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Political Roots of American Insecurity

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Mohamed El-Moctar El-Shinqiti

A few months ago, while speaking of the US war in Iraq, Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said: “We’re killing a lot, capturing a lot, collecting arms.

“We just don’t know yet whether that’s the same as winning.”

Rumsfeld apparently laid more stress on the “quantitative performance” and “instrumental efficiency” of an illegal war than on its lack of righteousness and moral legitimacy.

It’s not surprising, therefore, that even three years after the 9-11 tragedy, Washington’s political elite still lacks the moral vision and intellectual clarity to delve deep into the roots of the security problem the average American is facing today. This has, indeed, resulted in further loss of human life and the wasting of resources.

With overwhelming firepower, any King Herod can prevail in military terms, but only by strengthening the roots of his insecurity.

With overwhelming firepower, any King Herod can prevail in military terms, but only by strengthening the roots of his insecurity

However, there are many Americans who, endowed with vision and intellectual clarity, can see through the potential dangers of some of the US foreign policy and which result in deep conflict with the Muslim world.

These men and women aspire to a change of policy; but their voices are often lost in a cacophony of empty demagogy and false propaganda. Richard Neu, assistant to the president of RAND Corporation for research and counter-terrorism, is one of them.

On the first anniversary of the 9-11 attack, Neu published the article Anti-American Violence, an Agenda for Honest Thinking, in which he argued that “making America safer from terrorists will require determined action to get at the root causes of anti-American violence. An effective long-term strategy to defeat terrorism must be built on honest thinking about these potentially painful questions.”

Unfortunately for Americans, and for all of us, “to date, these topics have attracted little systematic analysis” he said.

“Understanding and resolving differences between Americans and Muslims” is one of the challenging issues facing the US policymakers today, Neu said.

Another man who belongs to this league of wise men and women is simply known as Anonymous, a pseudonym for an unknown intelligence officer who headed the Bin Ladin unit within the CIA for some time.

In the introduction to his new book, Imperial Hubris: Why the West Is Losing the War on Terror, published last month, Anonymous argues: “Bin Ladin is out to drastically alter US and Western policies toward the Islamic world, not necessarily to destroy America, much less its freedoms and liberties.

“He is a practical warrior, not an apocalyptic terrorist in search of Armageddon. Should US policies not change, the war between America and the Islamists will go on for the foreseeable future.

No one can predict how much damage will be caused by America’s blind adherence to failed and counterproductive policies or by the lack of moral courage now visible in the 30-year-plus failure of US politicians to review Middle East policy and move America to energy self-sufficiency and alternative fuels.”

But the American political elite is still enslaved by its “instrumental mentality” that judges the legitimacy of any policy by the criterion of efficiency instead of morality.

That is why most American politicians who criticise the occupation of Iraq today refer to the deaths of tens of thousands of Iraqi civilians and more than a thousand American soldiers, and criticise it on a practical - not moral - basis.

They continue to make casual references by repeating arguments such as: “President Bush did not foresee the intensity of Iraqi resistance” or “he did not send enough troops” or “he did not do enough to bring more allies” without mentioning the human suffering and material destruction this war has inflicted on innocent people.

They also do not seem to bother about the steady deterioration of relations between America and the Muslim world thanks to this war.

Whoever has read the 567 pages of the 9-11 Commission Report can easily see through the shortcomings of this pragmatic mentality. The report contains much technical jargon and practical recommendations to improve US security; but more significantly, it has completely ignored the political roots of the American insecurity.

The report described some of the American policies as a source of Muslim animosity towards the US and cited a telling story about Marwan al-Shahhi, one of the two pilots who slammed airplanes into the World Trade Center.

According to the report, “when someone asked [Shahhi] why he and Muhammad Atta never laughed, Shahhi retorted: How can I laugh when people are dying in Palestine?” (page 162).

After having accepted that “policies have consequences”, the report’s authors make an attempt at justification: “That does not mean US choices have been wrong,” (page 376). This is a major shortcoming by the 9-11 Commission to explain one of the most tragic and horrific events in world history.

Instead of helping Americans understand the root causes of the 9-11 disaster, the commission has interpreted the whole event in PR language, arguing that the issue is the US’s inability to convey its message and show its bright face to the Muslim world.

Therefore, according to the commission report, the problem can be easily resolved by sending western textbooks and providing more funding in the communications media for broadcasting in Arabic, Urdu or Pashto. (Urdu is a language widely used in the Indian subcontinent and Pashtu is the language used by Pashtuns in Afghanistan and north-west Pakistan.)

Evidently, however, the 9-11 hijackers did not need western textbooks, because they had already studied them and graduated from American and German universities. This is true of both the planners and the executors of the attacks.

The mastermind of the attacks, Khalid Shaikh Muhammad, studied at “Chowan College, a small Baptist school in Murfreesboro, North Carolina” (9-11 report, page 146), and also at North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University. Three of the “pilots” of the attacks studied at German universities; all four of them received their pilot training at American aviation schools. They had no problem relating to the western culture or education.

What an American expert called “the gates-and-guards approach” to American security is a very shortsighted approach, as it ignores the political roots of the American insecurity.

If “killing a lot, capturing a lot, collecting arms” is not necessarily the same as winning, as Rumsfeld confessed, then other ways of thinking and acting should be explored. Promoting justice, dialogue and reconciliation are among those alternatives.

But the American political establishment seems to prefer the comfort of ignorance to the discomfort of bitter truth. Sadly, many ordinary Americans and non-Americans may have to pay the price for this indolence. Martin Luther King said: “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”

The wisdom of that great American humanist is what we all need to understand today.


Published Saturday, October 16th, 2004 - 07:08am GMT
Mohamed El-Moctar El-Shinqiti is a Mauritanian writer living in the USA.

Article courtesy of Aljazeera.net
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