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
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
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
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
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
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