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Dodging the Issue of Palestine-Israel; Blinkered on Causes of Terrorism

Former CIA analysts

Chapter 12 of the 9/11 Commission’s report, titled “What to Do? A Global Strategy,” is the philosophical heart of the entire report. It is certainly the most important chapter for those who believe that nothing the U.S. can do in expanding and reorganizing its military and intelligence apparatus will contribute anything of value to the future peace and stability of the world. If implemented, the recommendations in this chapter will instead take U.S. foreign policies down precisely the wrong roads — roads that will lead to less peace and greater instability for both the United States and the entire globe.

Everyone had undoubtedly seen, if not read, the 567-page volume — perhaps half the length of the bible — issued on July 23, and the commission seems to hope that the book will achieve at least half the importance that is accorded the bible by good Christians. The executive summary, a separate document not included in the ten-dollar reprint of the report available in bookstores nationwide, begins with two ponderous statements that, in substantive and functional ways, set a tone of self-importance for the commission. On September 11, the commission declares, “the United States became a nation transformed.” In almost the same breath, the commission congratulates itself for achieving unity in these difficult times: “Ten Commissioners — five Republicans and five Democrats chosen by elected leaders from our nation’s capital at a time of great partisan division — have come together to present this report without dissent.”

Chapter 12, with which we are concerned here, covers nearly 40 pages. Early in this chapter, in what may be the key passage of the report, the commissioners emphasize that, “The enemy is not just ‘terrorism,’ some generic evil. . . . It is the threat posed by Islamist terrorism. . . . [Extremist Islam] is further fed by grievances stressed by Bin Ladin and widely felt throughout the Muslim world — against the U.S. military presence in the Middle East, policies perceived as anti-Arab and anti-Muslim, and support of Israel. Bin Ladin and Islamist terrorists mean exactly what they say: to them America is the font of all evil, the ‘head of the snake,’ and it must be converted or destroyed.”

So far so good, but exactly at this point in the report, all ten commissioners approved the following assertion of their utter myopia. The Islamist position described above, they say, “is not a position with which Americans can bargain or negotiate. With it there is no common ground — not even respect for life — on which to begin a dialogue. It can only be destroyed or utterly isolated.” The statement does pay some lip service to the notion that “cures” to this situation must come “from within Muslim societies themselves,” but emphasizes that “this process is likely to be measured in decades, not years.” Then comes a little more lip service, saying that, of course, “Islam is not the enemy. It is not synonymous with terror.”

But overall, the commission’s categorical statements paint a bleak picture, describing a situation that allegedly cannot improve for decades. Many of us would argue the contrary case, that if the U.S. actually changed its foreign policies, seriously addressed legitimate grievances of Arabs and Muslims on the Palestine-Israel issue, and ceased its drive for political and economic domination over their areas of the world — the very grievances the commission acknowledges are widespread in the Muslim world — we could reduce the threat of terrorism against us in far less time. In addition, many of us believe that, unless the U.S. does change its foreign policies, the threat, and the actuality, of a heightened level of terrorism, and probably of nuclear warfare as well, against us and our allies will persist far longer than just decades. Given that fewer than 300 million people now reside in the U.S., whereas the rest of the world’s population, at 6 billion, is 20 times as large, American leaders today are playing an unwinnable hand and their drive for global domination is doomed beyond the very short term.

Quite grandiosely, the report states in more than one place, “The present transnational danger is Islamist terrorism.” Danger to whom? If you were a Muslim, might you instead figure that the “present transnational danger” to you was Christian fundamentalist extremism, given some of the statements certain fundamentalist leaders in the U.S. have recently made about Islam? Or might you see transnational danger arising from the alliance of Christian and Jewish fundamentalism arrayed against your world? It is not helpful to the future of global peace and stability that a combination of Republican and Democratic leaders in the U.S. would put out such a self-centered report, and then praise their own achievement of unity in doing so.

U.S. self-centeredness is also on display in the recommendations of the report. One recommendation in Chapter 12 is that the U.S. “must identify and prioritize actual or potential terrorist sanctuaries. For each, it should have a realistic strategy to keep possible terrorists insecure and on the run, using all elements of national power. . . . We offer three illustrations that are particularly applicable today, in 2004: Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Saudi Arabia.” Why was Israel not mentioned here? Is not Israel a potential or actual sanctuary for terrorists targeting Palestinians? Do not Israeli settlers ever commit terrorism? Do not Israeli soldiers ever commit state terrorism?

There is yet more in Chapter 12 that demonstrates the one-sidedness of this report. In discussing Saudi Arabia, the report says, with no qualifications, “The Western notion of separation of civic and religious duty does not exist in Islamic cultures.” This at least needs further discussion. The statement may be applicable to Saudi Arabia, but it is not entirely accurate with respect to Arab states that were or are largely secular, such as Iraq and Syria. It was and is not fully applicable either to the Palestinian Authority, although the secular aspects of that body have certainly weakened in recent years under the pressures of occupation.

Here is another recommendation of this one-sided commission. “The problems in the U.S.-Saudi relationship must be confronted, openly. . . . [An effort should be made to work toward] a shared interest in greater tolerance and cultural respect, translating into a commitment to fight the violent extremists who foment hatred.” Should not problems in the U.S.-Israeli relationship be confronted just as openly? If you were a Muslim, would you not regard it as equally important to global peace and stability that the U.S. work for tolerance and cultural respect in both America and Israel as well, and work toward translating that into a commitment to fight extremists who foment hatred of Islam in both nations?

One short paragraph of Chapter 12 reads this way. “In short, the United States has to help defeat an ideology, not just a group of people, and we must do so under difficult circumstances. How can the United States and its friends help moderate Muslims combat the extremist ideas?” The report wastes several hundred words trying to answer this question, but does not mention or discuss even the possibility that the U.S. might — just might — pursue policies toward Palestine fairer than those we have pursued in the past. If it is true that the U.S. “has to help defeat” an Islamic ideology espoused by a minority of Muslims, might not the best way be to help defeat another ideology — the ideology of a minority of Jews that “Judea and Samaria” should belong entirely and exclusively to Israel? Suggesting this may be a third rail of American politics, but that is not an argument that will persuade many moderate Muslims whom the U.S. is allegedly seeking to influence.

Anyone can find numerous other examples in Chapter 12, all leading to similar conclusions. Only one more point is worth making here. The executive summary of the commission report, which your ten dollars will not provide to you but is all that many government leaders around the world are likely to read, does not contain a single use of the words “Israel” or “Israeli” — or, one will not be surprised to learn, of words like “Palestinian” or “oppression” or “injustice.” This certainly gives high-level readers precisely the kind of picture of what’s going on in the world that U.S. leaders of both major political parties, and the leaders of the present government of Israel, want the world to believe. It is clearly not a fair and exact picture.

Bill Christison was a senior official of the CIA. He served as a National Intelligence Officer and as Director of the CIA’s Office of Regional and Political Analysis. He is a contributor to Imperial Crusades, CounterPunch’s new history of the wars on Iraq and Afghanistan.

Kathleen Christison, a former CIA political analyst, is the author of Perceptions of Palestine: Their Influence on U.S. Middle East Policy and The Wound of Dispossession: Telling the Palestinian Story. They can be reached at: christison@counterpunch.org.

Bill Christison was a senior official of the CIA. Kathleen Christison is the author of Perceptions of Palestine and The Wound of Dispossession.

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