For each nation, eight years of endless “war” have exhausted their patience and created problems that were unanticipated.
New America Media – On the eighth anniversary of the United States declaring a global “war on terror” this September, America’s continental neighbors – Mexico and Canada – have had enough.
When President George W. Bush addressed a joint session of Congress on Sept. 20, 2001, the nation – and much of the world – was still in disbelief that terrorists had successfully carried out the greatest attack on US soil since Japan’s assault on Pearl Harbor.
That night, Bush rallied the nation to support a “war on terror” that was “global” in nature and which would lead to the US-led wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
“We will direct every resource at our command – every means of diplomacy, every tool of intelligence, every instrument of law enforcement, every financial influence and every necessary weapon of war – to the destruction and to the defeat of the global terror network,” Bush declared.
This declaration of a global war, one that would define his administration going forth, included the fateful statement: “Every nation in every region now has a decision to make: Either you are with us, or you are with the terrorists.”
Mexico and Canada stood with the United States, and both nations pledged to participate “fully” in this “global” initiative to rid the world of terrorism. But for each nation, eight years of endless “war” have exhausted their patience and created problems that were unanticipated.
For Mexico, there is the more immediate reality of the “war” on the drug cartels. The administration of Mexican president Felipe Calderon is consumed by defeating the drug cartels that threaten to destabilize parts of the country and corrupt Mexican society through lawlessness. Almost 10,000 people have been killed in Calderon’s war on the cartels since January 2007, and some in Mexico blame Mexico’s cooperation in the war on terror from 2001 to 2004 as one reason why the drug cartels have grown so powerful.
“Mexico squandered three years on wild goose chases, hunting imaginary ‘terrorists’ who were supposed to be convening in Acapulco, sipping margaritas on a beach in Cancun, or plotting to smuggle nuclear or biological weapons from Mexico City. All paranoid nonsense from the nutcases in Bush’s administration,” argued Interior Minister Juan Camilo Mourino, the country’s second-most-powerful politician and head of domestic security, shortly before he died in a plane crash. “And during this time, the drug cartels [in northern Mexico] organized, grew, and now pose an imminent threat to Mexican civil society.”
Immediately after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, American officials feared that terrorists would use Mexico as a base of operations for sending al Qaeda fighters into the United States, or smuggling biological weapons, or using Mexico as a base for launching an attack. In a widely commented speech at the National Defense University in 2002, then Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld argued, “Our job is to close off as many of those avenues of potential attack as is possible.”
Mexico was compliant, working with American officials to track down “leads” on suspected al Qaeda terrorists throughout Mexico. From 2002 through 2005, Mexican security and intelligence officials worked closely with American officials from the FBI, CIA and at the American Embassy. “The alert has been sounded,” Jose Luis Santiago Vasconcelos, Mexico’s top anti-crime prosecutor, told reporters in 2004. “It’s believed he [Saudi-born suspected terrorist Adnan Gulshair El Shukrijumah] could have entered Mexico…but we don’t have anything concrete.”
It was a wild goose chase, as were reports that “biological weapons” had been introduced into Mexico aboard ships arriving at the ports of Tampico and Veracruz, or that Iranians were using their embassies in Mexico City and Havana to coordinate terrorist sleeper cells ready to enter the US border on a moment’s notice to launch an attack on Los Angeles or the oil facilities near Houston.
If Mexicans are through with the war on terror, and have their hands full with the drug cartels, north of the border, there is also a more palpable resentment against the onerous burden placed on Canada.
Canadians are resentful that their nation’s immigration policies are blamed by Washington officials for “endangering” the United States. “At the same time, the country is wrestling with how to protect national security and answer critics who contend that the country’s liberal immigration policies make Canada easy prey for terrorists,” DeNeen L. Brown argued in 2003.
Canadians are even angrier that their traditional international role – as a nation that strives to resolve conflicts in a fair and impartial manner, where Canadians are viewed as a leader in providing peacekeeping forces around the world – has been undermined by their cooperation in the war on terror.
As recently as this past spring, Canadians were infuriated when their nation, mistakenly, was blamed for harboring terrorists. “As the 9/11 commission reported in 2004, all of the 9/11 terrorists arrived in the United States from outside North America. They flew in [to] major US airports. They entered the US with documents issued by the United States government, and no 9/11 terrorists came from Canada,” Michael Wilson, Canada’s ambassador in Washington, said this past spring, protesting Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano’s claim that some of the Sept. 11 terrorists had entered the United States through Canada.
This fall, as US General Stanley McChrystal argues that thousands of additional troops are required in Afghanistan to avoid “failure”, Canadian public opinion is adamant in rebuffing American claims that the only way to “win” in Afghanistan is to extend the eight-year military campaign by committing more soldiers.
Canadians are being galvanized by a growing number of politicians, social commentators, and academics that are critically examining their nation’s role in Washington’s war on terror. “In many ways, this absence of strategic analysis demonstrates that Canada’s response to the attacks on 9/11 has been primarily a reaction to Washington’s reaction. Considering how dependent Canada has become economically and on matters of continental security, Ottawa had little choice but to emphasize on numerous occasions it was determined to play its part in the global war on terror,” Olivier Courteaux, a professor at Ryerson University in Toronto, argues in his new book The War on Terror: The Canadian Dilemma.
Canadians want no part of a continued presence in Afghanistan and are anxious to find another way to address the real threats of global terrorism without resorting to unending wars that result in the occupation of foreign countries and untold billions in military expenditures.
For the Barack Obama Administration, as it hosts the G-20 summit this week, all the good will his administration has garnered will not translate into increased support for continuing the war on terror. European leaders, taking their cues from the reluctance of Mexico and Canada, are refusing to send more troops to Afghanistan and are demanding that Washington abandon the war on terror as formulated by the Bush administration.
In essence, if Bush warned the world that each nation had to choose if they were “with us, or [they] are with the terrorists,” Mexico and Canada are saying that it’s possible to be with neither.