Writing in The Guardian recently, George Monbiot observed that if Osama bin Laden did not exist it would be necessary to invent him. This is no brazen assertion, for the same has been said about many a US enemy over the years, the most memorable being Saddam Hussein. The reasoning behind such an outlook is simple. The US needs the threat of a bogeyman to scare us into falling into line as well as to justify large scale military actions on behalf of its own corporate elite and, of course, to provide the US with the pretext to play globocop on behalf of all god-fearing, peace-loving citizens everywhere.
Osama bin Laden and his al-Qaeda terrorist organisation have been blamed for the September 11th attacks on the USA. Bin Laden’s photograph has been splashed across every newspaper front page in the world. Already there is a $10 million price on his head. The highly articulate George
W Bush is urgently reminded of the old Wild West wanted posters and has spoken of how bin Laden’s name is now on one. But who is bin Laden and how did he come to prominence? Osama bin Laden is a billionaire Islamic fundamentalist, former US ally and protégé, who fronts a terrorist organisation whose fighters were trained and financed by the CIA during the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan. This is no big secret. The US, in fact, were arming groups like the notorious mujahedin a full six months before the Soviet invasion of December 1979 and it is estimated that at the Soviet withdrawal, US aid to the Afghan cause totalled $5 billion (this monetary support for some seven fundamentalist and extremist groups beginning after 1980 when Reagan quadrupled the CIA budget to £36 billion). Even after the Soviet withdrawal, the US still supported the Mujahedin, though more covertly now and through Pakistan’s version of the CIA, the ISI, their game plan now to play on the differences between the varying groups and their leaders in an attempt to undermine the power of the factions for Washington’s ends. The game plan analogy is perhaps best revealed in the words of Jimmy Carter’s adviser Zbigniev Brzezinski, who described Afghanistan at the time as ‘the greatest chessboard’. (see also Unholy Wars book review).
Following the car bomb attack at the World Trade Centre eight years ago, four of those arrested and charged with the attack were found to be linked to bin-Ladens’s al-Qaeda organisation and amongst those trained by the US (Robert Fox, New York’s regional FBI director revealed this in a TV interview in 1993). When the US attacked bin Laden’s bases near the village of Khost in Afghanistan (along with the Sudanese pharmaceutical factory) following attacks on US embassies in Africa, they could do so with pin point accuracy for the CIA had planned and designed them. Moreover, US surveillance was well aware of bin Laden’s absence prior to the attack and it seems they purposely chose not to target him because a dead bin Laden would have dangerously enhanced his legendary charisma amongst the Islamic fundamentalists he inspires, his death inciting his followers to more crazed acts of vengeance.
It now seems that the US is reaping the bitter harvest of its foreign policy which used Islamic fundamentalism as a puppet in its perennial game of globo-political profit-making. For years it courted some of the most dangerous, conservative and fanatical followers of Islam and is now paying the price. The globalisation process, which the US has pursued obsessively, has only served to make political Islam more reactionary in defence of its own culture and strategic interests.
The Islamic zealots the US are prepared to annihilate, and indeed form an alliance with, in Afghanistan were, however, afforded most favoured status during the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan. Under the Carter administration and beginning in 1980, they were trained in their thousands (sources quote 20,000) at the CIA’s Camp Peary and at the ex-army base at Harvey Point in Carolina; by the Green Berets at Fort Bragg in North Carolina and indeed by the SAS in Scotland. They would go on to be trained at Fort A.P. Hill, just off the Washington-Richmond interstate highway, and at Camp Picket in Virginia by Green Berets and US Navy SEALS. This was not simply ‘basic’ training. They were trained in over 60 deadly skills, including the use of sophisticated fuses, timers and explosives, remote control devices for land mines, incendiary devices and the use of automatic weapons with armour piercing shells. Thus the US went about supporting a ten-year long jihad in the hope Soviet state capitalism would not encroach upon its central Asian markets and that the military cost of the operation would cripple the Soviet economy.
Whilst the world is outraged at the terrorist attacks on the USA mainland, it must be remembered that the US has been conducting and supporting just as deadly covert acts of terrorism around the globe for 50 years. For instance, the US and the UK supported Suharto’s military coup in Indonesia in 1966, which resulted in the deaths of 600,000 members of the PKI, and more recently they have supported an Indonesian regime that massacred thousands who voted for independence in East Timor. And it was the US who helped topple the democratically elected Allende government in Chile which resulted in thousands of deaths and countless disappearances. When Israel invaded Lebanon in 1982 and massacred 17,500, this was a terrorist act fully supported by the US. It continues to support one of the most notorious state terrorist organisations around in Colombia, Colombia now being the worst violator of human rights in the hemisphere and at the same time the leading recipient of US Military aid – the previous being Turkey. And how can we forget Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos and North Korea?
Since 1945 the US has toppled some 40 governments and supported every dictator imaginable (Pol Pot, Noriega, Pinochet, Mobuto, Amin, Trujillo, Marcos, Papa Doc Duvalier and Saddam Hussein) whilst seriously interfering in the domestic affairs of almost 70 countries.
In recent years the US has devastated Iraq in continuous bombing raids – even for using radar to scan the Iraqi airspace its own air force is excluded from. During the 40 day Gulf War, US planes dropped 177 million pounds of explosives on Iraq – the greatest aerial bombardment in history. It has imposed sanctions on Iraq that have resulted in the deaths of perhaps 2 million people and bombed Iraq in defence of the Kurds from the same air bases Turkey has used to bomb 3000 Kurdish villages. In the wake of the Gulf War, the US mercilessly attacked a retreating Iraqi army on the Basra road and quite literally fried to death 60,000 ill-equipped, ill-trained soldiers, the vast majority never wanting any part in the conflict in the first place. Only days previous to the September 11th attack on the US, the US and Great Britain again joined hands in a bombing raid on Iraq. No western newspaper reported it.
There was of course a time when the US couldn’t help Iraq enough. During the Iran-Iraq war, the US gave its full blessing to Iraqi atrocities, turning a blind eye to the chemical weapon attack on the small town of Halabjah in 1988 with the loss of 5,000 innocent lives. Indeed, in 1987 when Iraq attacked the USS Stark, killing 37 servicemen, there was no US response as the White House was keen at the time that Iraq got the upper hand in its war with Iraq and that the US got its oil at the price it demanded.
The US has launched attacks upon Libya, Somalia and Grenada, propped up right wing tendencies in Panama, Chile, Brazil, Honduras, Haiti, El Salvador, Nicaragua and Colombia. In Africa it supported the right-wing Savimbi as he tried to make Angola more hellish for its impoverished millions, adopted a policy of ‘constructive engagement’ with South Africa’s apartheid machine and was all to willing to shoulder up with South Africa in its war with the frontline states. In the Middle East it has allied itself with anti-democratic currents in Iran and Iraq and more recently with Jordan, Egypt and Saudi- Arabia, whilst at the same time ensuring there is no Middle Eastern solution, that the Palestinian people are kept in a state of subjection and that numerous UN Resolutions pertaining to the occupied territories are ignored. This year alone Israel is receiving $6 billion in free US aid, in direct contravention of Congress rulings. During the retaliatory raids following the attacks on the US embassies in Africa, the US fired 70 cruise missiles into Afghanistan and killed tens of thousands in Sudan (a true figure is not available because the US blocked the proposed UN inquiry). The US catalogue of shame is indeed a deep one and we can only begin to scratch at its surface.
Whilst the September 11th attack resulted in an appalling loss of innocent life which no sane person could condone, it remains a wonder that the US has escaped the attention of terrorists for so long. For the poignant truth is that there are millions who have been murdered defeated, demoralised, impoverished and crushed by the US and its allies and who could well have turned to the pathos of terrorism as a means of evening up the score. Who knows the number of US-created Frankensteins walking the world, prepared to destroy the life of their master? This is not to suggest the US ‘deserves’ to be bombed, but hints at the number of enemies the US has created in pursuit of global domination, forever trying to carve out larger chunks of the world on behalf of its corporate elite.
If we set this terrorist attack in a wider context, however, then the loss of life in New York and Washington, whilst horrendous, is not incomparable. For instance we can’t realistically comprehend the horror of the dying days of World War 2 when, in one night alone, up to 100,000 died in a 1000 bomber raid on Dresden or when Hiroshima and Nagasaki lost 150,000 in unnecessary nuclear attacks. But it is to the present we make comparison. Is it not an atrocity that 40,000 children die of starvation each day? Is it not a most heinous crime when 1,000 children die each hour of preventable disease (these are UNICEF statistics) and do we not find sickening the thought that twice that number of women die or suffer disability during pregnancy because of a lack of simple remedies or medical attention? We are speaking here of an Hiroshima a day which never gets reported, which is taken as accepted because it is so much a part of our way of life in capitalist society. Where is the 25 page newspaper pull-out that accompanies the recent WHO revelation that more people died of starvation in the last two years than were killed in two world wars? Where is the 3 minutes silence for the 500,000 Iraqi children who have died of hunger and disease as a result of US sanctions in the past 10 years – a figure which presidential spokeswoman Madeleine Albright described recently as “a price worth paying”? Can we not also label the IMF, World Bank and World Trade Organisation terrorist organisations, judging them on the premeditated carnage their policies have unleashed on the underdeveloped world?
All of this may sound churlish, but is in no way intended to diminish the fact that there has been an enormous loss of life in the USA. Those lying dead beneath the rubble in New York are our fellow workers - make no mistake about it - members of the working class, murdered whilst they were being exploited. Whilst we are revolted, as socialists we certainly do not crave the comfort of revenge. We take a more considered view.
Western leaders have claimed the attack to be an assault on civilisation. But what is this civilisation that has been attacked, where 600 million have no home, where 800 million are chronically malnourished, where 1 billion have no access to clean water? What is this civilisation where 3 individuals have more wealth than the combined income of the world’s 48 poorest nations? How can we condemn attacks on our ‘civilisation’ when we destroy food to keep prices high and employ scientists on weapons programmes whilst children die of preventable disease? What questions we can ask of those who destroy the lives of millions, then run for the moral high ground when disaster hits their own backyard!
Since the attacks on New York and Washington, The US and British media has become a history exclusion zone, feeding only the spreading contagion of patriotism, whilst flag waving and the repetitious singing of anthems trigger, in pavlovian fashion, national epidemics of jingoism, the only cure of which is reprisals. The dominant view is that extremists the world over are intent on destroying democracy and western civilisation – a myopic perspective which washes well with a news-hungry audience whose knowledge of US foreign policy and basic international affairs makes it impossible for them to separate reality from distortion.
Bush may well speak of the terrorism the US faces from Islamic fundamentalism, but a truer picture is one in which the real global terror is US fundamentalism. Since coming to power, Bush has helped scupper the 1997 Kyoto Protocol on emissions and all but wiped his presidential backside on the 1972 ABM Treaty and the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty and the UN treaty on the control of small arms. His attitude to treaties and conventions suggests he has already declared war on the planet and that US foreign policy will continue as before and with one aim – to ensure the 21st Century is another ‘American Century’, as George senior poignantly prophesised all those years ago.
And so, the proverbial line has been drawn in the sand. President George W Bush has told the world “either you’re with us or you’re against us.” It’s a catch all sentiment that is taking hold. Indeed, one writer asked me through the letters page of the Shields Gazette: “A simple message to John ********. Which side are you on, ours or the terrorists?” “It’s that simple”, I’ve been told on the streets! This is presumptuous arrogance and not an option for the class conscious to dwell on. It’s a form of blackmail coming from both sides of the pond which has had some effect. Some campaigners feel that for the time being we should hold back with our anti-war campaign. Oxfam, for instance, cancelled a petition against US policy on pharmaceutical corps on the grounds it was ‘inappropriate to pursue criticism of the US’
The mainstream view is that the forces of barbarism have declared war on the bastion of democracy. George Bush boldly declared: “They hate our freedom, our freedom of religion, our freedom to vote and assemble and disagree with one another.” Yet wonders not why, if this were so, the Statue of Liberty, the White House or the Lincoln memorial was not attacked on September 11th. Why the Pentagon and the WTC - one a symbol of America’s global military reach, the other a symbol of US economic prowess?
Of course there is much missing from Bush’s assertion that Islamic terrorists are just simply jealous as hell of the democratic freedoms ‘enjoyed’ in the US. The simple truth is that throughout the Middle East, indeed the world, the US has, despite its alleged support for movements towards democracy and greater freedoms for all, generally hampered provisional steps in the direction of democratisation. The general line is that if a foreign election is not going the way Washington would like it to go, if the outcome could prove detrimental to US corporate profits, then it must be tampered with. Since 1945, the US has subverted elections in the following countries: Italy (1948-1970s), Philippines (1950s) Lebanon (1950) Indonesia (1955), Vietnam (1955), British Guyana (1953-64), Japan (1958-1970s), Nepal (1959), Laos (1960), Dominican Republic (1962), Guatemala (1963), Bolivia (1966), Portugal (1974-5), Australia 1974-5, Jamaica (1976), Panama (1984, 1989), Nicaragua (1984, 1990), Haiti (1987-1988), Russia 1996), Mongolia (1996), Bosnia (1998).
In the Middle East, whilst it has increased its support for despotic regimes such as Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Morocco, it has invariably lowered its economic, military and diplomatic support for any Arab country embarking on major political liberalisation.
Israel, for instance, gets 40 per cent of all US overseas aid. Meanwhile Israel is in breach of 6 UN resolutions and continues oppressing Palestinians, the great majority living as second class citizens with almost no rights. During Jordan’s despotic and repressive rule in the 1970s and 80s, US aid for the Amman regime was enormous. Then when Jordan decided to oil the cogs of its political machine in the 1990s, that aid was vastly reduced and for a while suspended. Similarly, aid to Yemen was cut off within months of that unified country’s first ‘democratic’ election. In recent weeks, when it was discovered that Qatar’s satellite channel Al-Jazeera was beginning to sound a little ‘pro-democracy’, upsetting regional dictators, broadcasting images of the US bombings and airing bin Laden’s now famous video, it was Colin Powell who demanded the channel be closed down, insisting it fostered ‘anti-Americanism’.
When it comes to Middle Eastern peace, the US has ensured the region is as unstable as ever, cocking a snook at UN Resolution 687 which calls for region-wide disarmament - which would also mean an end to Israel’s nuclear capability – whilst at the same time selling $60 billion worth of arms to Middle Eastern countries in 10 years (80% of all world arms exports to the Middle East). Israel, by the way, receives $3 billion in US military aid on the pretext it is defending itself from its Arab neighbours – those same neighbours the US has armed to the teeth!
This side of the Atlantic, In his finest Orwellian double-speak, Tony Blair could announce: “The values we believe in should shine through in Afghanistan”. Could this be the same Blair whose government armed the Indonesian military machine during its recent rampage through East Timor, whose government signed 91 military export licences for Israel in the first eight months of the current Intifada? Such instances fly in the face of the FCO (Foreign and Commonwealth Office) claim that ‘we will not issue export licences where there is clearly identifiable risk that the equipment might be used for internal repression or adversely effect regional stability.’ Are these the same ‘values’ which, on the same day as the attacks on the US, allowed the DSEi arms fair to go ahead in London and to continue for another 3 days? And are these same ‘values’ informing a Labour government who, without any mandate from the UN, has helped notch up 15,000 RAF/USAF bombing raids on Iraq since the second Gulf War?
These same ‘values’ are now behind the decision that Britain and the US should support a proxy army, the Northern Alliance, an outfit with an impressive record of widespread rape, pillage and murder in Kabul, in its confrontation with the Taliban. One of the key figures in the Northern Alliance is Abdul Rashid Dostom, and ally of Uzbekistan’s President Karimov, who has made huge profits exporting drugs via Uzbekistan, and who allegedly was all to keen to secure Russian weapons and military supplies in exchange for keeping the gas flowing north.
Just as Blair’s values can enable him to curry favour with Israel’s Ariel Sharon, architect of the slaughter in Qibya in 1953 and the 1982 massacres in Sabra and Shatila, so can these same ideals prompt him into friendly dialogue with President Karimov, whose airfields are suddenly strategically important now the destruction of Afghanistan has commenced. Karimov, incidentally, holds 7,000 political prisoners, allows no free press and no political opposition. And Karimov, of course, has other reasons for supporting the anti-Taliban alliance. His corrupt police state is facing bankruptcy and to prop it up he is intent on running an oil pipeline through Afghanistan to a Pakistani port
But back to the US. It’s fair to say that the Bush administration is in the throes of foreign policy denial – there has been almost blanket rejection of any notion hinting that previous US policy has any bearing on the present. Yet few worthwhile commentators have not mentioned the Middle East linkage, the US support for Israel in its continual oppression of Palestinians and of Washington’s continuing victimisation of Iraq. In a video-recorded message to the world, bin Laden asked: ‘You American people, can you ask yourselves why all this hate against America and Israel? The answer is clear and simple, that America has committed so many crimes against the nations of Muslims.’ Bin Laden then proceeded to list the aforementioned grievances. The latter said, it could perhaps be that bin Laden is an opportunist - indifferent to the plight of the Palestinians – but who is a wise judge of issues that incense people across the Middle East.
Here in Britain, Foreign Secretary Jack Straw was castigated by his Labour bosses for making such a link between Palestine and the recent terrorist attacks in the US when he said that Middle eastern terrorism was bred “by the anger many people in this region feel at events over the years in Palestine.” Tony Blair was to spend 15 minutes on the phone to Ariel Sharon, trying to calm him down and get him to agree to meet Straw
Neither will Washington acknowledge its complicity in other areas which have a direct bearing on the present. Whilst Bush is mouthing off about the importance of curbing the funding of terrorist groups and keen to see the Taliban’s overseas assets frozen, it was his own administration, May gone, that scuttled international efforts to clamp down on tax havens, withdrawing support for an OECD initiative that called for more transparency in tax and banking procedures.
Moreover, it was again in May of this year, that the Bush administration was giving the Taliban $43 million as an incentive to reduce the cultivation of poppies, knowing full well the Taliban were notorious abusers of human rights and that they harboured terrorists from all over the Islamic world, including number one bogey-man Mr bin Laden . And there was no criticism of Saudi Arabia and Pakistan who for years gave the Taliban military and financial aid.
For quite some time now, US, German and Russian intelligence services have been alerting Washington to the fact that Osama bin Laden has been trying to acquire weapon’s grade nuclear material, indeed as early as 1993 from Russian outlets with poor controls. What was the response of the Bush administration to this? They proposed cutting funds for a programme aimed at preserving nuclear materials in the former Soviet Union.
At every turn we find evidence that the US is not only the creator of the monster that now seeks to destroy it, but of also unlocking the door wherein the creator lives.
Of course all the cant and clever rhetoric and soldier speak of the last few weeks have helped mask what are now becoming the true intentions of the US. The attacks on the US on September 11th are now being used to serve US foreign and domestic policy.
The oil reserves of Central Asia are large enough to attract any oil baron (200 billion barrels by some estimates) and as Afghanistan is geographically located between the Caspian basin and the markets of Japan, China and the Indian sub-continent, we can well see the country’s strategic importance to foreign policy planners wishing to dictate the way in which the region’s oil and gas reserves are utilised to the benefit of the US dollar.
The ‘war on terrorism’ is clearly being used to induce fear and mistrust in the US, and through this fear a justification will be found to curb all manner of civil liberties, increase police powers and military spending.
Furthermore, the current crisis serves to extend US power around the globe and perhaps sets a definite agenda for the coming century, the ‘war on terrorism’ serving as a replacement for the Cold War, now that the US has had its anti-communist passport stamped null and void and is desperate to maintain a pretext to assert its hegemonic credentials. (With regards US intentions in the 21st century, please see the article ‘Redefining War’ in issue 5 of Socialist View).
To be sure, this is not the first war of the 21st Century as Bush has claimed, but just one battle in a larger war that began in 1945 with the US determined to control the world’s resources, and there is more than ample evidence to prove this. More importantly, though, The entire episode serves to show the insanity of the system we live in, and the desperate need to wrest control of our planet away from the madmen before it is indeed too late. In the 20th century, some 220 million lost their lives in wars, in conflicts over trade routes, areas of influence, foreign markets, mineral wealth and the strategic points from which the same can be defended or in other words, in the name of profit.
As socialists, as observers of international affairs and commentators on the way they impinge upon the lives of our fellow workers, we are well attuned to the machinations of the elites of powerful countries as they seek to promote the interests of their corporate backers. Though it is no easy task for the uninitiated, we urge our fellow workers to be as vigilant as ever. To believe the arguments of the likes of Bush and Blair is to disarm yourself intellectually - for it is at times like the present, when the media is dancing to the tunes of governments, when the trumpets of jingoism, patriotism and reaction are sounding, that we need to be fighting the war of ideas with a little more gusto.
The solution to the ongoing insanity, we insist, remains the same. There is one world and we exist as one people in need of each other and with the same basic needs. There is far more that unites us than can ever divide us along cultural, nationalistic or religious lines. Together we can create a civilisation worth living in, but before that happens we need the conscious cooperation of ordinary people across the world, united in one common cause – to create a world in which each person has free access to the benefits of civilisation, a world without borders or frontiers, social classes or leaders and a world in which production is at last freed from the artificial constraints of profit and used for the good of humanity – socialism