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Bringing the War Home

“The chickens come home to roost” –Malcolm X, at the time of the Kennedy assassination.

The destruction in New York on September 11 was a great crime, but it is not an excuse for the leaders of the Bush Administration to kill Arabs or Afghanis.

Those Americans who say that the carnage in New York “changed the world forever” haven’t been paying much attention to what their country has been doing in the world. (Of course, they’re encouraged not to.) The US government is responsible just in the last decade for enormities around the world that have killed many more people than did the terrorist crimes in New York. Americans may not have noticed, but the rest of the world has. That’s the answer to the plaintive inquiry, “Why do they hate us so much?”

If you were to ask Americans, Did the Clinton Administration ever do anything that killed more people than died in New York this week?, most would be shocked at the question. But that administration began with US troops killing perhaps twice as many people in Somalia and continued with the killing of at least as many in Serbia. Against the five thousand thought to have died in New York, we have to count the deaths from sanctions in Iraq, where Clinton’s secretary of State said in 1996 that the half-million children’s corpses by then were “a high price” but “worth it.”

In Timor, US-supplied paramilitaries from US-client Indonesia killed thousands in massacres that could have been stopped with a phone call from Washington.

In Turkey — the third leading recipient of US arms — American heavy weapons and planes were used against Kurds throughout the Clinton years (and on), killing tens of thousands.

In those same years, the principal US client, Israel, which receives half of all US foreign aid, concluded 22 years of illegal occupation of Lebanon with tens of thousands dead; it continues after 34 years its illegal occupation of Palestine, with the deaths of many thousands.

In another ongoing US-financed war, tens of thousands have been killed in Colombia (which has now displaced Turkey as a US-arms recipient).

On one afternoon in August of 1998 (it happened to be the day M. Lewinsky was testifying) the Clinton administration sent a dozen million-dollar-each cruise missiles into a pharmaceutical plant in Sudan, one of the poorest countries in the world, destroying most of that country’s capacity to make antibiotics and drugs for malaria, tuberculosis, and cholera, as well as veterinary medicine and fertilizer. It is estimated that many thousands died as a result; the US blocked a UN inquiry into the death toll.

Last week’s terrorist crimes in New York are just that — crimes, and not an “act of war,” as the Bush Administration keeps bleating. (Even the insurance companies, who would be let off the hook if the New York losses were the result of war, have admitted that they can’t claim that.) We’ve had some recent examples of how international criminals should be dealt with. In Paris a few months ago, an international criminal responsible for many more deaths than Osama bin Laden was subpoenaed by a French judge. He fled the country while his government asserted that he was in no way subject to French jurisdiction, but Henry Kissinger — for it was he — like Bin Laden now has to be careful where he travels. The pattern was set by the UK’s detention of the Chilean mass-murderer Pinochet (put in place by Kissinger), although he was eventually released by the man who is now the UK foreign minister.

The real grief of Americans is being turned by the Bush administration into a suicidal flourish of geriatric machismo. “Up to 60 countries face the full wrath of American military might!” exclaims loony Defense Secretary Rumsfeld. “Use tactical nuclear weapons on Afghanistan!” says the usual shadowy spokesman for the US “intelligence community.” And the putative president of the US threatens to attack any country found “harboring” terrorists. Of course, if that were an excuse for killing a country’s civilians, then many in the rest of the world would say that Bin Laden could claim it in regard to America, where Clinton and Kissinger are at large, and the government is purportedly put in place by the people.

A war emergency has advantages to the Bush administration, of course. Its “approval rating” rises, as typically in crises; it’s an excuse to send money to large corporations and lessen the capital gains tax while revving up young Americans to kill foreigners; and it justifies further inroads on civil liberties. (In the wake of the Oklahoma City bombing, Clinton signed one of the most repressive pieces of legislation in years, the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act.) In launching a war on poor Islamic countries, the Bush administration is contributing to the fulfillment of the fevered fantasies of Bin Laden and American “political scientist” Samuel Huntington, who both look to a “clash of civilizations” between Islamic militancy and US hegemony.

The principal beneficiary from the carnage of September 11 is of course Israel. Prime Minister Sharon took the occasion of the world’s concentration on New York suddenly to cancel his planned meeting with Arafat and to send tanks and helicopter gunships into Palestinian towns, killing a number of Palestinians; plans for walling off Palestinian enclaves were suddenly resurrected. As it prepared for its war with “Islamic fundamentalism,” the Bush administration’s feeble attempts to restrain its blood-thirsty client have disappeared entirely, and the Israeli government knows it: the war criminal at its head can do anything he likes. When his opponent (from the right), Benyamin Netanyahu, was asked what the attack means for relations between the US and Israel, he replied, “It’s very good.”

The US must retract the war it has projected around the world for generations. In New York last week the victims were as usual working people — janitors, secretaries, firefighters. It will be another and greater crime to continue to kill poor people in the Middle East at an even greater rate in response. CP

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