By Smith, Gar
Earth Island Journal , Vol. 17, No. 1
In the wake of the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, George W. Bush declared that America had been targeted "because we're the brightest beacon for freedom and opportunity in the world." Maybe there's another reason.
In his February 23, 1998 call for a "Jihad against the Crusaders," the wealthy Saudi-born militant Osama bin Laden argued that it was a religious duty "to kill the Americans and their allies -- civilians and military" to force US soldiers "out of all the lands of Islam." He cited "three facts that are known to everyone."
* Bin Laden wrote bitterly of King Fahd's decision to invite thousands of US soldiers to establish a stronghold inside Saudi Arabia, the homeland of the holy Islamic City of Mecca. "[F]or more than seven years," bin Laden wrote, "the US has been occupying the lands of Islam in the holiest of places..., plundering its riches, dictating to its rulers, humiliating its people, terrorizing its neighbors, and turning its bases ... into a spearhead through which to fight the neighboring Muslim peoples."
* Bin Laden also railed against the US's "continuing aggression against the Iraqi people ... despite the huge number of those killed, in excess of one million."
* Finally, he proclaimed that the real "aims behind these [US Middle East] wars are religious and economic," designed to "divert attention from [the] occupation of Jerusalem and murder of Muslims [in Palestine]."
In the aftermath of the September attacks, Reuters, the BBC and the Associated Press monitored public reaction throughout the Middle East in search of an answer to the question "Why was the US attacked?" The same three points came up repeatedly -- Saudi Arabia, Iraq and Israel/Palestine. The consistency of these complaints should draw our attention.
A Government's First Duty
Writing in response to bin Laden's 1998 fatwa, Ivan Eland, the Cato Institute's director of defense-policy studies, argued that the first goal of any nation's security policy should be "to protect citizens and property."
Eland noted that, "One of three terrorist attacks worldwide is directed against a US target. And that's not because the US is a rich capitalist nation. No, terrorists attack the US primarily for what it does, not what it is.... Because terrorist attacks are extremely difficult to prevent," Eland concluded, "the administration needs to concentrate its efforts on minimizing the motivation for such attacks in the first place.... Americans should not have to live in fear of terrorism just so Washington's foreign policy elite can attempt to achieve amorphous and ephemeral gains on the world chessboard."
Instead of taking the civilized course of tracking down the guilty parties and trying them before a world tribunal (as was the case in the Lockerbie airline bombing, the first World Trade Center bombing and the Beirut Marine barracks bombing), the Bush administration launched a massive aerial bombardment against Afghanistan. Such a response threatens to unleash the kind of endless escalation that Eland feared.
The bombs, which initially were intended to destroy Afghan air defenses and assassinate the Taliban's leaders, soon wound up destroying Red Cross humanitarian warehouses, hospitals and homes. The sympathy that the world expressed for the US in September began to wane with the first photos of Afghan children whose bodies had been torn apart by cluster bombs. An investigation by University of New Hampshire Economics Professor Marc W Herold produced a shocking discovery: In the first 61 days of the US attacks, 3,767 Afghan civilians were reported killed by US bombs -- a death toll that exceeded the revised estimates of the 3,000 civilians killed in the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center. [For the latest civilian death toll in the Afghan war, see: http://pubpages.unh.edu/mwherold.]
The military tactic of "massive retaliation" may not be an effective response to acts of terrorism. …