Posted by: sean | March 5, 2008

The danger of precedent

I’m sure someone else has noticed it, but I think it’s important to note the dangerous precedent set by the Bush doctrine of preventative war and the ensuing “war on terror.” American allies in Turkey and Colombia have taken advantage of this precedent to conduct their own cross-border attacks into Iraq and Ecuador, respectively.

One can empathize with the tough situation that Ankara and Bogotá are in with the PKK and FARC without accepting the idea that they can invade neighboring countries. This is a problem that’s endemic in Africa, where terrorist and rebel groups are tools of statecraft used by neighboring regimes to weaken their enemies. So in Khartoum, Chadian and Ugandan rebels are supplied. Addis Ababa supports rebels in Darfur, Asmara supports Somali rebellions in Ogaden, and Kampala returns the Sudanese favor by supporting the South and Darfur against the center in Khartoum. And let’s not even bring up central Africa.

Let’s hope that South America doesn’t break into the same dirty pattern. Although Colombian accusations that Chávez has been supporting FARC and his response that he’d invade Colombia if Bogotá tried the same thing on the Venezuelan border as just happened on the Ecuadorian side are bad news for stability in the region:

[Colombian ambassador] Mr. Ospina said that, in addition to the alleged payment by Mr. Chavez, the information found on the laptops that Colombian troops seized indicated that President Rafael Correa’s government had met several times with the FARC and allowed them to set up permanent bases in Ecuadorean territory. He said Colombia would seek charges against President Chávez at the International Criminal Court.

“There is not the least doubt that the governments of Venezuela and Ecuador have been negotiating with terrorists,” Mr. Ospina said. “Allowing terrorist groups to keep camps on their territory border for the planning and execution of terrorist acts is a crime and a clear violation of international treaties.” Television in Venezuela also broadcast images of tank battalions heading to the border, following a threat by Mr. Chávez on Sunday that Colombia would be inviting war if it carried out an incursion in Venezuela similar to the one on Saturday in a remote Amazonian province of Ecuador that killed 21 guerrillas.

Mr. Chávez’s threat, which included a taunt that Venezuela would use its Russian-made Sukhoi fighter jets to attack Colombia, has been interpreted here as a sign that Mr. Chávez stands ready to defend the FARC, a group classified as terrorists in the United States and Europe that is reported to operate without hindrance along Venezuela’s porous 1,300-mile border with Colombia.

Contrasting the FARC’s image in Colombia as a group that finances itself through cocaine trafficking and abductions and still plants land mines in rural areas, documentaries on state television here in Venezuela portray the FARC as an insurgency born out of efforts to combat Colombia’s moneyed elite.

On his Sunday television program, Mr. Chávez went further by calling for a minute of silence to mourn for Mr. Reyes, the fallen guerrilla leader whose real name was Luis Édgar Devia.

If we add to the Colombian and Turkish examples, the Ethiopians in Somalia, a clear pattern of US allies taking advantage of the doctrine of preventative war becomes clear. So while it’s important to note that cross border raids are not new by any means, due to the American invasion of Iraq they’ve probably become more common and more defensible by US allies the world over.

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