FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Is the US a "Terrorist Magnet?"

Is it possible that a single metaphor, one that has dropped from the lips of a serving American general, can offer some forbidden insights into the dynamics of America’s relations with the Islamic world?

On July 28, 2003, Lieutenant General Ricardo Sanchez, commander of US ground forces in Iraq, while talking to CNN, blamed the “multi-faceted conflict” Americans face in Iraq on “terrorists,” “former regime leadership,” “criminals” and “hired assassins.” Then he volunteered an explanation that I think, perhaps unintentionally, was daring in its clarity. “[There] is what I would call a terrorist magnet where America, being present here in Iraq, creates a target of opportunity if you will.”

Is it really necessary to pick bones with the General’s description of the Iraqi resistance as “terrorist activity”? The Iraqis have not attacked any American civilians, inside Iraq or elsewhere; they have only targeted American troops. Nor are they not attacking just any American troops. They are attacking only those who have invaded and occupied their country. Why then does the General call the Iraqi guerrillas terrorists, criminals and hired assassins? Perhaps, this is another semantic ploy we have borrowed from the Israelis. The Palestinians are terrorists even when they attack Israeli tanks and armor, even when their only weapons are stones.

It is all the more stunning, after this dissimulation, when General Sanchez offers his theory of “a terrorist magnet.” It claims that the presence of American troops inside Iraq has become a “magnet” for “terrorist activity.” It is the presence of American troops in Iraq that is the source, the cause of this “terrorist activity.” Moreover, this is natural. What else would you expect if you placed a “magnet” among iron filings? The iron filings would all be drawn towards and stick to the magnet.

This theory of “a terrorist magnet” is disconcertingly heretical. Although no one seems to have noticed, it undermines two key arguments the Bush administration has used, both ex ante and ex post, to sell the war on terrorism. First, the war on terrorism has been based on the premise that the terrorist attacks by Arab extremists are an ontological phenomenon. It is in the nature of the attackers, a nature instilled by their societies and in particular by their religion, to attack America. They fear America’s virtues: its freedom, prosperity, and the rights it grants to women. The terrorist attacks are motivated by the ontological rage of an inferior and flawed civilization–Islam–against the superior, dynamic, Christian civilization of the West. It is a thesis that has been advanced assiduously by Jewish and Christian Zionists. And it is this thesis that President Bush embraced when he declared war against the attackers of 9-11.

The theory General Sanchez offers contradicts this. It substitutes a Newtonian explanation for the ontological postulate favored by the Bush administration and much of the American media. The Iraqi resistance is not rooted in Iraqi nature, or in Sunni Iraqi nature, or Baa’thi Sunni Iraqi nature. The Iraqis have not sneaked into the United States to attack American troops. As the Iraqis see it, the American troops are being attacked because they are in the wrong place (Iraq), doing the wrong thing (illegally occupying Iraq), for the wrong reasons (capturing Iraqi oil and deepening Israeli hegemony over the Arabs).

The theory of a terrorist magnet would seem to run afoul of a second rationale for the US war against Iraq. In the first weeks after the official end of the war, when it appeared that no WMDs were to be found–and there was a risk that the earlier claims about WMDs would be seen as weapons of mass deception–we invented a new buzz word: Liberation. The WMDs were not the only reason for invading Iraq. We went in to liberate the Iraqis from Saddam’s tyranny. Conveniently forgotten was our support for this tyranny before the First Gulf War, our betrayal of the Kurdish resistance and Iraqi uprising, and the deaths and suffering we had inflicted on the Iraqis over thirteen years of bombings and sanctions.

Why then have the liberators become “a terrorist magnet”? Admittedly, the armed resistance is not national yet; it is confined mostly to Iraq’s Sunni Arab population. But if the Iraqis leading the armed resistance are “former regime leadership,” “criminals” and “hired assassins,” they could not hide among an Iraqi population well-disposed to their American liberators. However, to this date, no Iraqi has yet betrayed members of the Iraqi resistance.

If the toll of American dead and wounded continues to mount, this will raise more troubling questions. Why had we not seen this going in? Why had we not foreseen that 150,000 Americans deposited amidst a hostile population–a population that we had bombed and besieged for thirteen years–would become a magnet for “terrorists”? It is true that Muslims have a poor record of resisting local tyrannies, even when they are proxies for foreign powers; but we should have known that they have unexceptionably resisted foreign occupations. We should have known that Mujahideen (“terrorists” for their enemies) from all corners of the world would soon be entering Iraq to fight the foreign occupation, as they had done in Afghanistan, Bosnia, Kosovo, Chechnya, Kashmir, and Palestine.

So, if ordinary young Americans are dying today in Iraq–and many more recover from war wounds–that is not because the administration, the neoconservative ideologues, and the media could not have foreseen this. They did, but chose to ignore these concerns. In their calculus, the lives of a few ordinary Americans were expendable, compared to the great prizes before them. Arab oil had to be secured; and the Arab world had to be made safe for Israeli hegemony.

The thesis of a terrorist magnet raises a broader question, one that is at the heart of America’s relations with the Islamic world. General Sanchez’s remark–about Americana troops in Iraq serving as “terrorist magnets”–has drawn few comments from the media. The Newtonian connection he drew between an American action (insertion of troops into Iraq) and the reaction (Iraqi resistance) was perhaps too obvious to deny. And who would dare impugn the patriotism of the General commanding our forces in Iraq? Perhaps, that is why his remarks were quickly laid to rest.

However, no one in America’s mainstream media, much less a general or a politician, will dare to make a similar connection between America’s foreign policies towards the Islamic world and the anti-American forces that now proliferate in that region. The American political establishment promotes the ideology that the United States can do no wrong in its dealings with foreign countries. The United States is not only the most powerful country that has ever existed; it is also the most benevolent.

As a result, it is heretical to suggest that 9-11 may have been a blowback from our policies towards the Middle East. To suggest such a connection is not to justify 9-11. Yet most Americans are unwilling to separate the morality and causality of 9-11. Until we learn to do so there can be no rational discourse on the etiology of the growing conflicts between the United States and the Islamic world. And if that does not happen soon, the civilizational war which the Zionists–Christian and Jewish–and some Islamic extremists so avidly project may become a frightening reality.

M. SHAHID ALAM is professor of economics at Northeastern University. His last book, Poverty from the Wealth of Nations, was published by Palgrave in 2000. Visit his webpage at http://msalam.net. He is a contributor to Cockburn and St. Clair’s The Politics of Anti-Semitism. Alam may be reached at m.alam@neu.edu.

© M. SHAHID ALAM

 

More articles by:

M. SHAHID ALAM is professor of economics at Northeastern University. This is an excerpt from his forthcoming book, Israeli Exceptionalism: The Destabilizing Logic of Zionism (Macmillan, November 2009). Contact me at alqalam02760@yahoo.com.

December 11, 2018
Eric Draitser
AFRICOM: A Neocolonial Occupation Force?
Sheldon Richman
War Over Ukraine?
Louis Proyect
Why World War II, Not the New Deal, Ended the Great Depression
Howard Lisnoff
Police Violence and Mass Policing in the U.S.
Mark Ashwill
A “Patriotic” Education Study Abroad Program in Viet Nam: God Bless America, Right or Wrong!
Laura Flanders
HUD Official to Move into Public Housing?
Nino Pagliccia
Resistance is Not Terrorism
Matthew Johnson
See No Evil, See No Good: The Truth Is Not Black and White
Maria Paez Victor
How Reuters Slandered Venezuela’s Social Benefits Card
December 10, 2018
Jacques R. Pauwels
Foreign Interventions in Revolutionary Russia
Richard Klin
The Disasters of War
Katie Fite
Rebranding Bundy
Gary Olson
A Few Thoughts on Politics and Personal Identity
Patrick Cockburn
Brexit Britain’s Crisis of Self-Confidence Will Only End in Tears and Rising Nationalism
Andrew Moss
Undocumented Citizen
Dean Baker
Trump and China: Going With Patent Holders Against Workers
Lawrence Wittner
Reviving the Nuclear Disarmament Movement: a Practical Proposal
Dan Siegel
Thoughts on the 2018 Elections and Beyond
Thomas Knapp
Election 2020: I Can Smell the Dumpster Fires Already
Weekend Edition
December 07, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Steve Hendricks
What If We Just Buy Off Big Fossil Fuel? A Novel Plan to Mitigate the Climate Calamity
Jeffrey St. Clair
Cancer as Weapon: Poppy Bush’s Radioactive War on Iraq
Paul Street
The McCain and Bush Death Tours: Establishment Rituals in How to be a Proper Ruler
Jason Hirthler
Laws of the Jungle: The Free Market and the Continuity of Change
Ajamu Baraka
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights at 70: Time to De-Colonize Human Rights!
Andrew Levine
Thoughts on Strategy for a Left Opposition
Jennifer Matsui
Dead of Night Redux: A Zombie Rises, A Spook Falls
Rob Urie
Degrowth: Toward a Green Revolution
Binoy Kampmark
The Bomb that Did Not Detonate: Julian Assange, Manafort and The Guardian
Robert Hunziker
The Deathly Insect Dilemma
Robert Fisk
Spare Me the American Tears for the Murder of Jamal Khashoggi
Joseph Natoli
Tribal Justice
Ron Jacobs
Getting Pushed Off the Capitalist Cliff
Macdonald Stainsby
Unist’ot’en Camp is Under Threat in Northern Canada
Senator Tom Harkin
Questions for Vice-President Bush on Posada Carriles
W. T. Whitney
Two Years and Colombia’s Peace Agreement is in Shreds
Ron Jacobs
Getting Pushed Off the Capitalist Cliff
Ramzy Baroud
The Conspiracy Against Refugees
David Rosen
The Swamp Stinks: Trump & Washington’s Rot
Raouf Halaby
Wall-to-Wall Whitewashing
Daniel Falcone
Noam Chomsky Turns 90
Dean Baker
An Inverted Bond Yield Curve: Is a Recession Coming?
Nick Pemberton
The Case For Chuck Mertz (Not Noam Chomsky) as America’s Leading Intellectual
Ralph Nader
New Book about Ethics and Whistleblowing for Engineers Affects Us All!
Dan Kovalik
The Return of the Nicaraguan Contras, and the Rise of the Pro-Contra Left
Jeremy Kuzmarov
Exposing the Crimes of the CIAs Fair-Haired Boy, Paul Kagame, and the Rwandan Patriotic Front
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail