Failing the Mission? Form a Commission

QUESTION FROM THE 9/11 COMMISSION REPORT: “How can the United States and its friends help moderate Muslims combat the extremist ideas?”

REPORT RECOMMENDATION: “The U.S. government must define what the message is, what it stands for. We should offer an example of moral leadership in the world, committed to treat people humanely, abide by the rule of law, and be generous and caring to our neighbors. America and Muslim friends can agree on respect for human dignity and opportunity…”

The 9/11 commission members studied a major policy failure. But even these honest members of the Establishment avoided dealing with the issues that have generated Anti-Americanism throughout the world: empire and its refusal to redistribute imperially obtained wealth. Without using those forbidden “e” and “r” words, the 9/11 Commission could do little more than re-emphasize the dramatic failure of US security policies and suggest tightening procedures to impede future threats from Islamic terrorism.

The report implicitly concludes that the empire (God Bless America) had made too many enemies abroad, grown too large to protect its flanks and had engendered an insane level of consumer freedom at home that made it impossible to secure the centers of business and war.

Yes, FBI and CIA analysts had indicated that sufficient “intelligence” existed to have stopped the suicide bombers. But the sentries at the imperial gates appeared to have grown drowsy and distracted by overwhelming military power on the one hand and the intrigues of their bureaucratic games on the other.

The report’s release coincided with the screening of “Fahrenheit 9/11.” White House campaigners feared that President George W. Bush might have to explain his befuddled look as he continued to read “My Pet Goat” to 2nd grade Florida students while a World Trade Center tower burned and people died en masse. His strategists feared that the report would point to fanatic Muslim fiends outwitting a US government — FBI and CIA — led by a doofus who had ignored the threats!

The 567 pages do point to intelligence failures. But the report doesn’t exactly blame Bush for the catastrophe. It describes his administration and Clinton’s — as deficient in coordination made worse by a “dysfunctional Congress” that didn’t provide “oversight.”

Previous commissions had studied the cause of race riots and what to do about them. In 1967, President Lyndon B. Johnson appointed then Illinois Governor Otto Kerner to preside over a commission that concluded the U.S. was “moving towards two societies, one black, one white, separate and unequal.” To fix this situation, the commissioners did not propose a major redistribution of wealth; nor reparations to pay for 200 years of slavery and 100 more of apartheid.

In 1976, Senator Frank Church’s panel dealt with some CIA abuses and demanded that the CIA stop assassinating individuals and overthrowing elected governments–like Salvador Allende’s in Chile (1973).

Church made headlines, but by the mid 1980s, to depose the Sandinista government of Nicaragua, the CIA’s Contras mined harbors and tought its dubious progeny to assassinate civilians. In El Salvador and Guatemala, the Agency and the Pentagon sanctioned the vicious human rights violators. They used Honduras as a base for the Contra war and looked the other way as Honduran generals eliminated their own opposition.

In response to public outcry, Reagan appointed Henry Kissinger, the “Destabilizer of Chile,” to head a 1983 commission to “study the nature of United States interests in the Central American region and the threats now posed to those interests.” The members of the National Bipartisan Commission on Central America called for peace, through military victory, not a political settlement.

K’s Commission did not address the key cause of economic misery and instability in the region. Instead, Kissinger pushed US economic policy, a major cause of revolutionary discontent. He offered the free market model as economic panacea — a solution that would benefit large US multinationals and reduce the region to low wage laborers.

Throughout the 1980s, the Iran-Contra war dragged on, alongside dictatorship and torture in El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras. The repressive forces continued to murder civilians, made no changes in the conditions that caused revolution. In most of Central America, the ruling adamantly refused to consider redistributing its wealth ill-gotten and un-taxed — to the poor.

Kissinger’s report opined that long-term development requires “substantially improved distribution of income and wealth.” He set a pattern for commissions that evaluate policies. Avoid proposing fundamental changes and put in phrases that sound promising! Kissinger’s report contains the following: “The goals of equality of opportunity and better income distribution require expanded access to ownership of productive land and capital.” To do this “we encourage the formation of a privately owned venture capital company for Central America.”

Note, Kissinger did not propose that Washington offer long-term aid a proposal that would at least touch on the burgeoning anti-US sentiments across the globe, then and now. Such a notion would concede that empires have looted the third world for centuries and it’s time to repay a little!

The current 9/11 commission also took an ahistorical approach. “The present transnational danger is Islamist terrorism,” the 9/11 report declared. “What is needed is a broad political-military strategy that rests on a firm tripod of policies to attack terrorists and their organizations; prevent the continued growth of Islamist terrorism; and protect against and prepare for terrorist attacks.”

This triad of measures does not challenge Bush’s evaluation of the nature of the threat. In his September 20, 2001 Congressional address, Bush asked the post 9/11 question, “Why do they hate us?” The terrorists, concluded the great intellect in the White House, “hate our freedomsour freedom of religion, our freedom of speech, our freedom to vote and assemble and disagree with each other.”

This sounded good, but veers quite far from the facts. A June Zogby International “Impressions of America 2004” survey of 6 Arab states (Morocco, Egypt, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, UAE and Jordan) found that majorities in Morocco, Jordan, UAE, and Egypt share mostly positive views of American “science and technology,” “freedom and democracy,” “people,” “movies and TV,” “‘products,” and “education.”

Most respondents saw US policy toward Iraq and the Palestinians as the problem. 76% of those polled in Jordan found US policies more important than US values.

Polls don’t reveal, however, that zealous neo-cons in the Bush team didn’t care about Arab feelings toward the United States. This gang seized control of US-Middle East policy to further their own agenda.

For the neo-cons, led by Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz, Under Secretary of Defense for Policy Douglas Feith and former Defense Policy Board Chair Richard Perle, regime change in Iraq took priority — before and 9/11. They also underlined unquestioning support for Israel’s occupation of Palestinian territory and even persuaded Bush to call the “Butcher of Lebanon,” Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, “a Man of Peace.” In late 2003, the neo-cons followed another Sharon suggestion and got Congress to vote for sanctions against Syria for allegedly “harboring terrorists.”

The 9/11 Commissioners conceded that “support for the United States has plummeted” in the Muslim world. They also suggested useful U.S. overtures like working with the international community “to cut the Middle East region’s illiteracy rate in half by 2010, targeting women and girls…” and rebuilding “the scholarship, exchange, and library programs that reach out to young people.” But their report’s more detailed recommendations on “economic openness” reverted to the Kissinger Commission’s formula. “Successful economies rely on vibrant private sectors, which have an interest in curbing indiscriminate government power.” What the report omits is that privatization has led to corruption and ruin in many third world countries.

Indeed, the 9/11 Report flies in the face of disastrous results of free market economics in most third would countries. According to UN statistics, some 50 third world countries have slid almost into oblivion as a result of such “globalization” policies, which offer benefits to huge multi national corporations and very low wages to workers.

Instead of looking at the 1977 anti-IMF riots in Egypt or those in many other poor countries, the Commission lauds Bush’s “goal of working toward a Middle East Free Trade Area, or MEFTA, by 2013.” The commissioners invited Muslim countries to “become full participants in the rules-based global trading system, as the United States considers lowering its trade barriers with the poorest Arab nations.”

Such “rules” benefit large corporations and banks and will not alleviate poverty and unemployment on the “Arab street;” nor will such measures vitiate the appeal of revolutionary guerrillas and Islamic terrorists.

Will an angry US public demand a “Citizen’s Commission,” to insist that Washington forego its imperial ways and trade fairly instead of subsidizing multinational corporations? Perhaps Dennis Kucinich could recommend this to John Kerry when he wins!

Saul Landau is the Director of Digital Media and International Outreach Programs for the College of Letters, Arts and Social Sciences. His new book is The Business of America.

Farrah Hassen is associate producer of the film, SYRIA: BETWEEN IRAQ AND A HARD PLACE, distributed by Cinema Guild.



Farrah Hassen, J.D., is a writer, policy analyst, and adjunct professor in the Department of Political Science at Cal Poly Pomona.