Even before the smoke cleared from the recent US missile attacks we were told to brace ourselves for a newly declared “war on terrorism,” the “war of the future.” From the lips of Bill Clinton, from his Secretaries of State and Defense, from his National Security Adviser, from Congressional Republicans and Democrats alike, we were informed that the Tomahawk missiles targeted on the supposed terrorist training camps in Afghanistan and the alleged chemical weapons plant in Sudan were but the opening shots in what would be a prolonged twilight struggle against the shadowy forces of fundamentalist terror.
For all its rhetorical burnishing, from the legal, moral, even geopolitical perspective, this latest pyrotechnic spasm is a gift to America’s worst enemies, has no prospect of achieving positive results and tramples on the United Nations charter. President Clinton’s newly declared war is much more about the past than the future. It is one more example of a long-established pattern of adopting thuggish and reactionary clients, elevating them from political marginality to power and influence, then dropping them and bombing them when it becomes expedient. The focus of our recent fury, Osama bin Laden, was a beneficiary of the US covert war in Afghanistan. His “terrorist training camps” were built for the fundamentalist anti-Soviet mujahedeen, the “freedom fighters” we armed in the eighties.
That’s not to deny that bin Laden and his followers are violent extremists who might very well have had a hand in the bombings of the two US embassies in East Africa. But it is reckless, and an insult to our intelligence, for this Administration to stuff complex social and political movements into the pigeonhole of “terrorism.” Terrorism is not an ideology or creed. It is a political-military “strategy”–one that is reprehensible. Instead of trying to stampede Americans into supporting its version of a national security jihad, the Administration should ask itself why there is growing anti-Americanism in the Arab world. What is it that drives groups of true believers to immolate themselves in embassy-leveling blasts? How can the security of US citizens be better protected without relying on the law of the jungle?
The search for those answers would begin with a reassessment of US Middle East policy. The argument that terrorist attacks are beyond the pale of civilized behavior and that nations have the right to defend themselves against them would have more resonance on the streets of Damascus and Cairo if Washington responded to Israel’s behavior the same way it does to that of some of that country’s neighbors.
The Administration’s regional policy must be broadened by a more forthcoming and positive US outreach to forces in the Arab world favoring a realistic engagement with the West. We must also seek a balanced US foreign policy toward Israel and the Palestinians. Rather than vengeance, the United States should offer the Arabs respect for their concerns and interests.