WHAT ELSE COULD HE HAVE DONE?
A New Democracy Editorial
Many Americans supported the bombing of Afghanistan because there simply didn't seem to be any other course our government could pursue after the terrorist attacks. But another course did lie open to the US, one that would have expressed our very best values, that would have been more effective in eliminating terrorism, strengthened support for the US around the globe, and would not have caused the deaths of any innocent people.
Assuming that bin Laden is guilty as charged (and the government still hasn't presented proof beyond the questionable "confession video"), what our government should have done and still should do is to isolate bin Laden as a criminal guilty of crimes against humanity and then bring him to justice. How would it isolate him? By removing the real injustices caused or supported by the US which bin Laden uses to rally support for himself.
When Bush made his address to the nation shortly after September 11, after accusing bin Laden of the crime (and offering hard evidence), he should have said something like this:
"The terrible attacks of Sept. 11 are crimes against humanity, and we are determined to bring the criminals to justice. We know, however, that these crimes had roots in other crimes that have been visited upon people in the Middle East and in Afghanistan. Therefore, I have ordered that this government will begin immediately to do the following things: 1. Rebuild Afghanistan, a country that has been devastated by years of war funded largely by the CIA. We will begin this effort by bringing sufficient food aid to the 5 to 7 million Afghans now reported to be near starvation. 2. Order Israel to abandon its illegal settlements on the West Bank and Gaza, with a timetable fixed for rapid and orderly withdrawal, and order Israel to dismantle the cruel apartheid regime that it has established over Palestinians. Since the US finances the Israeli government to the tune of $3.5 billion per year, we are confident that it will accede to our demands. 3. Stop the sanctions against Iraq that have resulted in the deaths of over 500,000 children while doing nothing to dislodge Saddam Hussein. Offer food and medical aid to the people of Iraq. 4. Withdraw from the 'temporary' US military bases in Saudi Arabia established during the Gulf War."
What would have been the effects of such a pronouncement by Bush? Billions of people the world over, including most Muslims, felt shock and revulsion at the September 11 terrorist attacks. If Bush had taken steps to alter U.S. policies in this way, bin Laden would have been thoroughly isolated and political support for terrorism – support without which terrorism cannot exist – would have dried up. Our chances of actually capturing bin Laden, which seem now to be slim, would have risen astronomically. Such steps undertaken by the US government would have changed the character of our relationship to 1.2 billion Muslims and would have won the respect and admiration of people the world over – without the loss of a single human life or the dropping of a single bomb.
Unfortunately Bush chose a very different course. The massive bombing of Afghanistan has already resulted in about 5,000 civilian deaths — more than the number of innocents murdered on September 11 — and the numbers continue to mount. Rather than isolating bin Laden, the US has made him a hero to many Muslims, symbol of all the outrage felt at the injustices the US continues to support. It remains to be seen whether bin Laden was killed in the massive bombing of Afghanistan or, as the US military believes, he escaped. But it was clear from the start that whatever terrorist network exists, it is not a centralized, hierarchical structure which bin Laden somehow directed from deep in a cave. It is a widely dispersed group of small cells and networks acting largely independently of one another. It cannot be bombed out of existence.
As in so many other things, you have to wonder why the US government chose a course that seems counterproductive to its declared goals. The answer is that the government's goals are not what the politicians claim:
1. Rather than destroy him, US leaders wanted to build bin Laden as the leader of the Muslim resistance to the US, because he is the perfect enemy – a Saudi millionaire and religious fanatic with very reactionary political ideas who has long worked with the CIA (and, according to foreign news reports, met with the CIA as recently as this July, two months before Sept. 11). The US wants as leader someone who can be depended upon not to build a democratic movement. From this point of view, bin Laden is our government's man. 2. The US government wants Israel to continue its seizure of Palestinian lands and its vicious apartheid regime, because the ethnic hatred that Israeli and Arab elites foment is crucial to controlling Jews and Arabs. 3. The US government wants Saddam Hussein to remain in power, to control Iraq and to be another reactionary "enemy." This is why US forces did not go all the way to Baghdad in the Gulf War, and why Bush the Elder abandoned the Kurds and Iraqi opposition when they followed his encouragement and tried to overthrow Hussein. Saddam Hussein was a loyal US lackey for many years, funded, armed, and supported by the US. He still serves US interests well, being another unsavory "leader" of the opposition to US policies in the region. 4. Establishing permanent "temporary" bases in Saudi Arabia was one of the goals of the Gulf War to begin with. The Gulf War was a phony war, like this one – phony in the sense that it was deliberately triggered by the US. The US gave an apparent green light to Saddam Hussein to invade Kuwait. When he fell for the bait, the US used the invasion as a pretext to attack Iraq and achieve its policy goals in the region – cut Hussein down to size while building him as a leader of Arab popular opposition to the US and Israel; establish a greater US military presence in the oil-rich Middle East; overcome the "Vietnam syndrome" at home, trying to win a new generation of Americans to support war for America's self-interests.
A humane, pro-people, common-sense course did lay open to our government – if the politicians were actually trying to do what they claim. But they aren't. A truly democratic government in a democratic society could easily choose a humane and popular path and easily achieve all the goals that ordinary decent people agree upon. The solutions to these problems are not so hard. The difficulty is that the problems themselves serve elite power. That's why they exist and why the ruling elites will never solve them.
From New Democracy Newsletter, November 2001 - February 2002.
Other Articles by Dave Stratman