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Militarism, Fear, and the New Communism
May 7, 2004
By Bret T. Saalwaechter

With the conclusion of President Bush's testimony on 27 April before the secret 9/11, Commission meeting on 27 April, its authority seems to be increasingly compromised by its eagerness to assign partisan blame. Indeed, even though almost three years have passed since the horrendous crime, we still seem to be focusing so much on investigating how it happened, that we've carefully avoided any real examination of why it happened.

According to our current administration, the motivations of those who seek to harm us are not only clear, but also comforting and self-serving. We seem to think that "they hate freedom" and are envious of what we have, namely "children, music, and laughter." The War on Terrorism is "a war against evil."

However, that these views are heavily reflected in popular opinion suggests an uncritical view of the national power that we exert everyday in all corners of the globe.

For us it seems as though history began on September 11 2001. However, to the rest of the world - and especially to those in the Middle East - history is not so neatly separated by time and space. To understand both 9/11 and better combat the phenomenon of terrorism, we should try to understand and address its root causes. However, if our government were to actually do this and openly discuss our own foreign policy since 1960, it might have to admit its own culpability.

Al Qaeda and its members are certainly nothing new to the government. In 1979, the CIA began organizing, training, and arming Mujahideen rebels to fight a proxy war against the Soviets in Afghanistan. U.S. support became more overt, as we supplied over $2 billion in weapons and explosives, including Stinger anti-aircraft missiles to create a mercenary army that, by the late Reagan years, totaled over 100,000 Afghanis and 25,000 foreign fighters drawn from the most militant sectors of Islamic society. However, by 1989, the "Holy War" against Soviet hegemony had been won, but with the establishment of permanent military bases in Saudi Arabia, the U.S. position came to be seen as identical to the Soviets' and the militants turned on their former masters.

It is far too easy to assume that terrorism is simply religiously motivated, and yet this view is also the most common. Indeed, such foreign policy luminaries as Ann Coulter adhere to the simply false idea that "not all Muslims may be terrorists, but all terrorists are Muslims." Despite the prohibition of suicide in the Koran, however, the fact is that the majority of worldwide terrorist elements don't even adhere to Islam. Terrorist groups, like the Tamil Tigers and the IRA, are not so enraged at freedom or Protestantism that they feel that they must blow themselves up. Rather, they are exercising a form of agency, albeit criminally, in response to past oppressions or towards the creation of independent states in a post-colonial world. Although their actions are extreme and violent, these sentiments are largely reflected in the populations that support them.

Bin Laden and his associates probably couldn't care less about culture here in the United States or our "love of freedom". What motivates our current adversaries are our global actions and specifically those which are affecting their people. Al Qaeda and its offshoots have made their goals very clear and their symbolic choice of the Pentagon and World Trade Center in the 9/11 attacks matched their words in deed. They seek to re-impose non-secularism in secular Arabic governments (like formerly Baathist Iraq) and to eject U.S. military bases in the Middle East - primarily those in Saudi Arabia (some of nearly 725 in 38 foreign countries).

Additionally, historic and continued U.S. support for brutal and repressive regimes and military aid for the suppression of dissenting groups not only undermined our credibility in the region, but also created a great reservoir of resentment that terrorists are able to exploit. Harsh economic sanctions on Iraq for over a decade led to the resultant starvation of upwards of a million Iraqis and placed the face of the United States as the principal antagonist of the Arab people.

The "War on Terror," like the "War on Drugs," the "War on Poverty," and the "War on Disease," is a war on an abstract construct. Terrorism has replaced Communism as the antithetical force of our domestic and foreign policy and as the principal justification for maintaining a military larger even than Cold War levels. To label it as a "War" misleadingly suggests a victory in the near future. However, like disease, poverty, and drugs, terrorism has always been a part of world history, and will continue to be so.

Currently, our anti-terrorism policies - to unilaterally provoke, chase, and kill individual terrorists - are not sufficient to mitigate a clear global problem. Rather, they further marginalize dissatisfied peoples into the arms of the terrorists. Military action must be combined with an understanding of its root causes and only then can the terrorists be separated from those who support them.

However, when the U.S. State Department budget is only 7% that of the Pentagon, it is clear who is in firm control of our foreign policy. Were it true that terrorists actually hated our freedom, then they would be immensely pleased to know that since 2001, ours has retreated in the face of this New Containment Culture under the rubric of the "War on Terror."

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