10 ways to reduce the threat of terrorist attacks on Americans
1. Declare a moratorium on drone strikes. The head of Al-Qaeda, Ayman al-Zawahiri, is calling on jihadists to retaliate for U.S. drone strikes in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Yemen. The Yemeni group Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), where the United States says the threats are emanating from, is also calling for retaliation for drones strikes (there have been four strikes in Yemen since July 28). Drone strikes have become the number one recruiting tool for extremists. By grounding the drones, we will stop creating new enemies faster than we can kill them.
2. Close the U.S. drone base in Saudi Arabia. One of the reasons Osama bin Laden said he hated the United States was that the United States had military bases in the Holy Lands in Saudi Arabia. President Bush quietly closed those bases in 2003, but in 2010 President Obama secretly reopened a base there for launching drones into Yemen. It’s a national security threat ripe for blowback. So are many of the over 800 U.S. bases peppered all over the world. We can save billions of taxpayer dollars, and make ourselves safer, by closing them.
3. Free the 86 Guantanamo prisoners cleared for release. The U.S. treatment of Guantanamo prisoners, holding people indefinitely without charges or trials, and brutally force-feeding the hunger strikers, is an affront to people throughout the Muslim world and a blatant hypocrisy of our American values. Of the 166 prisoners left in Guantanamo, 86 have been cleared for release, meaning the U.S. government has determined they represent no threat to our nation. President Obama can use the waiver system, certifying to Congress that it is in the U.S. national interest to release them. He just did this, for the first time, for two Algerian prisoners. He should do this for all 86 cleared prisoners, then bring the remaining prisoners to the United States for trials.
4. Apologize and compensate innocent victims. There is a perception in the Muslim world that the U.S. government does not value their lives. Airstrikes have killed many innocent people and only in the cases of Afghanistan and Iraq has there been a way, albeit woefully inadequate, for aggrieved families to seek redress. The United States should agree to apologize and compensate the families of innocent people who have been killed or maimed by the U.S. armed forces or CIA.
5. Go for the “zero option” in Afghanistan: withdraw all U.S. troops. The 11-year U.S. occupation of Afghanistan has provided fodder for the Taliban in both Afghanistan and Pakistan, while propping up an unpopular and corrupt regime in Kabul. And if the U.S. troops were not in Afghanistan, the Taliban would not be trying to cross the Pakistani border to kill U.S. soldiers. President Obama promised to end the U.S. occupation by the end of 2014, but is now weighing options for keeping thousands of troops and military contractors behind. Bad idea.
6. Sit down and talk. The Taliban opened an office in Qatar in June to finally start long-delayed talks with the United States. But due to President Karzai’s objections, the talks were nixed. It’s long past the time to talk to the Taliban, and then move on to talk to those elements in Al-Qaeda who are more rational and open to negotiations. If you look at the Rand Corporation’s study of the demise of 268 terrorist groups, 43% dissolved by joining the political process, 40% from better policing, and only 7% through military action. We’ve been using military action for over a decade; it’s time for another approach.
7. Stop supporting dictatorships and repressive militaries. The United States recently signed the largest arms deal in history with the monarchy of Saudi Arabia, the same government that rolled its tanks into neighboring Bahrain to crush the democratic uprising there. In Egypt, U.S. weapons and tear gas were used for decades against peaceful demonstrators, and continue to be used against peaceful protesters supporting the ousted Muslim Brotherhood. While weapons sales to undemocratic and/or unstable regimes might be good for U.S. weapons manufacturers, they are bad for the reputation and security of the American people.
8. Support nonviolent democracy movements. Terrorists thrive best where there is chaos and instability. Nurturing democratic institutions and nonviolent civil society are key to thwarting the growth of extremist movements. The United States needs to do more than support these efforts; it also needs to listen to them. In Yemen, the United States is helping to fund the six-month experiment in democracy called the National Dialogue Conference, where 565 extremely diverse members of society are meeting daily to map out the nation’s future. The Conference recently passed, by overwhelming vote, a resolution declaring drones strikes and all extrajudicial killing illegal. Unfortunately, the United States has refused to abide by the popular will thus far.
9. Adhere to the international rule of law. In its war on terror, the Uniited States has been killing terror suspects with blatant disregard for international law and national sovereignty. A July 18 Pew poll of 39 nations found fierce global opposition to U.S. drone strikes, particularly in the Muslim world. If the U.S. wants help and sympathy in rooting out would-be attackers, it has to show the world it will stop using extrajudicial assassinations and start adhering to international law.
10. Spend foreign aid money on education, healthcare, and lifting people out of poverty. For a fraction of the money we keep wasting each month on the failed war in Afghanistan or supporting the already wealthy Israeli military, we could be building schools in Afghanistan and Pakistan, helping Yemenis find a solution to their water shortages, and providing humanitarian aid to Syrian refugees. We’ll make a lot more friends building clinics, wells, electrical grids, and schools than vaporizing people with Hellfire missiles.
This 10-point plan would significantly reduce terrorist threats, save taxpayers billions of dollars, and make Americans more loved and admired in the world. After a decade of wielding the military stick, it’s time for some carrots.
Medea Benjamin, cofounder of CODEPINK and Global Exchange, is author of Drone Warfare: Killing by Remote Control. Medea received the Martin Luther King, Jr. Award from the Fellowship of Reconciliation in 2010.
[Photo by Mark Johnson, Fellowship of Reconciliation, taken at Hancock Air Force Base in Syracuse, New York on April 28, 2013.]