we take due notice of his plans, that is our own responsibility. We should thank him for his contribution and come up with our own plans for safeguarding our future.

Islam is not a religion of peace - the Koran is a book of war, even going into details about what you can do with captured slaves. This is all documented at www.faithfreedom.org for anyone who wishes to see the justification for this seemingly outrageous and seemingly bigotted statement. Check out the "hate mail" section. Compare it to similar "hate mail" from Christian or Hindu bigots, and decide for yourself which is most dangerous, from a western safety point of view.

We should be producing a comprehensive plan to:

1. Topple any obvious enemies, minimizing the number of fronts open at any given time.

2. Topple dictators, even friendly/neutral ones, not necessarily militarily. At some point, slavery needs to be abolished once and for all.

3. Eradicate Islam and Communism to the same extent that Nazism was, for the same reason that Nazism was.

4. Make NATO a worldwide organization. Current entrance criteria should be maintained. A clause should be added that specifically authorizes and obliges members to come to the rescue of a country that has been subject to military overthrow. If the military junta holds a referendum giving them temporary authority (suitable for use in current Venezuela and Haiti), that would stave off the threat of invasion.

5. UN should be maintained as the neutral arbiter between the forces of evil and those who seek to eradicate evil. The UN Security Council has historically played this part quite well, and was very useful when trying to forge an understanding between Sistani (whose website, www.sistani.org, equates Kafirs with faeces) and the CPA. Maintaining the presence of dictators among the permanent members of the security council is essential to preserve this role of neutrality - even if it means that one day France needs to be replaced with Zimbabwe.

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