Tuesday‘s onslaught on key targets in New York City and Washington DC will, almost certainly, elicit a harsh response from the Bush administration. However, it is unlikely that the US government, media or opinion makers will draw the appropriate conclusions about this attack.
Tuesday, Sept. 11, was the United States’ “Yom Kippur,” its “Day of Atonement,” for all the sins its policy makers have committed against other countries and peoples over the past 40-odd years.
While the Saudi Islamic militant Osama Ben Laden is considered the prime suspect, there are others harbouring a desire for revenge who have the ability to carry out a coordinated assault of this magnitude. Palestinian, Iranian and Iraqi militants; Latin Americans with long-standing grudges; European and Asian leftists seeking to reinvigorate their struggles against the core country of the capitalist “evil empire”; drug dealers determined to end the US campaign to curb the trade in narcotics; and international and domestic activists trying to halt the process of globalisation.
Of these possible culprits only Osama Ben Laden, the drug lords and the anti-globalisation movements have the motivation and the global reach to carry out such an operation. And of these only Ben Laden can field operatives prepared to die in order to punish the US for its anti-Muslim, anti-Arab and pro-Israel policies. It is, however, uncertain whether Ben Laden’s men have the logistical expertise to plan a major operation or the technical ability to fly state-of-the-art civilian aircraft into targeted buildings.
Ben Laden’s Al Qa’ida has the allegiance and support of many “Afghans,” veterans of the 1979-91 US-sponsored war against the Soviet-supported leftist government in Kabul. Guerrilla fighters, Mujahedeen, were recruited throughout the Arab and Muslim worlds, trained in Pakistan by that country’s military intelligence apparatus and the US Central Intelligence Agency and sent into the mountains of Afghanistan to fight Russian forces. The protracted campaign was largely funded by Saudi Arabia, Ben Laden’s home country. He joined the Mujahedeen in 1979 and became one of its most celebrated fighters.
A member of a wealthy family which made its money in contracting, Ben Laden contributed millions of dollars to the campaign. He personally signed up hundreds, perhaps even thousands, of Arab and Muslim volunteers, transported them to Pakistan and prepared them for the battlefield. He used his own engineers to blast massive tunnels for bunkers, command centres and arms dumps into the rugged mountains of Bakhtiar province and to cut the Mujahedeen trail to the outskirts of Kabul.
After the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan, many “Afghans” joined the military formations of Afghan warlords to wage the ongoing civil conflict, others became freelancers in the “Azzam Brigades,” loosely connected groupings sharing Ben Laden’s Islamic fundamentalist ideology. According to the authoritative Jane’s Intelligence Review, the “Afghans” loosed onto the international scene included 5,000 Saudis, 3,000 Yemenis, 2,000 Egyptians, 2,800 Algerians, 400 Tunisians, 370 Iraqis, 200 Libyans and several score Jordanians. Some took part in the Bosnian War and the Kosovo campaign as well as in various domestic conflicts in Muslim countries, notably the Islamist revolt against the secular government in Algeria.
The stationing of US troops in Saudi Arabia and the Gulf during the 1991 Gulf War gave Ben Laden and the “Afghans” a new cause: the expulsion of the infidels from sacred Muslim soil; Washington’s assets became its scourge. The first operation linked to Ben Laden was the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Centre which left six dead and 1,000 injured. A shadowy Pakistani called Ramzi Yusif was convicted for being the mastermind of the attack. Ben Laden has also been blamed for 1995 and 1996 attacks on US servicemen in Saudi Arabia, the August 1998 bombings of US embassies in Nairobi, Kenya, and Dar es-Salam, Tanzania, and the October 2000 strike against the USS Cole in the port of Aden in Yemen. Although Ben Laden may inspire his followers to mount operations against the US, it is not known whether he is personally involved in the planning and execution of such actions.
The choice of the twin towers of the World Trade Centre and the Pentagon, home of the US defence department, was highly significant. These two edifices represent the US “military industrial complex” which essentially controls both domestic and foreign policy. At the end of his presidency, Dwight Eisenhower, the allied supreme commander during World War II, repeatedly warned US politicians and voters about the dangers posed by the inordinate amount of influence wielded by the “military industrial complex.” Eisenhower also understood that Israel could not simply seize and occupy the territory of its neighbours. In 1957, Eisenhower compelled Israel to withdraw from the Egyptian Sinai Peninsula after its 1956 capture of this territory during the Anglo-French assault on Egypt. Since then, no US president has made any effort to curb either the “military industrial complex” or Israel which has fused its interests with those of the US defence industry.
While the Bush administration has announced its determination to “wage war on terrorism,” the US will never win that war until it addresses the grievances which inspire militants to strike at Washington. Palestine should be at the top of the Bush administration’s list because the US pro-Israel stance in this century-old conflict fuels the hatred which drives Muslims to attack “soft” US targets and kill US citizens.
Mr. Michael Jansen contributed this article to the Jordan Times.