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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 countrywhich already had the lowest caloric intake per person in the world, and where one in four children die before the age of fiveand 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 Arafats 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 feeton the luckless Kurds in Northern Iraq a decade agothe
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 Bushs 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
Clintons launching of cruise missiles against bin Laden and his hosts
that elevated this odious illuminé to hero status for many of the Muslim
worlds dispossessed and those educated, middle-class fanatics who feed
on their anger and distress. Each bomb dropped on Afghanistana country
already in ruins after decades of invasion and civil warrecruits 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 Americas 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 Husseins
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, Daddys unfinished business. Moreover, there have
been disturbing leaks from the Bushies that could presage an even greater escalation
of the warlike the administration official who told the New York Times
that the anti-terrorist campaign will fail if it doesnt also target Iran
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
Sharonwhose hard line is now being disowned by a raft of American Jewish
community leaders and businessmanfinds 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 laws 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.
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