A Waning War

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If this pans out, it's great news:

…some 300 members, or 80 percent, of al Qaeda-aligned Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat (GSPC) are in talks with the Algerian authorities to lay down their arms in exchange for an amnesty after realizing their goal will not be achieved.

The militants, belonging to the largest hard-line group in North Africa, have been fighting the secular authorities for a Taliban-style state.

Other reports say the surrender is already happening.

Here is some more information on the GSPC. And here is some background on the amnesty and the war, which may have claimed more than 150,000 lives.

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  1. If this pans out, it’s another victory in the war on terror and it’s another documented example that proves that the best way to defeat terrorists is to kill them.

    Mollification doesn’t work. Giving them what they want doesn’t work. Giving them five million euros for kidnapping people certainly doesn’t work.

    They will only quit “after realizing their goal will not be achieved.”

    Of course, when they quit, I do support an amnesty program. Old enemies are new friends.

  2. One might point out, on the other hand, that all the fighting in Algeria began when the Islamists won an open election and the army refused to allow them to take office. It may indeed have been the right choice, but it points to a problem the US faces with a policy of democratisation – what do you do when the ‘wrong’ people win? Do you accept the ‘will of the people’ and make the best of it, or do you kill the winners and try again? (And what do the winners do – take up arms or say ‘oh well, better luck next time folks… I’m sure the guys with the guns will let us compete fairly then’?) Assuming Iraq holds together well enough to have an election in the near future, we’ll see this dynamic play out again (just as it does every couple of years in Turkey). When thoughtful people question democratisation as a prescription for what ails the world, this is what they mean.

  3. There’s a similar story behind Turkey’s elections in 1996, though the aftermath was nowhere as bloody, perhaps because the country was more developed and the military’s role within the system more entrenched. As Samuel Huntington’s pointed out, while the military tends to be a highly conservative institution in developed nations, it’s often a liberal, modernizing force within less developed societies. This is one more reason why disbanding the Iraqi army following the deposing of Saddam was such a dumb idea.

    Unfortunately, Bush honestly believes that democracy and liberty are synonymous terms, a belief whose laughability is something that most libertarian-minded individuals are painfully aware of. And with the current chaos, he’ll be more likely than ever to rubber stamp any Iraqi government that can claim to be elected, no matter how illiberal its policies.

  4. Will:

    “If this pans out, it’s another victory in the war on terror”

    This is a promising development, the US government should be careful not to intervene and screw it up. There shouldn’t even be a “war on terror”. Terror is not an enemy; it’s a tactic. A war on a tactic is by nature an open ended war and one with out cessation. The war on terror is nebulous enough to give the government a sort of carte blanche excuse for wide spread foreign intervention and infringement on all manner of individual rights at home. Instead of a “War on Terror”; those who committed the 9/11 attack should be hunted down and killed so they can’t do it again.

    Also, the government should stay clear of the type of interventions that make us enemies and led to the 9/11 attacks. Getting the US government involved in Algeria on the side that scrapped legislative elections the Islamic Salvation Front (FIS) were set to win, which led to a war in which more than 150,000 people died is only a way to make enemies and endanger Americans.

    From the article:

    The secularist army said it would no longer intervene in national politics and would respect a victory by any of the six candidates — an unprecedented statement of confidence in the country’s democratic credentials.

    Wonderful, but whatever, Washington need not interfere here.

    …to bring Algeria out of an international isolation born partly of a Soviet-style command economy. The country, …has opened to foreign and domestic private investment.

    This is what will really help the Algerian people, not meddling from Washington.

  5. Forgive me for just “hitting and running” here, but I put this in the same category as a huge “drug bust” showing we’re winning the war on drugs.

  6. Peachy-
    Perhaps one answer to your question is that democracy alone is not enough, unless you first have some sort of Constitution guaranteeing human rights, thus ensuring that, say, the majority cannot vote to allow slavery (or Shari’a law).

  7. Jason, I’ll agree with you, just as soon as I see a Constitution charging into battle wielding a rifle; a statute standing on the barricades to keep the schools segregated; or a book of regulations cleaning up its neighborhood. (Come to think of it, the CFR could be a barrier to desegregation if you stacked it in front of the school door).

    A written constitution is nice. It gives us a sense of legitimacy. It’s only as good as the governed, who must consent to it, act. If the governed – and I include the elected / selected / self-promoted in this class – refuse to follow it, it isn’t worth a farthing. Again, I’d point to Great Britain which has had a pretty good run with respect to most civil liberties, in the absence of a constitution. In fact, their whole criminal law for a long time was just royal decrees and judicial say-so, and they did alright with it.

  8. Stephen-
    I didn’t say a Constitution alone would solve anything; I just pointed out that democracy on its own is not a panacea. Your example of the Soviet Union overlooks the fact that the USSR was not democratic, so citizens could not vote out those who ignored the Constitution. Great Britain at least had its Magna Carta.

    Basically, what I said was that democracy alone is no good unless you guarantee human rights. Likewise, as per your example, human rights guarantees are not enough without democracy. What exactly is inane about that?

    (Such anger is not healthy, by the way.)

  9. Jennifer, that’s a truly inane, ahistorical comment. The Soviet Union had both a wonderously complete constitution guaranteeing all sorts of rights and voting. If you scratch beneath the surface of many authoritarian states, you will find the state making promises that make the U.S.’s meager promises in the Constitution seem miserly. Moreover, there have been nations that managed to achieve a great deal of liberty without a written constitution or universal suffrage and direct democracy. Great Britain since the 17th Century springs to mind as one such nation. Moreover, some authoritarian states that lacked democracy entirely have proven to be very free places, in most respects, for the people who live there. Taiwan and South Korea, for most of the post-WWII period, are a good example.

    Neither a written constitution nor voting guarantees liberty – you have to evaluate the occurrence of liberty, and the reasons for it, on a case-by-case basis. I would cite Burke here, and say that the habits of a nation’s people are a more reliable indicator of whether a people will be free – which is why Bush’s bid to transform the Middle East is an uphill battle, and why in the end statist regulation of our beloved habits in this country (like booze and drugs) are also an uphill battle. Our primary habit (at least until we join AARP, apparently) is to be defiant and free…

  10. Stephan Fetchett:

    I don’t think anyone would say that written constitutions are guarantors of liberty. The common argument is that they are necessary but insufficient. No?

  11. Letting an Islamist Party take over the responsibilities of governing, and allowing the public see what a hash they make of it, is the best way for their ideology to be discredited or moderated. All our anti-democratic interventions do is make their foolish promises seem realistic.

    Look at Nicaragua.

  12. Will writes: “If this pans out, it’s another victory in the war on terror and it’s another documented example that proves that the best way to defeat terrorists is to kill them.”

    It has little to do with the war on terror. It started long the US got its wake-up call. If anything, it’s just a sign of the Algerian situation burning itself out after a decade of bloodshed.

    A big part of the problem in Algeria is that BOTH the government and the terrorists (various groups) have been killing innocent bystanders. I doubt that helped.

    For a more realistic depiction of what has been going on in Algeria, see

    http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/middle_east/1755099.stm

  13. It may be folly as many say to try to bring republican government to the Middle East.

    I can think of few projects so worthy.

    If it succeeds it will set the course of history for the next thousand years.

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