Revolution #69, November 19, 2006
The (Deadly) Logic of the “War on Terror”
Every major politician and commentator talks about the “war on terror.” But what is the war on terror? Who decides what countries are “with the terrorists,” and on what basis? What are the objectives of this war? And, what kind of “war on terror” is fought with illegal wars, massacres, and torture?
Think about it. If the use of terror—specifically the conscious targeting of innocent civilians for attack—defines who is a terrorist, then the closest allies of the United States and most of all the United States itself would be at the top of the list. Often the U.S. “outsources” its terrorist attacks. During the Israeli invasion of Lebanon, the Israeli army fired over a million cluster bomblets into Lebanon, for example. These are anti-civilian weapons, designed to more or less randomly blow body parts off people—often children—who pick them up. The delivery systems for these weapons of terror were rushed to Israel by the U.S., and the entire Israeli military machine is funded by and operates under the overall direction of the U.S.
While the U.S. often hides behind proxy states, dictators, and armed groups to carry out terror, the current war on Iraq is full of examples of direct U.S. terrorist attacks. In numerous documented incidents, uniformed U.S. troops barged into the homes of random, innocent civilians and raped women and murdered entire families. And while those at the top of the chain of command hypocritically blame a few low-level torturers, it is clear that directives for the horrific torture at Abu Ghraib came directly from Donald Rumsfeld who, for years, and even after his resignation, has gotten nothing but praise from the commander-in-chief himself.
And then, of course, there is the entire history of this country—from the genocide practiced against the Native American peoples to the nuclear bombing of the civilian populations of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, to Vietnam and beyond. By any objective definition, the United States leads the list of “terrorist states.” But somehow this same government can decide who is, and who isn’t, a “terrorist.”
Imperialism vs. Reactionary Forces in Oppressed Nations
But let’s step back a minute. The global system of imperialism has produced a horribly lopsided world—where one billion of the world’s people do not have drinkable water and obscene wealth is controlled by the ruling classes of a few countries. This stunning inequality is an expression of a capitalist system that squeezes the life out of child laborers in Pakistan, miners slaving in the Congo, and Brazilian peasants scratching out a living growing coffee for the world market. When you hear someone talking about investment—and in particular investment in the oppressed nations of Asia, Africa, and Latin America—this is what they are talking about. Such investments are the lifeblood of a global imperialist economy that lives off of exploitation, and superexploitation. And, from the standpoint of the interests of imperialism, this whole structure needs to be protected—from those who rise up against being exploited, and from global and regional rivals who want a bigger piece of the action.
How does this connect with the “war on terror”? In the geopolitical landscape that emerged after the collapse of the former Soviet Union, and the end of the “cold war,” U.S. imperialism emerged in a position to establish itself as the world’s sole superpower. In this context, the dominant forces within the U.S. ruling class—grouped around the “neocons” (or neoconservatives) in imperialist think tanks, felt the freedom, and need, to tear up the post-World War 2 setup in the Middle East. As they saw it, the complex web of imperialist domination and regional powers in the Middle East could be, and had to be, forcibly replaced with regimes that were both more stable and more reliably subservient to the U.S. Barriers to the investment of imperialist capital had to come down. And political and military challenges to the structure of global imperialism had to be smashed. People like Saddam Hussein who, while overall subordinate to imperialism, were wildcards—playing on whatever space they could find between the U.S. and other powers (like Russia, Europe, and China)—and had to go.
Plans for all this were long on the shelf when 9/11 hit. Immediately after the attacks, the neocons—who were in dominant positions in the White House—seized the moment and wrapped their agenda for more intensified U.S. global domination in the American flag and the banner of a “war on terror.” Donald Rumsfeld told an aide right after the attack that this was the moment to “go massive—sweep it all up, things related and not.”
It is this system of imperialist exploitation and domination, then, that is being defended in the name of the “war on terror.”
Breaking the Deadly Dynamic
For a number of reasons, key forces that the U.S. needs to “sweep up” in the Middle East are Islamic fundamentalists. Many of them were brought into being by the U.S. during the “cold war” to fight the Soviet Union. At the top of their structure, they represent classes within oppressed nations who, like small-scale mobsters operating under a capo de tuti capos, itch for a larger cut of the profit extracted from the sweat and blood of the people in their countries, and a more powerful role for themselves in the process. They base themselves on and feed off of the more backward social relations in these countries—the oppression of women, feudal relations in the countryside, enforced ignorance, etc. To people broadly, Islamic fundamentalism has a certain backward-looking appeal as a way of dealing with traumatic changes to the economic and social life in these societies. The opposition they get from the U.S., along with the corruption and open subservience of the local elites, adds to their credibility among sections of the people. At the same time, their ideology does have a “life of its own,” even as it ultimately reflects more underlying class relations. Some of these forces actually aspire to a form of Islamic empire, and those kinds of ambitions add an element of chaos into the situation that works against U.S. designs. And some have attacked within the imperialist countries themselves.
At the same time, the U.S. is the “dynamic factor” in all this—it is the U.S. that presides over the subjugation of Arab and Middle Eastern lands and that has intensified this over the past two decades through the two Gulf wars, the continued and intensified support of Israel’s crimes against the Palestinians, the basing of American soldiers around the region, the invasion of Afghanistan, and now the threats against Iran. Moreover, the worst crimes become justified in the name of the “war on terror”—from Abu Ghraib to Guantanamo, from Haditha to Lebanon, all in the name of American “safety” and “saving American lives.”
The paradox is that the “war on terror” is not about making anyone safer. In addition to the injustice and immorality of the “war on terror,” it creates more hatred for America—and for Americans who seem to go along with it—and more Islamic fundamentalism. And it justifies a qualitatively more severely repressive environment in the U.S. Both sides in this conflict feed off each other. When Bush talks about a “crusade,” a reference to hundreds of years of religious wars between Christians and Muslims in the Middle East, or General Jerry Boykin brags that his god is bigger than the Muslim god, how do you think that plays out in the Middle East? And then the reaction gets used to strengthen the hand of the imperialists in the West, who pose as more rational—even as people like Bush promote their own brand of fundamentalist ignorance.
In light of all this, the Democrats’ attempt to recast the widespread opposition to the war against Iraq into rallying behind a “‘smarter’ war on terror” is particularly dangerous and despicable. This is a logic that leads to what we have already seen: U.S. wars against, and occupation of, Afghanistan (which has been such a horror that some sections of people are actually rallying around the dreadful Taliban) and Iraq. It leads to the deepening subjugation of the Palestinian people—and the growth of forces like Hezbollah. And the logic of “defending ourselves from the terrorists” leads to defending torture—again, to “save American lives.” It even prepares the ground for an escalation of the existing wars, or new ones (like against Iran).
You cannot understand the world today—and you cannot act on it in a consistently progressive way—unless you understand the dynamic of what Bob Avakian, Chairman of the RCP, has called the contention between “Jihad on the one hand and McWorld/McCrusade on the other hand…the historically outmoded strata among colonized and oppressed humanity up against historically outmoded ruling strata of the imperialist system;” and unless you understand the ways in which each reactionary pole reinforces the other; and how siding with either reinforces both. Going along with the “war on terror”—even the supposedly more refined and “smarter” war on terror proposed by some Democrats—mean supporting that whole ugly dynamic. It is a trap without escape. It is a road to horror—one we are already on, one we must urgently rupture with.
The alternative must be provided. The one provided by World Can’t Wait speaks to those who hunger for a different way in this country, and it also speaks to those in other countries being drawn into the dead end of Islamic fundamentalism—there is a different way that is fighting to be born. People all over the world must see this where it counts—in the streets—if they are to come to see that another world is, after all, possible.
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