Last week in this space I argued that the US should have employed the resources of international law to pursue the perpetrators of the September 11 horrors — rightly termed by Noam Chomsky “probably the most devastating instant human toll of any crime in history, outside of war.” This week I want to consider what the US should do to prevent the recurrence of such atrocities. “Killing all the terrorists” is not a viable option, as they say in Washington, where they say they’re trying to do just that. Commenting last week on an Afghan village where Human Rights Watch says the US killed civilians, the usual unidentified Pentagon official said, “The people there are dead because we wanted them dead” — they sympathized with the Taliban and al-Qaeda.
But the killing simply provides more recruits from those outraged at what the US has done. Shortly after September 11 the WALL STREET JOURNAL ran articles about the attitudes of the sort of people who read the WALL STREET JOURNAL in the Middle East — bankers, lawyers, bureaucrats — people who abhor terrorism and despise the (CIA-founded) terror-networks to which Osama bin Laden belongs. These people in great numbers have objections to US policy similar to those the terrorists say they hold — objections that are rarely mentioned in US media accounts of September 11.
The objections are clear, and at the extreme of rage, humiliation, or derangement, they produce terror and suicide bombings. It is the fault of our ideological institutions — the media and the universities — that Americans are largely unaware of them. There are principally three: (1) US support for corrupt family dictatorships across Arabia; (2) US sanctions on Iraq, which have killed a million people, half of them children; and (3) US support for Israel’s murderous occupation of Palestine.
The last, despite years of blood, is the easiest to solve: Israel, the largest recipient by far of US money, must be forced to obey international law. The US must reverse its policy and stop the billions of dollars it sends to Israel each year, unless the Israelis withdraw their army and their settlers from the territories that they occupy illegally.
The US attacked Iraq with overwhelming force a decade ago on the (relatively specious) charge that it had violated a Security Council resolution. But Israel is in its thirty-fifth year of violating Security Council resolutions and has killed tens of thousands of people in the process. It stands condemned for its brutal occupation by the rest of the world. Its economy depends on the vast payments from the US, which has made it a mercenary Sparta, prostituting itself to guard “our” oil in the Middle East.
The second objection also has an obvious remedy: end the lethal US sanctions on Iraq. Americans are properly appalled by thousands of children dying every month as a result of our actions, but successive administrations prate that Saddam Hussein is not using what resources he has to relieve the suffering of his people. Even if that’s so, why should we help him suppress his own people — particularly when he strengthens his own regime by effectively blaming their misery on our sanctions?
Saddam Hussein is of course a thug — a thug whom, as is so frequently the case, the CIA supported in his major crimes, including the “gassing of his own people,” which US officials frequently mention. But, far from “not finishing the job,” US policy after the Gulf War was to keep him in power, even sacrificing the people who rose against him after the war: the US government preferred Saddam to the threat of “domestic radicalism” in Iraq.
Finally, the first objection is the most difficult, because it involves the cornerstone of US foreign policy, the control of world energy resources (as much to control our commercial rivals as to use the resources ourselves). The real enemy to US business interests (hence to the US government) in the Middle East is that “domestic radicalism” — the dangerous idea that the resources of the region should be used for the people of the region and not for US business. The US means of control has been the traditional colonial instrument of “compradors” — local rulers who will work for the colonial power rather than for their own people. A withdrawal of support from US agents in Saudi Arabia and the Persian Gulf — now, even a withdrawal of US troops — would threaten these regimes with the just demands of their own people. It would necessitate a restructuring of Middle East government and economy, but nothing less is required.
A correspondent writes, “Since our leaders and commentators have assured us that past Middle East policy has no bearing on the recent disasters, there is clearly no reason not to in the interests of decency, good politics, and international law let Palestine become an independent state and end the grossly lethal Iraqi sanctions. If, on the other hand, these leaders and commentators have just been kidding us, and the sanctions and the Palestine did have some relationship to the fact that the World Trade Center towers are no longer standing, than resolving the aforementioned matters seem at least as important as subsidizing the defense industry by bombing and starving Afghan peasants.” Only a roused and aware US populace can force our government to begin to end the massive injustice that the US sponsors in the Middle East. CP
Carl Estabrook teaches at the University of Illinois and is the host of News From Neptune, a weekly radio show on politics and the media. He writes a regular column for CounterPunch.