Email this article to a friend

TAKING THE BAIT

Bush is giving bin Laden the war he wants

BY Doug Ireland

In bombing Afghanistan, George W. Bush has handed Osama bin Laden a major victory. The strategic aim of the terrorists who struck the United States was to provoke Washington and its Western allies into sending planes and missiles against a lightly armed, utterly impoverished Muslim country—which already had the lowest caloric intake per person in the world, and where one in four children die before the age of five—and then use the ensuing outrage to portray the conflict as a new crusade against Islam.

The ultimate goal of the terrorists always has been to destabilize the corrupt regimes of the Muslim world, beginning with Saudi Arabia and including Egypt, Jordan, Pakistan and, yes, Yasser Arafat’s Palestinian Authority. A vast gulf separates the leaders of these regimes from their oppressed and penurious peoples, among whom primitive radical Islamist fundamentalism has been metastasizing at an alarming rate. The United States has reacted to September 11 just as bin Laden and his ilk hoped it would: Bush has given the radical mullahs a new weapon with which to inflame the Muslim street.

That the United States has dropped packaged meals with its bombs is a morally sickening joke. There are more than 5 million men, women and children starving in Afghanistan (not to mention another hungry 4 million in refugee camps), so 37,000 MREs a day is an airdrop in the bucket; high-altitude food drops are impossibly inaccurate and may not get to those who need them (may, indeed, be resupplying the Taliban); and the last time the United States dropped food from 30,000 feet—on the luckless Kurds in Northern Iraq a decade ago—the velocity of the packages was so great that they killed a number of their intended recipients. U.S. bombing increased Afghan famine by ending the U.N. food convoys over land. So while Bush’s grand “humanitarian” gesture may make Americans feel less guilty about the collateral damage to civilians, no one in the Muslim world is fooled.

Our governing elites have learned little from our recent history. It was Bill Clinton’s launching of cruise missiles against bin Laden and his hosts that elevated this odious illuminé to hero status for many of the Muslim world’s dispossessed and those educated, middle-class fanatics who feed on their anger and distress. Each bomb dropped on Afghanistan—a country already in ruins after decades of invasion and civil war—recruits hundreds of new terrorists. By militarizing the campaign against terrorism, the United States has only confirmed the Manichean worldview so prevalent in much of Islam today.

This view is that America has an overarching strategy including control of oil and gas in Central Asia, destruction of the Iraqi regime, consolidation of America’s grip on the Persian Gulf oiligarchies, and encroachment on Chinese and Russian spheres of influence. As Middle East scholar Farwaz Gerges wrote on the New York Times op-ed page after returning from a Beirut conference on how Arabs and Muslims should respond to the anti-terrorist campaign: “Many Muslims suspected the Bush administration of hoping to exploit this tragedy to settle old scores and assert American hegemony in the world.”

The United States has already notified the United Nations that we may take military action against “other countries” in the campaign against terrorism. It has not escaped notice in the Muslim world that this administration is chock full of those who advocate a new war against Saddam Hussein’s Iraq. (A 1998 open letter by Donald Rumsfeld, Paul Wolfowitz and others now in charge of American foreign policy called for precisely that.) And there are many in the Arab street who assume that a new war to eliminate Saddam is, in Bushthink, “Daddy’s unfinished business.” Moreover, there have been disturbing leaks from the Bushies that could presage an even greater escalation of the war—like the administration official who told the New York Times that the anti-terrorist campaign will fail if it doesn’t also target Iran and Libya.

In their blinkered nationalism, Americans cannot comprehend how all this appears to a wide swath of the Muslim masses, and so are aghast at the anti-U.S., pro-bin Laden riots that broke out after the bombing of Afghanistan, including a firefight between Islamist radicals and Palestinian Authority forces in Gaza. (If Ariel Sharon—whose hard line is now being disowned by a raft of American Jewish community leaders and businessman—finds Arafat unpalatable as an interlocutor, wait until he gets a look at his successor.)

Just as the world has taken its first, sometimes faltering steps toward the genuine rule of international law with the war-crimes trials of Slobodan Milosevic and his henchmen, as well as Rwandan perpetrators of genocide, the United States has squandered an unparalleled opportunity to turn the worldwide horror at the slaughter of innocents on September 11 into concrete steps to extend law’s global reach. By militarizing what is essentially a planetary law enforcement problem, Bush has undermined the goal of eliminating the hydra-headed terrorist networks. The bombing of Afghanistan is an enormous setback for the rule of law in the world. Escalations of this sort will only further exacerbate and fertilize the conditions in which terrorism flourishes.

Doug Ireland has been writing about power, politics and the media since 1977. A former columnist for the Village Voice, the New York Observer and the Paris daily Libération, among others, his articles have appeared everywhere from The Nation to Vanity Fair to POZ. He’s a contributing editor of In These Times. He can be reached through his blog, DIRELAND.

View Comments
invalid_parameter entry_id