Click amount to donate direct to CounterPunch
  • $25
  • $50
  • $100
  • $500
  • $other
  • use PayPal
DOUBLE YOUR DONATION!
We don’t run corporate ads. We don’t shake our readers down for money every month or every quarter like some other sites out there. We provide our site for free to all, but the bandwidth we pay to do so doesn’t come cheap. A generous donor is matching all donations of $100 or more! So please donate now to double your punch!
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Terror, Bush and Joseph Conrad

 

The terrorist attacks attributed to al-Qaida are succeeding better than Osama bin Laden can ever have expected, thanks to the co-operation of the US administration.

Whether it comes in the form of bomb attacks or assassinations the aim of terrorism is most obviously to intimidate, and to advertise a cause, but it only really succeeds if it can provoke an over-reaction by the victim.

The Provisional IRA used to be expert in this in the early 1970s. A few bombs or particularly gruesome killings carried out by a few Provisionals provoked collective punishment of Catholic districts in Northern Ireland which in turn increased support for the Provisionals. The attacks fostered the delusion that the back of the problem would be broken if the British army was able to eliminate a hard core of Provisional leaders.

President Bush clearly has a very similar idea of how to deal with al-Qaida in the wake of the suicide bombings in Saudi Arabia and Morocco. He declared earlier this week that the US would “hunt the terrorists in every dark corner of the earth.” As a token of his success since the September 11 attacks he claimed that “nearly half of al-Qa’ida’s senior operatives have been captured or killed.”

It is a curious conception of a terrorist organisation. It carries the implication al-Qa’ida is organised along the lines of the Pentagon or IBM and when the remaining 50 per cent of its senior officials are dead or imprisoned terrorism will automatically cease. Terrorists certainly do need co-ordination and money, but above all they require fanatical recruits willing to get killed. After the invasion of Afghanistan and Iraq there is no shortage of these across the Muslim world.

There is no doubt that Mr Bush is a true believer when it comes to waging his war on terrorism. European jibes about his stupidity are also off the mark. What he has done may be foolish in terms of suppressing terrorism and has weakened America’s relationship with the rest of the world. But it is not foolish in terms of domestic American politics. The Republican right, on the back of opposing the terrorist threat, is able to implement its political agenda even more effectively than under President Reagan.

It is this which makes the terrorist trap so effective. In the wake of terrorist attacks it is difficult for any government not to go along with popular demands for retaliation by striking back blindly, even if it knows in its heart that this will be ineffective or counter-productive.

But what is so menacing about the present atmosphere in Washington is a willingness to exaggerate, manipulate or manufacture external threats. When evidence was needed linking al-Qaida to Saddam Hussein the unlikely story of a gunman imprisoned by the Kurds, who provided dubious evidence of the connection, is treated as gospel truth by The New Yorker. Documents showing that Iraq was importing uranium from Africa were proved by a painstaking UN investigation to be forged but the revelation made no impact.

I spent the first six weeks of the year in a Washington think tank and I was struck by how little the intense private scepticism about Iraq and the war on terror, expressed even by the most establishment figures at dinner parties, ever made it into the papers and almost never onto television. Washington has always been notoriously inward looking. But the cumulative picture created by this mass of misinformation and disinformation about Iraq, al-Qa’ida and the terrorist threat in general has produced a picture of the outside world close to fantasy.

I was reminded at times listening to Mr Bush or Donald Rumsfeld of the famous scene in Joseph Conrad’s The Secret Agent when Mr Verloc, a revolutionary in the pay of a foreign embassy, listens with consternation as a diplomat called Mr Vladimir, for whom he is working, gives his confused and ignorant vision of the terrorist world.

“He confounded causes with effects more than was excusable; the most distinguished propagandists with impulsive bomb throwers; assumed organisation where in the nature of things it could not exist,” writes Conrad in words which could be applied to many a speech by Mr Bush. The diplomat spoke of the revolutionaries “one moment as of a perfectly disciplined army, where the word of chiefs was supreme, and at another as if it was the loosest association of desperate brigands that ever camped in a mountain gorge.”

In some ways it would be comforting if the US administration was cynically manipulating the external threat–like Italian politicians during the ‘crisi continua’ in Italy in 1960s and 1970s.

But there is every sign that Mr Bush, with a tunnel vision which is worse than mere stupidity, believes that the world can be divided into supporters and opponents of his war on terror.

Nor is he alone. Kenneth Adelman, a member of the Defence Policy Board, recently produced a magnificent piece of double-think to explain why his prediction that Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction would be discovered within five days of the end of the war had proved false. He said he suspected that Saddam Hussein had “launched a massive disinformation campaign to make the world think he was violating international norms, and he may not have been.”

There is a simple danger in this systematic exaggeration of the external threat to the US. No country ever became more democratic and less authoritarian in order to confront a serious threat, real, imaginary or exaggerated. An immensely powerful reaction to the slaughter of so many Americans on 9/11 was inevitable, but with it was very much Mr Bush’s decision that al- Qa’ida would be allowed to set then agenda for America’s relations with the rest of the world.

PATRICK COCKBURN is the co-author with Andrew Cockburn of ‘Out of the Ashes: the Resurrection of Saddam Hussein.’

 

More articles by:

Patrick Cockburn is the author of  The Rise of Islamic State: ISIS and the New Sunni Revolution.

Weekend Edition
October 19, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Jason Hirthler
The Pieties of the Liberal Class
Jeffrey St. Clair
A Day in My Life at CounterPunch
Paul Street
“Male Energy,” Authoritarian Whiteness and Creeping Fascism in the Age of Trump
Nick Pemberton
Reflections on Chomsky’s Voting Strategy: Why The Democratic Party Can’t Be Saved
John Davis
The Last History of the United States
Yigal Bronner
The Road to Khan al-Akhmar
Robert Hunziker
The Negan Syndrome
Andrew Levine
Democrats Ahead: Progressives Beware
Rannie Amiri
There is No “Proxy War” in Yemen
David Rosen
America’s Lost Souls: the 21st Century Lumpen-Proletariat?
Joseph Natoli
The Age of Misrepresentations
Ron Jacobs
History Is Not Kind
John Laforge
White House Radiation: Weakened Regulations Would Save Industry Billions
Ramzy Baroud
The UN ‘Sheriff’: Nikki Haley Elevated Israel, Damaged US Standing
Robert Fantina
Trump, Human Rights and the Middle East
Anthony Pahnke – Jim Goodman
NAFTA 2.0 Will Help Corporations More Than Farmers
Jill Richardson
Identity Crisis: Elizabeth Warren’s Claims Cherokee Heritage
Sam Husseini
The Most Strategic Midterm Race: Elder Challenges Hoyer
Maria Foscarinis – John Tharp
The Criminalization of Homelessness
Robert Fisk
The Story of the Armenian Legion: a Dark Tale of Anger and Revenge
Jacques R. Pauwels
Dinner With Marx in the House of the Swan
Dave Lindorff
US ‘Outrage’ over Slaying of US Residents Depends on the Nation Responsible
Ricardo Vaz
How Many Yemenis is a DC Pundit Worth?
Elliot Sperber
Build More Gardens, Phase out Cars
Chris Gilbert
In the Wake of Nepal’s Incomplete Revolution: Dispatch by a Far-Flung Bolivarian 
Muhammad Othman
Let Us Bray
Gerry Brown
Are Chinese Municipal $6 Trillion (40 Trillion Yuan) Hidden Debts Posing Titanic Risks?
Rev. William Alberts
Judge Kavanaugh’s Defenders Doth Protest Too Much
Ralph Nader
Unmasking Phony Values Campaigns by the Corporatists
Victor Grossman
A Big Rally and a Bavarian Vote
James Bovard
Groped at the Airport: Congress Must End TSA’s Sexual Assaults on Women
Jeff Roby
Florida After Hurricane Michael: the Sad State of the Unheeded Planner
Wim Laven
Intentional or Incompetence—Voter Suppression Where We Live
Bradley Kaye
The Policy of Policing
Wim Laven
The Catholic Church Fails Sexual Abuse Victims
Kevin Cashman
One Year After Hurricane Maria: Employment in Puerto Rico is Down by 26,000
Dr. Hakim Young
Nonviolent Afghans Bring a Breath of Fresh Air
Karl Grossman
Irving Like vs. Big Nuke
Dan Corjescu
The New Politics of Climate Change
John Carter
The Plight of the Pyrenees: the Abandoned Guard Dogs of the West
Ted Rall
Brett Kavanaugh and the Politics of Emotion-Shaming
Graham Peebles
Sharing is Key to a New Economic and Democratic Order
Ed Rampell
The Advocates
Louis Proyect
The Education Business
David Yearsley
Shock-and-Awe Inside Oracle Arena
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail