Monday, September 17, 2001
: . Other Voices, or Debunking the Myth of American Innocence:
Just in case we are emotionally blackmailed into a blind patriotism.
- Those in public office have let us know that they consider their task to be a manipulative one: confidence-building and grief management. Politics, the politics of a democracy--which entails disagreement, which promotes candor--has been replaced by psychotherapy. Let's by all means grieve together. But let's not be stupid together. A few shreds of historical awareness might help us understand what has just happened, and what may continue to happen. "Our country is strong," we are told again and again. I for one don't find this entirely consoling. Who doubts that America is strong? But that's not all America has to be.
- If Osama bin Laden did not exist, it would be necessary to invent him. For the past four years, his name has been invoked whenever a US president has sought to increase the defence budget or wriggle out of arms control treaties. He has been used to justify even President Bush's missile defence programme, though neither he nor his associates are known to possess anything approaching ballistic missile technology. Now he has become the personification of evil required to launch a crusade for good: the face behind the faceless terror.
The closer you look, the weaker the case against Bin Laden becomes. While the terrorists who inflicted Tuesday's dreadful wound may have been inspired by him, there is, as yet, no evidence that they were instructed by him. Bin Laden's presumed guilt appears to rest on the supposition that he is the sort of man who would have done it. But his culpability is irrelevant: his usefulness to western governments lies in his power to terrify. When billions of pounds of military spending are at stake, rogue states and terrorist warlords become assets precisely because they are liabilities.
The governments of Britain and America are using the disaster in New York to reinforce the very policies which have helped to cause the problem: building up the power of the defence industry, preparing to launch campaigns of the kind which inevitably kill civilians, licensing covert action. Corporations are securing new resources to invest in instability. Racists are attacking Arabs and Muslims and blaming liberal asylum policies for terrorism. As a result of the horror on Tuesday, the right in all its forms is flourishing, and we are shrinking. But we must not be cowed. Dissent is most necessary just when it is hardest to voice.
- Before rescue efforts were up and running, the friends of that establishment were mounting an offensive. Former Secretary of State James Baker blamed the Church Committee, the Senate panel that investigated CIA misdeeds in the 1970s, for what happened: "We went on a real witch hunt with our CIA...the Church Committee. We unilaterally disarmed in terms of intelligence." Newt Gingrich assailed rules on intelligence gathering that limit CIA interaction with known terrorists, and he asserted that the intelligence budget (about $30 billion) was "too small." Others decried the prohibition on government-sponsored assassination. Dan Quayle urged that the President be granted "extraordinary powers internationally and domestically" to deal with terrorists. (Asked what he had in mind, Quayle replied, "I'm not going to get too specific.") John McCain, Orrin Hatch and Bob Graham--the last of whom chairs the Senate Intelligence Committee--griped that the United States has concentrated too much on technical intelligence (spy satellites and high-tech eavesdropping) and has been negligent in the ways of "human intelligence"--humint, in the parlance of spies. More money would have to be poured into humint, they and others remarked. Hatch also complained that "we've allowed our military to deteriorate" and that the "Russians have a better tactical fighter than we do." Former Secretary of State Lawrence Eagleburger used the moment to claim that "the defense budget is woefully underdone."
But the loudest theme in American politics--perhaps the only audible theme--in the time ahead will be the quest for security. With those drums beating, the fans of national missile defense will continue to argue that this remains a dangerous world full of suicidal maniacs wishing the United States harm and that all steps must be taken as fast as possible. Moreover, how many politicians will now question Bush's budget-busting request to raise Pentagon spending by 10 percent? Speaking about Bush, Senator Hillary Clinton said, "We will support him in whatever steps he deems necessary." Whatever steps?
As the nation absorbed the shock, leaders and media observers repeated the nostrum that the best way for the country to respond to such a foul crime is to return to normal and signal that the nation's spirit and resolve cannot be undermined. In that vein, one challenge is to not allow the attack to distort the country's political discourse. Unfortunately, extremism begets extremism, and the dark smoke of a dark day will not be easily blown away.
- There's something absurd in the sentiment of congressional leaders, who the New York Times reported Sunday "have concluded that American spy agencies should be allowed to combat terrorism with more aggressive tactics, including the hiring of unsavory foreign agents." When did the CIA stop hiring "unsavory" agents? Like Bin Laden, the CIA recruited "freedom fighters" from throughout the Islamic world to overthrow the secular government in Kabul that was backed by the Soviets. Bin Laden was no minor recruit to the cause but, given his wealthy father's close ties to the Saudi royal family, was received by the Afghans and Pakistanis on the highest levels and embraced by them up to the days preceding the disastrous attack on the U.S.
From the beginning, over the last 20 years, our entire Afghan policy has provided a reminder of the dangers of "blowback," a phrase used to describe the turning of the machinations of U.S. intelligence agencies against our own nation. Yet, in the desperation of the moment, Congress now wants to empower the CIA to do more of the same.
- Americans don't get daily coverage on CNN of the ongoing bombings in Iraq, nor are they treated to human-interest stories on the devastating effects of economic sanctions on that country's children. After the 1998 bombing of a pharmaceutical factory in Sudan (mistaken for a chemical weapons facility), there weren't too many follow-up reports about what the loss of vaccine manufacturing did to disease prevention in the region.
And when NATO bombed civilian targets in Yugoslavia - markets, hospitals, refugee convoys, passenger trains, and a TV station - NBC didn't do "streeter" interviews with survivors about how shocked they were by the indiscriminate destruction.
The United States is expert in the art of sanitizing and dehumanizing acts of war committed elsewhere. No wonder Tuesday's attacks seemed to many Americans to have come less from another country than another planet. The events were reported not so much by journalists as by the new breed of brand-name celebrity anchors who have made countless cameos in Time Warner movies about apocalyptic terrorist attacks on the United States - now, incongruously reporting the real thing.
The United States is a country that believed itself not just at peace but war-proof, a self-perception that would come as quite a surprise to most Iraqis, Palestinians and Colombians. Like an amnesiac, the U.S. has awakened in the middle of a war, only to find out it has been going on for years.
Did the United States deserve to be attacked? Of course not. But there's a different question that must be asked: Did U.S. foreign policy create the conditions in which such twisted logic could flourish, a war not so much on U.S. imperialism but on perceived U.S. imperviousness?
- I have heard everything about this bin Laden guy except this one fact - WE created the monster known as Osama bin Laden! Where did he go to terrorist school? At the CIA! Don't take my word for it -- I saw a piece on MSNBC last year that laid it all out.
When the Soviet Union occupied Afghanistan, the CIA trained him and his buddies in how to commit acts of terrorism against the Soviet forces. It worked! The Soviets turned and ran. Bin Laden was grateful for what we taught him and thought it might be fun to use those same techniques against us.
We abhor terrorism - unless we're the ones doing the terrorizing. We paid and trained and armed a group of terrorists in Nicaragua in the 1980s who killed over 30,000 civilians. That was OUR work. You and me.
Thirty thousand murdered civilians and who the hell even remembers!
We fund a lot of oppressive regimes that have killed a lot of innocent people, and we never let the human suffering THAT causes to interrupt our day one single bit. We have orphaned so many children, tens of thousands around the world, with our taxpayer-funded terrorism (in Chile, in Vietnam, in Gaza, in Salvador) that I suppose we shouldn't be too surprised when those orphans grow up and are a little whacked in the head from the horror we have helped cause.
Yet, our recent domestic terrorist bombings have not been conducted by a guy from the desert but rather by our own citizens: a couple of ex-military guys who hated the federal government.
From the first minutes of today's events, I never heard that possibility suggested. Why is that? Maybe it's because the A-rabs are much better foils. A key ingredient in getting Americans whipped into a frenzy against a new enemy is the all-important race card. It's much easier to get us to hate when the object of our hatred doesn't look like us.
Congressmen and Senators spent the day calling for more money for the military; one Senator on CNN even said he didn't want to hear any more talk about more money for education or health care - we should have only one priority: our self-defense.
Will we ever get to the point that we realize we will be more secure when the rest of the world isn't living in poverty so we can have nice running shoes? In just eight months, Bush gets the whole world back to hating us again.
He withdraws from the Kyoto agreement, walks us out of the Durban conference on racism, insists on restarting the arms race - you name it and Baby Bush has blown it all.
If someone did this to get back at Bush, then they did so by killing thousands of people who DID NOT VOTE FOR HIM!
Boston, New York, DC, and the planes' destination of California - these were places that voted AGAINST Bush! Why kill them? Why kill anyone? Such insanity ...
Let's mourn, let's grieve and when it's appropriate let's examine our contribution to the unsafe world we live in. It doesn't have to be like this.
- We need to think about the resentment all over the world felt by people who have been the victims of American military action. In Vietnam, where we carried out terrorizing bombing attacks, using napalm and cluster bombs,on peasant villages. In Latin America, where we supported dictators and death squads in Chile and El Salvador and other countries. In Iraq, where a million people have died as a result of our economic sanctions, And, perhaps most important for understanding the current situation, in the occupied territories of the West Bank and Gaza, where a million and more Palestinians live under a cruel military occupation, while our government supplies Israel with high-tech weapons.
We need to imagine that the awful scenes of death and suffering we are now witnessing on our television screens have been going on in other parts of the world for a long time, and only now can we begin to know what people have gone through, often as a result of our policies. We need to understand how some of those people will go beyond quiet anger to acts of terrorism.
We need new ways of thinking. A $300 billion dollar military budget has not given us security. Military bases all over the world, our warships on every ocean, have not given us security. Land mines and a "missile defense shield" will not give us security. We need to rethink our position in the world. We need to stop sending weapons to countries that oppress other people or their own people. We need to decide that we will not go to war, whatever reason is conjured up by the politicians of the media, because war in our time is always indiscriminate, a war against innocents, a war against children. War is terrorism, magnified a hundred times.
Our security can only come by using our national wealth, not for guns, planes, bombs, but for the health and welfare of our people - for free medical care for everyone, education and housing guaranteed decent wages and a clean environment for all. We can not be secure by limiting our liberties, as some of our political leaders are demanding, but only by expanding them.
We should take our example not from our military and political leaders shouting "retaliate" and "war" but from the doctors and nurses and medical students and firemen and policemen who have been saving lives in the midst of mayhem, whose first thoughts are not violence, but healing, not vengeance but compassion.
Robert Scheer, 22 May 2001:
- Enslave your girls and women, harbor anti-U.S. terrorists, destroy every vestige of civilization in your homeland, and the Bush administration will embrace you. All that matters is that you line up as an ally in the drug war, the only international cause that this nation still takes seriously.
That's the message sent with the recent gift of $43 million to the Taliban rulers of Afghanistan, the most virulent anti-American violators of human rights in the world today. The gift, announced last Thursday by Secretary of State Colin Powell, in addition to other recent aid, makes the U.S. the main sponsor of the Taliban and rewards that "rogue regime" for declaring that opium growing is against the will of God. So, too, by the Taliban's estimation, are most human activities, but it's the ban on drugs that catches this administration's attention.
[T]he Afghan economy has been ruined by the religious extremism of the Taliban, making the attraction of opium as a previously tolerated quick cash crop overwhelming.
For that reason, the opium ban will not last unless the U.S. is willing to pour far larger amounts of money into underwriting the Afghan economy.
The Taliban may suddenly be the dream regime of our own war drug war zealots, but in the end this alliance will prove a costly failure. Our long sad history of signing up dictators in the war on drugs demonstrates the futility of building a foreign policy on a domestic obsession.
- As outraged as I am, I am also reconciled to the fact that this attack, despicable as it is, was also provoked. The United States has insisted on playing 700-pound gorilla with the rest of the world, failing to cooperate with international treaties, to participate in the recent international conference on race. Our message has been "our way or the highway," and it seems that such a message begs someone to humble us. Our grandmas used to tell us that the bigger you are the harder you fall. No one hoped that the World Trade Center would come toppling down, but many wondered how the hubris the US has showed the world would play itself out. You can't be the biggest, the baddest, the strongest, the mightiest, without having a corner of compassion, cooperation or humility. Or, your opponents look for cracks in your armor. Sadly, startling, it looks like they found ours.
- Just last week in the old world, in the other time zone, thousands of delegates were engaged in an unprecedented struggle to communicate across a dizzying array of cultures, laws, linguistic divides and histories of hostility. The American press dismissed the meeting as a Tower of Babel. "Doomed to irrelevance," is how a front-page story in the International Herald Tribune described it. In the margin, I had written with what now rings with grimmer and greater irony than I could have anticipated: "Not doomed to irrelevance - rather invisibility. And invisibility dooms us all."
As I write this, a terrified voice on the radio I have kept on for hours now asks, "Why now, when the world is basically at peace?" Perhaps it is because I follow world news more obsessively than most, but I find that sort of statement deeply unnerving. The last several weeks have been marked by a war in Macedonia, a fight for land in Zimbabwe, and Protestants' lobbing missiles at small Catholic schoolgirls in Northern Ireland. A Palestinian suicide bomber blew himself up in front of a French lycee in Jerusalem, his head landing in the playground as children arrived for classes. In Congo, old-fashioned mercenaries, reborn as global corporate armies-for-hire like Executive Outcomes, used high-tech weaponry to obliterate angry, destitute villagers so as to protect the interests of mineral and metal merchants. In Israel, leaders defended a policy of "surgical" assassination. And in Fiji, tensions continued between its indigenous and its ethnic Indian populations.
At the World Conference itself, there was so much more than what was reported in the general American media: the Dalit protested the caste system in India, Japanese untouchables did the same and Roma peoples presented claims of human rights violations. North, Central and South Americans expressed concern about the socially destructive and racially divisive consequences of police profiling and the drug war. The Maori of New Zealand, the Inuit of Canada, the Twa of Rwanda, Han ethnics from China and Tibetan exiles - all these and more sent representatives and concerns to the World Conference.
Back home in the United States, in weird counterpoint to this roiling competition for land, resources and respect, the Bush Administration spoke of the virtues of a new, global US dominance, or world American empire. While media within the United States celebrated this as though it were a cultural inevitability rather than a stated political plan - the appeal of Hollywood movies, the delights of McDonald's burgers and the liberating influence of L'il Kim were often cited - much of the world beyond decried it as a breathtaking and untimely proclamation of executive hubris.
- The United States is whipping itself into a frenzy. Its ideologues talk of this as an attack on 'civilization', but what kind of civilization is it that thinks in terms of blood-revenge. For the last sixty years and more the United States has toppled democrat leaders, bombed countries in three continents, used nuclear weapons against Japanese civilians, but never knew what it felt like to have your own cities under attack. Now they know.
To the victims of the attack and their relatives one can offer our deep sympathy as one does to people who the US government has victimised. But to accept that somehow an American life is worth more than that of a Rwandan, a Yugoslav, a Vietnamese, a Korean, a Japanese, a Palestinian...that is unacceptable.