Chalmers Johnson: The Bombing Begins

The latest cycle of violence and reprisal has now begun. It seems unlikely that formal military power will be any more successful this time than it was in Lebanon in 1983, during the Reagan administration, when 241 U.S. Marines were killed in a terrorist reprisal and the US quietly withdrew. The current cycle might even escalate out of control because of historical rivalries and competing agendas within the Bush administration. There are virtually no seasoned diplomats among the top policy-makers, only veterans of the first George Bush government, right-wing ideologues, and representatives of the military-industrial complex. Some people have suggested that had the Republican Party not stolen the presidential election last December, the strikes on New York might not have occurred and 6,000 innocent people would still be alive. Al-Qa'ida is particularly interested in getting even with the old Bush politicians because of the Gulf War, waged by Bush Senior, and the decade of embargo against Iraq that have killed at least a half-million civilians. There is no question that the people killed in the World Trade Center in New York were innocent bystanders, but that is not necessarily true of Cheney, Powell, Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz, and Armitage.

On October 7, Al-Jazeera television station in Qatar, the most popular source of television news throughout the Islamic world, broadcast a taped statement by Osama bin Laden just as the American and British bombs began to fall on Afghanistan. He said:

"What America is tasting now is only a copy of what we have tasted. Our Islamic nation has been tasting the same for more than 80 years. . . . I swear to God that America will not live in peace before peace reigns in Palestine, and before all the army of infidels depart the land of Muhammad, peace be upon him."

This does not sound like the irrational and motiveless "evildoer" the President has talked about. There can be no doubt that he is a dangerous religious fanatic. But it is inept on our part to let so radical a figure take over and use the Palestinian and troops-in-Saudi-Arabia issues as if he were a normal politician venting reasonable grievances. So far the US government has done nothing to defuse these issues. At some point it must publicly acknowledge that it is partly responsible for the attacks on New York and Washington and that alterations in American foreign policy are long overdue.

A few months ago the US government welcomed the Al-Jazeera news channel as a sign of democracy in the Middle East. Last week, however, US Secretary of State Colin Powell berated it and the Emir of Qatar because, he said, Al-Jazeera was "inciting anti-Americanism." Someone has to say to General Powell that the US can't have it both ways. Bin Laden's actions cannot be justified, but they can be explained. The United States government needs to understand that explanation and act in accordance with that new information, not as it is acting now, like an imperialist bully. The failure to understand this portends more terrorist attacks and more reprisals until all moderates and those willing to compromise have been eliminated. By then we may well be in the midst of a war between civilizations, and that is a war neither side can win.

Equally dangerous, there are powerful figures in Washington who see the current militarization of international politics as a splendid opportunity to carry out many projects in a hidden agenda -- to attack and destroy Iraq, to gain control of Central Asian oil and gas resources, to complete the encirclement of China, to suspend civil liberties and forge a police state in the United States (the FBI currently has 600 people in custody, many of whom have not been charged with anything), to build ballistic missile defenses as a step toward American domination of the world from battle stations in outer space, to cause the United Nations to go the way of the League of Nations, and to end all limits on the scope and methods of the Central Intelligence Agency.

The bombing campaign that started last Sunday is laden with contradictions. The world's most powerful nation is attacking what is certainly one of the world's poorest and least defended nations using weapons, such as cruise missiles and stealth bombers, designed for warfare between superpowers. At the same time the United States embarrasses itself before the rest of the world by mounting what it calls a "humanitarian effort." This involved dropping 37,000 "individually wrapped" humanitarian daily rations (HDRs in the Pentagon's jargon) into the landmine-infested hills of southern Afghanistan. These HDRs have printed on them, in English only, a "food gift from the people of the United States of America." Spokesmen for the effort say that it was the "highest altitude" food drop in history. The packages included "beans and tomato vinaigrette," together with peanut butter, strawberry jam, salt, pepper, a match (perhaps to help an Afghan heat his beans), and a napkin. The US Agency for International Development, which put the food parcels together, attached a paper wing to each metal box "to help the packages survive the drop from the high-altitude planes." Since there is obviously something contradictory about bombing the Afghans with lethal explosives and then with beans vinaigrette, I suspect that many of them will behave in an equally contradictory manner: they will eat the beans (if they can find them and are not blown up retrieving them) and then join al-Qa'ida.

The American public, having never been told about most of our government's imperial projects in other people's countries, does not have the resources to understand the "blowback" from these operations as they boomerang back onto the American people themselves. That being the case, the war party in the US is in the saddle and has virtually no opposition, particularly given the natural outpouring of sympathy for the victims of the terrorist attacks and the patriotism they have elicited. The wrong people -- the US military -- are calling the shots in an ill-conceived "war" against a noun, much like the "war on poverty" or the "war on drugs." Many armchair strategists are calling for better "intelligence" on the part of the FBI and the CIA. I believe we need more and better intelligence disseminated to the American people so they will understand what is being done in their name.

Chalmers Johnson

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