A New War Frenzy
By Robert Parry
July 20, 2006
Americans are being whipped into a new war frenzy with simplistic visions of evil villains, much like occurred four years ago before the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq.
Just as Saddam Hussein was cast as the monster whose elimination would transform Iraq into a democratic oasis, Hezbollah and its allies in Syria and Iran are presented now as the crux of all evil in the Middle East whose military defeat will bring a new day.
Inside the United States, many of the same politicians and pundits who stampeded the nation into Iraq are back again urging the application of even more violence. While George W. Bush and his neoconservative advisers may be leading the herd, influential Democrats – like Hillary Clinton and Alan Dershowitz – are running with this pack, too.
But the ease with which these Middle East hawks tolerate the slaughter of Arabs in Lebanon – as well as in Iraq and in the Palestinian territories – has a flavor of racism that has poisoned U.S. policy as far as many Muslims are concerned and indeed has strengthened popular support for Islamic extremists on the Arab street.
On July 17, New York Sen. Clinton shared the stage in a pro-Israel rally with Dan Gillerman, Israel’s ambassador to the United Nations who has espoused anti-Arab bigotry in the past and now proudly defends Israel’s “disproportionate” violence against Lebanese civilians.
“Let us finish the job,” Gillerman told the crowd. “We will excise the cancer in Lebanon” and “cut off the fingers” of Hezbollah. Responding to international concerns that Israel was using “disproportionate” force by bombing Lebanon and killing hundreds of civilians, Gillerman said, “You’re damn right we are.” [NYT, July 18, 2006]
In other public statements, Gillerman has been even more disdainful of Muslims. At the American Israel Public Affairs Committee conference in Washington on March 6, Gillerman virtually equated Muslims with terrorists.
“While it may be true – and probably is – that not all Muslims are terrorists, it also happens to be true that nearly all terrorists are Muslim,” Gillerman quipped to the delight of the AIPAC crowd. [Washington Post, March 7, 2006]
Despite Gillerman’s professed uncertainty about whether “all Muslims are terrorists,” this crass case of anti-Muslim bigotry didn’t generate any noticeable protest. It would have been hard to imagine any other ethnic or religious group being subjected to a similar smear without provoking a noisy controversy.
Not only did U.S. officials and politicians – both Republican and Democrat – avoid criticizing Gillerman or almost anything else about AIPAC, they bowed to its legendary power to make or break American political leaders.
Four months later, Sen. Clinton and other Democrats joined Gillerman at the New York rally to endorse Israel’s devastating military attacks on Lebanon in response to a July 12 cross-border raid by Hezbollah guerrillas who captured two Israeli soldiers in an effort to distract Israel from an offensive in Gaza and in support of a proposed prisoner exchange.
Clinton, who is considered a Democratic presidential frontrunner in 2008, pleased the crowd by denouncing Hezbollah and Palestinian militants in Hamas as “the new totalitarians of the 21st Century” who believe in neither human rights nor democracy. (As for the democracy part, Hamas won the last round of Palestinian elections and Hezbollah has become a political force in Lebanon, holding seats in parliament.)
Clinton was joined by two Democratic congressmen who also endorsed Israel’s bombing raids on Lebanon.
“Since when should a response to aggression and murder be proportionate?” said Rep. Jerrold Nadler.
“President Bush has been wrong about a lot of things,” said Rep. Anthony D. Weiner. “He’s right about this.”
Similarly, attorney Alan Dershowitz, a frequent TV commentator, posted at the liberal HuffingtonPost.com blog site that Israel’s killing of large numbers of Lebanese civilians was justified by the need to take out Islamic radicals operating in civilian neighborhoods. He wrote:
“My argument is that by hiding behind their own civilians, the Islamic radicals issue a challenge to democracies: either violate your own morality by coming after us and inevitably killing some innocent civilians, or maintain your morality and leave us with a free hand to target your innocent civilians. This challenge presents democracies such as Israel with a lose-lose option and the terrorist with a win-win option.”
In challenging HuffingtonPost readers to respond to his logic, Dershowitz appears oblivious to the racist element in his thinking, that killing large numbers of Muslim civilians to eliminate a few of Israel’s enemies is justifiable. If the situation were reversed – armed Muslims slaying large numbers of Israeli civilians to get at a few Israeli leaders – Dershowitz would surely call the killings acts of terrorism or even genocide.
Osama bin-Laden justified the 9/11 attacks, which involved the murders of nearly 3,000 civilians, as a way to attack the military and financial centers of the United States, the Pentagon and the World Trade Towers.
Though terrorism is classically defined as violence against civilians to achieve a political goal, the concept has always carried with it the notion of proportionality. For instance, an assault against a genuine military target in wartime may cause civilian casualties – so-called “collateral damage” – but that is not usually considered terrorism.
If, however, civilian deaths are wildly disproportionate to the military target, the attack could constitute terrorism, say, the destruction of a residential high-rise or some other civilian building to kill a couple of enemy targets.
In that sense, one could argue that George W. Bush acted as a terrorist at the start of the Iraq War when he ordered U.S. military aircraft to blow up a residential restaurant in Baghdad based on faulty intelligence that Saddam Hussein might be eating there.
Though Hussein wasn’t present, 14 civilians, including seven children, died. One mother collapsed when her headless daughter was pulled from the wreckage.
Similarly, during the Israeli fight for independence, Zionist extremists, including later national leaders Yitzhak Shamir and Menachem Begin, were members of terrorist groups that attacked Palestinian civilians and British authorities. In one famous case, Jerusalem’s King David Hotel, where British officials and other foreigners lived, was blown up.
But many Americans have come to regard terrorism as a strictly Muslim phenomenon. They hold that view despite well-known evidence to the contrary in large part because neoconservatives and other politically powerful forces drum this false idea into the heads of the U.S. population.
Take, for example, the speech that Vice President Dick Cheney gave to the same AIPAC conference at which Gillerman wondered whether or not “all Muslims are terrorists.” Cheney substantively agreed that terrorism was almost exclusively a Muslim tactic – one that flourished because it didn’t draw a sufficiently harsh U.S. response.
“Over the last several decades, Americans have seen how the terrorists pursue their objectives,” Cheney said. “Simply stated, they would hit us, but we would not hit back hard enough.
“In Beirut in 1983, terrorists killed 241 Americans, and afterward U.S. forces withdrew from Beirut. In 1993 we had the killing of American soldiers in Mogadishu, and the bombing of the World Trade Center in New York. Then came the attack on the Saudi National Guard Training Center in Riyadh in 1995; the killings at Khobar Towers in 1996; the attack on our embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998; and, of course, the attack on the USS Cole in 2000.”
However, Cheney’s one-sided recounting of history reflected an anti-Muslim bias on two levels. First, it ignored the long history of terrorism practiced around the world by people of nearly all religions and ethnic backgrounds.
In 1976, for instance, Chile’s U.S.-backed dictatorship sponsored a terrorist bombing on the streets of Washington, killing Chilean dissident Orlando Letelier and an American co-worker, Ronni Moffitt, yet then-CIA Director George H.W. Bush protected Chile’s leaders from exposure and prosecution. [See Robert Parry’s Secrecy & Privilege.]
Even today, the current Bush administration is blocking attempts to bring another anti-communist terrorist, Luis Posada Carriles, to justice over his alleged role in blowing a civilian Cuban airliner out of the sky, also in 1976 when George Bush Sr. was CIA director. [See Consortiumnews.com’s “Bush Family’s Terrorism Test.”]
Cheney’s speech also ignored more recent acts of terrorism committed by non-Muslims. For instance, there was no reference in his speech to home-grown right-wing terrorists like Timothy McVeigh, who was convicted and executed for blowing up the federal building in Oklahoma City on April 19, 1995.
For that matter, Cheney offered no self-criticism of the “shock and awe” violence that the Bush administration inflicted on Iraq, killing thousands of civilians in a war launched over false claims about Saddam Hussein’s supposed weapons of mass destruction.
For Vice President Cheney and Ambassador Gillerman, these examples don’t seem to count, presumably because the perpetrators weren’t Muslim.
A second point undermining Cheney’s argument was that some of the cases he cited weren’t acts of terrorism.
In the case of the 1983 bombing in Beirut, for instance, the attackers targeted the Marine barracks because the Reagan-Bush administration’s mission creep had led U.S. forces to intervene militarily against some Muslim elements in the civil war then raging in Lebanon. Muslim villages were even shelled by a U.S. warship. So, while the killing of the Marines was horrible, it wasn’t terrorism.
Similarly, the “Black Hawk Down” incident in the Somali city of Mogadishu wasn’t an act of terrorism; it was a battle between U.S. Special Forces units and militia troops loyal to a local warlord. Indeed, the Somali militia was reacting to a surprise attack by the American troops, not vice versa.
What Cheney appeared to be saying was that anytime American troops are killed in a conflict whatever the factual circumstances, they are the victims of “terrorism” – with all that word’s emotional and propagandistic value. Conversely, acts ordered by President Bush and U.S. allies can never be considered “terrorism” whatever the facts may suggest.
There has been a similar blurring of lines in regard to attacks by Iraqi insurgents against U.S. occupation forces in Iraq. While some incidents, such as the destruction of mosques and the killing of civilians, do constitute terrorism, bombs directed at U.S. troops as they patrol Iraqi territory are military ambushes or sabotage, not terrorism.
While some Americans might want Iraqi insurgents who are responsible for killing U.S. troops to bear the opprobrium of the disgraced title of “terrorist,” the selective application of the word – as favored by Cheney and Gillerman – carries its own danger.
Since U.S. policy forbids negotiations with “terrorists,” peace talks with Iraqi insurgents would be barred. That, in turn, could lead to an indefinite war in Iraq and vastly more death and destruction on all sides.
That might serve the goals of some neoconservative ideologues – and ironically the interests of Osama bin-Laden – but it is almost certainly not in the interests of U.S. troops in Iraq – nor of the American people.
Further, when a loaded charge like “terrorism” is leveled against a specific ethnic or religious group – but not against others who have engaged in comparable practices – that kind of selective outrage is generally called bigotry or racism.
Those ugly tendencies have been part of many war fevers in the past. Now, as the Bush administration prepares the American people for even a wider war in the Middle East, this pernicious form of bigotry will surely play a big part again. [For more, see Consortiumnews.com’s “The Abyss Beckons.”]
Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories in the 1980s for the Associated Press and Newsweek. His latest book, Secrecy & Privilege: Rise of the Bush Dynasty from Watergate to Iraq, can be ordered at secrecyandprivilege.com. It's also available at Amazon.com, as is his 1999 book, Lost History: Contras, Cocaine, the Press & 'Project Truth.'