October 10, 2001

The new meaning of 'escalation'….

A recent interchange between the odious Gen. Wesley Clark – now a CNN news "analyst" – and a member of the "Talk Back Live" audience underscores the danger inherent in Operation Enduring Freedom. A man who identified himself as having formerly served under the General asked "What about an exit strategy? I haven't heard anyone discuss that."

"Yes, and you won't hear it talked about," answered Clark, looking a bit annoyed at the audacity of such a question. "Because, you see," he explained, "they don't know where they're going with this, it is open-ended…."


That is precisely the problem. In an ideal world, the US would go in, get Osama, and get the h*ll out. For even a pacifist will have to admit that future acts of terrorism, such as the 9/11 atrocity, must be deterred – and justice must be served. The 6,000-plus victims of the 9/11 attacks must be avenged, and that's what the American people want: vengeance exacted from the perpetrators, not the military occupation of Afghanistan, not the equivalent of a new cold war, not a holy war against Islam and its nearly one-billion adherents worldwide.


What the public supports is not a new Crusade but an American police action designed to get the culprits of an appalling crime. A whopping 90 percent of the American public supports US military strikes in Afghanistan because this is how the initial attacks have been characterized by the administration. The US is not even openly claiming, at this point, that it wants to overthrow the Taliban and set up a new government. Over the last few days they've been distancing themselves from the Northern Alliance, at least in public, and at yesterday's [10/08/01] daily briefing for reporters, presidential spokesman Ari Fleischer once again reiterated official US disinterest in determining the future government of Afghanistan. He declared several times that we are not in the business of "nation-building" over there. All of which may argue the case for a short stay. But there are other ominous indications that General Clark may yet get his "open-ended" war. Will the American public support that? Let's hope we never get to find out….


As US missiles rained down on Afghanistan, the chilling voice of Osama bin Laden, carried by Aljazeera television in Qatar, rang out over Western airwaves, directly addressing Americans as well as his fellow Muslims: "America," he said, "is full of fear from its north to its south," and Americans "will never feel safe until we and the Palestinians feel safe."

"Its greatest buildings are destroyed," he hissed, agreeing with Jerry Falwell that "here is America struck by God Almighty," and adding that "America is tasting now only a copy of what we have tasted." In my view, the video comes very close to an open admission of responsibility for the 9/11 attacks, although I admit the evidence is inconclusive.


The key here is that he explicitly threatened new atrocities, wrapping his monstrous pseudo-confession in the rhetoric of vengeance, in effect saying: now you feel our pain. He claims the right of retaliation when he says "Our Islamic nation has been tasting the same for more 80 years, of humiliation and disgrace, its sons killed and their blood spilled, its sanctities desecrated." In this first fusillade in the propaganda war, bin Laden used all the weapons at his disposal. "A million innocent children are dying at this time as we speak," he said, "killed in Iraq without any guilt." Some years ago, an American reporter, Leslie Stahl, brought this issue up to then US secretary of state Madeleine Albright:

Leslie Stahl: "We have heard that a half million children have died (as a result of sanctions against Iraq). I mean, that is more children than died in Hiroshima. And, you know, is the price worth it?"

Madeleine Albright: "I think this is a very hard choice, but the price, we think the price is worth it."

~ Sixty Minutes, May 12, 1996

To win a "war on terrorism," the US is going to have to come up with a different answer than the one offered by Mad Madeleine.


"Israeli tanks rampage across Palestine," continued bin Laden, his soft voice and gentle eyes a bizarre counterpoint to the unrelenting harshness of his message. The voice of pure evil, as smooth as a pearl – one that contains within it a grain of truth: Israeli tanks barrel into "Ramallah, Rafah and Beit Jala and many other parts of the land of Islam, and we do not hear anyone raising his voice or reacting. But when the sword fell upon America after 80 years, hypocrisy raised its head up high bemoaning those killers who toyed with the blood, honor and sanctities of Muslims." Here he is speaking directly to the Arab "street," while also taunting his Western enemies: he scores points with the former by not only pointing out the hypocrisy of the West, but also in personally holding them accountable.


No wonder Colin Powell is putting pressure on the Qatari authorities to close down Aljazeera TV, ironically one of the few freewheeling and uncensored media outlets in the Arab world. The Bush administration knows how very effective this line of argument is in the Middle East: the appeal of bin Laden's message goes way beyond the ultra-fundamentalist faction of Islam represented by the Taliban. It reaches all the way into Bosnia, where US troops are stationed and where an extensive nest of terrorists has been uncovered, operating (until very recently) under the protection of elements in the US-supported Islamist government. Of course, since we can't threaten to invade Bosnia – having already done so – it is hard to imagine what the consequences of this will be for the present government. How many times have we been told that the Muslims of Europe were "moderates" whose brand of Islam had been rendered entirely harmless and even benevolent? Then what were these "moderate" Bosnian Muslims doing handing out Bosnian passports by the dozen to Al Qaeda operatives?


George W. Bush has declared war on terrorism, but cannot win without making a major turn in US foreign policy. If the Bush administration is now engaged in an effort to win over Muslim hearts and minds, then a wide-ranging review of US policy perspectives in the Middle East is in order. Unconditional support not only for Israel but for the decadent and tottering Saudi regime – everything must be put on the table. While we're at it, we might – on the strength of the evidence gathered so far – suspend indefinitely all aid to the Bosnian government.


It is not too late to oppose this war, in spite of the overwhelming support US policy presently enjoys. Now that the war has begun, advocates of a noninterventionist foreign policy must seek to limit its scope as much as possible, descrying each escalation as it occurs, while arguing more generally that it will have the exact opposite of its intended consequences. We should critically support those in this administration who believe American war aims must be narrowly focused on the elimination of the 9/11 terrorists. Secretary of State Colin Powell was been a force for restraint in the prelude to this war, and has come under heavy fire from the warmongers for it: but the moment the US response went into full military mode, Powell lost control and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld took the helm. Now the hawks have the ball and who can doubt they will head for the goal line? Aside from that, this war has its own dangerous dynamic, one that could very quickly give new and deadly meaning to that old Vietnam-era term, "escalation."


Already the President has alluded to the postwar reconstruction of Afghanistan as comparable to the rebuilding – and occupation – of Japan and Germany. Of course, US soldiers are still occupying Germany and Japan, and the question is: will they be occupying Afghanistan 60 years after an American "victory." That would be a Pyrrhic victory indeed, one that recalls the statement of old King Pyrrhus: "One more 'victory' such as this and we are finished."


Our argument is simple: it cannot be in America's interest to take on the entire Muslim world. Such a mad course of action is neither necessary nor possible. That the Bush administration agrees with this perspective is underscored by the Powellian strategy of building a broad coalition including Arab countries – an effort which so enraged Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon that he grotesquely likened it to Munich! Naturally, the Israelis are pursuing their own national interest, which puts Israel first, and one reason many Americans admire Sharon is that he does this so doggedly and unrelentingly. On the other hand, it is no less admirable when an American President and his secretary of state pursue an "America first" policy, and one only wishes that some of our more aggressive warhawks understood this.


The worst case scenario is a world war, pitting the US and Israel against the world's Muslims, and a good deal of the rest. Yet that is the war that is coming, unless the warhawks are stopped in their tracks. Justice, yes: a new Middle East war – no, no, a thousand times no! That must be the new battle-cry of the noninterventionist movement as we face an uncertain and increasingly frightening future. Speaking of which…


I am listening, as I write, to a television news report of the second verified anthrax case discovered in Florida – at the offices of the company that publishes the National Enquirer, the Sun, and other supermarket tabloids. The office is located quite near where one of the hijackers trained for his last deadly flight. I first heard about the anthrax threat on Free Republic, the famed news-and-comment site, where a few stories from local media were posted several days ago, and mentioned it in a column written last Friday and posted Monday. It took the mainstream news media until yesterday, really, to come up to speed on this one, and I can't help but think that they held the news back. Not only because they didn't want to panic the public, but also because they didn't want to believe it themselves. Are we now living in a world where we don't want to go to the corner store on account of … bio-terrorism?


This adds a nightmarish dimension to America's "new war," and gives us a clue as to what's so new about it. For this is clearly not another Nintendo war, to be viewed through opera glasses by the chattering classes and the public at large. What could go down in history as the Anthrax War will fought on American soil, as well as in the wilds of Afghanistan. After all, the first blow was struck here, and, officials are telling us, it will not be the last.


Anthrax? At this point, the public may begin to catch on to the kind of war they're signing up for: the response could be wildly contradictory and potentially violent. The anger directed at Middle Eastern or "suspicious"-looking people – already reaching a disturbing level – could erupt in a burst of violence, and then we would see some real "ethnic cleansing." President Bush, to his great credit, immediately drew attention to the danger of violence directed at Arab-Americans, and met with several of their leaders. Hopefully, this presidential sentiment will translate into action when it comes time to protect them against ignorant vengeful mobs.


This same anger, while motivating a "nuke 'em" mentality, could also seek out and find other targets: government agencies, law enforcement, Bill Clinton, and politicians in general. Our foreign policy may come in for some hard questions as people begin to think, in between bouts of anger and hysteria after each new attack: is this the way we want to live – and for what? The price of Empire – are we willing to pay it? My guess is: no. Taking your gas mask to work every day may not be much of a burden, but wearing it on the subway is bound to get old, fast.


We are at a critical stage, in which the debate inside the Bush administration between "hawks" and "doves" takes on vital importance. In support of the former, a number of conspiracy theories are now being bruited about linking 9/11 with various states: Iraq is the number one target of these theorists, although Syria and even Saudi Arabia figure prominently. The meeting of an alleged Iraqi agent with one of the 9/11 plotters is cited – but never sourced – and these same publicists often mistakenly postulate some ideological affinity between Saddam and Osama. This fails to take into account OBL's own words, in his post-9/11 message. The world, he said, is divided into two camps: believers and unbelievers. In Al Qaeda's view, the secular Saddam is little better than an atheist. Perhaps this explains their offer to defend Kuwait and Saudi Arabia against Iraq during the Gulf war.


On the heels of the anthrax scare comes the announcement by UN representative John Negroponte that "We may find that our self-defense requires further actions with respect to other organizations and other states." Negroponte's letter to the Security Council reiterates that the United States "has obtained clear and compelling information that the al-Qaeda organization, which is supported by the Taliban regime in Afghanistan, had a central role in the attacks," adding "there is still much we do not know. Our inquiry is in its early stages." As Matt Drudge would put it: Developing….

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Justin Raimondo is the editorial director of Antiwar.com. He is also the author of Reclaiming the American Right: The Lost Legacy of the Conservative Movement (with an Introduction by Patrick J. Buchanan), (1993), and Into the Bosnian Quagmire: The Case Against US Intervention in the Balkans (1996). He is an Adjunct Scholar with the Ludwig von Mises Institute, in Auburn, Alabama, a Senior Fellow at the Center for Libertarian Studies, and writes frequently for Chronicles: A Magazine of American Culture. He is the author of An Enemy of the State: The Life of Murray N. Rothbard.


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