Drain the Swamp and There Will Be No More Mosquitoes

Twenty years ago, the former head of Israeli military intelligence, Yehoshaphat
Harkabi, also a leading Arabist, made a point that still holds true. “To offer
an honorable solution to the Palestinians respecting their right to self-determination:
that is the solution of the problem of terrorism,” he said. “When the swamp disappears,
there will be no more mosquitoes.”

September 11 shocked many Americans into an awareness that they had better
pay much closer attention to what the US government does in the world and how
it is perceived. Many issues have been opened for discussion that were not on
the agenda before. That’s all to the good.

It is also the merest sanity, if we hope to reduce the likelihood of future
atrocities. It may be comforting to pretend that our enemies “hate our freedoms,”
as President Bush stated, but it is hardly wise to ignore the real world, which
conveys different lessons.

The president is not the first to ask: “Why do they hate us?” In a staff discussion
44 years ago, President Eisenhower described “the campaign of hatred against us
[in the Arab world], not by the governments but by the people”. His National
Security Council outlined the basic reasons: the US supports corrupt and oppressive
governments and is “opposing political or economic progress” because of its interest
in controlling the oil resources of the region.

Post-September 11 surveys in the Arab world reveal that the same reasons hold
today, compounded with resentment over specific policies. Strikingly, that is
even true of privileged, western-oriented sectors in the region.

To cite just one recent example: in the August 1 issue of Far Eastern Economic
Review, the internationally recognized regional specialist Ahmed Rashid writes
that in Pakistan “there is growing anger that US support is allowing [Musharraf’s]
military regime to delay the promise of democracy”.

Today we do ourselves few favors by choosing to believe that “they hate us”
and “hate our freedoms”. On the contrary, these are attitudes of people who like
Americans and admire much about the US, including its freedoms. What they hate
is official policies that deny them the freedoms to which they too aspire.

For such reasons, the post-September 11 rantings of Osama bin Laden – for example,
about US support for corrupt and brutal regimes, or about the US “invasion” of
Saudi Arabia – have a certain resonance, even among those who despise and fear
him. From resentment, anger and frustration, terrorist bands hope to draw support
and recruits.

We should also be aware that much of the world regards Washington as a terrorist
regime. In recent years, the US has taken or backed actions in Colombia, Nicaragua,
Panama, Sudan and Turkey, to name a few, that meet official US definitions of
“terrorism” – that is, when Americans apply the term to enemies.

In the most sober establishment journal, Foreign Affairs, Samuel Huntington
wrote in 1999: “While the US regularly denounces various countries as ‘rogue states,’
in the eyes of many countries it is becoming the rogue superpower … the single
greatest external threat to their societies.”

Such perceptions are not changed by the fact that, on September 11, for the
first time, a western country was subjected on home soil to a horrendous terrorist
attack of a kind all too familiar to victims of western power. The attack goes
far beyond what’s sometimes called the “retail terror” of the IRA, FLN or Red
Brigades.

The September 11 terrorism elicited harsh condemnation throughout the world
and an outpouring of sympathy for the innocent victims. But with qualifications.

An international Gallup poll in late September found little support for “a
military attack” by the US in Afghanistan. In Latin America, the region with the
most experience of US intervention, support ranged from 2% in Mexico to 16% in
Panama.

The current “campaign of hatred” in the Arab world is, of course, also fueled
by US policies toward Israel-Palestine and Iraq. The US has provided the crucial
support for Israel’s harsh military occupation, now in its 35th year.

One way for the US to lessen Israeli-Palestinian tensions would be to stop
refusing to join the long-standing international consensus that calls for recognition
of the right of all states in the region to live in peace and security, including
a Palestinian state in the currently occupied territories (perhaps with minor
and mutual border adjustments).

In Iraq, a decade of harsh sanctions under US pressure has strengthened Saddam
Hussein while leading to the death of hundreds of thousands of Iraqis – perhaps
more people “than have been slain by all so-called weapons of mass destruction
throughout history”, military analysts John and Karl Mueller wrote in Foreign
Affairs in 1999.

Washington’s present justifications to attack Iraq have far less credibility
than when President Bush Sr was welcoming Saddam as an ally and a trading partner
after he had committed his worst brutalities – as in Halabja, where Iraq attacked
Kurds with poison gas in 1988. At the time, the murderer Saddam was more dangerous
than he is today.

As for a US attack against Iraq, no one, including Donald Rumsfeld, can realistically
guess the possible costs and consequences. Radical Islamist extremists surely
hope that an attack on Iraq will kill many people and destroy much of the country,
providing recruits for terrorist actions.

They presumably also welcome the “Bush doctrine” that proclaims the right of
attack against potential threats, which are virtually limitless. The president
has announced: “There’s no telling how many wars it will take to secure freedom
in the homeland.” That’s true.

Threats are everywhere, even at home. The prescription for endless war poses
a far greater danger to Americans than perceived enemies do, for reasons the terrorist
organizations understand very well.

Twenty years ago, the former head of Israeli military intelligence, Yehoshaphat
Harkabi, also a leading Arabist, made a point that still holds true. “To offer
an honorable solution to the Palestinians respecting their right to self-determination:
that is the solution of the problem of terrorism,” he said. “When the swamp disappears,
there will be no more mosquitoes.”

At the time, Israel enjoyed the virtual immunity from retaliation within the
occupied territories that lasted until very recently. But Harkabi’s warning was
apt, and the lesson applies more generally.

Well before September 11 it was understood that with modern technology, the
rich and powerful will lose their near monopoly of the means of violence and can
expect to suffer atrocities on home soil.

If we insist on creating more swamps, there will be more mosquitoes, with awesome
capacity for destruction.

If we devote our resources to draining the swamps, addressing the roots of
the “campaigns of hatred”, we can not only reduce the threats we face but also
live up to ideals that we profess and that are not beyond reach if we choose to
take them seriously.

Author: Noam Chomsky

News Service: The Guardian

URL: http://www.commondreams.org/views02/0909-02.htm