The Topics


To Leave or not to Leave, that is the Question

by Martin Varsavsky

At our summit on global terrorism, attended by Kofi Annan and 34 heads of state there were two main schools of thought on the future of Al Qaida. The optimists who thought that Al Qaida had been dealt a lethal blow and that it was unlikely that it would strike again in Europe or America and the pessimists who thought that more attacks were only around the corner. Now we know: the pessimists won. Today we have a carnage in London, dozens dead, hundreds wounded, families and hearts broken. I write this, only after a few hours after the attack with a lot of the evidence not out yet but I assume that this was another "friends of Al Qaida" attack a la Madrid and that probably terrorists will soon demand that the UK leave Iraq. The question is then, should the UK follow Spain and leave Iraq or not?

The obvious answer would be to say that the UK should not leave. Leaving Iraq, the argument goes, would be rewarding terrorists and that is a mistake. While rewarding terrorists is a mistake in my view there is, however, a greater mistake, that of not leaving. The present war and occupation in Iraq is wrong, and continuation of this policy is wrong. President Zapatero realized this dilemma, and left Iraq after terrorists so requested. For doing that he was greatly criticized. Still, since the Spanish withdrawal there´s been peace in Spain.

I am horrified at the hundreds of innocent victims of London today, but I am also appalled at the 100,000 estimated civilian deaths that have occured in Iraq as a result of the US led Iraqi invasion. Placing bombs is mass murder, probably a crime against humanity, but in my view so is bombing civilian populations such as the failed search for Zarqawi in Fallujah that resulted in thousands of innocents dead. Why should placing bombs be illegal and bombing civilians from the air not be? If terrorism is the killing of civilians in order to attain political objectives, isn´t the US led invasion of Iraq insofar as it has resulted in thousands of civilian deaths also "terrorist". Saddam Hussein was a genocidal dictator now in jail, soon on trial. In that sense the US invasion was a success. There have been elections, there´s a new government in place. Why not leave Iraq instead of carrying on paramilitary operations ? Why continue waging an impossible to win war frequently violating human rights ? Can we really continue to make the case that there would be more death in Iraq if the US and the UK left? Wasn´t inevitable that the enemy would choose to fight in Western territory as they did today? Why give Al Qaida and other terrorist networks reason to do so? "Terrorists have no logic" commentators argue. Personally I would agree that they don´t if tomorrow there is another March 11th type of attack in Madrid after the withdrawal from Iraq. But since March 11th 2004 there hasn´t been one. And we do know that if there hasn´t been an attack is not because our security forces are efficient. Ground transportation is and will always be vulnerable to terrorism. Unde r ground passengers, bus passengers can´t be searched as airplane passengers, the y are easy targets. If there hasn´t been an attack in Spain since March 11th is only because of the uncomfortable decision President Zapatero made of withdrawing from Iraq, and I think that in a few monhts, and discreetly, Tony Blair should make the same choice.

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Nationalism, Religion, and Terrorism

Creative Policy Debate Question 12

Some scholars speculate that US led military action in Iraq is spurring a pan-Arab backlash, causing thousands of Arab volunteers to gather today in Iraq; much the same way Arabs flocked to Afghanistan to fight the Soviets in the 1980’s. Taking this view further, some conclude that the Bush administration played into the hands of religious fundamentalists by offering them pan Arab nationalism as a recruitment tool. Osama Bin Laden seems to merge religion and national identity in his frequent referral to an Islamic caliphate.

Are Islamic terrorist groups like Al Qaeda driven by pan-Islamic nationalism, religious fervor, or a combination of both? What policies can be devised to deal with these two potentially converging forces?

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Adjusting Geneva

Creative Policy Debate Question 11

The Geneva Convention presents a set of provisions guiding state conduct in conflicts with other nation states. The Geneva Convention does not apply to groups such as Al Qaeda, a non-state actor that targets civilians and disregards other laws of war. Exploiting the ambiguity in how to deal with non state actors, the United States labeled the first detainees at Guantánamo as “unlawful combatants,” denying them the traditional protections received by regular prisoners of war. Donald Rumsfeld challenged the current relevance of the Geneva Convention by stating:

“The reality is the set of facts that exist today with the al-Qaeda and the Taliban were not necessarily the set of facts that were considered when the Geneva Convention was fashioned.”

Can we develop a legal framework for dealing with non state actors that are not party to the Geneva Convention? Should the Geneva Accord be adjusted or updated?

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Bush’s Second Term: Europe Responds

Creative Policy Debate Question 10

As Bush’s recent trip to Europe confirmed, strong transatlantic ties are central to preserving global peace and stability. The nature of terrorist incidents and PR activities of terrorists, demonstrate that their actions, and even those of rogue states, are designed to exploit transatlantic divisions and sway public opinion and influence policy. The recent unified declarations by the United States and France vis-a-vis Syria demonstrate the potential power of transatlantic solidarity.

How can the United States and Europe forge a strategy that also balances other philosophical and political differences?

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Mobilizing Civil Society

Creative Policy Debate Question 9

Recent events in Lebanon, Iraq and Saudi Arabia demonstrate that internal reform can be mobilized at a grass roots level, independent from external political interference. In the fight against terror, the persuasive power of local NGO’s, civil groups and other grass root organizations is often overlooked. The strengthening of the civil society is vital in the War on Terror.

What roles can citizens play in strengthening democracy and fighting terror and what policies can Western democracies develop to encourage a greater civil role in promoting democracy? (Policy Debate)

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Stopping the Proliferation of WMD

Creative Policy Debate Question 8

Most people agree that the fight against terrorism and the spread of Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD) are top global priorities. Rogue states and other groups seek to obtain unconventional weapons. With the United States foreign policy preoccupied by Iraq, activities by North Korea or Al-Qaeda to obtains WMD constitute a significantly larger threat to the stability of the international system.

Denying proliferators WMD technology and expertise has been a central element to past non proliferation policy. Are there ways democracies can improve cooperation in fighting the spread of WMD and improve existing non-proliferation policies to prevent a terrorist organization from acquiring WMD?

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Iraq, Lebanon and Gaza: Light at the End of the Tunnel

Creative Policy Debate Question 7

Social scientist Malcolm Gladwell has written a well publicized book titled The Tipping Point, which refers to how a change in behavior or perception can reach a critical mass before suddenly creating a whole new reality. Thomas Friedman refers to this book in raising three simultaneously occurring Tipping Points: the Elections in Iraq, the murder of ex-Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, and Sharon’s commitment to disengaging from the Gaza strip.

Do recent events in these three regions suggest the development of a new reality in the Middle East? What new policies should the United States and Europe adapt to respond to recent events?

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Saudi Arabia: Democracy vs. Oil

Creative Policy Debate Question 6

Historically, Western Democracies have done little to promote democracy in the Middle East, and have instead relied heavily on autocratic leaders to ensure political influence and access to cheap oil. Thomas Friedman dismisses the West’s traditional policy view towards strategically important Saudi Arabia by referring to is as “a big gas station to be pumped and defended but never to be taken seriously as a society.” After 9/11 US policy towards the Middle East changed abruptly. Now democratization seems to supersede security and stability on the list of Western Policies regarding the Middle East.

How do democracy promotion policies of the Western Democracies conflict, or coincide with the fundamental need to secure a stable flow of affordable oil? With this in mind, what policies vis-à-vis Saudi Arabia should be adopted to ensure both stability and democracy?

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The Right Way to Promote Arab Reform

Creative Policy Debate Question 5

To encourage democracy in the Middle East, the Bush Administration has used a strategy that has emphasized civil society, economic development and punitive measures. It is not entirely clear whether this has been successful in encouraging political liberalization in the region. Alternatively, Western European leaders lean towards a strategy of financial incentives to reward positive change and encourage political reform in the region. Critics complain that approaches like sanctions have historically failed to influence the intended recipient, and instead punishing innocents. With these two opposing approaches as a broad benchmark, what is the right way to promote Arab democratic reform?

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Identifying the Roots of Modern Terrorism

Creative Policy Debate Question 4

There are multiple explanations that illustrate why the Middle East is fertile ground for the recruitment of terrorists. Frequent descriptions are: the US support for Israel, the Saudi monarchy and other corrupt authoritative regimes, or Wahhabism and other educational institutions that preach intolerance.

How do we succinctly encapsulate and define the source(s) of modern Islamic terrorism? What policies can be developed to tackle these root causes?

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Pursuing Terror as an Open Society

Creative Policy Debate Question 3

Terrorism raises a series of questions about the state of Open Society. A crisis such as 9/11 can lead to extraordinary action from a democratic society - as seen by Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo Bay. While the War on Terror is often presented as a defense of Open Society, open debate leading up and during the Iraq has been weak and limited to a few peripheral issues. Democratic opponents to Bush seemed uncertain about how best to respond or propose alternatives to ongoing War on Terror. As George Soros stated in a speech to the National Press Club:

“Open Societies suffer from an innate weakness: uncertainty. Leaders who claim to be in possession of the ultimate truth offer an escape from uncertainty. But that is a snare, because those leaders are bound to be wrong.”

Is Soros right or wrong? How should an Open Society with an innate weakness, such as uncertainty, fight a war against terrorists with the will and potential capability of detonating a ‘dirty bomb?’

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Models for Promoting Democracy

Creative Policy Debate Question 2

Democratic institutions offer rule of law, independent judiciary, and the separation of religion and state – all which help manage competing interests in a society. The weakness of democracy in the Middle East has been cited as one of the key underlying causes fermenting terrorism.

How should policy makers promote democratic reform in places like Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Syria? Is there a standard template for democratic reform? If no, what type of model should be developed for the Middle East? For example, what is the correct balance between the ‘Big Bang’ approach experienced in Iraq, compared to the gradual evolution to democracy experienced by Taiwan and South Korea?

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From Raleigh to Riyad: Bridging the Communication Gap

Creative Policy Debate Question 1

The large discrepancy in Middle Eastern vs. Western perceptions of the War on Terror can be dramatized by the dramatically different news coverage from sources like FOX and Al Jazeera. A single event such as the US Marine assault in Fallujah can be interpreted differently depending on whether the audience is in Raleigh, North Carolina or Riyad, Saudi Arabia.

While media plays a huge role in shaping public opinion, Open Societies must respect independent media, especially in the Middle East. Should policy makers use engagement mechanisms such as PR try to influence media coverage on events in the Middle East? How? How should policy makers tackle the broad gap in understanding between Western and Middle Eastern audiences?

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List of topics for the Atocha Workshop

The following 12 topics will be presented at each of the 12 Creative Debate Tables:

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Pursuing Terror as an Open Society

Mobilizing Civil Society

Models for Promoting Democracy

Mobilizing Civil Society

Identifying the Roots of Modern Terrorism

Stopping the Proliferation of WMD

Adjusting Geneva

Saudi Arabia: Democracy vs.Oil

Pursuing Terror as an Open Society

Bush's Second Term: Europe Responds

From Raleigh to Riyad: Bridging the Communication Gap