The unnoticed, unreported part of the Bin Laden story

Sam Smith – In its absurdly overdone coverage of Bin Laden’s death, the media is drowning out one key matter: why were Bin Laden and Al Qaeda so mad at us?

By reducing the matter to a simplistic “war on terror” we never had to deal with the actual issues that were behind 9/11 and other acts. Agence France Presse reminds us of this in a story on Bin Laden’s last tape:

“In the final audio tape bin Laden recorded before being killed, he warned there would be no security for the United States until Palestinians are allowed to live in security, an Islamist website reported Sunday. “America will not be able to dream of security until we live in security in Palestine,” he said. “It is unfair that you live in peace while our brothers in Gaza live in insecurity. “Accordingly, and with the will of God, our attacks will continue against you as long as your support for Israel continues,” he warned.”

There’s nothing new in this. Al Qaeda early made it clear that its agenda included the Israeli-Palestine situation, the American presence in Saudi Arabia, and our brutal sanctions against Iraq. While Al Qaeda’s approach was unconscionably violent, its goals were hardly out of the realm of rational consideration and negotiation.

Consider that Palestine has a population of four million. This is less than that of about half of America’s fifty states.

Now consider how different the past decade would have been if we had supported full statehood for a beleaguered territory about the size of South Caroline, Louisiana or Kentucky. Instead we adopted a policy that helped to ruin our economy, kill thousands of our troops, dismantle our Constitution and lose the respect of much of the world.

Yes, there were other issues, but there is no doubt that Palestine was an important enough factor to have changed the course of history had we merely exercised some common decency and common sense. Instead, we submitted to the irrational demands of Israel, one of the most masochistic countries of all time, and in the process lost our World Trade Center, our global status, our well-being and our dreams.

The following was written seven years ago

Sam Smith, Progressive Review, 2004 – It is now almost three years since the attacks of September 11, 2001., During this period we have invaded two Muslim countries and moved far closer to the apartheid regime of Ariel Sharon. We have not taken a single important step to reduce hatred of America, respond to justified complaints of the Muslim world, or create forums where current conflicts can be explored instead of continue to explode.

In short, with psychotic consistency, our leaders have made matter worse, more dangerous, and more complicated to resolve.

To reduce the constituency of the most extreme one must respond to the concerns of the most rational. Our refusal to do so has left us in grave and unnecessary danger.

This is not poor policy, it is madness. It is criminally reckless and negligent and threatens not only those we blame but those we profess to protect.

Our leaders in both parties – including their presidential candidates – have condemned Americans to live in perpetual fear in no small part because they are unwilling to make amends for a foreign policy that for more half a century has regarded Arabs and other Muslims much as our south once regarded black Americans.
In the end there are two primary ways to deal with conflict: fight about it or talk about it. It is long past time for the latter. If you fight about it you are going to win, lose, just keep fighting, or grow tired of the whole business. There is no chance, given our current policies, that we can win the war we have chosen to fight and while we may not lose it, we have, in our reaction to 9/11, already lost much of what we are, or strove to be, as Americans.

The most likely outcome is that we will continue the war at ever increasing cost until we just can’t take it anymore. At which point, as in Vietnam, we will do what we should have done years earlier, namely to talk and work our way of the situation.

If you listen to American media and politicians, you would assume that there was nothing to talk about. But, pushing aside the macho, militaristic rhetoric that surrounds us, one can discover some interesting anomalies.

For example, the Washington Post reports that Khalid Sheik Mohammed, when he presented the original 9/11 attack plan to Osama bin Laden in 1998 or 1999, “called for hijacking 10 jetliners on both coasts of the United States and crashing nine of them. The kicker would have been the final plane, which he would commandeer personally. After killing all the men on board, Mohammed would alert the media and deliver a speech excoriating the U.S. government for its support of Israel and repressive Arab regimes.”

Now there are plenty of people around the world and in the U.S. who would have agreed to some extent with Mohammed’s stated goals. Just recently, for example, over 100 countries voted in the U.N. against the U.S. and Israel over the Sharon Wall. The difference lies in the question of taking the matter airborne.
Similarly, Howard Zinn has pointed out that despite all the talk about Muslims hating America for its belief in democracy, Osama bin Laden managed to tolerate it well enough as long as he was getting American funds for his battle against the Soviet Union. It was the change in our foreign policy he couldn’t stand.

Usually in a hostage situation – and we are the hostage in this situation – there is considerable curiosity as to the hostage-takers’ demands. In this case, however, the media and politicians have blithely ignored the issue almost entirely. Thus many have forgotten what Al-Queda’s early anger was about including, most prominently, the Israeli-Palestine situation, the American presence in Saudi Arabia, and the brutal sanctions against Iraq.

Looked at outside the context of 9/11 but within the context of the history of international disputes, these are not insurmountable crises. What was insurmountable was the unwillingness of either side to sit down honestly and deal with them.

The cost of our reaction since 9/11, including planetary endangerment as well as damage to our constitution, safety, and economy, bears little relationship to the underlying disputes. What gives them their awesome power is not their intrinsic nature but what they have perversely nurtured in the souls of the antagonists. This includes, in the case of bin Laden, seeing oneself no longer as a mere guerilla but as a holy emperor in waiting. But it also includes George Bush seeing himself as a holy crusader.

Consider the case of Egypt. According to the Christian Science Monitor, Israel – the largest recipient of US foreign aid in 2003, gets $2.1 billion in military aid annually; $600 million in economic aid. Egypt is the second largest recipient with $1.3 billion in military aid; $615 million for social programs.

Turn now to the recent Zogby poll of Arab counties which found that in Egypt, 76% of citizens had an unfavorable view of the U.S. in 2002 and now 98% share such an opinion. You can’t have a more failed foreign policy than that.

So here we are wrecking ourselves constitutionally, economically, culturally and psychologically, and neither major party can offer us a different course.

Shibley Telhami, who teaches peace and development at the University of Maryland, wrote in the Baltimore Sun:

“It’s true that many in the Middle East have often criticized US foreign policy in the past 30 years. But in general, their notion of US aims has been largely focused not on profound animosity but on a sense of conflict in strategic interests and domestic politics over oil and Israel. Today, an increasing number of Muslims and Arabs believe that the United States is simply aiming to attack Muslims.”

Last month in Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Morocco, Lebanon and the United Arab Emirates, more than three-fourths of respondents said they believed that US aims in Iraq were intended in part ‘to weaken the Muslim world.

America is not only destroying itself but is destroying its ability to work its way out of the situation.

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