The World on the Ropes
The United States has responded to the terrorist attacks with a war it predicts will be very long, but eventually victorious for "civilization" because God is again on its side. With both sides displaying such fanaticism, our world is on the ropes.
The terrorist attack on the World Trade Center towers and their subsequent destruction was an act of insanity that graphically demonstrates the giant madhouse in which we are living. It has been over fifty years since the world has experienced a crisis of such dimensions. This has a lot if not everything to do with the fact that the target was the greatest power on the planet. Other enormous slaughters have taken place and continue to take place but attract much less media attention, without emergency Cabinet meetings and without the UN preparing for war.
I remember with great emotion the merciless bombing of Panama City just 12 years ago that left 7,000 dead. At the time, the West said that it understood the United States flattening a city to imprison one man, Manuel Antonio Noriega, previously its ally and a CIA agent. The figures, however, provide a strange proportion between means and ends. During those days at the end of 1989, most of the US population watched with unwonted satisfaction as the show of lights and explosions played across the poor, defenseless neighborhoods of a Central American country. That particular operation was called "Just Cause."
An even more insane spectacle was staged two years later with bombs tracing patterns across the night sky during the Gulf War. Again the United States tried out its latest military technology and boosted its President’s popularity by killing tens of thousands of innocent Iraqis. At the time, the White House theory, widely disseminated by the Western media, was truly diabolical: the more the people of Iraq were bombed, the more likely that they would rise up against the tyrant Saddam Hussein.
A new cycle of militarismYou cannot make war and expect that others will not make war against you. Just one example: the United States has had 19 Presidents between 1900 and 2001, from McKinley to the incumbent George W. Bush, and 16 of them have taken the country to war. All of them from 1938 to the present day have done so and all of those wars have taken place on foreign territory. Now, Bush junior has finally come up against an "act of war" of unimaginable magnitude on his own territory.
This is not an attempt to justify the attacks in New York and Washington, which were macro-terrorist acts that left thousands of innocent people dead. No one who wants to see a world ruled by justice and international law can view what happened as positive in any way, whether politically or ethically. The thousands of victims did not deserve such a death. Furthermore, those attacks have opened a new cycle of militarist pro-security hysteria that threatens to end up with globalized police-state measures that restrict our basic freedoms. US intellectual Noam Chomsky hit the nail on the head when he said that the attacks are a gift for the jingoistic US extreme right.
"Why do they hate us so much?"If there is no justification for the terrorist attacks, there are explanations. One is demonstrated in what has happened since: a struggle between those who would sentence terrorism with no hearing—the one way to think line—and those who, while rejecting the attacks, want to understand the possible social and political causes—the free thought line—believing that independent thinking is necessary for drawing conclusions and demanding a new course for the world in which we live. Of course, those who promote one way of thinking are furious and even claim we are giving coverage to the authors of the attacks, which is an utterly irrational and dangerous accusation.
Looking for explanations inevitably brings us to a worldwide phenomenon that ought to give US society pause. "Why the anti-US sentiment?" Or in the more poignant words of one anguished woman from New York when interviewed by a television crew: "Why do they hate us so much?" Like millions of her compatriots, this woman obviously could see nothing wrong with her government’s invariably imperial foreign policy. The same thing happened in Argentina during the dictatorship. Many people confessed that they heard stories, rumors, but never realized what was really going on: the slaughter of anyone opposed to the dictatorship. It is no surprise that psychology and psychiatry are so in demand today in Argentina. If the woman interviewed in New York and her compatriots examined reality honestly, without the fundamentalist conditioning that makes them believe they are the incarnation of Good in the fight against Evil, maybe they would be able to understand why their flag is so hated. Vietnam left an indelible mark on the American people, but did not lead them to draw any positive lessons from their terrible guilt. The history of Latin America is replete with US military interventions and cruel coups by national military forces with CIA complicity, and only a minority of US citizens has understood such infamy correctly. The sickness afflicting US society is that Americans believe themselves the owner of a world they know nothing about.
This population that considers itself the depository of freedom is now clamoring for revenge against the guilty. This vengeful desire—so human on the one hand—sums up the notably simple, wild and violent character of a people that lives off films of how the west was won. It is this population that Bush addresses with a discourse as basic and infantile as it is dangerous. "This is a fight of Good against Evil" irresponsibly repeats this powerful man who above all others should be rationalizing his response. Is this not fundamentalism? Taking the US government’s lead, the Western media, governments and intellectuals repeatedly state that Arab fundamentalism has offered many signs of its destructive vocation. Is not this simplistic dialectic between Good and Evil a way of generating hatred? For some time now I have thought that US society is sick. It applauds death sentences and calls for executions to be televised. As in its early days, it fills the trees with the hanged while it sits reading the Bible.
US political fundamentalism It is true that some Islamic collectives interpret the Koran in an extremely confrontational way. Nobody can justify fundamentalist Islamic translations of all its social and political causes into holy war. But the United States suffers from the same ill. Not long after it was founded it declared its Manifest Destiny, a set of moral and religious principles that were included in its foreign policy and have ever since provided the essence of its national identity. That US doctrine bestows historic leadership upon itself: "The God of nature and of nations has marked us with this destiny, and with His consent we must firmly maintain the incontestable rights that He has given us until we complete the high obligations He has imposed upon us." This mixture of religion and esotericism has invariably colored the way Americans conceive their place in the world. They are a people chosen to lead the community of peoples and nations, meting out punishment when necessary.
goes by the name of "Manifest Destiny"
It is a terrible idea. Good against Evil has been central to Bush’s discourse. Who is the Evil? Implicitly if not always explicitly, it is the Arab world in general and Moslems in particular. Great news for the Zionist identification of Israel as the incarnation of Good and the Arabs, Palestinians in particular, as the incarnation of Evil. Nationalist Israeli politicians consider themselves the direct descendents of the privileged spokespeople of their God and see Palestine as their "Promised Land." The ongoing barbarism of General Ariel Sharon, Israel’s current Prime Minister, and the genocide waged against the Palestinian people are based on this fanatic belief that nullifies the Arabs human condition so they can be destroyed without remission. They must be destroyed. The acts of September 11 reveal the overlapping insanities of this great madhouse that is the world and how they are fought.
A world full of grayGuilt and innocence, like insanity, have different expressions and degrees. If we stick guilty and innocent into separate black and white boxes rather than along a continuum that includes grays, nuance is eradicated, but the nuances are what explain underlying issues that generalizations fail to explain. The Palestinians know perfectly well that the United States has the means to impose a just peace, but it unjustly chooses to do exactly the opposite. It unconditionally supports Israel’s militarist policy, vetoing the United Nations Security Council so that no sanctions are imposed on its Zionist ally and providing the government in Tel Aviv with US$3 billion a year and planes to bomb the Palestinian population. Given the obscene irresponsibility of the United States in the face of the crimes against humanity committed by the Israeli government, it is almost impossible for anti-American hatred not to be generated among the victims.
That a good part of US public opinion first reacted by fingering the Palestinians as guilty is another barbarity, demonstrating that they do not understand what is happening in the world and what role their great country is playing in the Middle East. It could be said that this "barbarity" is thus an innocent human reaction, and it is, but it is of a different magnitude because innocence has different degrees. The people of Israel are less innocent than the Palestinian people. We Europeans are less innocent than the thousands of Africans who die every year trying to cross the Straits of Gibraltar in flimsy outboard motorboats. Do we rebel forcefully enough against such horror? The US workers, porters, secretaries, firefighters and business executives killed in the twin towers were innocent victims who never conducted their country’s foreign policy and military terrorism. But they were undoubtedly less innocent than the millions of children who die from starvation every year. The US citizenry has never rebelled against its interventionist governments or called for changes in the economic policies issued from the White House—and the twin towers—that sentence millions of people to destitution and death around the world.
I know that those who prefer to reduce everything to black and white could challenge this critical exercise as demagogy, but it is not. It is the truth of a world of gray, which rebels against reductionist thinking that refuses to see the reality of the United States and only sees and condemns the terrible attacks. That condemnation is not firmer for being less critical. On the contrary, lack of criticism only accommodates new US military actions and continuation of the injustices.
Uncertainty and twisted truthsThe big question is what is going to happen? The United States has unleashed a war to avenge its humiliation far more than its dead. A military flare-up produces a multitude of new innocent dead. The US is going to war because the country’s fundamentalist philosophical and moral foundations make fire and destruction the inevitable response, spurred on by the anger of those who considered themselves invulnerable and the political arrogance that administers life and death on a massive scale. It will continue to do it no matter what, whether it has proof or must fabricate more lies—the kind that will be only declassified years after it makes any difference. In either case, with or without proof, the fundamentalist Bin Laden—who was the CIA’s friend during the campaigns against the Soviet Union—provides the mug shot needed to justify an exemplary punishment against Afghanistan because reasons of state make it necessary to put a face to the invisible enemy. Of course, a good number of analysts are suggesting that some Americans might have been involved in planning the attacks, but it would be awkward for either the US government or society to recognize such links. They can’t bombard themselves after all. And after the US military intervention, what comes next? How big a gap will have opened up with the East? What xenophobic forms will the Arab world’s hatred acquire? Will millions of eyes be spying on us in the name of freedom and democracy?
The discourse employed by world leaders who claim that civilization and democracy is under attack is improper, not for rightly pointing out a dangerous enemy capable of attacking as it did, but for unleashing a dangerous ideology through their use and abuse of these concepts. Once more "civilization" is linked to the West and Islam is portrayed as satanic, the flip side of civilization. Furthermore, claiming that the world’s leading financial center represented freedom when the towers were actually the center of neoliberal operations that have left millions dead of starvation and disease is an exercise in cynicism.
Nor can the United States be seen as the center and preserve of world freedom. The record shows that its governments have tended to sponsor dictatorships, organize militarist conspiracies and train murderers. President Bush’s "with us or with them" challenge threatens to spread and grow into an arms escalation. This will not involve a new world war, but rather a war against the poor, against liberation movements, against democratizing movements. This madhouse could be about to take an abject course.
A lament for EuropeIn the days after the September 11 attack, President Bush and Secretary of State Colin Powell scrambled to build an international political-diplomatic alliance to support the precipitous response. It is lamentable to see Europe, or more precisely its governments, seconding the insane idea of a war of Good against Evil. Their unconditional support for George Bush is so erratic that it confuses condemnation of the attacks with complacency in the face of an undesirable response. By rejecting one form of insanity, the European governments are embracing another.
What ever happened to European rationality? What happened to international law, one of Europe’s pillars against the pure, hard Hobbesian conception of the use of force? NATO’s brandishing of article 5 to allow itself to mobilize in support of Bush is legally unsustainable, as it is only legitimate for repelling an attack, not for leading another. It represents a political cave-in to an American threat to shut itself up in isolationism and abandon the alliance. Yet again, Europe has missed the opportunity to cut an independent foreign policy path and build its own defense system. It has already made serious mistakes in the Balkans and the Gulf War and is now repeating its pathetic behavior.
Better living in America by The bombardment of impoverished Afghanistan that began less than a month after the terrorist attacks is not good news for the world. Victory will only bring victory, not peace. A considerable increase in tensions with the Arab world was predictable, as was the call for extending the holy war, or jihad, and the recruitment of young Moslems. The public debate right now between those who claim that the United States has the right to demand eye-for-an-eye "justice" and those who think that vengeance must be subordinated to international law and the international courts responds only to part of the problem, however. The other part, far more complex and far-reaching, involves the hidden US interests in this long military campaign. Those interests involve renewing its leadership through military hegemony, which in the shorter run also will provide an answer to the economic recession in the United States, and gaining economic control of petroleum, including the oil fields of Central Asia.
instilling fear around the world
The United States is seeking to instill fear on a global scale. The world must fear the force and wrath of the United States and its subordinated allies. To achieve this, it is using its powerful media apparatus to portray a diffuse but powerful enemy, neither government nor state, that is or could be everywhere, even in each country’s own territory, although some governments or states offer it support. It is depicting a great enemy with access to sophisticated technology and huge sources of financing and that has the peculiarity of existing outside the system, outside the framework of international relations. Being "outside of the system" is what justifies declaring a state of global exception, unhindered by law or by protocols and agreements between nations. It is an extremely dangerous form of reasoning that allows the United States in particular to act free from any controls and outside the jurisdiction of any international court, however and whenever it wants.
This fear will allow the militarization of global society, multiplying security measures that affect the movement of people and communications (Internet and telephone). Military deployments will play the leading role, multiplying US military presence and installations fitted out with weapons of mass destruction. Military technological developments will also multiply, despite the enormous sums they already receive from the different governments, and there will be a return to the secrecy of the Cold War. All these measures—of doubtful efficacy but with real repercussions for individual freedoms—will cover the whole world.
Economics and power more the issue than evilThe United States is trusting in the arms industry to provide the necessary productive and economic injection in response to the threat of recession. It should be remembered that American hegemony is based on its military strength. Built up systematically since 1945 and covering the entire plant, this hegemony was forced to accept peaceful coexistence with the USSR for many years. But when the Soviet Union disintegrated, the United States decided to maintain its system and even improve it. Today, Washington’s preferred instrument for any hegemonic offensive is its army. Thus, while Europe builds its discourse around the economy and trade disputes, the United States has the real power.
The US is also looking to guarantee control of the petroleum in Central Asia and the Middle East. Former Secretary of State Brzezinski has identified Central Asia as the new geopolitical focus. The Caucasus and a group of republics surrounding the Caspian Sea—Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan—are very rich in energy and mineral reserves. The West currently depends on the Middle East for 55% of its petroleum, a dependency that will have increased to 75% by 2015. It appears to be in the West’s interests to diversify its sources, refocusing on a region previously under Soviet control. Controlling gas, which is very abundant in that area of the world, is particularly important for the West.
Meanwhile, another of the US strategic objectives is to create a suitable atmosphere to rid itself of a "new enemy," the global movement for real, participatory democracy and a just world, now that it is starting to threaten the plans of the G7 countries and neoliberalism. Following the September 11 events, more voices have been calling for criminalization of this global movement because they have grasped that there is an exploitable opportunity to crudely lump together the anti-neoliberal movement with international terrorism.
To carry out this complicated multilateral work, the United States needs to build and consolidate a great international political and diplomatic alliance, with the participation of moderate Arab countries. Secretary of State Colin Powell is undertaking this work under very clear criteria. The United States wants to lead the world without paying the political and economic costs of dominating it, a flank the Gulf War did not cover very well. The United States now wants to function as sovereign, but wants it to look as if the rest of the world has set it up as such and applauds its reign.
The United States seems to want to combine and balance the traditional values of its foreign policy with a region by region review of its objectives. In this context it might revise its behavior in the Middle East, accepting the Palestinian state to deactivate the conflict while imposing two states in the disputed territory that are diametrically opposed in economic, military and political strength: a strong Israeli state and a weak Palestinian one. The advantage in this would be to win over Arab allies, freeing the United States to concentrate on Central Asia, whose raw minerals make it a strategic region. From its position as both victim and guardian of the civilized world, the United States can obtain more regional bases in strategic areas and hot spots, which right now are concentrated around Afghanistan.
Domesticating the un and NATOThe ideological discourse designed to win over those countries that together with the United States make up the heart of the global system—Canada, the European Union and Japan—is based on the "obligation" to defend democracy, people’s rights and humanitarianism. International public opinion is largely responding as it did so many times in previous centuries when faced with colonizing incursions in the name of civilization and progress.
The strategy also requires Americanizing the United Nations, domesticating it to the tune of US leadership. The United States has traditionally seen the UN as annoyed by a US foreign policy based on the philosophical and moral principles of the Manifest Destiny, which provide it the right to act without restraint in its own interests. Now the UN itself will be subjected to this "new order."
The United States also requires military autonomy from the other NATO members, for which it can count on Great Britain’s unconditional support. Following the "victory" over Yugoslavia in April 1999, the United States has imposed a new concept according to which the NATO mission must in practical terms spread to the whole of Asia and Africa. This implies admitting that NATO is no longer the defensive alliance it was originally designed to be, but rather an instrument of attack at the service of the United States.
The need for a new courseThat’s the way things are. The aggression against Afghanistan is just the starting point of a medium- and long-term strategy. Reducing the analysis and debate to whether bombing Afghanistan and forcing a change in the Taliban regime is legitimate or not is to concentrate on the outer skin of an onion that contains many insidious layers.
Despite everything, the layers of the onion have to be peeled away…and it will make us weep. It is more painful to think now than it was before, but we must continue to do it. We have to bank on peace. Everything that has happened since September 11 should be turned into a positive opportunity to correct the way the world is currently run. There will be no security for anyone anywhere as long as two thirds of humanity lives in poverty watching the gap widen between them and the rich world, as long as hunger remains an issue for a world that believes itself to be controlling the course of history and as long as there are peoples whose rights are denied.