Twelve months after the attacks on New York & Washington, Nick Clarke examines what their impact has been internationally
It is now one year since two passenger jets were piloted into the World Trade Centre’s Twin Towers, while another was diverted into the Pentagon and a fourth crashed in Pennsylvania. The images of the attack were broadcast around the world, having a profound and disturbing effect. The fact that they were continuously played and replayed on national television added to the heightened sense of shock and foreboding of what was to follow. The Republican Communist Network, like many on the left, opposed these attacks. Our pamphlet September 11th and The War after the War put those events in context and explained why. It concluded with an assessment of what it would mean for global politics and particularly for the left in the UK and internationally. It is important to collate what has happened in those 12 months; what has the effect been on global politics and the anti-imperialist and revolutionary left. We need to be alert to immediate, and longer term, imperialist threats, and to develop our response.
In recent months, the imperialist alliance between Bush and Blair has succeeded in shifting the political and media focus away from Afghanistan, the Taliban and Osama bin Laden. Instead they are concentrating on how to rid Iraq of the usual Western scapegoat Saddam Hussein and his Baathist dictatorship in Baghdad. From the very outset the US was determined to link, no matter how spuriously, the September 11 attacks and al-Qaeda with Saddam, but none of their accusations held any credibility. In fact, prior to 9/11, the CIA probably had more contact with the Taliban than the Iraqi leadership. The US also tried to blame al-Qaeda and Saddam for the outbreak of anthrax attacks that swept across America almost a year ago. Now the evidence points to someone working at Fort Dettrick, the top secret US biological weapons establishment. Most of the briefings coming out of Washington are not about whether there will be a substantial attack on Iraq, but when and how. As a result of Blair’s determination to stand
shoulder to shoulder with Bush and the US, he has been publicly parroting the same line. However, it is clear that opposition to war with Iraq is appearing in military and ruling circles. Before dealing in any more depth with the imminent situation regarding Iraq, what has the
War on Terror meant in the last 12 months?
What Bush’s New World Order and the ‘Coalition against terrorism’ have meant is the proliferation of state sponsored terrorism around the world. It has legitimised and sponsored the use of official death squads to eliminate internal opposition in all parts of the globe. Whereas before such activity was kept under wraps and the preserve of the darkest dictatorships or murky
black ops teams, now we have those same dictators, along with democratically elected governments around the world in every continent, proudly and publicly announcing military action against their own citizens or their neighbours. Bush’s justification for carpet bombing Afghanistan and pursuing
regime change in that impoverished divided country has allowed Russia to use the same tactics against the Chechens, India against the Kashmiris, Colombia against the FARC and of course Israel against the Palestinians. US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has given permission for US Special Forces to use lethal force in countries the US is not at war with. He has also sanctioned the boarding and searching of suspicious (sic) vessels in international waters.
So what has happened in the past year?
The Taliban, the stooges of two US allies (Pakistan and Saudi Arabia), were driven from power in Afghanistan by a combination of US carpet bombing, hi-tech surveillance and Northern Alliance forces on the ground. After years of
warlordism and the Taliban, ordinary Afghans hoped things would change. What has replaced it? Hamid Karzai’s US-sponsored coalition government was formally endorsed by the Loya Jirga in June. The situation on the ground seems to be as volatile as ever. Tribal and ethnic warlords police their people, while vying for power and influence. The real scope of Karzai’s power goes little further than Kabul. Symbolic of the lack of unity and trust in his coalition government is his decision to replace his Afghan bodyguards with US Special Forces, following the killing of other government ministers.
If reports are to be believed then the main targets of the US, Osama bin Laden and Mullah Omar, are still alive and active. So that’s one of the Coalition’s goals not achieved. This is a double-edged sword for the US. On the one hand eliminate them and claim victory. On the other keep them, and their myth, alive. This justifies US forces patrolling the world, stamping their imperialist prejudices and values with the alibi of making pre-emptive strikes against potential terrorists and
enemies of the United States.
The view from Afghanistan is that the US and its local agents are rapidly losing any popularity that they had in the aftermath of the overthrow of the Taliban. Promised international aid for the country’s reconstruction has been very slow in coming. Combine this with the rising
collateral damage inflicted through continuing attacks on Afghan civilians and villages by US forces, and the post- Taliban euphoria and goodwill is draining away. The routine intimidation, humiliation and interrogation of Afghans by American forces continues. In June, the bombing of a wedding party in Uruzam killed 55. No wonder the backlash has started as Americans come under attack almost every night.
Israel continues its ruthless occupation of the West Bank and Gaza. Even the
independent Bantustans, created by Oslo, have been shown to be worthless. The Israeli-biased Oslo agreement is dead. The US, with Israel’s goading, is attempting to get Arafat replaced, as the leader of the Palestinians. Although this is likely to backfire on them. While the US is unilaterally prepared to go to war with Iraq over a
flagrant breach of UN resolutions, it positively condones and connives in Israel’s flouting of 30-year-old UN resolutions. Such hypocrisy is breathtaking. The last few months have thrown up example after example of Israeli atrocities against the Palestinian people: the attack on the Jenin refugee camp, the use of civilians as human shields by the IDF, continual destruction of civilian housing, the routine killing, maiming and brutalisation of Palestinian children, the daily assassination of
militants and the exiling of relatives of
militants. The list is endless.
At the end of July a 1 tonne missile dropped from an F16 into a residential area of Gaza City, killed 15 and wounded 145. Their target was Salah Shehada, the leader of Hamas’ military wing. The other casualties were just the
collateral damage that the US and Israel tolerate, as long as they are Palestinian bodies and not Jewish or American. Sharon bragged that the operation as
one of the great successes, stating that Israel
cannot reach any compromise with terror; terror must be fought. As the worldwide condemnations of these Israeli actions started to fly, so even the US was sceptical of the shrewdness of this attack. Sharon, the butcher of the refugee camps and the racist leader of an apartheid state, had to apologise for the loss of life. However, this apology was small price to pay for his achievement in destroying a ceasefire that was about to be announced. It had been brokered by, amongst others, EU diplomats, who had got a commitment from the secular wing of the Palestinian liberation movement (the Tanzim militia and the Al Aqsa brigades) to stop using suicide bombers against Israeli cities. Even Hamas stated, before the missile was dropped, that they would do likewise if Israeli forces withdrew from the West Bank and Gaza and stopped targeting civilians. The F16 relies on components supplied from the UK, indirectly to Israel, via the US. Therefore the British government are complicit in these indiscriminate attacks on residential areas. Did anybody really believe Robin Cook, Blair’s first foreign minister, when he laid out the principles of Labour’s
ethical foreign policy?
Since September 11 there is no pretence. Jack Straw, Cook’s replacement, does not even bother to try and throw up a smokescreen on this issue. At the height of the recent India-Pakistan tension he was happy to encourage British arms producers to supply the latest military equipment to either, or preferably both, sides – more profit to be made. British arms sales to Israel in the last two years have been £22.5 million – double what they were before the start of the current intifada.
Truth is the first casualty?
Objectivity in reporting and analysis is another casualty of the Twin Tower attacks. Journalists of the calibre of John Pilger, and Robert Fisk are rare gems in the reams and reams of mediocrity and the lazy parroting of government press releases and prejudiced conviction.
Murder bombers seems to be the newly-spun term for suicide bombers. While not condoning the use of suicide bombers, it is important to understand the despair, the hopelessness, the alienation that drives young men and women to such ends. At least Cherie Blair tried to show some understanding of the issue and was widely condemned for expressing her thoughts. Steve Earle, the US rock musician, has recently released a song called John Walker Blues, which tries to give some understanding to the actions of the American Taliban, who was captured at Mazar-I-Sharif. Walker has been more vilified than Oklahoma bomber Timothy McVeigh, who killed hundreds of Americans. There have been threats of organising a boycott of any radio station that dares play Earle’s song.
Another attack on opposition and dissent has been taken up in Spain. Echoing the British government’s gagging of Sinn Fein in the 1980s, as well as Franco’s oppression of the Basques, the Spanish government has banned Batasuna, the most radical of the Basque nationalist parties, because of their alleged links with ETA. In June, a law was passed outlawing parties deemed to be actively supporting
terrorism. At the end of August, the Supreme Court suspended the party’s activities for 3 years: closing its offices, banning demos and rallies. This is a party that has almost 1,000 elected representatives at various levels.
In Colombia Alvaro Uribe, the newly-installed, right wing president, is one of Bush’s newest and enthusiastic recruits to the
War against Terrorism. Their joint aim, with the help of right wing paramilitaries, is to crush the FARC army, which controls large areas of the country and number at least 17,000, and the smaller ELN. Their strength, and threat to the Colombian government, was highlighted by their disruption of the new president’s inauguration ceremony, causing a great deal of embarrassment to Uribe and Bush. In
standing shoulder to shoulder with Uribe, Bush has lifted restrictions on £1 billion of military aid from the US to Colombia, which was initially earmarked for the
War on Drugs, to pay for the Colombian
War on Terror and has pledged more if Colombia increases its own military spending. On August 13, the new president announced a state of
internal commotion (emergency), an additional 3,000 elite troops, 10,000 new police and a million strong militia who will act as informers, in an effort to defeat the FARC. No doubt US arms manufacturers will be rubbing their hands with glee, knowing they will be at the front of the queue when new weapons contracts are handed out.
Colombia is also willing to play its part in the co-ordinated discrediting of anti-imperialist and liberation movements across the world. Following the arrest last year of three Irish men in Colombia accused of training the FARC, Luis Osorio, Colombia’s prosecutor general, has blamed the IRA for hundreds of deaths in the country. Sinn Fein has condemned his accusations as
a disgrace, and Mitchel McLaughlin, Sinn Fein’s national chairman, has questioned whether the three can get a fair trial in Colombia. Very unlikely I would think. It seems as if the concept of a
fair trial is becoming a thing of the past, as the Western bourgeois democracies suspend established civil rights and encourage, collaborate and pander to their totalitarian allies. There are a number of examples of the US delivering al-Qaeda and terrorist suspects to Egypt, Syria, and Jordan, on the understanding that they will use torture to extract information and
confessions from such hostages, which will then be passed back to the US. Thus minimising the US‘s direct human rights’ abuses, but getting the required
Venezuela has also received the unwelcome attentions of Bush’s administration. In April, a military coup led by the country’s business elite, with the backing of the US, overthrew the elected president Hugo Chavez. However within 48 hours Chavez was reinstated through the mass mobilisation of the country’s poor. The coup started with a protest organised by the country’s business federation, demanding the reinstatement of the pro-US management at the country’s state-owned oil company. A confrontation between the demonstrators and Chavez supporters, set up by the coup leaders, gave them the opportunity they wanted. As snipers opened fire on both sets of protestors, General Vasquez announced on TV that the military had taken over, claiming that Chavez supporters had opened fire on an unarmed crowd, and to give the coup legitimacy claimed that Chavez had resigned. Within hours, Pedro Carmona, head of the country’s confederation of business and industry, an oilman, had been installed as president. His first acts were to suspend elections and laws regulating big business, he dissolved the elected national assembly and the Supreme Court, at the same time declaring
a pluralistic vision, democratic, civil and ensuring the implementation of the law. To the delight of the foreign oil companies, big business and the big plantation owners he scrapped 49 laws regulating big business. Following the mobilisation of the masses in huge street demonstrations and serious splits in the armed forces, 36 hours later Chavez was restored to the presidency. Carmona’s US sponsored government had been crushed.
Venezuela is a key supplier of oil to the US, and therefore its stability is vital. Linked with this is Chavez’ willingness to supply oil to Cuba, his opposition to both the free trade agenda of the World Trade Organisation, and the attempt by the US to draw South America even further under its economic control. It is not difficult to find the White House’s fingerprints all over this failed coup. Senior officials in the US government with experience of the Central American
dirty wars of the 1980s include John Negroponte, Elliot Abrams and Otto Reich.
These events illustrate the lengths that the US is prepared to go to prevent a critic such as Chavez from challenging their world view and economic interests. So the lesson for more and more countries around the world is that you can have a democracy but only if it coincides with US imperialist interests.
At the end of August Russian helicopters bombed villages in northern Georgia while trying to attack Chechen separatist fighters in the Pankisi Gorge. Their targets allegedly have links with al-Qaeda. So how did the White House respond: Ari Fleischer its spokesman, stated
The US regrets the loss of life and deplores the violation of sovereignty he was
deeply concerned about credible reports that Russian military aircraft indiscriminately bombed villages…resulting in the killing of civilians. The hypocrisy of such comments defies belief. What about Afghanistan, Iraq, Sudan, Palestine, Venezuela, Somalia, Panama, Grenada, Cuba, Vietnam…the list is endless. The harshness of the condemnation might also have had something to do with revenge for the recent signing of a large trade agreement between Russia and Iraq. Back to the Bush administration’s main focus on the War on Terror: Iraq. As with most of Bush’s policy initiatives he tends to open his mouth without thinking. He is committed to
regime change in Baghdad.
At present there is quite a debate going on amongst the higher echelons of government and the military both in Britain and the US. Bush states that America is prepared to go to war with Iraq alone. It does not need UN resolutions or an international coalition. Bush, with his eager and vociferous hawks, Cheney, Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz, believe that the USA, as the world’s only superpower can thunder around the world, like a rogue elephant, imposing its will in any hemisphere or region it chooses, irrespective of international mandates, clear war aims or the chaos and carnage that results. However some caution is being sounded in some unexpected quarters and must go someway to showing the unease in a substantial section of the American ruling class to Bush’s warmongering. The following Republican Party heavyweights have made comments suggesting they are against unilateral US action to overthrow Saddam: James Baker, George Bush senior’s Secretary of State, Lawrence Eagleburger, Baker’s successor and Brent Scowcroft, Bush senior’s National Security Advisor, the current Secretary of State Colin Powell, General Norman Swarzkopf. In Britain, while Tony Blair publicly supports the Bush plan, opposition is growing. This includes significant sections of the government, the Labour Party, the military and public opinion polls: Robin Cook, Margaret Becket, Douglas Hurd, Clare Short, former chief of the defence staff, Lord Bramall and a large number of back bench MPs. Most importantly though is the swelling anti-war mood on the streets. In recent weeks there has been conjecture as to whether Blair will allow a debate in the Parliament, before any commitment of British troops to a war against Iraq. Under the Royal Prerogative, Blair, as Prime Minister, has powers that mean he neither needs to consult his cabinet nor parliament before declaring war. Internationally, apart from the Australian government (who have already pledged troops), most countries oppose unilateral, precipitative US action. In the words of Hosni Mubarak, President of Egypt,
If you (US) strike at the Iraqi people because of one or two individuals and leave the Palestinian issue unsolved not a single Arab ruler will be able to curb popular sentiments.
There might be repercussions and we fear a state of disorder and chaos may prevail in the region.
Mubarak, considered one of the most pro-Western Arab leaders, spoke for most rulers in the region. King Abdullah of Jordan delivered a similar message to Bush in his summer visit to the White House. Pakistan’s Musharaf, an early convert to the
War on Terror, warned against a unilateral US attack. Saudi Arabia is saying that Saddam should be dealt with diplomatically. These are all Usfriendly leaders. Their opposition to an attack is based primarily on the popular revolt such US aggression would unleash in their own states, against their despotic regimes.
It is not just the Middle East where official opposition is public. Many European leaders, including Chirac and Shroeder, see the danger of a US attack on Iraq without the fig leaf of a UN resolution. Even prior to any new Gulf War, Iraq is already devastated. Ten years of sanctions have meant premature death to more than a million Iraqis, due to lack of food, good quality water, medical supplies and drugs. Then there also the massive rise in numbers of cancer sufferers, brought on by the huge quantity of depleted uranium ammunition used by the coalition forces in the 1991 Gulf war. This spent, contaminated ammunition still pollutes the towns and cities of Iraq and is responsible for much illness. Due to the sanctions, the Iraqis cannot clean up these radioactive killers.
The role of communists, socialists and the international revolutionary left must be to build a mass, working class movement against imperialist aggression – military, economic and political. Here in Britain, it is not enough just to oppose and rail against Bush and US imperialism, the main focus has to be our own ruling class and its complicity with the
New World Order. A mass movement has to be built in Britain, in Europe and worldwide to prevent the ruling classes in all states from engaging in such state terrorism in our name. Neither Washington, London nor Baghdad. It is not enough just to be against such aggression. The bottom line is that capitalism in its imperialist stage cannot act in any other way. It has to be replaced. We have to develop a positive, communist alternative. An alternative based on an emancipation from exploitation and a liberation from oppression, where humanity can really call itself civilised.