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The Newest New World Order
By Phyllis Bennis
September 18, 2001

for Papeles (Madrid):
posted by permission of author

In the morning of September 11, “all changed, changed utterly.” But what was born was not Yeats’ “terrible beauty” but an incomprehensible horror.

Over the course of minutes, then hours and days, everything changed utterly. We still don’t know the full scale of the human cost of the tragedy; we still don’t know how many of the 5,000 or more missing, almost certainly dead, will ever be identified. It’s still too soon, perhaps, to draw all the lessons that must be learned, but it is not too soon, even in the epicenter of that anguish, to begin to ask questions, to ask why. Why human beings could even contemplate, let alone carry out such an act. It is not too soon to ask why we here in the U.S. had never imagined or believed that we would come face to face with what The Independent’s Robert Fisk described as “the wickedness and awesome cruelty of a crushed and humiliated people.”

The illusion of American impunity for George Bush senior’s ‘new world order’ crumpled as the towers imploded. Calls for war, even before the human cries, were official Washington’s first response. Almost a week after the attack, Washington remains under siege: the airports largely closed, F-16s patrolling the skies and military helicopters fly constant patterns over our neighborhoods. Our office (around the corner from the White House and within the new ‘security perimeter’) was evacuated, and we had the surreal experience of sitting outside on the doorstep analyzing Congress’ pending War Powers resolution (since passed with horrifying carte-blanche-to-the-president) on behalf of the lone, brave congresswoman who voted no. As we went through a line-by-line critique, vans filled with secret service agents and busloads of camouflage-clad soldiers roared down the closed-off street in front of our building, heading into the driveway between the White House and the Treasury building.

George Bush may come to regret his immediate call for a military reaction to this horrifying crime. If one looks at history, earlier U.S. military responses to terrorist attacks bear two things in common: one, they all kill, injure, or render even more desperate some number of already-impoverished innocents; two, they don’t work to stop terrorism. In 1986 Ronald Reagan’s military bombed Tripoli and Benghazi to punish Libyan leader Muammar Ghadafi for a discotheque explosion in Germany that killed two GIs. Ghadafi survived, but several dozen Libyan civilians, including Ghadafi’s 3-year-old daughter, were killed. And still, just a couple years later, came the Lockerbie disaster. In 1999, responding to the attacks on U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, U.S. bombers hit bin Laden’s training camps in Afghanistan and an allegedly bin Laden-linked pharmaceutical factory in the Sudan. It turned out the factory had no connection to bin Laden (its owner has a lawsuit pending against the U.S.), but it was the only provider of vital vaccines for children growing up in the profound scarcity of central Africa. And whoever or whatever was destroyed in those primitive camps hidden deep in the Afghan mountains, attacking them obviously did nothing to prevent last Tuesday’s assault.

The attack on the World Trade Center was a crime -- of unimaginable magnitude, but a crime nonetheless. If the U.S. wants to remain a country ruled by law, even those outside the law such as the September 11 terrorists must be brought to face international justice -- not turned into “dead or alive” targets for F-16-flying bounty-hunters.

We should note that Juergen Storbeck, director of the European Union’s police arm Europol, warned on September 15 that “bin Laden is not the automatic leader of every terrorist act carried out in the name of Islam” and that a wide-ranging investigation was needed to avoid bringing the wrong people to account. But there appears little doubt that some version of fundamentalist Islamism and some connection to Middle East politics were likely components motivating the attack. If so, it is no secret what policies lie at the root of Arab, Muslim and regional antagonism to the U.S.

The resentment is not aimed at America or Americans in some general sense. Contrary to Bush administration and media pundits, it is not democracy that is hated (in fact it is America’s support for regimes in the region that deny democracy to their people that fuels Arab anger), nor even American power per se. It is the way that American power is used in the Middle East that has caused such enmity. That includes the uncritical political, diplomatic and financial (around $4 billion a year) support for Israel and its occupation of Palestinian land. It includes providing the F-16s and helicopter gunships Israel uses against refugee camps, the settlements, house demolitions, assassination of Palestinian activists and leaders, checkpoints, curfews, closures, all of which are protected from international censure by U.S. diplomacy. It includes Washington’s arming and backing the repressive near-dictatorships and absolute monarchies throughout the region, ignoring the claimed commitment to “democratization” that shapes U.S. policy justifications elsewhere in the world. It includes U.S. sponsorship of eleven years of economic strangulation of Iraq, through sanctions now genocidal in their cumulative impact on civilians. It includes the stationing (permanently now, it seems) of U.S. troops throughout the region, particularly in lands some deem holy in Saudi Arabia.

But more than any single policy or even set of policies, the biggest cause of antagonism is the arrogance with which that unchallengeable U.S. power is exercised -- with international law dismissed, UN requirements ignored, internationally supported treaties abandoned. So while the U.S. demands that other countries strictly abide by UN resolutions and international law, and threatens or imposes sanctions or even military assault in response to violations, it holds itself accountable only to a separate “law of empire” which applies to the U.S. alone.

What might a “war against bin Laden” look like? The leader of al-Qaeda may well have already fled from Afghanistan; bin Laden’s followers are among the very few in that devastated country with the resources to flee at all. Bombing raids in Afghanistan are likely to achieve nothing. Missile strikes on mud huts and caves in the rugged mountains that make up bin Laden’s training camps have proved fruitless before. Kabul is already a city of collapsed infrastructure with virtually no functioning economy. Five million starving Afghans there will be the only target if the capital is bombed. In fact, the mere threat of U.S. airstrikes has already exacerbated the misery. Afghanistan is in the grip of a three-year drought and according to the UN’s World Food Program, by the end of the year 5.5 million people will be entirely dependent on food aid to survive the winter - a quarter of the Afghan population. The international aid programs whose workers were immediately withdrawn from the country in anticipation of U.S. bombing provided virtually the only food.

While it is possible that the Taliban leadership will decide to turn the fugitive Saudi millionaire over for trial in some third country, it remains unlikely. With the assassination of Ahmad Shah Masood, the anti-Taliban opposition forces remain seriously weakened and the Taliban itself stronger than ever. Recent calls for Washington to arm and support the opposition Northern Alliance evoke memories of the 1979-1990 period when the U.S. armed, trained and supported the anti-Soviet Afghan militias that soon gave birth to the Taliban and to Osama bin Laden.

Elsewhere in the Middle East, the Palestinians will likely face the biggest price. The already secure U.S.-Israeli alliance has been ratcheted up even further, as both Israeli officials and U.S. policymakers embrace their “unity” as victims of terror. Israel has been clear in its intention to take every advantage of the terrorist attacks in the U.S. In only the first three days after the New York/Washington attacks, gloated Israeli Defense Minister Binyamin Ben Eliezer, "we have killed 14 Palestinians in Jenin, Kabatyeh and Tammun, with the world remaining absolutely silent.”

The deepening of the U.S.-Israeli alliance appears strong enough that this time around, unlike George Bush senior’s 1990-91 anti-Iraq mobilization, Israel will not be willing to take a back-seat role in the U.S.-led coalition. In fact, Tel Aviv has raised a demand that Syria and the Palestinian Authority be excluded from the Arab component of the emerging alliance as a condition of Israeli participation. Prime Minister Ariel Sharon said “we will not pay the price for the establishment of this coalition.” Israel’s escalation in the first week since the terrorist attacks in the U.S. is including tank-led re-occupations of cities ostensibly under full Palestinian control and the establishment of a military zone in the West Bank from which Palestinians are excluded. Efforts in the UN to provide international protection for the Palestinians facing such attacks have foundered.

No serious analyst has suggested that Baghdad was a significant player in the September 11 attacks, yet Iraq remains near the top of the list of potential targets. Facts aside, right-wing commentator William F. Buckley described Iraq as “the theater” for the “decisive confrontation” that the war against terrorism requires. The possibility has been severely reduced that UN members would finally respond this year to a world-wide public demand to end the slaughter of innocents that is the result of economic sanctions in Iraq. And for those U.S. politicians for whom the continued presence of Saddam Hussein in a presidential palace in Baghdad represents an intolerable political embarrassment, the region-wide mobilization will provide political cover for renewed covert or open strikes against the Iraqi regime. What could be more fitting than for Junior’s war to finish what his father left behind?

Other Arab regimes are likely to emerge from this crisis more dependent than ever on Washington’s financial and political backing. With growing Islamist and nationalist opposition to such alliances, they will face less internal legitimacy, greater gaps between governments and populations, and ultimately the threat of greater instability. Governments such as Jordan, as well as the Palestinian Authority, are clamoring to join the coalition, likely recalling the price they paid for their reluctance to join Washington’s anti-Iraq crusade a decade ago.

And on the front line, Pakistan is poised to return to its Cold War dependent alliance with the U.S. -- provided General Pervez Musharraf, who seized power in a military coup two years ago, can keep his divided military and the outraged street under control. It is likely that the announced cooperation with Washington will continue, relying on the international cover provided by the UN Security Council resolution to legitimate the unpopular move. But the near-desperate efforts of top Pakistani security officials to convince the Taliban to give up bin Laden show clearly the understanding that a U.S.-led war against Pakistan’s neighbor would place enormous domestic Islamist pressures on the government. It remains uncertain whether Islamabad will provide any direct military involvement beyond possibly allowing overflight rights to U.S. warplanes. What is certain is that both cooperating with the U.S., and refusing to cooperate with the U.S., hold new and potentially deadly threats for the current military government’s survival.

So what are the broader international ramifications of Bush Junior’s new crusade? At first glance, the unanimous votes in the UN Security Council and the NATO leadership council seem to signal an overwhelming international sign-on to Washington’s war. But on closer examination, cracks are already apparent.

In the Security Council, the fervent “stand up for America” vote was far more likely an expression of the delegates’ own human sympathy with the victims of the assault, just a few miles south of the United Nations headquarters, than it was an uncritical endorsement of the U.S. call for a military response. The vote’s unanimity reflects the reality that the attack on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon represented, at least in part, an assault on the nation-state system as whole -- so countries who would ordinarily be less concerned about an attack on U.S. military and economic power, such as China, supported the resolution. The resolution does use the language the UN Charter requires as a prerequisite for a Council decision to endorse military force -- that the attacks represent “a threat to international peace and security.” But it does NOT, although some U.S. officials may claim otherwise, actually endorse or call for any, especially unilateral, use of force. To the contrary, the Council simply “expresses its readiness” to respond and to combat terrorism “in accordance with its responsibilities under the Charter of the United Nations.” And, crucially, it “decides to remain seized of the matter” -- which, in UN diplo-speak, means that decision-making remains in the hands of the Council itself, not those of any individual nation’s. Washington will have to be very careful not to confuse, whether deliberately or not, a unanimity of support rooted in sympathy for victims, with unanimous acquiescence to Washington’s emerging “us against them” war ---- or risk violating international law and the UN Charter once again.

Similarly, the NATO finding that the U.S. attacks represented an attack on all member states under Article 5 of the NATO Charter, is not yet equivalent to an agreement for full NATO participation. Even in the first days after the vote, important NATO countries began backtracking. Of the key NATO countries, only Italy’s defense minister announced Rome’s readiness to deploy troops and aircraft in a U.S.-led mobilization. France hedged its bets, stating it would not take part unless it was centrally involved in planning from the very beginning -- probably already impossible. Even the UK, usually puppy dog-loyal to Washington, called for serious deliberation before retaliation can be launched, and reaffirmed that the NATO vote did not constitute a blank check. Germany, faced with serious domestic opposition to the deployment of troops anywhere outside its borders, is unlikely to move towards direct participation. The European Union will meet in a special summit on 21 September, and the key question will be whether Europe is prepared to try to rein in Washington’s most aggressive military intentions.

The U.S. goals appear to be to create a huge international coalition, not only in support of the Pentagon’s own military strikes and bombing raids, but including broad declarations of political support, increased coordination between U.S. and international intelligence agencies, and unprecedentedly unlimited access to key countries’ airspace, bases, logistical support. More demands will likely follow.

Certainly a number of countries will sign on quickly, hoping to bolster their own ties with the U.S. and position themselves in a post-World Trade Center order. So India has jumped on Washington’s bandwagon, offering base rights, especially significant if Pakistan’s contribution is limited. Pakistan’s own judgment likely includes not only the possible consequences (including military attack) of refusing U.S. demands, but a hope that Washington’s nuclear sanctions might be lifted, as well as for increased U.S. aid and perhaps even support for Islamabad’s position in Kashmir. A number of countries, including China, Russia, Indonesia and perhaps more are taking Israel’s example, linking their embrace of Washington’s anti-terrorism war to American acquiescence to their own ruthless crackdowns on Islamist-flavored rebel challenges.

Despite the early expressions of support, such a coalition may prove more difficult than it first appears. Many things remain uncertain. But if the U.S. refuses to pull back from its self-declared intended abyss of war against an unseen but omnipresent enemy, the coming war will present far more serious challenges than Junior’s father ever dreamed of.

To avoid such an outcome, the U.S. should redefine these horrific attacks as crimes, crimes against humanity, rather than the beginning of a war. Washington should pull back from its bullying and its threatened use of force against Afghanistan, Pakistan, and indirectly against virtually every Middle Eastern country, and instead try to recreate a new kind of cooperative internationalism based on UN resolutions, international law, and a commitment to fighting for justice, rather than vengeance. That could start with revoking its opposition to the International Criminal Court, instead recognizing the ICC’s value precisely for dealing with this kind of international horror. The U.S. could even take the lead in moving to strengthen, rather than weaken, the Court as it comes into formal existence, including supporting the creation of an independent internationally-accountable police agency to enforce the Court’s jurisdiction. Cooperation with Pakistan, Afghanistan, etc., would make possible a level of collaborative police work that will remain out of reach as long as U.S. diplomacy is defined by bullying and threatened bombing strikes.

And then, and then, perhaps it is not too much to hope that the U.S. will begin, finally, to examine its own policies in the Middle East and beyond. Policies that have themselves given rise to a sea of poverty, disempowerment and despair -- the sea in which small guppies of anger and resentment can, over generations, suddenly grow larger and more powerful than anyone ever imagined.


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