Belaboring the Obvious

Thursday, August 06, 2009

Redefining 'unclear on the concept'....

This pronouncement by John Brennan that Obama has declared an "end to the 'war on terrorism'" seems fraught with Nixonian overtones.

Except that the guiding principle seems to be not declaring victory and going home, but, rather, declaring victory and staying put, thus ensuring ongoing terrorism.

Obama can focus on the socio-economics of terrorists all he wants, but, that's not going to end terrorism. As John Feffer writes today at, it's a simpler matter:

Non-state actors are even more prone to launch suicide missions against occupying forces. Remove the occupying force, as Robert Pape argues in his groundbreaking book on suicide bombers, Dying to Win, and the suicide missions disappear. It is not a stretch, then, to conclude that we, the occupiers (the United States, Russia, Israel), through our actions, have played a significant part in fomenting the very suicide missions that we now find so alien and incomprehensible in Iraq, Afghanistan, Chechnya, Lebanon, and elsewhere.

The archetypal modern suicide bomber first emerged in Lebanon in the early 1980s, a response to Israel's invasion and occupation of the country. "The Shiite suicide bomber," writes Mike Davis in his book on the history of the car bomb, Buda's Wagon, "was largely a Frankenstein monster of [Israeli Defense Minister] Ariel Sharon's deliberate creation." Not only did U.S. and Israeli occupation policies create the conditions that gave birth to these missions, but the United States even trained some of the perpetrators. The U.S. funded Pakistan's intelligence service to run a veritable insurgency training school that processed 35,000 foreign Muslims to fight the Soviets in Afghanistan in the 1980s. Charlie Wilson's War, the book and movie that celebrated U.S. assistance to the mujihadeen, could be subtitled: Suicide Bombers We Have Known and Funded.

There were six major terrorist attacks on U.S. "interests" between 1993 and 2001--the first bombing of the World Trade Center in 1993, two attacks on U.S. personnel inside Saudi Arabia in 1995 and 1996, the bombing attacks on U.S. embassies in East Africa in 1998, the attack on the USS Cole in the port of Aden in 2000, and, finally, the attacks of 9/11/2001 on the Pentagon and the World Trade Center.

All had one thing in common: they involved Muslims--principally Saudis--who were aggrieved by the United States' deception and determination to keep U.S. forces in Saudi Arabia after the first Gulf War, occupying what they considered holy soil. It didn't matter to them that the Saudi royals had grudgingly approved the troops' continued presence--to those suicide bombers, the Saudi royals had no legitimacy to govern precisely because they were in bed with the United States and were complicit in what was perceived as an insult to their holy lands and to their religion.

United States' policy has aimed, at least back to the days of Kissinger and Nixon and the first oil embargo, to place U.S. forces permanently in the Middle East--and preferably smack in the middle of where the oil is, Saudi Arabia. Kissinger and Nixon even considered a military seizure of the Saudi oilfields in 1973. Having a large military presence in or very near Saudi Arabia would intimidate the Saudis and disincline them toward another embargo, but, in a sort of devils' agreement, the Saudis recognized that such a force would also be available to them, were they to be threatened by general insurrection.

There had been some U.S. Navy presence in the region in Bahrain since 1948, but until the late `90s, it was never the sort of force that might convince the Saudi Arabian royals that an embargo was not in their best interests. The first George Bush and his band of oil cronies figured out a way to do it: Get a war started that required staging forces in Saudi Arabia, then convince the Saudis that they were under imminent attack, then simply hunker down in the middle of the Saudi Arabian desert and not move those forces after the war was over.

It worked splendidly, to their minds. Not only did it achieve the primary goal of having a force in Saudi Arabia capable of eliminating all Saudi military resistance in short order, but it provided a jumping-off point for future military occupations, and, thanks to the combined nationalist and religious fervor of Sunni Muslims not aligned with the Saudi royals, that military occupation set off a decade-long round of terrorist acts aimed directly at the United States, which the neoconservatives could exploit to their own advantage.

After 9/11, the neoconservatives were quick to say that their programs of warrantless wiretapping, general disregard of Constitutional rights and torture were the reasons for the United States' safety and domestic freedom from further attacks (even though those programs resulted in a cacophony of false leads and signals). What they did not say, because it would have undermined their domestic propaganda campaign, was that the Sunni Arab reason to attack the United States had been rendered moot shortly after 9/11. U.S. soldiers and airmen at the Prince Sultan air base had been rather hastily requartered in Qatar, Bahrain and the UAE. Except for some civilians and a few military advisors who were keeping low profiles, the U.S. military presence in Saudi Arabia was mostly gone after 9/11, and virtually entirely gone after the "shock and awe" bombings of Baghdad in 2003. The occupiers, for practical purposes, had left the Muslim holy lands. The presence of those Westerners that remained in Saudi Arabia has tended to incite terrorism inside Saudi Arabia directed toward the Saudi royals.

Of course, United States' aims were not entirely thwarted--they've just been repositioned to Iraq and Afghanistan (and soon, Pakistan, I would guess), which has set off new rounds of terrorism directed at the occupations of those countries.

Brennan and crew can talk about socio-economics until they turn blue, but, until they grasp the very simple fact that occupations breed terrorism, they'll remain unclear on the concept. If they persist in the belief that those occupations are necessary, they should at least acknowledge that part of the price of those occupations is ongoing terrorism. The people most often described as being at the center of terrorism directed at the United States, Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri, are not products of economic disarray and poverty. They are both very well-educated and come from wealthy, influential families. They seek recruits with the same religious and nationalist fervor they themselves possess. And they are certain that the occupations they resist are ultimately intended to enable Western corporations to move wealth out of the Middle East and Central Asia and funnel it to the West.

Brennan and Obama had better consider that when decrying the economic conditions that they believe produce terrorism, because they're about to start a whole new round of it in Africa. Very few people there are fooled by the altruistic platitudes used by the U.S. to explain why AFRICOM is necessary, and much of sub-Saharan Africa has already been impoverished by U.S.-instigated WTO trade rules and the imposition of Friedmanite privatization schemes in exchange for IMF and World Bank loans, loans often intended to prop up corrupt military dictators sympathetic to Western companies, and whose debt transferred to emerging democracies after their departure or overthrow.

If Obama really wants to solve the problem of terrorism, he's going to have to, first and foremost, come to terms with the imperial ambitions of his own government and the corporations that influence it, and of more than a few of his campaign contributors. If he can't do that, the least he could do is to tell the American people, honestly, that terrorism is one of the prices to be paid for trying to control the natural and labor resources of the world.


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