What's Left

November 19, 2002

Osama bin Laden and the new American century

By Stephen Gowans

If you were to take the Bush administration at its word, you would have to conclude it's thoroughly incompetent.
How else would you explain that its attack on, and subsequent occupation of, Afghanistan has neither led to the capture of Osama bin Laden nor disrupted al-Qaeda (but has blasted away thousands upon thousands of Afghans who had nothing whatever to do with the Taliban,  al-Qaeda, or terrorism)?

Osama bin Laden is said to be alive and well, and threatening more terrorist attacks on an expanded list of countries, including Canada, Great Britain and Australia.

And now we're told that:

"Various officials, including the head of the German BND intelligence service and the head of the international police organization Interpol, have warned recently that al-Qaeda has regrouped and remains a potent force despite a year-long U.S. military campaign against its original base in Afghanistan" (National Post, Nov. 18, 2002).

A year ago those unable to get much of a hearing in the mainstream media predicted that an attack on Afghanistan would do little to disrupt a terrorist organization that was loosely organized and dispersed across dozens of countries.

It seems they were right, and the hawks and super-patriots, who we heard from in endless succession, were wrong.

Now Washington is poised to seize control of Iraq, a country with the world's second largest reserves of oil, with the hawks and super-patriots once again leading the charge (figuratively; they'd never do so literally.)

Within hours of the Sept.11 attacks, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld ordered his aides to find out whether blame could be pinned on Baghdad. Rumsfeld and other Bush cabinet members and insiders, including Vice-President Dick Cheney and Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, have long had a fixation on Iraq, a country which they believe needs to be brought under the sway of Washington if the 21st century is to belong to the United States. For months the administration tried to find an Iraqi angle, but couldn't.

Undeterred, Rumsfeld spun horror stories about Iraq being in a position to attack the US with weapons of mass destruction. Pressed, he admitted he couldn't prove Saddam Hussein had such weapons, but asked chillingly, Do you want to wait for the mushroom cloud to find out?

Absence of proof is not proof of absence, he insisted.

Bush added his own -- though contradictory -- spin. The problem wasn't Iraq attacking the US; the problem was al-Qaeda attacking the US, with weapons of mass destruction furnished by Iraq.

Bush's evidence that Baghdad had weapons of mass destruction was so thin, so questionable, so obviously contrived, The Washington Post declared that for "Bush, facts are malleable," that the president was "embroidering the truth," and that he was guilty of "distortions and exaggerations."

In other words, the reasons for attacking Iraq are fraudulent.

And the attack -- bound to happen (the trip wires are too numerous, too sensitive, the administration too fixated on its Iraq adventure) -- will only exacerbate matters.

The US was vulnerable to terrorist attack before Sept. 11 because of the extensive injuries its foreign policy had inflicted on the Muslim world. Rather than redressing those injuries, Washington has done the opposite: it has piled new injury upon old.

Thousands of Afghans were destroyed by US bombing. Central Asia is now dotted by US military bases. Israel's occupation of Palestine continues, its repression of Palestinians, its war crimes (now growing in frequency), made possible by US diplomatic support, US military aid, US subsidies. Iraqis continue to die from sanctions-related causes, and US warplanes continue to enforce illegal no-fly zones over parts of Iraq. And at home, Muslim men are thrown in jail, without charge.

The response is predictable. More terrorist attacks are threatened, which will be followed by more US-led military adventurism, a growing US presence throughout the Middle East, and more repression at home, which will occasion more terrorist attacks, and so on.

Who benefits?

Certainly not people in the West, whose security is undermined by retaliatory terrorism, and not Muslims in the Middle East and Central Asia, bombed, dispossessed, subjugated, the targets of state terrorism by the US.

On the other hand, Washington's influence in the strategically significant and oil and gas-rich Caspian basin has been greatly strengthened by its war on Afghanistan, defense contractors are enjoying the boom in defense spending, the US is poised to bring Iraq -- and its oil -- under its thumb,  and US oil companies are looking at a bonanza of profits.

It appears as if the 21st century is indeed shaping up to be the new American century, one in which the US stands above all other countries, its supremacy uncontested.

How fortunate Osama bin Laden provides the justification.

How fortunate his capture, and al-Qaeda's disruption, has yet to be achieved.

How fortunate the war on terrorism should, we're told, take decades to wrap up -- long enough to bring the remaining "rogue" countries (Iran, North Korea, Libya, North Korea, Cuba) under control, long enough to subordinate Russia and China, long enough to establish the new American century.

Where would Washington's players of the "grand game" be without Osama?

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