The insufferably pompous and benighted Lou Dobbs, who captains CNN’s Moneyline, has recently taken on a glorious cause far removed from his erstwhile function of business news analysis. He wishes to reshape the discourse on the current world situation by redefining the “War on Terrorism,” which he finds both vague and “politically correct” (since it fails to target any group in particular) with what he deems the more accurate, descriptive designation: “War on Islamism.”
Let’s call a spade a spade, he tells us. Those who have killed us and who will for generations terrorize us are Muslims. Now, not all Muslims are bad, mind you. But there are political Muslims bent on imposing the Shari’a on the whole world through force, and of course, they hate Americans. One recent evening Dobbs claimed that, surprisingly, most Muslims commenting by email on his redefinition campaign (he does, oh so open-mindedly, solicit feedback) endorsed his initiative, distinguishing, as it so pointedly does, between good Muslims and bad “Islamists.” But another night he acknowledged that the feedback from Muslims has been overwhelmingly negative. No matter. To one (non-Muslim) who protested that the average American will readily conflate “Muslim” and “Islamist,” he smugly declared that the American people “deserve more credit than that.” (Americans imbibing CNN’s spin on the news? Yeah, sure, Lou.)
Mr. Dobbs has revised his formulation somewhat, having been instructed by academics and others that “Islamists” (in the sense of militant Shari’a proponents) include a wide range of groups, most of whom are not “terrorists” or even foes of the U.S. (Is not Saudia Arabia-mother of fundamentalist Islamic societies-a good friend of the U.S.?) Having magnanimously conceded that all “Islamists” aren’t killers, he now chooses to identify “radical Islamists” as the evil-doers. But even this category, of course, includes groups with no notable relationship with al-Qaeda, nor history of attacking American civilians outside their own invaded or occupied homelands (like Hezbollah in Lebanon, or Hamas in Palestine); Dobbs in any case wants us to see them all as our enemies. He also assigns states to the “radical Islamist” camp-including Iraq, ruled by its secular Baath Party that in fact keeps a tight leash on the Muslim clergy. (The man is just not very well informed, or if he is, accurate description is not, in fact, his forté or priority.)
The power structure seems divided on the question of the vilification of Islam; John Ashcroft and Chairman of the House Subcommittee on Terrorism and Homeland Security, Georgia Republican Saxby Chambliss, being leading proponents; Colin Powell apparently standing in diplomatic opposition; and George Bush just not making much sense in his signals on the issue. It’s not clear how well Dobbs’ initiative will resonate in the media and in political discussion, but while he’ll be able to generate bigotry and racism, I doubt that his campaign will produce the pointed focus of the terror war he seems to desire. Rather, I’m afraid the “War on Terrorism” is likely to broaden beyond “Islamist” foci, targeting movements with no connection whatsoever to Islam (of any variety), nor indeed to Sept. 11.
To be sure, Muslim Iraq has been posited as the inevitable next front, but conflicts within the military and political elite seem to have placed Desert Storm II on hold for a while. Yet the war has to spread somewhere, lest the Rumsfeld-Wolfowitz cabal be accused of going wimpish. And let’s face it, “Islamists” may challenge U.S. bases around the Gulf, or oppose U.S. Middle East policy, or condemn U.S.-led sanctions against Iraq; they may even demonize the “American way of life.” But they’re not the big threat to the U.S. Empire in the long run. They’re not, for God’s sake, even against capitalism. (Bin Laden’s a millionaire businessman, right?) They’re not in principle opposed to imperialism. (30,000 Islamists from around the world joined hands with the CIA to fight the godless Soviets in Afghanistan in the ’80s, right?) But there remain forces around the world whose challenge to the U.S. is precisely their defiance of imperialism. And these could be targeted by the terror war at any time.
I’m talking about the revolutionary left-you know, the communists. “Communist,” of course, is another vague category; in the Cold War, the U.S. government always subsumed under this term a wide variety of movements and figures without much real linkage to Marxism-Leninism at all. (Any left-leaning nationalist-Juan Bosch, Patrice Lumumba, Mossadegh, Sukarno-was a “Communist” in league with an international anti-American conspiracy.) And despite all the crowing since 1991 about the “death of communism” and ultimate triumph of western “democracy” and free market principles, U.S. imperialism at its zenith continues to glare at, and castigate as “communist,” a broad spectrum of posited antagonists. My point here is not to determine whether any of these particular targets really merit the designation, but merely to note that many of those defining themselves as such (as well as those on the left who don’t) continue to live under the threat of U.S. attack. Not all of them, of course: the “Communist Party of China,” having presided over the full-scale restoration of capitalism, and even graciously accepted capitalists as members, seems in no immanent danger. Nor are Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia. Cuba and North Korea, however, are feeling the heat. So are the Maoists (the serious communists of the twenty-first century), wherever Maoism flourishes.
Maoist Target #1: the NPA of the Philippines
It seems to flourish in the Philippines. The first indication that the terror war might expand beyond “Islamist” foes to embrace the traditional red ones came in November, as Washington announced plans for U.S. troop deployment in the southern part of the country (“Operation Balikatan”) to combat the Abu Sayyaf Group. Anyone familiar with the situation in the Philippines would realize that Abu Sayyaf was and is a tiny bandit group (100-200 combatants) that the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) could easily defeat on its own. (Its failure to do so seems to have something to do with the penchant of military officers to share in the ransom money the group rakes in through kidnappings.) The two truly significant, armed “Islamist” organizations in the country, the Moro National Liberation Front and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, are both holding talks with the government of President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo. Confined to the south, and based solely among the Muslim (Moro) population (about 5% of the total), they have not historically constituted the greatest threat to U.S.-backed Filipino governments. That, rather, stems from the New People’s Army (NPA), established by the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) in the late 1960s.
At present thought to number some 12,000 guerrillas, active throughout the archipelago, controlling some 8000 villages and perhaps 20% of the countryside, the NPA is fighting a Maoist People’s War, supported by a broad array of organizations that constitute the National Democratic Front. Small wonder that the NPA is listed on the State Department’s list of “terrorist organizations,” and would, in the current environment, constitute on that basis alone a “valid target” for U.S. attack.
But the prospect of transforming the Philippines into another Vietnam appeals to some more than others in the pro-U.S. Filipino establishment itself. Arroyo cut the deal behind Balikatan, boasting that cooperation with the U.S. would bring the Philippines more aid than received by Pakistan; but Vice-President (and Foreign Minister) Teofisto Guingona was so opposed that he threatened to resign in January. After grudgingly accepting the mission as a training program (and insisting that U.S. troops would be barred from combat, and patrol only under Filipino command), he demanded (and received) assurances from Colin Powell on February 10 that the operation would be limited to Basilan Island and not involve operations against the main guerrilla groups. (“We do not want to initiate activities against the NPA or the MILF,” he told Powell, “because our policy is to forge peace with them.”)
Defense Secretary Angelo Reyes, meanwhile, seemed eager to pit the U.S. troops against the Maoists. As the operation got underway January 31, a U.S. MC-130 special operations cargo plane was damaged by small-arms fire. Reyes immediately blamed “New People’s Army or criminal elements.” CPP spokesman Gregorio “Ka Roger” Rosal denied NPA involvement, suggesting the incident was a ploy to justify U.S. involvement in combat operations against his guerrillas. On the same day, an American tourist was killed by a gunman at the base of Mt. Pinatubo. Army spokesman Lt. Col. Jose Mabanta declared, “We have reason to believe [the attackers] were NPAs.” (Again, the Maoists denied any responsibility; later, police suggested the tourist’s German companion may have shot him, or that the attacker may have been a bandit of the indigenous Aeta people.)
Meanwhile, Arroyo has done her best to conflate Abu Sayyaf and the NPA, echoing Bush’s Manichean rhetoric. Responding to NDF-led protests in February, she declared that those opposing the Balikatan exercises were “protectors of terrorists, allies of murderers and Abu Sayyaf lovers” “You are not a Filipino,” she railed, “if you are against peace. You love the terrorists more than your own soldiers.” On February 25, AFP spokesman Lt. Col Josen Mbanta, called the NPA “worse than the Abu SayyafWe dare say they are no different from the Abu Sayyaf We have to open our eyes because, in the long run, they will be the more protracted enemy that we will be confronting.” Operation Balikatan, of course, is designed to help them confront that “protracted enemy”!
Underscoring the primacy of the NPA threat, Arroyo distinguished the Maoists from MILF on March 18, when she signed a Lenten truce with the latter but declined to do so with the former. She explained that “if we look at the situation right now all over the world, isn’t it true that the NPA has been declared as a terrorist group [by the U.S.]?” The MILF, however, in her judgment, is not terrorist; “They seem,” she opined, “to have good faith in looking for peace.” Aware that the U.S. continues to consider MILF terrorist, and linked to al-Qaeda, she said that she would ask the U.S. to reclassify the group. (Later, at Reyes’ recommendation, she did in fact sign a Lenten truce with the Maoists.)
The day after Arroyo’s statement, the Manila Times quoted analyst Daniel Crawford as warning that given the “alliance between communist and Moro rebels,” and putative ties dating back to the 1980s between the NPA, North Korea, and the People’s Republic of China, the United States would ultimately “actually engage [the NPA] in combat in southern and central Mindanao, and even in eastern Mindanao, under the guise of fighting terrorism.” (The very same day, four U.S. Green Berets participating in Operation Balikatan on Basilan entered a combat zone, ostensibly to retrieve wounded Filipino troops. They were driven back, while Filipino forces retrieve the injured; but many felt they had violated the rules governing their presence in the country.)
The mainstream press has expressed some concern about gung-ho GIs becoming involved in combat, specifically with the NPA. In April, hundred more U.S. troops arrived to participate in “Exercise Balikatan” (as opposed to Operation Balikatan) on the northern island of Luzon (where there are no Muslim rebels to speak of, but lots of NPA). Ostensible reasons for this activity are to train Filipino troops to take part in UN peacekeeping operations, and to combat “terrorism” elsewhere in Southeast Asia. AP reported that the exercise “carries risks because communist rebels in the north have warned they will attack any Americans who venture into territory they claim.”
Some reports, echoing Arroyo, have facilely conflated the Maoists and Muslim rebels. An AP article by William Foreman that appeared June 10 described recent actions in the campaign against Abu Sayyaf, but shifted topic in the final paragraphs: “Yesterday, air force helicopters rocketed a southern Philippine village inhabited by a communist rebel group, killing at least nine rebels, an official said. President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo told reporters that U.S. advisers who are training Philippine troops and planning missions might be upgraded to the company level, putting them closer to the fighting. ‘We will have to finish this war because terrorism is the scourge of the earth,’ Arroyo said.” Plainly, for both her and her foreign friends, Maoism is a big part of the scourge that must be finished off.
Maoist Target #2: Nepal’s PLA
Another People’s War rages in Nepal, lead by another Maoist organization on the State Department’s “terrorist” list. Since 1996, the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) has effectively challenged government control over much of the Nepali countryside, and by some estimates controls one-third of the national territory. Spectacular military victories last year by the party-led People’s Liberation Army (PLA) brought the government to the negotiating table. But in November (while the U.S. was preparing its “train and equip” missions to the Philippines, Yemen and Georgia), peace talks broke down and intense fighting has occurred since.
On November 26, the highly unpopular king, Gyanendra, declared a state of emergency, branded the Maoists “terrorists,” and issued a Terrorism Control Ordinance. The U.S. ambassador, Michael Malinowski, remarked at the time that the CPN(M) would have to reckon hereafter with the consequences of bearing that label. Among those consequences was the first-ever visit to Nepal by a U.S. secretary of state. Arriving in Kathmandu January 18, Colin Powell made the connections clear: “You have a Maoist insurgency that’s trying to overthrow the government and this really is the kind of thing that we are fighting against throughout the world [emphasis added].” He thanked Gyanendra and Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba for “fighting international terrorism,” and offered military aid. Malinowski followed up with an address at a “South Asia Peace Operations Seminar” in Kabul in February. As a mass strike closed down Nepal, he announced that, “Nepal is currently plagued with a terrorism that is shaking its very foundation as a nation. These terrorists, under the guise of Maoism or the so called ‘people’s war,’ are fundamentally the same as terrorists elsewhere – be they members of the Shining Path, Abu Sayaf, the Khmer Rouge, or Al Qaeda.”
The aid promised by Powell was discussed in April, when Foreign Minister Madhu Raman Acharya visited Washington. Meanwhile Deuba declared, “The coalition against terrorism should not be in Afghanistan only, it should be all over the world.” Without “international aid,” he suggested, it might take Nepal ten years to defeat the Maoists. While Acharya was still in Washington, Reuters reported April 22 that there were “about a dozen senior U.S. military officers” in Nepal “assessing its progress against the rebels to determine what military aid it might need as part of Washington’s pledge to help the government.”
Deuba himself visited Washington following Acharya, becoming the first Nepali prime minister to meet an American president at the Oval Office May 6. He told reporters afterwards that “President Bush is very much supportive to our campaign against terrorism and he has assured us he will help in many ways.” (It was later revealed that the U.S. will provide $ 20 million in military equipment, including transport helicopters, automatic weapons, rocket launchers, flak jackets and night-vision goggles to fight surprise attacks in the dark.) On June 16, BBC reported that the U.S. government had just completed training 20 Nepali officials, including the Inspector General of Armed National Investigation and army generals working at the Royal Palace, in “resistance against Maoist terrorism.”
One would expect that the Bush administration would seek to justify military aid to Nepal by associating the Maoists with other groups it has labeled “terrorist.” I expect that we’ll hear reference to a statement by Sri Lanka’s President Chandrika Kumaratunga to the Nepali ambassador to Colombo June 14, to the effect that the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Ealam (LTTE), an 8000-10,000 strong guerrilla force, are training Nepali Maoists in the northern part of his country. This seems questionable, given the considerable ideological differences between the groups. LTTE leader Vellupillai Pirabhakaran has pretty much discarded any Marxist-Leninist principles in favor of a race war (Hindu Tamils vs. Buddhist Sinhalese) doctrine, while the CPN(M) is politically aligned with another group in Sri Lanka, the Ceylon Communist Party (Maoist) that shares its ideology. More ominously, on May 11, The Independent cited “Western intelligence agencies” as suspecting that al-Qaeda has been supplying “sophisticated weaponry” to Maoists in Nepal! (This smacks of sheer disinformation. Recall that bin Laden built his career on “anticommunist” action in Afghanistan.)
Maoist Target #3: the “Shining Path” of Peru
Within hours of the September 11 attacks, some in the U.S. media suggested that the Shining Path of Peru (the term often used to refer to the Communist Party of Peru or PCP) was behind the attacks. The association was absurd, but in character with the campaign of vilification of the Peruvian Maoists dating back to the late ’80s and early ’90s, when according to a RAND report it had acquired control over at least a quarter of Peruvian territory, enjoyed widespread support, and stood a good chance of seizing state power. Weakened by the capture of its leader, Dr. Abimael Guzman (aka President Gonzalo) in 1992, the organization has survived the dictatorship of Alberto Fujimori and his CIA-created Frankenstein, Vladimiro Montesinos, and continues to organize armed resistance to the regime of Fujimori’s successor Alberto Toledo. According to the Washington Post (June 13), the PCP has been re-forming in the remote eastern Huallaga and Apurimac valleys, and stepping up recruitment on college campuses. The Peruvian government has just declared a state of emergency in the southern department of Arequipa, after several days of antigovernment rioting quite probably involving Maoists.
On March 21, just prior to the arrival of President Bush on a state visit, a car bomb detonated outside the U.S. embassy in Lima, killing nine people. Toledo blamed the Communist Party of Peru, and the international press placed that spin on the story. Two women and one man were recently arrested and charged with the bombing. But no one has claimed responsibility for the blast, and some have suggested that agents of Montesinos (now under detention but, with many years of service to U.S. intelligence and much embarrassing information to share, spared trial for his many crimes) may be responsible. The message, in any case, has been made clear: the PCP, which has been on the State Department’s terrorism list for years, is another al-Qaeda-like enemy. Should its military position improve, don’t be surprised at U.S. intervention under the rubric of “War on Terror.”
North Korea and the “Axis of Evil”
Thus as of late January, Maoist organizations had been quietly placed in the crosshairs of the U.S.’s terror war. But the administration continued to focus on bin Laden, al-Qaeda, and “Islamic extremists.” Thus millions were puzzled and shocked by Bush’s January 29 State of the Union address in which, just four months after the attacks, he completely ignored bin Laden, mentioned al-Qaeda only once in passing, and abruptly shifted attention to an imagined “Axis of Evil”: Iraq, Iran, and North Korea (Democratic People’s Republic of Korea; DPRK). The nice thing about the speech was that it was so transparently doltish (to anyone who had not already surrendered judgment and succumbed to the very real psychological comfort and appeal of fascistic obedience) that it caused many to have second thoughts about the whole “War on Terrorism.” European foreign ministers were appalled; so was former U.S. President Jimmy Carter, and a growing chorus of mainstream commentators. It just didn’t make any sense to link those particular three: secular Iraq; Iran, with its mix of Shi’a fundamentalism and civil society; and hermetic North Korea, an ostensibly Marxist-Leninist state where in fact “Kim Il-Sungism” and the vague concept Juche (self-reliance) constitute the state religion. Iraq and Iran tore each other to bits during the U.S.-encouraged war of 1980-88, and neither have much in common with the DPRK. The commonsense concept of an axis as an alliance just didn’t work here.
It was for the spin-doctors and commentators to explain the logic of the formulation apparently penned in by the President at the last minute. North Korea had sold ballistic weapons technology to Iraq and Iran, and was, like the other two, itself (perhaps, at some point) capable of producing weapons of mass destruction that might target the U.S. But of course, pro-U.S. Pakistan was the primary recipient of DPRK assistance, and as for weapons of mass destruction, the U.S. had already negotiated, in the 1994 Agreed Framework nuclear deal, an arrangement whereby North Korea had suspended its nuclear program in exchange for the Western-financed construction of reactors producing little weapons-grade material. (The “experts” have viewed this as a very successful program.) In 2000, Kim Jong-Il and South Korean President Kim Dae-Jung met, reducing tensions on the peninsula, and after Bush’s inauguration, Kim Dae-Jung urged the new U.S. president to pursue the negotiations with Pyongyang begun during the Clinton administration. But to his great chagrin, Bush abandoned the rapprochement policy. Now, one year into his presidency, Bush shocked Koreans, north and south, by his “Axis of Evil” pronouncement, clearly tagging the DPRK as a terrorist, evil-doing enemy-but one, like the Maoists mentioned above, that obviously had nothing to do with al-Qaeda, “Islamism,” or September 11.
Fortunately, the obtuse rhetoric has not been followed by action; indeed, U.S. envoy on policy towards North Korea, Jack Pritchard, met recently with a North Korean diplomat at the UN, and Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage has stated that Washington plans to send an envoy to Pyongyang soon to discuss terrorism and nuclear proliferation, among other matters. Kim Jong-Il seems little concerned about Bush’s “axis”” remark, even joking about it to a South Korean envoy. But should the U.S. decide to undertake a strike against the DPRK (such as Bill Clinton contemplated in 1994), the action would be justified not only in “anti-terrorist,” but also anti-communist terms. Recall that the DPRK once stood in the vanguard of resistance to U.S. imperialism, fighting (with massive Chinese assistance) U.S. forces to a stalemate in 1953. The obliteration of North Korea would be a settling of scores, providing closure (on imperialist terms) to one of the most brutal Cold War crusades. (“Islamism,” of course, would have nothing to do with it.)
Colombia and FARC
The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) are thought, with some 17,000 armed combatants, to be the largest “leftist” guerrilla movement in the Western Hemisphere. Rooted in Colombia’s Liberal Party of the 1950s and in a Communist Party that gravitated towards Castroism in the ’60s, it has an eclectic ideology, but its leadership considers itself Marxist-Leninist and the U.S. government surely regards it as such. From Washington’s point of view, it is an irritant, supposedly because it sponsors marijuana and coca producers and engages in narco-trafficking, but really because it has militarily challenged a succession of U.S.-backed regimes, acquiring control of perhaps one-fourth of the national territory; and threatens the huge U.S. investments in the country. Specifically, FARC has sabotaged oil pipelines owned by U.S. companies. (The Caño Limón pipeline, which services oil fields operated by California-based Occidental Petroleum One, was out of service 266 days in 2001 due to 170 FARC attacks.) Small wonder Colombia is the third largest recipient of U.S. military aid.
On February 6 (just after Bush’s “Axis of Evil” speech), CIA director George J. Tenet reported to Congress about various “terrorist groups” that had no al-Qaeda ties, but could be future U.S targets. These included FARC, which, Tenet indicated, “poses a serious threat to U.S. interests in Latin America because it associates us with the government it is fighting against.” (How could it not?) The following week, the White House announced a plan to spend $98 million to train and equip a Colombian army brigade specifically to protect the (private) Caño Limón oil pipeline. Senator Patrick Leahy, Vermont Democrat and chair of the Senate’s Foreign Operations Subcommittee, noted matter-of-factly at the time: “For the first time, the administration is proposing to cross the line from counternarcotics to counterinsurgency” in the Latin American country.
The bridge from the one to the other, of course, was the “War on Terrorism.” On March 8, House Resolution 358 called for the United States “to assist the Government of Colombia protect its democracy from United States-designated foreign terrorist organizations…” Rep. Ron Paul, member of the House International Relations Committee and the Subcommittee on the Western Hemisphere, protested that the legislation, introduced without notice, placed the U.S. on a “slippery slope toward unwise military intervention in a foreign civil war that has nothing to do with the United States.” (Nor with “radical Islamism,” nor September 11.)
Ten days later, Attorney General Ashcroft announced that a federal grand jury in District of Columbia had indicted three alleged FARC members and four other South Americans on charges of conspiring to import cocaine into the United States; their actions, he declared, demonstrated “more clearly than ever the evil interdependence between the terrorists that threaten American lives” and drug trafficking. On April 18, Armitage told House Appropriations Committee that al-Qaeda supporters have been active in tri-border area of Colombia, Peru and Ecuador. Then on April 21, former Clinton White House chief of staff Thomas F. McLarty III wrote in the Boston Globe that “the list of targets” in the “war on terrorism” should “look beyond” Afghanistan, the Philippines, Iraq, Yemen and Somalia to Colombia, where FARC and ELN (National Liberation Army, a smaller armed organization rooted in Liberation Theology) “are little different from the Al Qaeda network.” He supported the removal of all Congressional restrictions on military aid to Colombia (earlier imposed out of ostensible concern for the abysmal human rights record of Bagota’s military), as requested by the Bush administration.
Later in the month, Ashcroft announced the indictment of three alleged FARC members for killing of U.S. citizens in 1999, and described FARC as a “fiercely anti-American terrorist organization.” John Walters, White House Office of National Drug Control Policy director, meanwhile announced that Columbian rebels were closely tied to “global terror groups.” (It is unlikely these include al-Qaeda; a recent Council on Foreign Relations report says, “there is no evidence linking the Islamists of Al Qaeda to the FARC.” But no matter. Add FARC to the organizations listed above as a “left,” non-“Islamist” target of the terror war.)
Unremitting U.S. resentment of an independent Cuba has been a staple of US foreign policy for over 40 years, but the terror war has altered U.S.-Cuban relations in surprising ways. President Fidel Castro has pledged full support for the war, as he understands it, and has made no protest about the detention of al-Qaeda and Taliban captives on the U.S. base in Guantanamo. Indeed, the Cuban government has pledged complete cooperation in apprehending any detainees on its soil should they escape from U.S. custody on the base.
Thus it must have been an eyebrow-raiser for the Cubans when, in a speech on May 6 in advance of former president Jimmy Carter’s private visit to Cuba, U.S. undersecretary of state John Bolton gave a speech entitled “Beyond the Axis of Evil,” accusing Cuba of developing biological weapons and sharing its expertise with “rogue states” (like Syria, Iran, and Libya). This was the first time a U.S. official had publicly linked Cuba to attempts to produce weapons of mass destruction. Carter himself pooh-poohed the charges, noting that in his own detailed State Department briefings nobody had raised this charge; he implied that Bolton’s remarks were motivated by a desire to prevent any positive repercussions from his own trip and to sabotage any moves towards improvement in U.S. relations with Havana. But Bolton, with Bush’s full support, has added Cuba to a second circle around the Iraq-Iran-DPRK fantasy axis, joining the evil-doing Maoists and other leftwing guerrillas who identify with the Marxist-Leninist tradition.
Finally, the terror war is already targeting U.S. citizens and residents who identify with the political left. There is of course a long history of this, from the Palmer Raids of the 1920s, to the McCarthyite purges, to the COINTEL Program of the ’60s and early ’70s. The 1974 Church Committee hearings in the Senate revealed that “Operation Chaos,” a CIA domestic spying program in the ’60s, had gathered “personality profiles” on 7000 people in the U.S. and tracked over 1000 political groups. Since the enactment of the “Patriot Act” last Halloween, the government has acquired nearly unlimited authority to conduct “online research” on activists, even if their efforts are not linked to an established criminal investigation. (“Pure surfing,” they call it.)
They are not just monitoring Islamic and “Islamist” groups. Testifying before the Senate in February, Dale Watson, Executive Assistant Director for Counterterrorism and Counterintelligence, stated that “the terrorist threat confronting the United States” stemmed in part from those who “generally profess a revolutionary socialist doctrine and view themselves as protectors of the people against the ‘dehumanizing effects’ of capitalism and imperialism,” and groups that “aim to bring about change in the United States and believe that this change can be realized through revolution rather than the established political process.” Among those who should be watched, he listed activists in the Puerto Rican independence movement, anarchists, “extreme socialist groups,” and anti-globalization movement forces like Reclaim the Streets and Carnival Against Capitalism. It’s still legal to be on the radical left in the USA, but it’s also now okay for the government to be watching your ass, all the time, in egregious violation of its own Constitution, that it touts as a model for the world.
No, Mr. Dobbs
If all the above are to be defined as “terrorists,” the peril they pose looms large indeed, and relatively speaking, the “Islamist” menace to Mr. Dobbs’ cherished status quo fades in significance. According to Newsweek (June 10): “Even as Bush continues to publicly identify Al Qaeda as the chief threat, in private U.S. officials are increasingly siding with intelligence officials who have long insisted that the number of sworn members of Al Qaeda worldwide has been grossly exaggerated, and may be fewer than 200.” Think about that. Hundreds of al-Qaeda, demanding principally that the U.S. get its troops out of Saudi Arabia. Tens of thousands of communist-led guerrillas—and many millions who identify with the legacy of the historical left—demanding an end to exploitation and inequality on the planet. Imagine whom the Bush administration finds more threatening.
So in conclusion: this war Mr. Dobbs so vigorously endorses; this war he wears on his lapel every night in the form of that little flag pin; this war he demands all decent Americans embrace as their own—it’s not, in the final analysis, a war on “radical Islamism” at all. It’s a war on anybody the U.S. administration chooses to target as its foes-and for what it’s worth, most of them, in fact, aren’t even Muslims.
Gary Leupp is an an associate professor, Department of History, Tufts University and coordinator, Asian Studies Program
He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org