Editorial from the October 2001 issue of the Socialist Standard
Usama bin Laden’s photograph has been splashed across every newspaper front page in the world. He has replaced Saddam Hussein as the World’s No. 1 Mad Man. Already there is a $10 million price on his head. George W Bush has spoken of the old Wild West wanted posters and how bin Laden’s name is now on one. But who is bin Laden and how did he come to prominence?
Usama bin Laden is a billionaire Islamic fundamentalist, former US ally and protégé, who fronts a terrorist organisation whose fighters were trained and financed by the CIA during the Russian occupation of Afghanistan. The US, in fact, were arming groups like the notorious Mujahedin a full six months before the Russian invasion of December 1979 and it is estimated that at the Russian withdrawal, US aid to them totalled $5 billion (this monetary support for some seven fundamentalist and extremist groups beginning after 1980 when Reagan quadrupled the CIA budget to £36 billion). Even after the Russian withdrawal, the US still supported the Mujahedin, though more covertly now and through Pakistan’s version of the CIA, the ISI. What they were—and still are—up to is perhaps best revealed in the words of Jimmy Carter’s adviser Zbigniev Brzezinski who described Afghanistan at the time as “the greatest chessboard”.
Most favoured status
The Islamic zealots the US are prepared to annihilate in Afghanistan were afforded most favoured status during the Russian occupation of Afghanistan. Under the Carter administration and beginning in 1980, they were trained in their thousands at the CIA’s Camp Peary and at the ex-army base at Harvey Point in Carolina; by the Green Berets at Fort Bragg in North Carolina and indeed by the SAS in Scotland. They would go on to be trained at Fort A.P. Hill, just off the Washington-Richmond interstate highway, and at Camp Picket in Virginia by Green Berets and US Navy SEALS. This was not simply “basic” training. They were trained in over 60 deadly skills, including the use of sophisticated fuses, timers and explosives, remote control devices for land mines, incendiary devices and the use of automatic weapons with armour-piercing shells. Thus the US went about supporting a ten-year long Jihad in the hope of preventing Russian state capitalism expanding its empire in central Asia southwards towards the Indian Ocean.
Following the car bomb attack at the World Trade Centre eight years ago, four of those arrested and charged with the attack were found to be linked to bin Ladens’s al-Qaeda organisation and amongst those trained by the US (Robert Fox, New York’s regional FBI director revealed this in a TV interview in 1993). When the US attacked bin Laden’s bases near the village of Khost in Afghanistan (along with the Sudanese pharmaceutical factory) following attacks on US embassies in Africa, they could do so with pin point accuracy for the CIA had planned and designed them.
The US is now reaping the bitter harvest of its foreign policy which used Islamic fundamentalism as a puppet in its perennial game of globo-political profit-making. For years it courted some of the most dangerous, conservative and fanatical followers of Islam, but the capitalist globalisation process, which the US has pursued obsessively, has served to make political Islam more reactionary in defence of its own culture and strategic interests.
Whilst the world is outraged at the terrorist attacks on the USA mainland, it must be remembered that the US has been conducting and supporting just as deadly covert acts of terrorism around the globe for 50 years. For instance, the US and Britain supported Suharto’s military coup in Indonesia in 1966, which resulted in the deaths of 600,000 mainly ethnic Chinese supporters of the Indonesian “Communist” Party, the PKI. And it was the US who toppled (also on an 11 September) the elected Allende government in Chile which resulted in thousands of deaths and countless disappearances. When Israel invaded Lebanon in 1982 and massacred 17,500, this act of terror was supported by the US.
Since 1945 the US has toppled some 30 governments and supported every dictator imaginable (Pol Pot, Mobuto, Amin, Marcos, Papa Doc Duvalier and Saddam Hussein) whilst seriously interfering in the domestic affairs of almost 70 countries.
In recent years the US has devastated Iraq in continuous bombing raids – even for using radar to scan airspace from which its air force is excluded. During the 40-day Gulf War, US planes dropped 177 million pounds of explosives on Iraq – the greatest aerial bombardment in history. It has imposed sanctions on Iraq that have resulted in the deaths of perhaps two million people and bombed Iraq in defence of the Kurds from the same air bases Turkey has used to bomb Kurdish villages. In the wake of the Gulf War, the US mercilessly attacked a retreating Iraqi army on the Basra road and quite literally fried to death 60,000 ill-equipped, ill-trained soldiers, the vast majority never wanting any part in the conflict in the first place. Two weeks ago, the US and Britain again joined hands in a bombing raid on Iraq. It wasn’t even reported in most Western newspapers. And where is the three-minutes’ silence for the 500,000 Iraqi children who have died of hunger and disease as a result of US sanctions in the past 10 years – a figure which Madeleine Albright described recently as “a price worth paying”?
There was of course a time when the US couldn’t help Iraq enough. During the Iran-Iraq war, the US gave its full blessing to Iraqi atrocities, even supplying Iraq with the chemical weapons it used on the small town of Halabjah in 1988 with the loss of 5,000 innocent lives. Indeed, in 1987 when Iraq attacked the USS Stark, killing 37 servicemen, there was no US response as the White House was keen at the time that Iraq got the upper hand in its war with Iran so as weaken Iran’s threat to the West’s oil supplies.
The US has launched attacks upon Libya, Somalia and Grenada, propped up right wing tendencies in Panama, Chile, Brazil, Haiti, El Salvador, Nicaragua and Colombia. In Africa it supported the gangster Savimbi as he tried to make Angola more hellish for its impoverished millions, adopted a policy of “constructive engagement” with South Africa’s apartheid machine and was all to willing to shoulder up with South Africa in its war with the frontline states. In the Middle East it has propped up despotic regimes in Saudi Arabia and the Gulf whilst at the same time backing Israel. This year alone Israel is receiving $6 in free US aid, in direct contravention of Congress rulings. During the retaliatory raids following the attacks on the US embassies in Africa, the US fired 70 cruise missiles into Afghanistan and killed many thousands in Sudan (a true figure is not available because the US blocked the proposed UN inquiry). The US ruling class’s catalogue of shame is indeed a deep one and we can only begin to scratch at its surface
Appalling losses of life
Whilst the 11 September attack resulted in an appalling loss of innocent life which no sane person could condone, the wonder is that the US has escaped the attention of terrorists for so long. For the poignant truth is that there are millions who have been murdered defeated, demoralised, impoverished and crushed by the US ruling class and its allies and who could well have turned to the pathos of terrorism as a means of evening up the score. Who knows the number of US-created Frankensteins walking the world, prepared to destroy the life of their master? This is not to suggest the US “deserves” to be bombed, but hints at the number of enemies the US ruling class has created in pursuit of global domination, forever trying to carve out larger chunks of the world on behalf of its corporate elite.
If we set this terrorist attack in a wider context, however, the loss of life in New York and Washington, whilst horrendous, is by no means the worst there has been. For instance, we can’t realistically comprehend the horror of the dying days of World War Two when, in one night alone, 100,000 died in a 1000-bomber raid on Dresden. If we make a comparison to the present, is it not an atrocity that 40,000 children die of starvation each day? Is it not a most heinous crime when 1,000 children die each hour of preventable disease (these are UNICEF statistics) and do we not find sickening the thought that twice that number of women die or suffer disability during pregnancy because of a lack of simple remedies or medical attention? We are speaking here of a Hiroshima a day which never gets reported, which is taken as accepted because it is so much a part of our way of life in capitalist society. Where is the 25-page newspaper pull-out that accompanies the recent WHO revelation that more people died of starvation in the last two years than were killed in two world wars?
Whilst we gasp in disbelief at the deaths of 5,000 workers in the biggest terrorist attack in history, it is worth pausing and remembering that the US, Britain, France, China and Russia have between them thousands of nuclear weapons capable of destroying the planet a hundred times over. Any one of these war-heads is indeed capable of creating death and destruction on a scale that would make the attack in question look like a playground firecracker. Where are the protests at this arsenal of destruction?
This in no way diminishes the fact that there has been an enormous loss of life in the USA. Those lying dead beneath the rubble in New York are our fellow workers—make no mistake about it—members of the working class, murdered whilst they were being exploited. Whilst we are revolted, as socialists we certainly do not crave the comfort of revenge. We take a more considered view.
Western leaders have claimed the attack to be an assault on civilisation. But what is this civilisation that has been attacked, where 600 million have no home, where 800 million are chronically malnourished, where 1 billion have no access to clean water? What is this civilisation where three individuals have more wealth than the combined income of the world’s 48 poorest nations? How can we defend a “civilisation” where food is destroyed to keep prices high and scientists employed on weapons programmes whilst children die of preventable disease?
Since the attacks on New York and Washington, The US and British media has become a history exclusion zone, feeding only the whipped-up contagion of patriotism, whilst flag-waving and the repetitious singing of anthems trigger, in Pavlovian fashion, a national epidemic of jingoism, the only cure for which is reprisals. The dominant view is that extremists the world over are intent on destroying democracy and western civilisation – a near sighted perspective which washes well with a news-hungry audience whose knowledge of US foreign policy and basic international affairs makes it impossible for them to separate reality from distortion.
US Vice President Dick Cheney has demanded bin Laden’s head on a platter whilst his liege, Bush, informs the world that the US will not only target terrorists but those who harbour terrorists. The popular vision now is of US F-16’s and stealth bombers leaving US bases in Diego Garcia, Incilirik and from the carriers of the 5th and 6th fleets in the Middle East, their mission to level the breeding ground of Islamic terrorism – Afghanistan and any other states suspected of wittingly giving them refuge.
For the belligerent Bush, a war-monger long before his ascendancy to the White House, the terrorist attacks on mainland USA must be a blessing in disguise, providing Republican hawks and their bellicose corporate backers with a prime pretext with which to reinforce US hegemonic credentials and perhaps forge ahead with a costly National Missile Defense System now that the reality has struck home that the USA, or rather its profit-mongers and military machine, are loathed around the world.
The attacks on the US will perhaps serve to show Republican hawks the futility of this proposal. These hijacked planes could well have flown into nuclear power stations or bases containing US stockpiles of biological weapons (the US is the world’s biggest stockpiler of such weapons). They may well have carried small nuclear devices. The most sophisticated missile defence system imaginable simply cannot be programmed to read the mind of a religious fanatic incensed with the notion that his death (and those of 10,000 infidels with him) is a passport to heaven.
Bush may well speak of the terrorism the US faces from Islamic fundamentalism, but what about the global threat from US fundamentalism? Since coming to power, Bush has helped scupper the 1997 Kyoto Protocol on emissions and all but wiped his presidential backside on the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty and the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty. His attitude to treaties and conventions suggests he has already declared war on the planet and that US foreign policy will continue as before and with one aim – to ensure the 21st Century is another “American Century”.
Bush claims that this is the first war of the 21st Century but it is just one battle in a larger war that began in 1945 with the US determined to control the world’s resources, and there is more than ample evidence to prove this. More importantly, though, The entire episode serves to show the insanity of the system we live in, and the desperate need to wrest control of our planet away from the madmen before it is indeed too late. In the 20th century, some 220 million lost their lives in wars, in conflicts over trade routes, areas of influence, foreign markets, mineral wealth and the strategic points from which the same can be defended or in other words, in the name of profit.
The solution to the ongoing insanity, we insist, remains the same. There is one world and we exist as one people in need of each other and with the same basic needs. There is far more that unites us than can ever divide us along cultural, nationalistic or religious lines. Together we can create a civilisation worth living in, but before that happens we need the conscious Cupertino of ordinary people across the world, united in one common cause – to create a world in which each person has free access to the benefits of civilisation, a world without borders or frontiers, social classes or leaders and a world in which production is at last freed from the artificial constraints of profit and used for the good of humanity – socialism.