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Jewish World Review Feb. 21, 2003 / 19 Adar I, 5763

Bill Steigerwald

Bill Steigerwald
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Terrorism one of many losing battles


http://www.NewsAndOpinion.com | Remember how quickly we won the war against terrorism?

Remember how easy it was for us, the greatest superpower the world has ever seen, to wipe out the nasty global network of al-Qaida terrorist cells that had so suddenly brought thousands of deaths and a perpetual state of insecurity to our happy homeland?

Didn't think so.

We'll be fighting - and not winning - the war against terrorism for decades. Long after Osama is dead, long after a Saddam-free Iraq becomes the Switzerland of the Middle East, we'll still be standing in lines at airports and duct-taping our dens.

Why? Because, says the current Foreign Policy magazine, the war against global terrorism - like the wars governments have waged for centuries against the illegal trade in drugs, arms, intellectual property, people and money - is almost impossible to win.

In its cover story, "Five Wars We're Losing," Foreign Policy shows how impossible it is for modern governments to defeat stateless, decentralized networks of well-financed, highly dedicated individuals that move freely, quickly and stealthily across national borders.

Whether they're terrorists blowing up bridges for religious or political reasons, or creepy cocaine smugglers seeking high profits, the bad guys have increasing advantages over governments today, says Foreign Policy editor Moises Naim.

Thanks to globalization, illegal markets are bigger and more lucrative than ever. And thanks to all the wonders of the modern age, the bad guys are better "armed" and more agile than the cumbersome government bureaucracies that he says are still fighting with obsolete tools, inadequate laws and dumb methods.

The war on drugs is the most infamous war we're losing. The illicit drug biz, worth $400 billion a year worldwide, dwarfs illegal arms trafficking, but both are more successful than ever.

So is people-smuggling. It's a $7 billion-a-year global industry involving millions of humans, including 200,000 children who are enslaved each year in Central and West Africa and those who voluntarily pay $35,000 to have themselves smuggled into New York City from China.

The biggest illegal industry is money laundering. Because computers, electronic money transfers and slippery part-legal/part-illegal financial trickery make regulation nearly impossible, it's now worth between $800 billion and $2 trillion.

Naim says flat out that governments can never win these wars unless they start coming up with new, better, smarter ways to fight them. Governments have to cooperate more and strengthen multilateral outfits such as Interpol, which fights international crime with a paltry force of 112 police officers.

But more important, he says, governments should begin trying to regulate these illicit global businesses rather than trying to repress them with even tougher laws and ever more Coast Guard patrols.

Naim, who points out that governments also are losing their worldwide wars against illegal trade in human organs, endangered species, stolen art and toxic waste, doesn't advocate making heroin sales legal or allowing weapons of mass destruction to be sold at Wal-Mart.

But he says if governments - and everyone else - want to start winning these wars, they should wise up and look for ways to use market-friendly regulations instead of restrictive (and often self-defeating) laws that only screw up the balance of supply and demand and create high-profit opportunities for bad guys.

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JWR contributor Bill Steigerwald is an associate editor and columnist at the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. Comment by clicking here.

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© 2002, Bill Steigerwald