|Al-Ahram Weekly Online
8 - 14 November 2001
|Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875||Current issue | Previous issue | Site map|
Shifting fortunesAs the fortunes of the US war against terrorism decline, those of the "war party" in the administration seem to rise. Mohamed Hakki writes from Washington
The ongoing war in Afghanistan does not augur well for the United States. Some analysts, like Scott Ritter, the former United Nations arms inspector in Iraq, think that the US lost the war the minute it started bombing Afghanistan. This massive attack, with hundreds of bombs and missiles from the widest and newest array of aircraft and aircraft carriers, means the most extensive possible destruction and large civilian causalities.
It also means that the US is not able to locate the one man against whom they are waging this war: Osama Bin Laden. Despite the elaborate space technology in use today over Afghanistan -- apparently much improved since last deployed for the Gulf War -- the US's goal of capturing Bin Laden remains elusive.
The US has told the world that its new satellites can process information at significantly faster speeds and allow ground forces to have up-to-the-minute information. Satellite photos can tell what a person is drinking on the ground -- even the shape of the cup that person is holding. Images can also tell whether a person is a man or a woman from the way his or her body moves. Missiles are now guided by satellites rather than lasers, which makes them much more accurate than the ones used in strikes against Kosovo two years ago. No one at the Pentagon, however, bothered to explain how these miracle missiles managed to hit the Red Cross warehouses not once, but twice; or how the new satellite technology missed the enormous signs on the building.
By mid-November, snow will start to close all the mountain passes in Afghanistan. It will not only be impossible for the warring armies to move on the ground, but aid agencies desperately trying to prevent widespread starvation among the Afghan population will be rendered immobile.
There is no doubt that the air raids are causing massive damage to the ruling Taliban forces. They are not, however, causing any significant defections among the tribesman who support them. If anything, the bombing is having exactly the opposite effect. More and more volunteers, credible reports have said, are joining the Taliban ranks.
The US may have also already lost what the administration officials in Washington call "the propaganda war." When the war began, US military officials said that it would be precise and surgical. But the focus has now completely changed. Americans, used to past military campaigns that were swift and victorious, are now being asked to be patient, vigilant and supportive of their fighting men.
It may be true that the support this administration is receiving is different from the war in Vietnam. Back then, the anti-war movement started much earlier and grew fiercer after the body bags started to come back in droves -- especially in the south, where poor young men could not find ways to dodge the draft. This time, the administration is enjoying an overwhelming amount of support among Americans -- so far. There was no way for US President George W Bush to sit down and do nothing in the wake of 11 September. The public was not even ready to accept a few missile strikes just to feel good. Bush was under pressure to go after the Taliban.
However, for the first time, Washington is concerned that pro-American messages are not reaching the Muslim world. The Bush team is already planning new radio programming, purchasing time on Arab television, and so on. But it may be too late. The London-based Financial Times warns of the "readiness among ordinary Arabs to believe anyone ... rather than listen to Washington."
Among all of my Arab American friends, no one believes anything that is broadcast on CNN, or its cheap counterpart, Rupert Murdoch's Fox News. Arab Americans say that the coverage is not only biased and one sided, but also plain uninformative. And, of course, viewers now have a truly viable alternative: the Qatar-based Arab satellite news channel Al-Jazeera. With its live newscasts from Afghanistan, Al-Jazeera doesn't shy away from making the US look bad.
The Bush administration is also in danger of losing support among Arab and Muslim countries. It is true that Arab League ministers dismissed Osama Bin Laden's appeal for Muslims to join his holy war against the West. Yet the US concentration on three non-Arab and Muslim countries -- Turkey, Tajikistan and Pakistan -- shows that the administration is wary of the thin support it receives inside the Arab world. This support is getting thinner by the day because of the administration's meek reaction to Israel's atrocities against the Palestinians.
Many detractors firmly believe that those who Ritter calls the "unilateralists" and others call the "war party" in the Bush administration will never stop at Afghanistan. It is true that war, once started, always has unforeseen consequences. But for this "war party" within the administration to talk about plans to extend bombing to Iraq is utter madness if America needs Arab support. Hawks in the administration are now talking about targeting Somalia and other Arab nations.
Unfortunately, the US does not comprehend the damage caused to its interests at the hand of Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. Twice in as many days, both President Bush and Secretary of State Colin Powell have asked Sharon, who had invaded six West Bank cities with massive forces, tanks and troop carriers, to "get out and stay out." Sharon's answer amounted to telling the president of the United States to "Go fish!" Never in the history of US relations with any foreign government, especially a client state that lives on handouts from the US, has a foreign leader humiliated the American president so publicly and defiantly.
What was even more stunning was that Powell responded by saying, "Sharon wants to finish his business" -- meaning killing and assassinating dozens more Palestinians -- "and then he will get out." I do not think anyone in the administration understands the extent of the damage that this has created in the Arab world. The whole essence of losing Arab support is this double standard in dealing with the Arabs and Israel. An old Arab proverb says that someone "acts like a lion when dealing with me, and like an ostrich when it faces danger." Arab sentiment can only see the US as burying its head in the sand in the face of all the Israeli atrocities committed in Palestine.
What is worse is the latest explanation that the administration has given for its vision of the future. David Satterfield, deputy assistant secretary of state for Near East affairs, addressed the annual conference of the Centre for Policy Analysis on the issue Palestine. He repeated policies that have already been overtaken by his own administration. Satterfield said that the Intifada, whatever its origin, had become an "ongoing process of calculated terror and escalation reciprocated by Israeli actions all too often proven to be inflammatory and provocative."
It may be understandable that Satterfield would not go into details about this "vision" that Bush has talked about -- a Palestinian state, which Powell was supposed to talk about in a speech in front of the UN. But to revert back to the language used by former Middle East peace envoy, Dennis Ross, and those failed "facilitators" is most unfortunate. That is why Satterfield's audience, which has never been less than courteous and respectful to all of their guests, however negative their views are, burst out in uncontrollable laughter.
This and President Bush's silence on Sharon's insult, does not bode well at all in the Arab world. Some people said that Sharon did this to raise the bar, intimating that he would only pull out if the Bush administration dropped its plan for a Palestinian state. But the harm has already been done. No one in the Arab world begrudges President Bush's desire to eradicate terrorism -- or to get Bin Laden and his Al-Qa'ida terrorist ring. In fact, if he does, everybody will say good riddance.
"President Bush is under great Republican pressure to bomb other Arab nations, which would further isolate Washington," writes Jon Utley of the Ludwig von Mises Institute. "In time, Europe and Russia will withdraw from 'America's war'."
Perhaps Orwell should have titled his book 2004 rather than 1984. His scenario of surveillance technology, police power, and perpetual warfare are coming closer to reality." Utley concluded by saying: "For the US, this war is unwinnable because our policy makers refuse to address its causes, and fear that doing so would make us look like we are caving in to terrorism. Until we do, for every terrorist killed, 10 more will take his place".
The same is true about Israeli tactics in the West Bank and Gaza. For every Palestinian gunned down, 10 more enemies of Israel will be created. If America does not wake up to these facts, then we are on a slippery slope that is leading us to a place no one knows.
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