September 11: Part I - Beyond the Buzzwords: Motives and Alternatives
September 10, 2002

NOTE: This statement originally began as a private letter to friends and members of Congress on September 14, 2001. It was posted on Earth Island’s webpage and erroneously identified as an Earth Island Journal editorial. The author’s comments were widely circulated by the right-wing community in an attempt to damage Earth Island. The author was attacked in print as an unpatriotic apologist for America’s enemies and subjected to a deluge of hate mail and telephoned death threats.

Many of the attacks were prompted by the article’s suggestion that the terrorist assault was prompted by US foreign policy. On September 4, 2002, London’s
Financial Times reported on a survey of 9,000 Europeans and Americans undertaken by the Chicago Council on Foreign Relations and the German Marshall Fund of the US. The survey found that “55 percent of the respondents from six European countries agreed that US policy had contributed to the attacks.”

Other findings: While 91 percent of Americans felt that terrorism was a critical threat, only 65 percent of Europeans shared this concern. Only 10 percent of Europeans endorsed a unilateral US “pre-emptive” attack on Iraq.

September 11: Part I
Beyond the Buzzwords: Motives and Alternatives

By Gar Smith (September 15, 2001)

“I will never apologize for the United States of America. I don’t care what the facts are.”

-- President George Herbert Walker Bush (after US jets shot down an
Iranian airliner, killing 290 innocent civilians), August 15, 1988.

“A dictatorship would be a heck of a lot easier, no question about it.”
– George W. Bush, July 27, 2001.

Brainwashing America. Credit:
In the wake of the horrifying bombings of the World Trade Center and Pentagon, George Bush declared that America had been targeted for attack “because we're the brightest beacon for freedom and opportunity in the world."

Does that make sense? Maybe there's another reason.

Because politicians try to steer public debate by co-opting key words and phrases, it is important to gauge the words that are used. President Clinton, after all, used the same argument on November 3, 1997, when he proclaimed: “Americans are targets of terrorism, in part, because we act to advance peace and democracy.”

Vetting Bush’s Language
Bush called the September 11 attack an “act of war.” But this was not a case of one country declaring war on another. It was something even more frightening. It was a calculated, bloody act of defiance – an act of anger. Bush’s misuse of the phrase “act of war” was quickly ruled out-of-order by the leading insurance companies of Europe and the US.

Bush called the hijack/bombings an “attack on Freedom.” Without question, the attackers deprived thousands of innocent victims of the right to life, but the terrorists did not attack the First Amendment freedoms enshrined in our Constitution. We still have the right to speak, to freely assemble and to petition our government for a redress of grievances.

Ironically, these freedoms will now be most at risk from our own government, which is proposing the suspension of some civil liberties and the implementation of new “biometric” surveillance technologies. England and the US are considering issuing national ID cards and the Oracle Corporation has generously offered to provide the technology. (It was ID-tracking computer technology from IBM that allowed South Africa to administer Apartheid.)

One can understand why terrorists might want to target the Pentagon or the White House, but why the World Trade Center? San Francisco Chronicle Urban Design Reporter John King explained the attraction of the World Trade Center. The towers, he wrote, “symbolized how one nation assumed it could dominate a landscape and economy without question, without fear of reprisal.” This was, after all, the second time the World Trade Center has been singled out for terrorist attack.

Targets are chosen for specific military, political or psychological effect. The US carefully chooses targets “to send a message.” It was the US that coined the phrase “surgical strike” to describe this tactic and then crafted the euphemism “collateral damage” to gloss over the loss of civilian lives caused by such attacks.

Many of us have friends who are unaccounted for in the rubble of Manhattan. Some of us mourn colleagues who died aboard the captured planes. But if we blunder into an ill-conceived patriotic “crusade” to rid the world of “evil,” we risk becoming the flip side of a coin that reads “jihad.”

Why is the US Hated?
Why is the US the target of these attacks? The answer to that question should be at least as important as the quest to identify and bring to justice the people that trained and sponsored the attackers. Usually, when a crime is committed, the first response is to look for a motive.

In the aftermath of the bombing, reporters from Reuters, the BBC and the Associated Press monitored public reaction throughout the Middle East in search of an answer to the question “Why was the US attacked?” The same points came up repeatedly:
  • Because our soldiers and foreign policy support a repressive regime in Saudi Arabia.
  • Because our country has placed an embargo on Iraq that has lead to the deaths of more than a million children (by United Nations estimates).
  • Because our country (and Britain) continues to drop bombs on Iraq – long after the end of the Gulf War – injuring and killing civilian men, women and children.
  • Because our country supplies Israel with Blackhawk attack helicopters and missiles that are used in "targeted assassinations."

Brainwashing America. Credit:
“Three Facts That Are Known to Everyone”
Osama bin Laden may or may not have been the author of this specific act of terror (the US still refuses to produce proof of his involvement), but the Saudi millionaire has clearly stated his motivations. On February 23, 1998, bin Laden issued his call for a “Jihad against the Crusaders.” Bin Laden argued that it was a religious duty “to kill the Americans and their allies – civilians and military” in order to attain the goal of forcing US armies “out of all the lands of Islam.” He cited “three facts that are known to everyone.”

In this document, bin Laden wrote bitterly of King Fahd’s decision to invite thousands of US soldiers to establish a stronghold inside Saudi Arabia. “[F]or more than seven years,” bin Laden wrote, “the US has been occupying the lands of Islam in the holiest of places…, plundering its riches, dictating to its rulers, humiliating its people, terrorizing its neighbors, and turning its bases… into a spearhead through which to fight the neighboring Muslim peoples.”

Bin Laden also railed against the US’ “continuing aggression against the Iraqi people… despite the huge number of those killed, in excess of 1 million.” And he proclaimed that the real “aims behind these wars are religious and economic” and were designed to “divert attention from [the] occupation of Jerusalem and murder of Muslims….”

What Others Are Saying about Us
There is too much consistency in these complaints for Americans to ignore. We need to start listening to what people outside our borders are saying about us. And we must be prepared for some harsh comments.

British playwright Harold Pinter: “The crimes of the US throughout the world have been systematic, constant, clinical, remorseless and fully documented, but nobody talks about them.”

Amnesty International: “Throughout the world, on any given day, a man, woman or child is likely to be displaced, tortured, killed or ‘disappeared,’ at the hands of governments or armed political groups. More often than not, the United States shares the blame.”

US historian Howard Zinn: “Americans have been taught that their nation is civilized and humane. But, too often, US actions have been uncivilized and inhumane.”

Historian and author Chalmers Johnson: “As the lone surviving superpower, [the US] could have led through diplomacy and judiciously distributed foreign aid…. Instead, it has resorted most of the time to bluster, military force and financial manipulation…. American leaders believe that they are above the very concept of international law — unless defined and controlled by them…. History suggest that this country is riding for a big fall.”

“Make No Distinction”
Bush's threat that the US "will make no distinction between the terrorists who committed these acts and those who harbor them" is an alarming statement. It is troubling because the “no distinction” argument is, in all probability, the same logic employed by the attackers who took down the World Trade Center towers.

Bush’s “no distinction” guideline means that if the US fails to identify, track down and punish a specific individual or group responsible for this crime, it can simply take its revenge by dropping bombs on any convenient stand-in — Afghanistan and Iraq are the likely candidates.

Bush declared that his “war” against terrorism would end in “victory.” Given this administration’s record on the economy, the budget surplus, healthcare and the environment, can they really be trusted to run a sustained military operation? Bush began by ineptly playing into the terrorists’ hands, calling the US campaign a “crusade.” That gaffe was compounded by the Pentagon dubbing its campaign “Operation Infinite Justice,” a phrase uniquely offensive to Muslims.

The rest of his administration quickly distanced itself from Bush’s optimism. “We may not eliminate terrorism completely from the face of the Earth,” defense chief Rumsfeld qualified.

What Is a Government’s First Duty?
If there is one thing we do know from the events of September 11, it is this: The US government failed to protect Americans from terrorist attack. The Pentagon’s $60 billion Missile Defense System doesn’t provide us with a scrap of protection against suicide bombers. Nineteen men with box-cutters killed nearly 7,000 people [This initial estimate has since been lowered to around 2,800]. How do you stop an attack like that? (One way might be to take that $60 billion away from the discredited Missile Defense System and spend it on improving airline security and rebuilding New York City.)

Writing in response to bin Laden’s 1998 fatwah, Ivan Eland, the Cato Institute’s director of defense policy studies, argued that “the first goal of any nation’s security policy” should be “to protect citizens and property.”

“One of three terrorist attacks worldwide is directed against a US target,” Eland wrote. “And that’s not because the US is a rich capitalist nation. “No, terrorists attack the US primarily for what it does, not what it is.” This is a critical distinction that George Bush has yet to make.

“Because terrorist attacks… are extremely difficult to prevent,” Eland concluded, “the administration needs to concentrate its efforts on minimizing the motivation for such attacks in the first place….. Americans should not have to live in fear of terrorism just so Washington’s foreign policy elite can attempt to achieve amorphous and ephemeral gains on the world chessboard.”

Can You “Whip” Terrorism?
"We will punish the people responsible," Bush stated. But the fact is that the US, the CIA, the FBI and the NSA have been waging a war against terrorism – and bin Laden specifically – for years, without measurable success.

In early 1997, the CIA sent a team into Afghanistan to seize bin Laden. They failed. In November 1998, the US put out a $5 million reward for bin Laden’s capture. So far, no takers.

Following the bombing of US embassies in Tanzania and Kenya in August 1998, President Clinton order the Pentagon to fire 70 cruise missiles at bin Laden’s training camps at Khost and Jalalabad in Afghanistan. As one commentator noted, the pilots knew precisely where to find the fortified training camps because “the CIA had built them.” The CIA’s role in funding, arming and training the Taliban guerillas and “freedom fighter” Osama bin Laden is now becoming widely discussed.

US military reaction – especially the threat of “massive retaliation” — can complicate rather than solve problems. In the 1998 US attack on bin Laden, one of our “smart” missiles not only missed the target, it managed to land in a neighboring country. When Clinton ordered the bombing of a “chemical weapons factory” in Sudan “owned by bin Laden,” it turned out that the factory was not owned by bin Laden and was, in fact, producing life-saving drugs. The plant owner subsequently sued the US for destroying his business. As the London Independent noted on May 4, 1999: “The embarrassing reversal means that the US has virtually no evidence to support its claim that the missile attack was a strike against terrorism.”

How do you wage "war" on suicide bombers? If we want to respond in kind, we've got to be ready to send in our own suicide bombers. What? We don't have any suicide bombers? Then we've lost a critical strategic advantage. While we are prepared to risk our lives for something we believe in, terrorists are willing to sacrifice their lives.

Some brave passengers on Flight 93 showed that you can fight back. They reportedly overcame the hijackers by throwing boiling water on them. Box-cutters vs. boiling water. That’s what this “new kind of war” has come down to.

Terrorism has been likened to a cancer that we have to eradicate. The analogy is telling. Our “war on cancer” (like the “war on drugs”) has consumed billions of dollars and nearly 50 years. While we’ve won a few skirmishes, we are nowhere nearly eradicating cancer. The reason is that we are treating the symptoms, not dealing with the root causes. In the case of cancer, that would mean eradicating exposure to the thousands of synthetic chemicals that now contaminate our food, our water and our bodies. Similarly, the White House response fails to address the root causes of terrorism.

The fact is there, is no end-game to Bush’s plan to “whip” terrorism. The only thing the Bush White House is now willing to promise the American people is that the “war against terrorism” will go on indefinitely, causing unpredictable death and misery in the process. History provides few examples of a terrorist threat that has been eliminated by military force.

“If we have learned anything from Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians,” says attorney Adam Gutride of A Jewish Voice for Peace, “it is that terrorism cannot be ended through retaliation, occupation or militarism.” Stanford University History Professor Joel Beinin notes that “The US provides Israel with tanks, helicopters and warplanes, which Israel uses against Palestinian civilians. Israel’s actions not only violate US law, but inflame sentiment against America throughout the Middle East.”

As Gandhi once observed: “An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind.”


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