(This is a piece which I put together in the early days of my U.S. Senate campaign in 2002.)
By Ted Glick
We find ourselves today, in this post-9-11 world, in an extremely precarious position. It’s not that things were so good before 9-11; they weren’t. Then, as now, we are confronted with increasing and potentially apocalpytic environmental degradation and the continuing danger posed by nuclear power and weaponry. We have a President and much of the Congress prepared to unilaterally jettison the ABM treaty, construct a so-called missile defense system that is a ridiculous, obscenely wasteful pipedream, and militarily take over the heavens with Star Wars-type weapons. Our natural environment is in deep trouble; the polar ice caps are melting, the decade of the 90s was the worst in recorded history as far as the scope and severity of major storms, and yet virtually nothing has been done for years by either Republicans or Democrats to even make the Kyoto accords, which are really just a beginning of the process of reversing global warming, an issue for public debate. There is a rapidly accelerating gap between the poor and the rich both internationally and in the United States. Average CEO pay in the United States is now 475 times that of the average worker, up from 42 times as high 22 years ago, according to a study recently done by United for a Fair Economy and the Institute for Policy Studies. Under our global capitalist system, the financial assets of about 430 billionaires is equal to the annual income of half of the world’s poorest people. 22% of the world’s people make less than $1/day; half make less than $2. And this list could go on.
Into this reality came the terrorist attacks of September 11th, and we are now living in a new reality, a new world. Our current Vice-President, Dick Cheney, was quoted in the Washington Post of last October 7th saying that this war “may never end, at least not in our lifetimes.” Because of the understandable and legitimate need to increase security, many hundreds of innocent people, overwhelmingly immigrants from the Middle East, have been literally “disappeared” into jails, prevented from contacting family or lawyers or having any contact with the outside world. The USA Patriot Act has significantly strengthened the power of government to engage in surveillance, to gather private information, to spy on all of us, without the need for court authorization. A $48 billion increase in funding for the Pentagon is being proposed and almost certainly will be passed. This is money that will NOT go to education, or health care, or unemployment benefits, or job creation, or any of a number of other uses that benefit the people of this country.
According to the polls, and the pols, all of this and more is necessary because of the terrorist threat. But is it, really? I don’t think so, and I’m going to explain why. I’m going to put forward how I believe we can truly address this issue of terrorism in a way that stands a realistic chance of tremendously downsizing, if not virtually eliminating it, over time, at the same time that we bring hope for a new world in which militarism, racism and grievous inequalities in income and power are overcome.
We should begin with some clarity about what terrorism is.
As far as I’m concerned, a concise definition would be this: terrorism is the deliberate and organized use of force or violence against innocent civilians to advance a political, economic, religious or social agenda.
Terrorism has been practiced in the world for a long, long time. It has been and is being used by governments, by organizations and by individuals.
The United States is no innocent when it comes to the question of government terrorism. We have a long history of using force and violence to further the aims of U.S. corporate interests around the world. Here are some examples since World War II:
-in 1953 the CIA intervened in Iran on behalf of oil companies to overthrow the popularly-elected government of Mohammed Mossadegh and replace him with the dictatorial and repressive Mahammad Reza Pahlavi, the shah of Iran.
-in 1954 the elected Guatemalan government of Jacobo Arbenz was overthrown by rebels supported by the U.S. government. This happened after, according to the World Book Encyclopedia, “the government began to take over much privately owned land and distribute it among landless peasants. The program included large areas owned by the United Fruit Company, by then the largest landower in Guatemala.” Arbenz was replaced by successive military governments that for the next four decades ruled in extremely repressive, brutal ways, backed by our government.
-Then there is the case of Vietnam. From the mid-50s until 1975, the United States supported one unelected dictator after another in what was then called South Vietnam, sent half a million troops to this part of the world, and conducted a war that led to the death of over a million Vietnamese and 55,000 Americans and the devastation of this small, peasant-based country. We didn’t fight this war for freedom; we fought it so that, among other things, U.S. companies could gain control of the manganese, tin, rubber and other natural resources of this part of the world.
-From the 60s until the late 90s our government supported the ruthless Duvalier family in Haiti in its repressive rule based upon widespread use of torture. U.S. multinationals set up shop and paid workers sub-sub-minimum wages making products like the baseballs we use in this country.
-When a popular revolution in Nicaragua in 1979 led to the removal of U.S.-supported dictator Anastasio Somoza, and after the new and elected government of the Sandinistas took over, in the words of the World Book, “key parts of the economy, including agricultural exports, banking, insurance and mining,” our government supported a counter-revolutionary army led by former members of the Somoza dictatorship. This army engaged in widespread practices of torture and what can only be called terrorism in its military campaign.
-And finally, the United States has often looked the other way as the state of Israel has engaged in the use of torture and state terrorism in its war against Palestinians. Current Israel President Ariel Sharon is personally responsible for the massacre of many hundreds of innocent people in the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps in Lebanon in the early ’80s. We have far too often, including right now, used a double standard: critical of the acts of terrorism that have been committed by some Palestinian groups and silent or near-silent about Israel government acts of terror. What has been the result? Just look at the terrible situation which now exists, the escalation of terrorism by both sides, the realistic possibility of an even more destructive cycle of violence and war, and the potentiality of this conflict, particularly in combination with the threat of war between India and Pakistan, spiraling out of control and affecting the entire world. I’m sure everyone is aware of the role of Middle East oil in literally greasing the economic institutions that are dominant globally; a regional conflagration in the Middle East will undoubtedly affect the supply of that product.
Which is what makes the United States’ militaristic response to the September 11th terrorist attacks so dangerous and counter- productive.
There were other ways to go after Al Queda, if indeed Al Queda was responsible for 9-11 (which I think is probably the case). Al Queda and the Taliban leadership responsible for supporting them in Afghanistan could have been progressively isolated through a combination of various actions: international diplomacy; policy changes as far as the Israel/Palestinian conflict and economic sanctions against Iraq; political alliance-building as a result of those policy changes in opposition to Al Qaeda throughout the Middle East and the world; the cutting off of Pakistani and Saudi support to Al Queda, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia being the two countries most directly responsible for propping them up; cutting other financial support to Al Qaeda; and support to some, not necessarily all, of the anti-Taliban opposition groups inside Afghanistan. If necessary, following United Nations consideration and almost-certain support, limited police or military action could have been undertaken to arrest Al Qaeda leaders.
It is very possible, if not likely, that this approach would have led to a much more successful reesult than what the results have been so far. Think about it: after all the bombs have been dropped, after many thousands of innocent civilians have been directly killed by those bombs, and after we have literally put in jeopardy the lives of millions of innocents who have either already died from starvation, disease or exposure or are facing this possibility, after all of this, Bin Laden and Mullah Omar and most of the other top Al Qaeda and Taliban leadership have not been apprehended, either dead or alive. An argument could be made that even on strict military grounds, the U.S. campaign so far in Afghanistan has failed in achieving its primary, initial, stated objectives.
There are other reasons why the government’s war–a war supported by both Republicans and Democrats–is counter-productive if we are genuinely interested in ending terrorism.
Terrorism by non-governmental groups or individuals grows in the soil of poverty, racism and injustice. The kind of war we are waging in Afghanistan only makes those conditions worse Hopefully, the U.S. and other countries will be serious about the reconstruction of Afghanistan, but even if they are, conditions of injustive and poverty elsewhere in other countries, including our own, will go unaddressed. This will be the case because of the resources spent on the war and the additional resources for reconstruction needed because of the added destruction caused by U.S. bombing. And the already-existing anger among the world’s dispossessed will grow. This will strengthen the arguments of Islamic fundamentalist groups like Al Qaeda which depict the United States as the Great Satan because of its dominant role in the world, including the Middle East, where great masses of people are living in extreme poverty. Those arguments will be strengthened even more if, as is likely, the United States and Europe use their tremendous power over the future of Afghanistan to prioritize oil company-friendly policies. The major example is the all-but-certain building of an oil pipeline from the Caspian Sea, the site of the largest known oil reserves in the world, through the western part of Afghanistan to the Indian Ocean. Oil companies, backed by the U.S. government, have been trying to move this project forward in cooperation with the Taliban for years.
Among the reasons that we know this to be the case are the words of the late John O’Neil.
John O’Neil used to be the Deputy Director of the FBI in charge of investigating Al Qaeda. He quit the FBI two weeks before 9-11 to become head of security at the World Trade Center and died while on the job on September 11th. He quit because of obstacles being placed in the way of his investigation by the Bush Administration. He is quoted in a book recently published in France as having said, “The main obstacles to investigating Islamic terrorism were U.S. oil corporate interests, and the role played by Saudi Arabia in it.”
Which brings us to the question, what is an affirmative approach to combat terrorism, doing so in a way that can move us in the direction of a truly new world?
First, as far as Al Qaeda in particular, I have already indicated the general outlines of what I believe would have been more productive approach, certainly in the long-term and possibly in the short-term. Such an approach would have involved intensive but respectful diplomacy; drying up Al Qaeda financial support–which especially means getting tough on the rulers of Saudi Arabia, Al Qaeda’s primary backers; policy changes vis a vis Israel/Palestine and Iraq; serious support to the more democratic and non-warlord-controlled opposition groups in Afghanistan; and limited military/police action as necessary following broad-based international support for such action. As distinct from the Bush/Cheney adminstration’s opposition, we should support the establishment of an International Criminal Court to bring to justice those accused of crimes such as the 9-11 attacks.
Second, we need to investigate the failure of U.S. intelligence agencies on September 11th. What was behind John O’Neil’s resignation? What about a whole series of reports indicating that there was at least some prior knowledge on the government’s part of “something big” about to happen and little being done about these warnings? Is it true, as has been circulating on the internet, that a top intelligence official made a lot of money through the buying and selling of airline stocks just before and on September 11th? Are our intelligence agencies too tied in to multinational corporations such that their “intelligence” work is compromised or worse?
We need government agencies that are about “intelligence” that truly defends us against groups like Al Qaeda because the intelligence is used for the advancement of human rights and human progress, not corporate power and wealth.
Third, we need to get serious about the development of alternative energy sources so that we will not be dependent upon Middle East oil. This would play a major role in helping to reverse the global warming crisis. Jim Hightower and Senator John Kerry are among those who have recently called for this approach as an essential aspect of post-9-11 government policy. In Hightower’s words, we should “enlist our very best scientists in a crash program. . . to resolve any remaining technological impediments to the mass use of fuel cells, biomass, solar, wind, geo-thermal and other abundant, clean and cheap energy sources.” In 1992 Presidential candidate Jerry Brown called for a crusade to weatherize our buildings and homes and make them much more energy-efficient. Hightower again: “The simple steps of common- sense conservation are proven solutions that can cut America’s electricity use in half and cut consumers’ utility bills by a total of $17 billion a month! Doing this job will put hundreds of thousands of our people to work, putting badly needed paychecks into the grassroots economy and instantly lifting our nation from recession to recovery.” We should take money out of the Pentagon budget and put it instead into improving and strengthening our railroads, subway and bus systems and other forms of mass transportation so that this becomes an economical and attractive option for those who drive cars.
Fourth, as we take these steps, we have no reason to continue supporting corrupt, sexist or racist, undemocratic and repressive regimes throughout the Middle East and elsewhere. Instead of support to the Saudi Arabian regime, we can tell them that they either move to democratize their country and provide for basic civil and human rights for women, or they can expect no more such support. In cooperation with the United Nations we can end the economic sanctions on Iraq that are the primary reason why somewhere between one-half and one million children have died in the 11 years since the Gulf War. We can take an even-handed approach to the Israel/Palestine conflict, opposing acts of terror from both sides, calling for Israel to end its illegal, 35-year occupation of the West Bank and Gaza and abandon its settlements, and supporting a two-state solution as the only viable, immediate answer to this escalating crisis. We can be the leader in the provision of financial and human support for Afghanistan’s reconstruction, doing so in a way which respects their right to self-determination and not acting in a neo-colonialist, “ugly American” way.
Fifth, we should get serious about the demilitarization of the world, beginning here at home. We should not abandon the ABM treaty, and we should terminate the ridiculous, wasteful and destabilizing efforts to create a so-called “missile defense” system. No weapons or nuclear power in space. We should move towards a reduction of the U.S. war budget with a goal of cutting it in half by 2010, with us taking the first steps but increasingly making reductions in cooperation with other countries, challenging them to follow our lead. We need to stop pushing more and more lethal and expensive weapons systems onto other countries, increasing the profits of war corporations but making the world a poorer and more dangerous place. We should develop a plan for conversion of war industry to peacetime uses and a program to provide new jobs at comparable income for all workers and soldiers displaced by demilitarization.
Sixth, we must live up to our democratic ideals and principles that have never been fully implemented and which are clearly even more at risk because of the sham “war on terrorism.” We must roll back the USA Patriot Act with its expansion of the ability of the FBI, CIA and other government agencies to eavesdrop, snoop and secretly investigate those they choose to go after without any court authorization. There should be open, public, Congressional hearings–something which did not happen prior to the passage of the Patriot Act–into this question of what additional tools should be provided to law enforcement agencies to deal with the threat from Al Qaeda or any similar groups. Congress must assert its oversight role as far as war powers and policy, not give a blank check to Bush, Cheney and Rumsfeld to do whatever they wish anywhere in the world. No secret military tribunals. No racial profiling, and firm action against police brutality. There must be due process rights, including access to family members and lawyers, must be provided for those “disappeared” into prison as a result of 9- 11.
And if we are truly serious about democracy, the two-party, big-money-dominated, winner-take-all electoral system must undergo a fundamental transformation. We need “clean money” elections, the election of legislative bodies using proportional representation, and the use of preference/instant runoff voting in elections for a single seat.
Finally, and as the pro-corporate World Economic Forum is about to convene at the Waldorf-Astoria over in Manhattan, our country must turn away from what is called “free trade” and instead embrace “fair trade” and economic and social justice as the ultimate, long-term answer to terrorism. NAFTA, GATT, the IMF, the World Bank, the FTAA, the WTO: all of these U.S.-controlled or heavily influenced trade and finance entities and treaties are about the ever-increasing dominance of huge, dictatorial, destructive corporations over more and more aspects of life for people all over the world. Millions have already demonstrated or taken action in a variety of ways in opposition to these processes. The vast, overwhelming super-majority of those actions have been non-violent, certainly non- terrorist. We must continue to build this movement. It is the only hope for an end to all forms of terrorism, government, organizational and individual. We must stop our government from engaging in and supporting repressive, militaristic activity that furthers injustice and corporate profiteering. We need an affirmative program to redistribute wealth and power, including anti-speculation taxes and wealthy taxes on millionaires and billionaries. We should support the call for reparations emerging from the United Nations International Conference on Racism in Durban, South Africa just a few days before September 11th. We must remove the desperate conditions of life which are the soil from which the terrorism of the powerless grows.
In this work, this work of love, this work of hope and liberation, we must use a wide range of tactics: leafletting, petitioning, door-to-door campaigns, mass meetings and demonstrations, fasting, sit-ins and non-violent civil disobedience, voter registration and the running of candidates for political office. As our movement grows, and an increasingly unified alliance emerges, we can expect that the corporate-controlled government will do what they feel they can get away with to try to stop our movement. In response, we must be as gentle as doves but as wise as serpents. We must be prepared for efforts to stir up disunity or to paint our movement as something other than what it is. We have seen this since 9-11; statements have been made which attempt to link the movement for global justice with Al Qaeda, an organization which literally owes its existence to CIA and U.S. government financial and other support in the 1980s.
We should not underestimate those we are going up against. But we should also remember one of Martin Luther King Jr’s favorite saying: “The arc of the universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”
We can also remember the words of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a Lutheran minister in Germany who was killed in 1945 because of his anti-Nazi activities: “Real generosity toward the future lies in giving all to the present.” Elsewhere he said, while imprisoned in a Nazi prison camp during World War II prior to his execution, “There remains for us only the very narrow way, often extremely difficult to find, of living every day as if it were our last, and yet living in faith and responsibility as though there were to be a great future. . . It may be that the day of judgement will dawn tomorrow, and in that case, though not before, we shall gladly stop working for a better future.”
Our conditions within the United States are not the conditions of Nazi Germany, but Bonhoeffer’s words still ring true. There is an urgent, compelling need for more and more people in this country to take seriously their responsibilities to themselves and to others. People are needed who are willing to study our realities and work to change them, in cooperation with a growing movement of like-minded sisters and brothers. There is no other, more important calling today. The world needs U.S. activists of a new type, new women and new men who have learned from history and are able to move forward together at a qualitatively higher level because of it.
We need a movement and forms of organization that are efficient in all of the traditional ways that people think of effective organization. At the same time, we must also build new people, constantly; create organizations and an alliance that keeps people honest and growing all the time; and reach outwards to incorporate more and more people in this process, in concentric circles. Let’s take this time of crisis and turn it into the historic opportunity it also provides.
In the words of poet Christopher Fry, “Thank God our time is now, when wrong comes up to face us everywhere, never to leave until we take the longest stride of soul (we humans) ever took. Affairs are now soul size.”