Since US planes first started bombing the mountains and plains of Afghanistan back in October 2001, we have heard and read plenty about the US “war on terrorism.” As has become quite apparent to those who aren’t blinded by the rulers’ propaganda, this war has very little to do with defeating terrorism and much to do with attempting to establish permanent US domination of the world and its resources. Like the Athenian, Roman, and British empires before it, the US government and the interests it serves need easy and unchallenged access to resources, labor and markets to maintain not only a certain margin of growth (which means profit), but to continue to exist. Not since the existence of the Soviet Union and its allies has the capitalist world perceived such a threat to its rule. During that time, however, it was the ideology of Marxism-Leninism and national liberation that the US opposed because its adherents wanted the US corporations and its military out of their part of the world. Nowadays, politically charged Islamic fundamentalism is the ideology that appeals to many of the forces opposing the US and calling for its defeat. Although what the west terms Islamic fundamentalism is socially much more regressive than Marxism-Leninism, its appeal to the oppressed in the Muslim world comes from the same dynamic and population groups. Despite the differences in their origins, both ideologies demand, on a very basic level, economic justice and an end to imperialist domination and both also consider armed struggle as a way to achieve these goals.
It is these demands that have led the US war machine to decide to fight this radical Islamic ideology using strategies very similar to those it used to fight the spread of Marxist-Leninism. Some of those tactics were/are: continual propaganda denoting the adherents to the “enemy” philosophy as either less than human (living in caves and tunnels) or superhuman (evil itself/evil empire); the creation and support of unpopular regimes and counter-movements whose sole purpose is to repress and fight grassroots movements opposed to US imperialism (Diem/Thieu in Vietnam, contras in Nicaragua and Angola/Fahd family in Middle East, KLA/Bosnian forces in former Yugoslavia); and the attempt to politically isolate those in the US who oppose this policy by placing them with the enemy (McCarthy/HUAC hearings and COINTELPRO/the USA-PATRIOT Act and new crime of domestic terrorism.)
In one of history’s ironies, it was the US war against the Soviet Union and the various national liberation forces around the world that the SU supported that established today’s scenario. Most of the forces currently battling in Afghanistan were armed and trained by the CIA and other US intelligence forces to fight the Soviet army in Afghanistan. In Iraq, elements of the armed resistance are the progeny of this same program. The US supported Saddam Hussein for many years before the Gulf War as a way to counteract the aid he was receiving from the USSR. The Mubarak government in Egypt and the monarchy in Jordan would not exist without the massive US military and economic aid those regimes receive for their repression of any and all anti-US movements. The Saudi and Kuwaiti ruling families would not be as strong as they are without US support-a support most graphically illustrated during the slaughter of Iraqis in 1991 known as the Gulf War.
What is the common denominator here? I hesitate to say it, because it is so obvious-oil and the profits it creates. Clearly, this is the primary reason any government in the world would be interested in this region. Since the end of World War I, when the victors created new nations out of the desert to serve their individual desires, the Middle East and its oil has been one of the primary causes of imperial interest and the consequence of that interest-war. After World War II and the creation of Israel as a US-sponsored garrison outpost in the region-a creation which displaced millions of Palestinians already living there-the importance of the region only increased, as did the non-Israeli population’s resentment of western meddling. By now, this western meddling was mostly US meddling, because of its clear domination of the capitalist world after the Second World War.
Up to this point I have been writing only about the Middle East, as if movements and regimes in this region were the sole targets of the US “war on terrorism.” Unfortunately, this is not the case. Other nations with large Muslim populations and insurgencies (Somalia, Indonesia, Sudan, too name a few) have been mentioned by the White House and the Pentagon, as are the seemingly permanent enemies of the US establishment-northern Korea and Cuba-and the newest enemy, Venezuela.
Another target in this war against Washington’s bogeyman are the revolutionary forces in Colombia (FARC/ELN). Indeed, statements made back in the fall of 2001 by the US Ambassador to Colombia and various State Department spokespeople compared the guerrilla forces in Colombia to Bin Laden and the Al-Queda network and called for “appropriate” armed intervention. The FARC-ELN have been fighting the oligarchy in Colombia for over thirty years. Along with a few other now-defunct revolutionary groups, they tried armed insurgency for several years and then, in an attempt to bring peace along with justice, lay down their arms and formed political parties. After winning many local elections and several seats in the Colombian legislature, they found themselves being killed off one by one in the early 1990s by the Colombian military and paramilitary forces aligned with the government and the oil/coffee/drug cartels it represents. So, the remaining forces returned to armed struggle. Since that return, the war has intensified, as has US involvement. In 1999 Plan Colombia began–a multi-billion dollar US strategy that includes aerial spraying of coca and poppy crops (along with whatever and whoever happens to be in the surrounding areas), more military aid, increased involvement of the CIA and its fronts, and the presence of US advisors and commandos. Since September 11th, the aid provided by Plan Colombia is being supplemented by additional counterterrorism funds.
This increased US involvement has brought more environmental destruction of the countryside, greater repression of labor and social justice activists including murder by paramilitaries, the displacement of tens of thousands of Colombian citizens because of aerial spraying and fighting between revolutionary forces (FARC/ELN) and the military and paramilitaries aligned with the government, and the deaths of thousands of mostly poor Colombians. Why? Once again, to establish, expand and maintain US markets and domination in the region, and to exploit Colombia’s resources and plentiful cheap labor. Indeed, in the opening paragraphs of Plan Colombia, it states that very clearly: “The plan also involves the implementation of measures that would serve to encourage foreign investment and further promote trade expansion. These include the completion of the necessary steps to comply with existing Uruguay Round agreements, especially those dealing with customs valuation, intellectual property protection, and investment measures, as well as implementing business facilitation measures proposed in the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA) negotiations.” Also, once again, that resource that defines most of the US’s wars, comes into the picture: oil. In fact, according to Americas.org, ”Colombia’s petroleum production today rivals Kuwait’s on the eve of the Gulf War. The United States imports more oil from Colombia and its neighbors Venezuela and Ecuador than from all Persian Gulf countries combined.”
Which leads me neatly into the current strategy in South America known as the “Andeazation” of the war against anti-US elements in the region. Much like the regionalization of the war against the people of Southeast Asia in the 1960s and 1970s, the United States is now expanding its military and counterintelligence operations in Latin America. It is the Pentagon’s hope that it can defeat the FARC and ELN, while simultaneously keep their supporters, both governmental (Cuba, the Chavez government in Venezuela) and nongovernmental, at bay. Already, sources in the contested and revolutionary-held regions of Colombia report a drastic increase in paramilitary and military activities since September 11th (including massacres of peasants and labor leaders.)
There is another equally important element to the US Empire’s need to dominate the world. That element is the creation of and access to consumer markets for goods made for US corporate profit. From movies and music to tennis shoes and cigarettes, the culture profiteers need to expand their reach. Interestingly enough, in another parallel to the Marxist-Leninist national liberation movements and governments of the cold war era, Islamic radicals also oppose this aspect of US capitalism. Just as the communists saw the culture of capitalism to be a culture that emphasizes the dollar over content, the individual over the common good, and uses the objectification of women and the glorification of hedonism as the way to market a culture that would otherwise have little appeal since it has so little content, the Islamic fundamentalists frame their opposition in somewhat similar terms. The communist response to this culture was a hopeful attempt to provide meaning outside of the commercial realm. The Islamic fundamentalists response, like other monotheistic fundamentalisms, is (in its most extreme manifestations) to try and hide women and prevent their political and intellectual growth. To put it succinctly, the US export of its capitalist culture is nothing but spreading propaganda for a way of life that requires greed, egocentrism, murder and war to thrive. In addition, the technical sophistication, pervasive marketing, and appeal to humanity’s most elemental instincts used by the propagandists makes more conventional appeals to reason and history virtually irrelevant to much of the world’s population who have neither the time nor the inclination to examine the alternative.
The War at Home
The other front in this war against enemies of the US plan for global domination is right here in the USA. It wasn’t more than two or three days after the tragedy of September 11, 2001 that Attorney General Ashcroft and his fellow lawmen started calling for a curtailment of the remaining civil liberties in this country. While they rounded up hundreds of men of Middle Eastern origin, they were formulating a new office with the rather Orwellian name Office of Homeland Security. Subsequently, a new law curtailing our rights to private conversation and protest was enacted by Congress known as the USA-PATRIOT act, and the establishment of military tribunals for suspected “terrorists” is underway. Although most members of Congress succumbed to the hysteria fanned by Ashcroft and his cohorts when it came time to vote for the USA-PATRIOT bill, even some of them are questioning certain elements of the PATRIOT Act and the use of military tribunals.
These moves are less about war and more about control. Before the occurrences of September 11, 2001 and the subsequent combat overseas, the US corporate plan for economic hegemony was under attack. The protests and riots in the streets at every meeting of the world’s capitalist leaders were but the most obvious aspect of this opposition. Just like the number of protestors in the streets at these meetings continued to grow, so was the mainstream opposition to these plans. It was growing so quickly, in fact, that the governments and corporations who had much to lose from the growing popularity of the protestors’ demands had to do something. The use of live ammunition by police in the streets of Gothenburg during the July 2001 EU summit there and the killing of a protestor at the Genoa G* meeting a few weeks later were indications of what lay ahead for protestors planning on attending the demonstrations against the IMF and World Bank in Washington, DC on September 29, 2001-meetings that were cancelled in the wake of September 11th. The bullets used by the police and the fences constructed around these meetings are a metaphor for the legislation demanded by the corporations of the governments that the corporations control. It became necessary to silence the protestors by any means necessary. The terrorist attacks gave the authoritarians the opening they needed. Now citizens of both Britain and the United States have fewer rights than they did in the summer of 2001.
What is the solution? I don’t claim to have the answers, but here are some (rather obvious) commonsense thoughts that might prevent future attacks by terrorists. First and foremost, all troops, planes and warships in Afghanistan and Iraq must return to the United States. Secondly, the United States must sign on to the various mechanisms being designed to prosecute war crimes like the US use of cluster bombs and the training of death squads and other international actions against humanity like that of September 11th. Although these mechanisms have their shortcomings, they are still better than war and its accompanying terror and murder. It must be the ultimate goal of all nations and peoples to design a truly fair and representative mechanism for solving disputes between nations and peoples and for trying crimes against the human race.
In the long run, the US needs to change its foreign policy. It must consider the needs of all people in the developing world, not just those reactionary forces it prefers to deal with and put into power (or support once they seize power). It must end its financial support of Israel’s expansionist policies that ignore the reality of the Palestinian people. I honestly believe that if these two elements changed in Washington’s foreign policy, fewer people in the Middle East and central Asia-along with those folks in predominantly Islamic nations-would consider extremist philosophies to be the answer to the injustices they face. However, these changes are not going to come about by themselves. Indeed, the American people need to inform themselves and make a fairer foreign policy a key to getting elected in this country. Our foreign policy has been decided by oil companies, Wall Street, and the politicians who serve them, for too long. If the world is to survive, the US can no longer act as if the world is its real estate. It is essential that we put human needs before corporate desires. A fact that should be better understood than it is is that the drive for profit is not only bad for the earth’s environment and its people, it puts the American people in real danger. Bombing and fighting wars against other countries (or groups within those countries) only makes the situation worse.
(This essay originally appeared in a different form in the Alternative Press Review, Issue 16)
RON JACOBS is author of The Way the Wind Blew: a history of the Weather Underground, which is just republished by Verso. Jacobs’ essay on Big Bill Broonzy is featured in CounterPunch’s new collection on music, art and sex, Serpents in the Garden. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org