The leadership of the United States must think through its foreign policy on "international terrorism" in the Middle East, or it will launch a lethal war that will open up a Pandora's Box of conflicts that none of us can imagine.
President George W. Bush has promised to "rid the world of evil-doers" and punish the perpetrators of the hijacking-bombing attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon on Sept. 11. In lightening speed, the Bush-Cheney administration has begun preparations for a "global war against terrorism" and military strategy against the Al-Qaeda movement which is led by Osama bin Laden.
It is extremely disturbing that during a period of intense grief, sadness and mourning of the violent, surprise attacks on innocent civilians, warmongering has emerged. As Americans grieve, Islamaphobia, anti-Arab racism and jingoism/war hysteria are being flamed by many right-wing forces within the Bush-Cheney administration and reactionary sectors of American society.
If we, American citizens, intend to prevent another violent occurrence against America, we must carefully examine what is before us. In a liberal democratic society, the government serves the people — we make the decisions in defense of our interests. As a member of the progressive grouping that exists within American society, I am deeply disturbed by what has transpired for the last two weeks. As an African, African-Caribbean or African-American whose foreparents (biological and ideological) have fought to make American society a western democracy, I am shocked to see the reactionary response of the Bush-Cheney administration on democratic rights and privileges for all Americans.
Eventually, when this "war against terrorism" is over, many in our midst will agree with Congresswoman Barbara Lee: We rushed to judgment in the haste to punish the perpetrators of the hijacking-bombing. The U.S. government will eventually bestow a Bronze Heart for courage to Lee; she was the only member of Congress who voted against this new war, and for good reasons.
The roots of the radical attacks
I have the very unpleasant task of informing you that the U.S. government is in a quagmire due to its foreign policies, especially during the Cold War (1947-1989). I am not in any way justifying the atrocities that took place on Sept. 11, but I must inform you that it was inevitable that some radical forces, domestic and foreign, would launch attacks on the continental United States. So far, Osama bin Laden is the prime suspect. Many Americans had never heard of him, his group or his mission. We are now bombarded with numerous "facts" about him, some true and a lot at best questionable.
As high-ranking officials of the Bush-Cheney administration and veteran foreign-policy experts of the Nixon, Ford, Carter, Reagan, elder Bush and Clinton administrations weigh in on Islamic terrorism, Osama bin Laden, and the Taliban, we cannot help but see stark contradictions.
If Al-Qaeda is the Islamic fundamentalist organization responsible for the suicide attacks in New York, Washington, D.C., and Pennsylvania, the Reagan-Bush administration (1980-1988) must share some of blame for the predicament we are in.
Al-Qaeda ("military base") is a byproduct of the Mujaheddin, an intensely fanatic Islamic movement that fought against the leftist Afghan-Soviet alliance from 1980 to1989. In Afghanistan, the Mujaheddin developed as a counter-revolutionary force against the leftist Babrak Kamal government which had consolidated power in 1979. In the largest covert operation ever undertaken by the Central Intelligence Agency, the Mujaheddin project was turned into a "forward" projection of U.S. foreign policy.
The recruiting of Muslim militants
With the support of Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence, the CIA provided $3 billion in arms, logistic support and training to the Mujaheddin during the war against the Soviet-Afghan military forces. In order to achieve strategic depth or the widest support possible, the CIA and the ISI recruited Muslim militants from 43 Islamic countries in North and East Africa, the Middle East, Central Asia and the Far East. Approximately 35,000 militants would fight within the Mujaheddin against Soviet-Afghan forces. In all, over 100,000 militants served the Mujaheddin military forces from 1980-1990.
Besides military training, these militants received indoctrination in the most extreme versions of Islam. For example, Wahabbism, a strict and austere Islamic creed, was encouraged by Saudi Arabian benefactors. Wahabbi clerics and disgruntled Saudi radicals were sent to Afghanistan during the war. No one within the Saudi leadership foresaw the impact that returning battle-hardened veterans would have on the Saudi society.
The U.S. leadership was worse. In 1986, CIA chief William Casey intensified U.S. support for the Mujaheddin against the Soviet Union. He persuaded Congress to increase funding and training for the Mujaheddin. Thereafter, they received direct and indirect training by the CIA in modern insurgency, U.S.-made weapons (especially Stinger anti-aircraft missiles) and, ironically, tolerance for opium production. Yes, heroin. The number of heroin addicts in Pakistan went from near zero in 1979 to 1.2 million by 1985! And, as exposed in Iran-Contragate, U.S. foreign policy makers in the Reagan-Bush administration allowed narco-trafficking within the United States as a supplemental means of raising funds for covert operations.
High-grade heroin hit America's streets at an alarming rate throughout the Mujaheddin-Afghan-Soviet war. The U.S. war on drugs was subordinated to the war on Communists. In guerrilla bases in Afghanistan and Pakistan, multinational members of the Islamic movement trained, organized and studied together. During the war, these militants forged ideological, political and tactical links with each other. The camps became militant universities for future fundamentalist movements and armed forces.
Immediate objectives ignored long-term outcomes
During the 1980s, the United States, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia — the key supporters of the Mujaheddin, did not consider the long-term consequences of this multinational Islamic army. The only objectives were to defeat the leftist Afghan regime and eliminate the Soviet presence in the country. Not only were these objectives accomplished; the Soviet Union imploded due to its military involvement in Afghanistan.
In 1989, Arab-Afghan veterans of the Mujaheddin created Al-Qaeda in the provinces of Kunar, Nuristan and Badakhshan in Afghanistan. Bin Laden became the primary leader. In 1990, he returned to Saudi Arabia. After a brief political struggle with King Fahd and the rest of the royal family, bin Laden left for the Sudan in 1992 and then for Afghanistan in 1996.
Since then, Al-Qaeda has grown into an international Islamic movement that seeks to remove the U.S. military presence from Saudi Arabia and to destroy Zionism in the region. The United States' struggle to eradicate Al-Qaeda will be much more difficult and bloody than the mass media are stating. The militants of Al-Qaeda were former allies of the United States during the Cold War.
Al-Qaeda turned against the United States when the Mujaheddin-Afghan-Soviet war ended. Why? Because despite the sacrifices of the Afghani people, the promised reconstruction aid did not arrive. Imagine, 1.5 million Afghani civilians perished, and 2 million still live in refugee camps in Pakistan! During the internal conflicts within the Mujaheddin (1989-1995), both the CIA and the ISI supported the ascension of the Taliban in 1996.
Afghanistan is ranked as the poorest country in the world, with a per capital income of $35 a year! Life expectancy is 47 years, and 45 percent of the population is illiterate. These obscene figures generate despair, hatred and fanaticism.
It would have been cheaper to send development aid than to send tool
s of destruction. Today we are reaping a bitter harvest from an earlier period when destroying Communism was the sole objective, and anyone who was willing and able to kill became our allies. We will have to stop evil-doers, but we American citizens who have principles must be willing to eliminate the evil that U.S. foreign policymakers create when they themselves make alliances with evil forces who turn against us.
Editor's note: Malik Sekou is an assistant professor of political science and history at the University of the Virgin Islands, St. Thomas campus.
We welcome and encourage readers to keep the dialogue going by responding to Source commentary. Letters should be e-mailed with name and place of residence to email@example.com.