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Who lost the world?
On the anniversary of 9/11 we must be troubled for having squandered the sympathy of the world

September 11, 2002
The Iranian

Last year on a day like this the whole world stood still, but united with the United States. Today we are left to dangle in the wind at the eve of a looming war in the Middle East, without the benefit of a single ally or friend.

The question is whether we can ask "why?" without being accused of lacking in patriotism or being treated to the kind of infantile explanations favored by our president: "They hate our freedoms, our freedom of religion, our freedom of speech, our freedom to vote and assemble..."

Could we consider for once that what we do in the world (and to it) has something to do with the way in which we are perceived and treated?

Last year this time we could have hoped (as I, for one, did) that the September outrage would make us mindful of the poison of despair and how it coagulates the witch's brew of the terrorist mind. President Bush declared his resolve to bring the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to an end. Later, National Security Advisor Condolezza Rice stated that Americans are a generous nation willing to channel their noble energies into an effort to encourage development, education and opportunity.

Secretary of State Collin Powell made a case for fighting the causes rather than the effects of terrorism: "We have to go after poverty, we have to go after despair, we have to go after hopelessness. We have to make sure that as we fight terrorism using military means and legal means and law enforcement and intelligence means and going after the financial infrastructure of terrorist organization, we also show people who might move in the direction of terrorism that there is a better way."

Sadly, all those words turned out to have been uttered in a fit of temporary sanity. Soon the Bush administration was back to its go-it-alone policies alienating the friend and antagonizing the foe. Rather than help reduce the resentment of those who would be most vulnerable to the temptations of terror, we allowed our colonialist and authoritarian allies around the world to use the war against terrorism to oppress their minorities and dissidents.

The wise council of Rice and Powell notwithstanding, America did not put its money where their vision was. While our military expenditures were increased by 14 percent to 48 billion dollars, the combined monies earmarked for fighting the causes of terrorism fell to half a percent of that sum.

As the administration pursued the first stage of a perpetual war that it had blithely declared on an elusive network of terror, those who represent the US grew haughtier. As the Afghan war went better than expected, the American tone toward the Muslim world changed from one of solicitation to that of intimidation. When American planes bombed an Afghan wedding party killing many celebrants by mistake, the generals at the Pentagon's televised briefing could not be bothered to appear remorseful, let alone apologetic.

Just prior to the events of last September the United States had walked out of the Kyoto Environmental Conference, Small Arms Proliferation and the UN sponsored conference on racism in Durban. No attempt was made then or later to correct the course that had landed us in the world's PR basement. The Bush administration's appalling demand that the International Court of Justice extend preferential treatment to (as yet hypothetical) American defendants was only one of the many steps that we have since taken along the same path.

Worst of all we have allowed our leaders to hitch their various and sundry wagons to the public engine of fighting terrorism. Some politicians and generals see the fight against terrorism as an opportunity to project American power and remake the world. Many geopolitical advantages (such as military bases in Central Asia) have already been gained. But I am not talking about the side "benefits" of the war against terrorism here. Rather, I am talking about the wholesale derailment of the anti-terrorist campaign.

Why did we avert our gaze from the immanent terrorist menace that has been threatening us since the events of last September? How did we lose our focus on the teeming hotbeds of Islamic fundamentalist sentiment in populous Muslim areas of the Indian subcontinent, Persian Gulf and South Asia and continued the careless postures that would infuriate those populations?

Why on earth did we decide to pick out as our foremost enemies oddball totalitarian countries like North Korea, and Iraq, where freewheeling terrorists of the kind we were looking for are not allowed to flourish. Why was Iran, where even the right-wing elements had long ceased cross-border terrorist operations (mostly aimed at Iranian dissidents) and where popular sentiments are wholly hostile to such acts, chosen as a top target? In short, how did we go from ferreting out the Al-Qaida to a showdown with the Axis of Evil, starting with Iraq?

The world is puzzled by the American stance and the administration is less than coherent in its attempts to puzzle out much less explain its own position. Here is my stab at solving the riddle, so help me Master Bilbo Baggins. As much as I hate to haul out what some might consider a cold-war liberal shibboleth, I can think of no better catalyst for our strange policy change than the "Military Industrial Complex".

You see; fighting terrorism does not require the investment of sixty billion dollars in gee-whiz technologies so that we may one day shoot down a nuclear missile bearing the insignia of a third-world rogue nation. Nothing showed the absurdity of that blueprint for future warfare better than the events of the last September. As it turned out we needed a Box-cutter Defense Shield instead of a Missile Defense Shield. The former is much cheaper to erect and that is why it fails to win the attention of the Military Industrial Complex.

A good start would be to pay our airport security a living wage, tighten our borders, put our intelligence house in order and, last but by far the most important one in the long run, take a good look at the roots rather than the fruits of terrorism. None of these would require writing a fat check in the order of Star Wars Unlimited. Singling out Korea, Iran and Iraq makes sense only if they would act their part in the sci-fi scenario that pits suicidal third world regimes with secret and mutated silvery missiles against the United States.

Outside of the self-serving imagination of defense contractors there is no axis of evil. Indeed one would be hard-pressed to name three countries less likely to form any kind of an axis than the ones named by President Bush in his State of the Union address. There are few countries in the world with a wider river of bad blood streaming between them than Iran and Iraq, which fought an eight-year, vicious war and 14 years later still bicker over how many POWs each side holds.

Korea and Iraq are alike only in that they are among the remaining handful of eccentric and decrepit dictatorships of the world - with the not so insignificant difference that one is a Communist kingdom and the other a National Socialist autocracy. Modern day Iran was born of a populist, religiously inclined revolution, and unlike the other two regimes tolerates a genuine if embattled democratic movement.

Be that as it may, the world in not convinced that attacking Iraq follows from the premises of fighting terrorism. On that question the world is not with us - which in Mr. Bush's Manichean mind must mean they are with the terrorists. On the anniversary of 9/11 we must be troubled for having squandered the sympathy of the world and for having alienated their support. After all, on a day like this last year, we first realized that military might does not guarantee our safety.


Ahmad Sadri is currently chairperson of the Department of Sociology at Lake Forest College, Illinois. See Features See Homepage

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