Many Americans are justifiably stunned, bewildered and angry following the recent terrorist attacks in New York City and Washington DC. But while we seek justice for these atrocious acts of violence, Americans should also reflect on why these fanatics harbor such hatred for the United States. It is not, as Washington so often claims, because they resent our “freedoms” or our “way of life”; it is because they resent a U.S. foreign policy that imposes Western cultural values on their way of life. And while the actions of this fanatical minority are inexcusable, they are indicative of a political viewpoint held by ever-increasing numbers of people around the world. Consequently, many in the international community see the United States as a rogue nation unilaterally imposing its political and economic will on the world at large.
The end of the Cold War offered an opportunity for both developed and developing nations previously separated by the bipolar conflict to unite in a mutually beneficial global community. But instead, Washington took this opportunity not to increase peace and prosperity for all nations, but to become more aggressive and militaristic in order to advance its own political and economic agenda with almost total disregard for the consequences borne by other nations.
Anti-globalization groups regularly protest the imposition of neoliberal economic policies on developing countries by the U.S.-dominated International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank. These so-called “free trade” policies benefit multinational corporations and developed nations while further impoverishing people in the developing world. Hence, we find the growing international protest movement against Washington-backed global policies that has dogged economic summits in North America and Europe, and has also resulted in massive public demonstrations in many developing nations.
And regarding military policy, the United States has attacked more countries than any other nation since the end of World War II. In just the past twelve years since the fall of the Berlin Wall, Washington has launched military strikes against five different countries: Panama, Yugoslavia, Sudan, Afghanistan, and Iraq. (The total is nine countries if you include the targeting of the Chinese embassy in Belgrade, the stray missiles that hit Bulgaria and Pakistan, and the chemical warfare being waged in Colombia.)
In the eight months that George W. Bush has occupied the White House, his administration has done everything possible to politically alienate the international community. The Bush Administration’s refusal to participate in globally-determined policies if they in any way compromise U.S. political and economic interests has even alienated long time allies in Europe.
The list of U.S. non-cooperation over the past eight months is staggering: a refusal to participate in, or abide by, the Kyoto Protocol, the UN small arms conference, the Landmine Treaty, the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty, and the recent UN conference on race. This list of non-cooperation is topped off by Bush’s insistence that the United States re-ignite the international arms race by moving forward with plans to develop the National Missile Defense System.
While it is unrealistic to expect the United States to see eye to eye with the rest of the world on all matters, the Bush Administration has managed to isolate itself from, and alienate, the rest of civilization on virtually every global issue it has addressed. But President Bush is only the latest in a long line of presidents responsible for generating such resentment towards the United States. In fact, for the most part, the Bush Administration is only continuing (albeit, often expanding) many previously implemented foreign policies that have isolated the United States from the rest of the international community.
Over the years, Washington has repeatedly stood alone with Israel in voting against UN resolutions condemning Israel’s military rule of the occupied territories and treatment of Palestinians as second-class citizens in their own land. Several U.S. administrations have also failed to criticize Israel’s antagonistic policy of bulldozing Palestinian homes while building Jewish settlements in the occupied territories.
Rarely since World War II have conquering nations retained control over territory gained in battle. And yet, Israel continues to rule the territories it seized in the war of 1967. Add to this the fact that much of the weaponry used to target Palestinians living in the occupied territories is supplied by Washington (Israel is the largest recipient of U.S. military aid) and it is easy to see why many Arabs view the United States as a participant, and therefore an enemy, in the ongoing conflict.
Anti-U.S. sentiment in the Arab world is further fueled by Washington’s insistence, in the face of growing international opposition, on the continuation of sanctions against Iraq. These sanctions have contributed to the deaths of tens of thousands of Iraqi children due to a dire shortage of food and medicines. The sanctions and the ongoing bombing campaign have failed to loosen Saddam Hussein’s grip on power.
Americans are bombarded with viewpoints from Washington and the mainstream media portraying the ongoing U.S. military actions in Iraq as defensive and, therefore, justified. Terms such as “Iraqi provocation of coalition aircraft in the no-fly zone” are repeatedly used to justify air strikes more than ten years after the purported end of the Gulf War. Meanwhile, there is no mention of the fact that, technically, coalition aircraft (U.S. and British) are flying in Iraqi airspace, which raises the question of exactly who is provoking whom. And, in light of recent events, Americans can now identify with the fear felt by many Iraqi civilians every time an enemy aircraft flies overhead.
Colombian farmers, whose crops, animals and children are being poisoned with chemicals sprayed by U.S. planes, live in a similar state of fear. The militaristic nature of Washington’s drug war in Colombia through the funding, arming and training of the Colombian Armed Forces (Colombia is the third-largest recipient of U.S. military aid) has been widely criticized by the international community. Earlier this year, the European Parliament condemned Plan Colombia by a vote of 474-1.
The aerial fumigation campaign being conducted by American mercenary pilots under contract to the U.S. State Department has dumped thousands of gallons of an untested chemical concoction onto Colombian farms. Consequently, there have been widespread reports of environmental and human health problems that that have forced many peasants to abandon their lands and join the ranks of Colombia’s illegal armed groups, which have been designated terrorist organizations by the U.S. State Department.
The United States has also helped sow the seeds of international terrorism by supporting and arming extremist groups that temporarily served Washington’s foreign policy interests at one point or another. Among the many examples of the United States making the bed it later had to sleep in, three individuals immediately come to mind: Manuel Noriega, Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden.
Throughout the 1980′s, Noriega remained on the CIA’s payroll despite his involvement in drug trafficking and money laundering. The Reagan Administration was willing to overlook these indiscretions as long as the Panamanian dictator supported the terrorist activities of the Contra rebels in Washington’s war against Nicaragua’s Sandinista government.
However, by the end of 1989, as the Contra war was winding down and Noriega began exhibiting signs of independence, Washington decided to rid itself of the troublesome dictator by launching a huge military invasion of Panama. The official justification for the attack was the “discovery” of Noriega’s involvement in the drug trade and defense of the Panama Canal, although it’s not clear exactly what threat Noriega posed to the Canal’s operations. During the invasion, entire neighborhoods of Panama City were leveled by a massive air assault that resulted in the deaths of as many as 5,000 civilians.
The 1980′s also saw Washington provide aid and intelligence to Saddam Hussein’s government during Iraq’s war with Iran. The Reagan Administration supported Saddam at the same time Baghdad was sheltering international terrorist Abu Nidal and Iraqi forces were using chemical weapons against Iranian troops.
Unbeknownst to the American public at the time, Washington was playing both sides during the eight-year Iran-Iraq war that took some one million lives. The fundamentalist rulers in Iran were receiving illegal arms shipments from the Reagan Administration as part of a huge covert operation that, when discovered, became known as the Iran-Contra scandal. (Washington used the illegal proceeds from the arms sales to illegally fund the Contra rebels’ terrorist campaign against Nicaragua’s Sandinista government). Washington’s support for the Ayatollah Khomeini is ironic in view of the fact that Iran’s fundamentalist government and anti-American sentiment were a response to the Westernization and exploitation of Iran by multinational oil corporations under the repressive U.S.-backed government of Shah Reza Pahlavi.
Also during the 1980′s, the Reagan Administration supplied Afghanistan’s Mujahedin rebels with massive amounts of aid and high-tech weaponry, including Stinger surface-to-air missiles, which helped the Muslim guerrillas overthrow the Soviet-supported Afghan government. Both the Taliban government and Osama bin Laden’s terrorist organization evolved out of the CIA-supported Mujahedin rebel movement. Retired army General Makmut Goryeev, a veteran of the Soviet Union’s war in Afghanistan, recently reminded Americans, “Let us not forget that he [bin Laden] was created by your special services to fight against our Soviet troops. But he got out of their control.” And yet, despite the Taliban’s continued willingness to shelter America’s most wanted terrorist, the Bush Administration recently provided Afghanistan with $43 million in aid.
As it turns out, Manuel Noriega, Saddam Hussein, Iran’s fundamentalist government, the Taliban, and Osama bin Laden all have one thing in common: They received funding and arms from Washington while being linked to international terrorism. Shortsighted U.S. policymakers failed to recognize (or were unconcerned) that once these extremists consolidated power, they would inevitably redirect their violent fanaticism against U.S. foreign policy, especially in the Middle East. Consequently, Americans are now paying with their lives for Washington’s political expediency.
By launching a war against terrorism, President Bush runs the risk that history will repeat itself. In 1979, U.S. economic policies and support for the Shah’s dictatorial regime in Iran resulted in a Muslim fundamentalist revolution led by the Ayatollah Khomeini. Last week, Pakistan’s dictator General Pervez Musharraf acquiesced to Bush Administration demands that U.S. forces be permitted to use Pakistan as a staging ground for a war against Afghanistan. The current political situation in Pakistan is precarious and the country’s large fundamentalist population is strongly opposed to the presence of U.S. troops on Pakistani soil, especially when their mission is to attack a neighboring Muslim country.
Consequently, U.S. foreign policy may once again result in the overthrow of a dictator willing to kowtow to Washington. Furthermore, a revolution in Pakistan would put anti-American fundamentalists in control of a country with nuclear capabilities.
Sadly, it is doubtful that the recent terrorist attacks against the American people will be the last, unless Washington is willing to re-evaluate its role on the global stage. While taking measures to bring the perpetrators of these horrendous crimes to justice, the United States should also take this opportunity to analyze the root causes of such anti-American sentiment. This hatred does not lie in petty jealousies over the American way of life; it is partly a result of the arrogance inherent in Washington’s foreign policy.
Consequently, a military response alone, no matter how extensive, will not eliminate terrorism; in fact, it will most likely exacerbate it. The solution lies with the American people. We must realize that, while the actions of these fanatics are inexcusable, some of their anti-American sentiments are understandable. Furthermore, there are ever-increasing numbers of people throughout the world who feel the same anger towards the United States; thankfully, they have yet to resort to the same violent tactics. In this era of globalization, it is essential that U.S. foreign policy be inclusive, not exclusive. Otherwise, the American people are likely to pay a far higher price for alienating the rest of the world than that already paid in New York, Washington DC and Pennsylvania.