The suicide attacks in Riyadh, which Saudi officials blamed on Al Qaeda, were barbarous acts. They are also tragic reminders that despite US military victories and recent triumphalist claims of the Bush Administration, the terrorist threat has not been eliminated.
Rather, we are witnessing the opening of a new chapter in what is likely to be a protracted struggle over the future of the Persian Gulf region. Much of the Arab world views the United States as a neocolonial power, an occupying force coveting their oil, hostile to their interests and openly biased toward Israel and its brutal occupation of Palestinian lands. A determined minority see us not only as imperialists but also as infidels despoiling Islamic holy sites and propping up reprehensible regimes like the Saudi monarchy. Though they may be comparatively few in number, their anti-American agenda draws wide support among the populations of the Saudi kingdom, Kuwait and Iraq.
Significantly, one of the bombers’ targets was the headquarters of Vinnell, a Virginia-based consulting firm. Since the 1970s it has trained the Saudi National Guard, which protects the ruling family from its subjects. Not only is Vinnell a US company; it is a quasi-official arm of the US government and thus a direct link to the Saudi rulers. Although the Bush Administration would like Americans to believe that Muslim terrorists hate us because they envy our way of life, in reality they despise our policies–primarily, US support of the corrupt Saudi regime, unilateral occupation of Iraq and uncritical backing of Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.
The major flaw in the Bush Administration’s current antiterror strategy is its primary reliance on militarism and unilateralism, emphasizing approaches like “regime change” and “pre-emption” by US armed forces. Instead, the United States should work cooperatively with anti-crime agencies of other nations in an international law-enforcement effort aimed at hunting down terrorist groups, which operate independently of nation-states. Furthermore, an effective strategy for reducing terrorist attacks must enter the realm of politics and policy. It must first answer two questions: Is our policy in Iraq in the best interest of the Iraqi people? And does our tolerance of the Israeli occupation really promote Israel’s security, since it stirs up greater enmity among Arabs? If we want to generate reform and democracy in the region and reduce the cycle of violence, we must stand for policies that are in the best interest of the Arab people as well as our own.
This will create difficult dilemmas. Given that the United States, owing to its invasion of Iraq, is now an occupying power in that country, we must find a way to fulfill our responsibility for the reconstruction of Iraq while avoiding antagonizing Muslims and Arab nationalists. A good first step would be to move quickly to internationalize the process by bringing in the United Nations more centrally and supporting the appointment of a UN official as prime administrator.
The other important step is to break the Israeli-Palestinian impasse. We must show the Arab world that the United States is serious about finding a just solution to the conflict and will no longer tolerate the delaying tactics of the Sharon government.
Only by internationalizing policy in the region can we avoid polarizing it between pro- and anti-American passions.