Peter Kiernan is a free-lance writer on Middle East issues.
The recently released U.S. Department of State's Patterns of Global Terrorism report for 2001 comes at a time when there has never been greater urgency placed by the White House on combating terrorist activity around the world. Indeed, the events of last Sept. 11 have narrowed the Bush administration's foreign policy into a prism focused on defeating terrorism directed against the U.S. and its allies. President George W. Bush made that crystal clear soon after Sept. 11 when he said that "every nation in every region now has a decision to make. Either you are with us, or you are with the terrorists."
The State Department's report describes the "separate but coordinated hijackings" on that day as "the worst international terrorist attack ever." Despite the significance of Sept. 11, however, and the degree to which it has altered the dynamics of global geopolitics, the report essentially contains little that is new, other than the view that the attacks have underpinned the importance of fighting terror--the nature of which Washington has largely left ill-defined.
For the purposes of the report, the Department of State defines terrorism as "politically motivated violence perpetrated against noncombatants by subnational groups or clandestine agents, usually intended to influence an organization." Not unintentionally, one may surmise, this precludes violence against noncombatants committed by any state. The report thus discusses Israeli civilian casualties at the hands of Hamas or Islamic Jihad suicide bombings, but not Palestinian civilian casualties at the hands of the Israel Defense Forces (IDF).
While the issue of state terrorism itself is not addressed, the report identifies seven designated state-sponsors of terrorism--of which five are in the Middle East and North Africa--that allegedly provide safe harbor or other kinds of support to groups that engage in terrorist activity. Iran was given the title of "most active state sponsor of terrorism in 2001," largely because of its "firm support of Hezbollah, Hamas and Islamic Jihad." The list also includes four Arab states--Iraq, Libya, Syria, and Sudan--as well as Cuba and North Korea.
This list of seven nations appears routinely in each report, even though the depth of their involvement in terrorism cannot always be easily assessed. Indeed, the report links none of these countries with the events of Sept. 11. Only in the case of Iraq has there been any general speculation of its involvement with the attacks in New York and Washington. The less-than-convincing evidence of this, however, has prompted those in the Bush administration lobbying for the ouster of Saddam Hussain by military force to cite instead Baghdad's weapons of mass destruction capability as the rationale.
Of 219 "anti-U.S. attacks" in 2001, only 8 occurred in the Middle East.
It's interesting to note, moreover, that 178 of the 346 terrorist actions that occurred last year--or about 51 percent--were bombings against an oil pipeline in Colombia. Similarly, there were 152 such incidents against the pipeline in 2000, representing about 40 percent of total terrorist attacks in that year. The report also states that of 219 "anti-U.S. attacks" in 2001, only 8 occurred in the Middle East, compared to 191 which occurred in Latin America. And, according to the report, the number of terrorist actions actually declined to 346 in 2001 from 426 in 2000. Not counting the Sept. 11 death toll, the number of persons killed by terrorist activity last year around the world was 354. This is much less than the 1,588 Palestinian deaths since September 2000, as recorded by the Palestinian Red Crescent Society. …