The Real Root Cause of Terrorism

We're not running out of targets. Afghanistan is.
- United States Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld

Rationalizationism

Christopher Hitchens was among the first intellectuals to respond to those who claimed that the September 11 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Penagon were reprisals against historic wrongs. "I was apprehensive from the first moment about the sort of masochistic e-mail traffic that might start circulating from the Chomsky-Zinn-Finkelstein quarter, and I was not to be disappointed," wrote Hitchens in The Nation. "What [Middle Eastern terrorists] abominate about "the West," to put it in a phrase, is not what Western liberals don't like and can't defend about their own system, but what they do like about it and must defend: its emancipated women, its scientific inquiry, its separation of religion from the state. Loose talk about chickens coming home to roost is the moral equivalent of the hateful garbage emitted by Falwell and Robertson [who argued that September 11 was God's judgment on American moral depravity], and exhibits about the same intellectual content. Indiscriminate murder is not a judgment, even obliquely, on the victims or their way of life, or ours" (Christopher Hitchens, "Against Rationalization: Minority Report" The Nation October 08, 2001). In short, Hitchens is arguing that to bring up American acts of violence in the context of September 11 is to engage in rationalization for the actions of the terrorists.

New York City mayor Rudolph Giuliani was even more blunt in this regard in his response to a Saudi prince's visit to the city. Prince Alwaleed bin Talal of Saudi Arabia is a nephew of King Fahd and the sixth richest man in the world. He came to New York to offer a $10 million donation for victims of 9-11. He sympathized with the victims and condemned the attack, but he made the mistake of saying, "I believe the government of the United States of America should re-examine its policies in the Middle East and adopt a more balanced stance toward the Palestinian cause."

Giuliani then refused to accept the donation and told the prince that his statements were "part of the problem." He went on to say that "There is no moral equivalent to this attack. There is no justification for it. The people who did it lost any right to ask for justification for it when they slaughtered four or five thousand innocent people, and to suggest that there is any justification for it only invites this happening in the future."

"Root Causes" debunked

Giuliani and Hitchens have a point. There really is no defensible reason for someone to hijack a plane full of people and then steer it into a building full of people. For the people who were killed, it matters not whether America has a military occupation in Saudi Arabia, has waged a ten year war of devastation on Iraq, has sponsored the murderous Israeli occupation of Israel, has already bombed Afghanistan, has blown up a commercial pharmaceutical plant in the Sudan, and so on and so on. I will return to these in more detail shortly, but for the purposes of what I am saying right now, I agree with Giuliani and Hitchens that they do not mitigate or in any way justify the murder of civilians. Indeed, it would be a gross hypocrisy for me to criticize American attacks on civilians abroad and then seek to use those attacks to defend an equally grotesque attack on American soil. That is not my belief or my intention.

I have been accused by some of falling into this "rationalizationist" camp. Concerned about this, I closely re-read my last essay (The True Face of Terrorism September 16) with an eye towards this kind of rationalization. What I ultimately argued was that, during the grief, shock, horror and rage that followed September 11, it would be very easy to justify the use of terror in reprisal against Afghanistan for its alleged role in supporting terrorists. Indeed, it would be as easy as it was for the terrorists to smash the World Trade Center and the Pentagon in the first place. I argued that we have a history of employing terror to achieve our objectives, and that many people around the world consider America to be a rogue state of the first order. I pointed out that killing thousands of civilians in Afghanistan would do much to confirm people's suspicions that we are no better than terrorists ourselves. Finally, I argued that if we are serious about stopping terror, then we should not engage in terrorism. I think the so-called "root causes" theory of terrorism (which claims that there are terrorists because an anti-Arab American foreign policy radicalizes Muslims) grossly oversimplifies the situation. I would say that American foreign policy, especially towards Israel and Palestine and towards Iraq, has radicalized a lot of Muslims enough that they're not sad to see America get attacked. However, there's a huge gulf between welcoming a terrorist act and executing one.

Further, there's even a huge gulf between hating an aggressor and wanting to strike back. "I think you will agree I am a moderate Musli," says Syed Ahmad, the son of a Peshawar, Pakistan shopkeeper. "I don't like the Taliban, I don't like Osama bin Laden, I do not go to the marches. I want to be a stockbroker man. But now the Americans are killing poor people, because they tell us their big bombs are sometimes not so accurate. How can a laser bomb miss its target and kill poor farmers? I am beginning to hate America, too, for this lie" (Miro Cernetig, "Civilian deaths anger moderate Muslims" The Globe and Mail Oct. 15, 2001). Once again, you do not need to be a terrorist or the supporter of a terrorist to think that what America's doing stinks.

Backpedaling

However, to believe the government, everything we do is either justifiable or forgivable. One missile strike took out a munitions dump that destroyed a whole village. American Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld brushed this off by saying that "There's no question that people who were in close proximity to these isolated ammunition dumps, who very likely were there for a good reason because they were part of that activity, may very well have been casualties. They were not cooking cookies inside those tunnels" (Julian Borger, "Rumsfeld blames Taliban for civilian deaths" The Guardian Oct. 16, 2001). Well, I guess they shouldn't have been storing their ammunition under our bombs.

Another missile attack destroyed a hospital in Herat. Before finally admitting to it, the government danced feverishly around the act. I reproduce the newspaper report here without further comment: "Mr. Rumsfeld said he had seen 'absolutely no evidence' that American bombs or missiles had hit a hospital or killed 100 people. By tonight, however, one Pentagon official said it appeared that an American missile had gone astray near Herat, and might have struck a nonmilitary target, which might have been a hospital. Still, the official emphasized that the Taliban's claims of deaths and damage appeared to be exaggerated" (Thom Shanker & Steven Lee Myers, "Rumsfeld Says Attacks Seek to Help Rebels Advance" New York Times, Oct. 23, 2001).

Still another missile attack smashed a Red Cross building. "The compound of the International Committee of the Red Cross was struck Tuesday by a U.S. bomb that destroyed wheat and other humanitarian supplies...Afghan staff of the ICRC tried to salvage some of the goods stored in one warehouse. They covered their faces with cloth and rushed into the cloud of billowing black smoke, emerging later with blankets, medicines and tents. A second warehouse which housed wheat was burning from the same attack. In Islamabad, Pakistan, ICRC spokesman Mario Musa confirmed that the compound was hit Tuesday afternoon and that a security guard outside the second warehouse was injured. He said the roof of the building was marked with the Red Cross symbol" ("US Bombs Red Cross Center" Associated Press, Tuesday October 16 9:13 AM ET). The US government later acknowledged the hit, saying it "did not know the Red Cross was using one or more of the warehouses" in Kabul. Then, when American war planes bombed the Red Cross again a week later, Rumsfeld defended the attack by claiming that "There are instances where there are unintended consequences of this conflict and ordinance ends up where it should not." (Mike Conklin, "U.S. spokesmen stumble through verbal minefield" The Chicago Tribune November 1, 2001). Perhaps, like the civilians living near the munitions dump, the Red Cross simply had no business being in that part of Kabul.

Of course, the American government continues to obfuscate and deny reports of civilian casualties and the destruction of non-military targets, only to backpedal as they are independently confirmed. The government repeatedly calls the Taliban "accomplished liars," even though just as often it is the US government that is caught in the lie. If America's cause is just, then why does the world have to endure such a tremendous spin on events? Why has the US government felt the need to hire Charlotte Beers, who has served as Chair of mammoth advertising agencies J. Walter Thompson and Ogilvy & Mather. She will need all of her marketing savvy to sell America's cause worldwide to an audience that she describes as "at best, cynical." Tom Kunkel, dean of the University of Maryland school of journalism, says of the appointment that "It may turn out to be a stroke of genius. An advertising person understands the ways to speak to an audience." (Norman Kempster, "She Lands the Propaganda Account" The Los Angeles Times November 1, 2001).

Clare Short, British Secretary of International Development (!), responded to pleas from agencies for a pause in bombing by saying, "It is not a real alternative, it is emotional. It's emotion among people in London, in Birmingham, in Islamabad." The agencies responded by pointing out that some seven million people face starvation this coming winter, and desperately need food delivered to them, and not just dropped from planes into the waiting arms of the armies (Rory McCarthy, Patrick Wintour and Richard Norton-Taylor, "Bomb critics are emotional says Short as war intensifies" The Guardian, Oct. 19, 2001). Apparently, those "emotional" folks at Oxfam don't have their priorities straight. The Independent's David Aaronovitch chides Oxfam for their "almost solipsistic" solitary goal of delivering as much aid as possible (well, that is their purpose, after all), when governments must concern themselves with more pressing tactical issues. Aaronovitch then cites Clare Short arguing that where the food isn't getting in, the bombing is not a major contributing factor (David Aaronovitch, "None of us really like bombing but there is no alternative" The Independent, Oct. 19, 2001).

I introduce the West's ugly track record - and mention just a few examples of our present course - not to exonerate the terrorists but to build a context in which we ought to gauge our responses. Unfortunately, it has become problematic to raise concerns about America's culpability in terrorist acts abroad. As Hitchens and Giuliani demonstrate, "masochistic" complaints about American aggression seem to imply that September 11 was a legitimate counter-attack, even when this is not the intent.

Watch what you say

The Hamilton Spectator's Howard Elliott makes an interesing point regarding Giuliani's flat rejection of Prince Alaweed bin Talal's donation. "Is it absolutely wrong, even treasonous, to suggest American policy in the Middle East is flawed and has engendered violent opposition? Even if the answer is no, does the mere statement of such an opinion justify the sort of vilification heaped on the prince who, by any measurement, is a friend of the United States?" (Howard Elliott, "At some point, US must accept debate" The Hamilton Spectator, Oct 15, 2001) That is, at what point is the legitimate argument that you can't rationalize September 11 transformed into a muzzle that silences all debate? Of course, not everyone bemoans the swift curtailment of debate that has followed the attacks. "Lying in the rubble of September 11 are things like the silly debate over gun control, bitterness over the close Florida elections, sensitivity over the rights of criminals and immigration," notes Brad Keena satisfactorily in a recent diatribe against what he calls "the insipid whining" of, apparently, people who believe in gun control, fair elections and the rights of criminals and immigrants. (Brad Keena, "Looney Left Losing its Cover" Accuracy In Media October 19, 2001).

Kellie Donovan from Acuracy In Media has served up an astonishing article on the pervasiveness of media bias. She observes correctly that "When the media is used as propaganda, it has a powerful effect on the people," and then chastises CNN for presenting the reality of what America's 'War on Terror' is doing to civilians in Afghanistan. She writes: "CNN has shown many images of the dying children and civilians in Afghanistan, and CNN.com has dedicated many stories to the civilian casualties in Afghanistan. These stories and pictures distract from the importance of why the U.S. is in the war." However, all ends well, as CNN Chairman, Walter Isaacson, seems to have seen the light and has sent a memo around the company warning staff to remind Americans that the Taliban are the bad guys. Like an honest politician who says bought, CNN seems to be making an effort to stick to American propaganda and avoid, in Isaacson's words, "simply reporting from [the Taliban's] vantage or perspective." (Kellie Donovan, "CNN Chairman Warns Staff , 'Don't Be Taliban Propagandists'" Accuracy In Media November 7, 2001). The absurdity of this is best summed up in the precis that accompanied the link to this article on the November 7, 2001 AIM Newsletter: "CNN's chairman has ordered that all reports clearly state the justification for America's actions. He is to be commended for his effort promoting fairness in reporting." Therefore, Isaacson has ordered his staff of journalists to be apologists for the right team. And yet, this deliberate policy of biased editorializing is being presented as an overture to "fairness."

And lest you believe that this is only happening at CNN, consider Bill Maher, host of TV talk show Politically Incorrect. Not long after September 11, he said in response to a widespread labelling of the terrorists as cowards, "We have been the cowards lobbing cruise missiles from 2,000 miles away. That's cowardly." White House spokesman Ari Fleischer publicly disapproved of Maher's words, saying, "It's a terrible thing to say, and it's unfortunate. There are reminders to all Americans that they need to watch what they say, watch what they do, and this is not a time for remarks like that; there never is" ("White House Reprimands Maher," Associated Press, Wednesday September 26 2:27 PM ET). Not to be outdone was American Secretary of State Colin Powell, who felt that the reportage coming out of Qatar-based news service Al-Jazeera was too critical of America's actions. Powell publicly asked the Emir of Qatar (and owner of the station) to "tone down" the critical reportage ("Powell Accused Of Trying To Censor Qatar TV Channel" Associated Press, Fri Oct 05 2001 12:43:48 ET). It actually helps to explain why people in the Muslim world might, in Bush's words, "hate our freedom."

A Canadian feminist went on record with critical words about American foreign policy in a speech she made just after September 11, and was roundly thrashed by the media for her troubles. Sunera Thobani, a professor of women's studies at the University of British Columbia, claimed that "Today in the world the United States is the most dangerous and the most powerful global force unleashing horrific levels of violence. From Chile to El Salvador to Nicaragua to Iraq, the path of U.S. foreign policy is soaked in blood." Hedy Fry, the Canadian Secretary of State, was in attendance at the conference and didn't jump up to protest the speech. For this the Canadian opposition parties have been asking for her resignation (Peter O'Neil, "Feminist's anti-U.S. speech causes uproar" The Vancouver Sun, October 02, 2001).

So you've been warned: watch what you say. And also what you don't say.

Who are these terrorists?

However, I digress. Getting back to the complex relationships that underlie American-Arab relations, it is extremely valuable to look closely at George Bush's bogeymen - Osama bin Laden and Al Qaeda, Saddam Hussein, and so on. Against the dreary determinism of the "root causes" theory, this may help to really explain how one society might cultivate terrorists while another does not. I submit that the key to terrorism lies in discovering how the terrorists are created

Now, if we are to believe that bin Laden and his Al Qaeda organization are truly responsible for September 11 (although we must take this on the good authority of Tony Blair and George Bush, since the evidence is apparently too strategically valuable to share with anyone), then we must understand from whence Al Qaeda comes. It might be a shock to realize that Al Qaeda is an outgrowth of an organization called the Mujahideen, which was created in 1979 by the American Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) in cooperation with the Pakistani Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) to undermine Soviet influence over Afghanistan. Recruits for the organization were drawn from several countries in the region, including Saudi Arabia and Pakistan.

In the late 1970s, the USSR had a strong presence in Afghanistan, but after the CIA and ISI's group started attacking Soviet targets in Afghanistan, the Soviet army invaded and fully occupied Afghanistan. This was part of America's plan, as revealed by Jimmy Carter's Secretary of State Zbigniew Brzezinski, when he later said, "That secret operation was an excellent idea. It had the effect of drawing the Russians into the Afghan trap...The day that the Soviets officially crossed the border, I wrote to President Carter: We now have the opportunity of giving to the USSR its Vietnam war" (Counterpunch).

This tactic worked, and for the next decade the CIA helped recruit, train, equip and finance some of the bloodthirstiest thugs in the Middle East. Every country has people who are predisposed towards violence, but in most countries most of the time, these people are discouraged from acting violently. However, when you encourage and reward people's most violent tendencies, as the CIA-ISI operation did, then you help destroy the foundations of civil society. After a decade where Afghanistan was ravaged by war, the USSR finally pulled out and left a country in ruins. The CIA and the ISI taught the Mujahideen everything they know about terror, and when the Soviet army left, Afghanistan was in ruins and the Mujahideen were the most powerful group. Of course they were going to take control of the country - there was no one to stop them. However, they had never been more than a loose coalition, their common goal being the ejection of the USSR. Once this was achieved, the warlords wrangled amongst themselves for about half a decade. The faction that finally secured control over 90% of Afghanistan in 1996, the Taliban, were every bit as brutal and repressive as the CIA trained them to be.

The United States felt uneasy about the Taliban - the ruling party formed out of the Mujahideen - running Afghanistan but, on principle, felt it to be an improvement over the Soviet army. The US refused to officially recognize the Taliban as being the legitimate government of Afghanistan, but this didn't stop the US from helping fund the Taliban and encouraging them to allow a oil pipeline to travel across the country. As recently as May of this year, Colin Powell announced a $43 million "aid" package that was intended to help the Taliban rein in their opium trade (Media Awareness Project). The United States knew about the Taliban's human rights record - how could they not, having created this monster? - but their repression of their own citizens, including their appallingly misogynist treatment of women, did not stop America from dealing with the Taliban for the past five years. Nor did the Taliban's sponsorship of attacks on two American embassies in the late 1990s. America retaliated for these attacks with a singular viciousness (which I'll discuss further shortly), but still maintained ties with the Taliban. The Taliban's virulence made American policy planners nervous, to be sure, but not too nervous to cooperate with them. The Taliban weren't bad to work with; they certainly didn't mind smashing their own poppy farmers when the US bade them to do it, but it was awkward doing business with a government that had such a severe anti-US sentiment. You were never sure how reliable they were.

Of course, September 11 crossed that line - obliterated it, actually.

America's answer, as usual, is to knock the thugs out altogether and replace them with a different bunch of thugs who are more clear as to where their loyalties - and priorities - should lie. America has a long history of finding the meanest, cruelest people in the country it's interested in. It sponsors, finances, trains and equips those thugs and then sets them loose to destroy civil society. The country is devastated, the citizens are either 'domesticated' (terrorized into submission) or radicalized, and the thugs take over. Being composed of thugs, the government tends to be wildly erratic and must be closely babysat by the US so that it doesn't forget who made it. The Taliban and Al Quaeda, both outgrowths of the US-sponsored Mujahideen, have obviously forgotten who created them and must now be disciplined.

Live and don't learn

Historically, the CIA has not been at all choosy about the groups with whom it has forged alliances. The murderous Mujahideen is an excellent example of what the CIA calls 'blowback' - when an operative or organisation formed or supported by the CIA turns on the US. However, American covert operations apparatus has long followed the adage 'the enemy of my enemy is my friend,' - even to the extent that US officials will call blatant terrorists "freedom fighters" as long as they are blowing up the right people. Recall that in the mid-1980s, US President Ronald Reagan called the Mujahideen "the moral equivalent of the Founding Fathers."

Now, in its efforts to undermine Afghanistan's Taliban ruling party, the American government is courting the Northern Alliance, a group of rebels that, until just recently, controlled between five and ten percent of Afghanistan. On September 30, American Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsford indicated that "there are any number of people in Afghanistan, tribes in the south, the Northern Alliance in the north, that oppose Taliban. And clearly we need to recognize the value they bring to this anti-terrorist, anti-Taliban effort - and where appropriate, find ways to support them (Human Rights Watch)."

Of course, just a couple of decades ago we recognized the value that bin Laden's Mujahideen brought to America's anticommunist effort - and where appropriate, found ways to support them in what was to become the most expensive covert operation in the CIA's history.

Rumsfeld has been fairly specific in his plans for the Northern Alliance. "They're going to have some help in food, they're going to have some help in ammunition, they're going to have some help in air support and assistance," said Rumsfeld. "Our effort would be to try to make them successful, to do things that are helpful to them so that they have the opportunity to move forward, as they are, towards Mazar-i-Sharif; to move forward, as they are, towards the northeast, where there is an Al Qaeda unit that they've been working on; to move south towards Kabul (Thom Shanker and Steven Lee Myers, "Increased US Activity Said to Aid Afghan Rebels" New York Times, Oct. 19, 2001)." Rumsfeld has stated that "Our efforts from the air clearly are to assist those forces on the ground in being able to occupy more ground," referring to the Northern Alliance's efforts to work their way to Kabul. Another US official stated, "We're trying to lend support to the opposition forces in a way we haven't before" (Thom Shanker & Steven Lee Myers, "Rumsfeld Says Attacks Seek to Help Rebels Advance" New York Times, Oct. 23, 2001).

The Northern Alliance - like the Mujahideen from which it originated - is no more than a loose patchwork of minority groups that share one thing: they all loathe the ruling party and want to see the government toppled. In spite of the American wish that the Alliance stay out of Kabul, they've swept in anyway and now control half the country. These are many of the same warlords who terrorized parts of Afghanistan before the Taliban gained control of the country, and as-yet unconfirmed reports of atrocities against Taliban supporters in other Alliance-held towns are not indicative of a kinder, gentler faction today. The UN, for example, reports over one hundred executions in Alliance-held Mazar-i-Sharif ("Three Cheers - Maybe" The Guardian November 14, 2001). As The Guardian's Derek Brown puts it, "Essentially, the ragtag army which now controls Kabul, is the same one which was chased out of the capital by the Taliban five years ago. There are simmering, murderous jealousies within the leadership, and no sign whatever of any united political strategy" (Derek Brown, "Here be Monsters" The Guardian November 13, 2001). The dangers in placing our hopes on the Northern Alliance are best summed up in another recent Guardian essay:

[Afghans] remember the last "liberation" of Kabul at the hands of the Northern Alliance in 1992. The interim government under Burhan-uddin Rabbani (still nominally leader of the Northern Alliance), made up of the key commanders who have just swept the Taliban out of northern Afghanistan, degenerated into ethnic civil war...In all, some 50,000 people are thought to have been killed in Kabul, which is why the Taliban were also welcomed initially as "liberators" who would end lawlessness and terror ("Most Afghans Don't Share This Optimism" The Guardian November 14, 2001).

So what happens when the Taliban does fall? The Alliance certainly wouldn't provide any basis for a broad based government - indeed, the various Alliance factions fought bitterly in the years after the fall of the Soviet Union and before the consolidation of Taliban rule. Supporting them now may prove to be as shortsighted as supporting the Mujahideen was twenty years ago. Still, don't be surprised to see these butchers placed in power in exchange for their promise of support for planned American oil operations in the region. While the US is calling for some kind of broad based government that might include a strong United Nations presence, the Alliance abruptly reversed their support of a UN-based government after taking Kabul earlier this week. Abdullah Abdullah, the soft spoken Alliance Foreign Minister, stated that "The obstacle to achieving peace is, of course, the Taliban and the terrorists. After getting rid of the Taliban and the terrorists, there won't be war and won't be a need for international peacekeeping forces" (Ewen MacAskill, Luke Harding in Islamabad, Patrick Wintour and Julian Borger, "Victorious Alliance says: We don't want your peacekeepers" The Guardian November 15, 2001). Soothing words, but the sudden insistence on taking care of security themselves, coupled with the Alliance's historical track record and evidence of current atrocities, suggest that the new boss might closely resemble the old boss.

Blowback

The overarching pattern here - America helping create and support violent extremists, helping those extremists assume positions of power, and then shaking their heads in confusion when the extremists become unmanageable - is a fairly common scenario in US foreign policy. An August 1998 article by NBC's Michael Moran even gives the scenario a name: "Blowback. Simply defined, this is the term that describes an agent, an operative or an operation that has turned on its creators. Osama bin Laden, our new public enemy Number 1, is the personification of blowback" (MSNBC). The same thing happened in Panama with Manuel Noriega, a thug on the CIA payroll who was given control of the country in exchange for keeping Panama under American suzeiranty. Noriega was a brutal dictator, smashing his own citizens, but it wasn't until he started making some anti-American noises that the CIA marched in and hauled him to jail. Of course, 4,000 Panaman civilians were slaughtered in the attack, but they were just "collateral damage." Another example is Iraq's Saddam Hussein, who wasn't actually all that bad to his citizens (Iraq had a 93% literacy rate and infant mortality and life expectancy rates similer to America before the Gulf war), but was vicious in his attacks against our enemy Iran. So we give him piles of Scud missiles, tanks and airplanes and told him to get busy. It wasn't until he invaded Kuwait (in the latest chapter of a historic struggle to gain access to the sea) that the Bush administration labelled him a rogue and began to smash Baghdad. Efforts at the time to negotiate a settlement of the land dispute were quashed by the US government. A decade later, Iraq is in ruins, a million people are dead and thousands are starving and dying slowly of disease every month, because we destroyed all their civil infrastructure (electric grids, water treatment facilities, pharmaceutical plants) and still maintain harsh economic sanctions.

Interestingly, in 1998 a pharmaceutical plant in Sudan was authorized by the United Nations to send emergency medical supplies to Iraq. When America launched missile attacks against a variety of targets in August 1998 to retaliate for Al Qaeda's attacks on American embassies, one of the targets destroyed was this plant. Then Secretary of State Madeline 'act multilaterally when we can and unilaterally when we must' Albright insisted that it was being used to make biological weapons, even though they had flimsy and unreliable evidence of this. The 'evidence' was a chemical apparently obtained from a soil sample taken outside the plant.

Soft on terror

Now, let's be perfectly clear that Clinton was anything but soft on terrorists. "Let our actions today send this message loud and clear -- there are no expendable American targets," said Clinton after hammering a half dozen targets in Afghanistan and Sudan in August 1998, including the pharmaceutical plant that turned out after the fact to be making treatments for malaria, tuberculosis and cholera, and not biological weapons as the Pentagon had claimed (Jamie McIntyre, Andrea Koppel, Reuters, "US missiles pound targets in Afghanistan, Sudan", CNN, August 21, 1998 ). (Incidentally, this was the very day that Monica Lewinsky was scheduled to testify in that whole messy affair that Clinton was eager to put behind him.)

Of course, the US government started out by insisting that the plant was heavily guarded and made no commercial products, and that investigators had found a chemical in the soil outside the plant that is used to make biological weapons. Then it was slowly, painfully, conceded that, well, maybe the plant made a few commercial products. Specifically, it was registered to make 87 products and had been approved by the UN security council to send a shipment of medicine to help dying Iraqi citizens. And okay, maybe it wasn't actually that heavily guarded after all. And, well, maybe the chemical they found could actually have been either a common insecticide or an ingredient in commercial antimicrobal drugs. And, well, you get the picture. (Steven Lee Myers and Tim Wiener, "Possible Benign Use Is Seen for Chemical at Factory in Sudan" New York Times August 27, 1998) The attack itself only killed one person, but unknown thousands of Sudanese and Iraqi citizens have died as a result of not getting access to the medicine that would have saved them. The US refuses to authorize a UN investigation into the attack (Noam Chomsky, "Reply to Hitchens" The Nation) and refuses to acknowledge any responsibility for their 'mistake.' After spending $75 million on the air strikes themselves, America won't send a penny to help clean up the mess they made. (see Maria Tomchick, Jeff Gustafson, and Geov Parrish, "The Sudan Deception" Eat The State! Sept. 2, 1998; and Carl Eastabrook, "Bringing the war home" Counterpunch Sep. 17, 2001)

In spite of all this, a spokesman for the US National Security Council said, a year later, that "If the decision were to be made again today ... it would be the same decision." (Associated Press, Reuters, "Sudan wants UN to probe US bombing of drug factory" CNN Aug. 25, 1999) Getting back to Clinton, he justified the attacks this way: "There will be no sanctuary for terrorists. We will defend our people, our interests and our values," Jamie McIntyre, Andrea Koppel, Reuters, "US missiles pound targets in Afghanistan, Sudan", CNN August 21, 1998)."

Clinton defended these attacks by saying - big surprise - that "countries that persistently host terrorists have no right to be safe havens," presumably for those civilians unfortunate enough to live there. Amazingly, the US government called these attacks "a pre-emptive measure" against bin Laden and warned that the terrorists would strike back. Secretary of Defense William Cohen said, "There will be no sanctuary for terrorists and no limit to our resolve to defend American citizens and our interests -- our ideals of democracy and law -- against these cowardly attacks." What must these civilians think, being smashed over the head by our ideals of democracy and law? Secretary of State Madeline Albright did one better, saying "Together, decent people everywhere must send the message to terrorists everywhere that they can hide but they cannot escape the long arm of justice." Who would have thought that the long arm of justice that us decent people wield has a bunch of tomahawk missiles in its fist? (Jamie McIntyre, Andrea Koppel, Reuters, "Americans brace for retaliation after missile strikes" CNN August 21, 1988) An anonymous US intelligence official echoed this, noting that "People ought to understand that this is not a one-shot deal. There is a high probability of retaliation." (Jamie McIntyre, Andrea Koppel, Reuters, "Pakistan lodges protest over US missile strike" CNN August 21, 1988). Well, they were right to expect retaliation, but of course these days no one's allowed to point this out, because, as May or Giuliani explained, placing September 11 in the context of real world events would be "part of the problem."

So what is the solution to terrorism? It is certainly nothing simple, but I would argue that one essential component of a successful campaign against terrorism is for the Unites States to stop creating terrorists! Unfortunately, we are slated to make the same mistake with the Northern Alliance that we made with the Mujahideen in the first place.

Ryan McGreal
November 15, 2001

Previous: Newsletter #7 | Next: Newsletter #9

Comments

From: Richard Weatherill
Date: Tuesday, 15 Nov 2001
Subject: Re: Newsletter #8

Very good, Ryan! Very comprehensive!

I, however, find it very exhausting laying out this kind of rationale to what should be self-evident with just a little thought. What I do is refer someone to a website such as the following: http://news.bbc.co.uk/hi/english/world/africa/newsid_1272000/1272522.stm.

which has to do with child slavery in the production of chocolate. Then I say simply that whoever indulges in the consumption of chocolate is complicit in the continuation of an abominable situation such as this, and ultimately can only expect revenge of some sort, reflected in the destruction of the WTC. If they can't make the leap from one to the other, and how we none of us are innocent, then I have no further interest in discussing the inequalities in this world that lead to fanaticism and radicalization. Or I might pick coffee (Starbuck's), clothing (Nike), energy (Talisman), etc, ad infinitum.

Really enjoy your newsletters.

Richard Weatherill

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