The Cruise Missile Left, Part 3 Berman on "terror and liberalism"


Berman’s book

and Liberalism

is in the great tradition of Claire Sterling’s

The Terror Network

, Judith Miller’s

God Has Ninety-Nine

, and Kanan Makiya’s



ty and

. It is an ideological work that gears perfectly into
the immediate demands of the state and mainstream biases and is
therefore accorded uncritical attention and publicity. Like those
earlier works,

Terror and Liberalism,

is a complete travesty
of intellectual standards. 

in his book does Berman define terror or terrorism. This results
in part from his internalized establishment perspective, which allows
the presumption that we all “know” that suicide bombers
are “terrorists” whereas Sharon only “retaliates.”
But I suspect he avoids a definition because it would force a more
explicit consideration of who exactly fits the concept. A definition
like that in the U.S. Code, which identifies terrorism with violent
acts intended to intimidate or coerce civilian populations for political
ends, would suggest that much of U.S. nuclear bluster and other
threats and applications of force constitutes terrorism. Benjamin
Netanyahu’s definition—“the deliberate and systematic
murder, maiming and menacing of the innocent to inspire fear for
political ends”—also suggests applicability to U.S. and
Israeli policy. Recall that Labor spokesperson Abba Eban admitted
years ago that Israel targeted civilians because “there was
a rational prospect, ultimately fulfilled, that afflicted populations
[i.e., innocent civilians deliberately bombed] would exert pressure
for the cessation of hostilities.” Sharon and others have repeatedly
stated that Operation Defensive Shield and other violent actions
have been designed to produce quiescence by instilling fear. Better
for Berman to proceed on a “we know what is terrorism”
basis—that is, on the basis of obfuscation. 

Berman does define “liberalism.” Liberalism is “freedom”—“the
idea that every sphere of human activity…should operate independently
of the others, without trying to yoke everything together under
a single guiding hand.” This definition serves him well because
his basic frame is liberalism versus totalitarianism, with totalitarianism
responsible for terror and rooted in irrational forces. The United
States is the principal locus of liberalism—i.e., freedom—and
it and Israel, also a bastion of freedom, are the targets of these
dark forces. And the United States is also the main locus of the
defense of liberalism/freedom in the ongoing war on totalitarianism
and terror.

are a number of problems with this framework and with Berman’s
attempted application of it. One problem is that U.S. liberalism
is attached to an advanced, globalized, militarized, capitalist
political economy whose material interests might be a more important
force shaping its external policies than liberal principles. Berman
deals with this by complete evasion, both in theory and in his discussion
of cases. He just takes it for granted that a liberal internal polity
shapes external policy. He claims that “irrational” forces
drive totalitarians and the “death culture” of Islam and
the suicide bombers, but a “liberal” state like the United
States is not driven by “irrational” forces like the desire
of its transnationals for a corporate-friendly government in, say,
Indonesia or Saudi Arabia. This country is only “liberal,”
pursuing, even if imperfectly, liberal ends. 

does note that Noam Chomsky puts great weight on corporate power
in shaping foreign policy, and he even mentions Chomsky’s (and

Political Economy of Human Rights

, which describes a
“Pentagon-CIA Archipelago” rooted in the U.S. political
economy. But Berman doesn’t have the intellectual integrity
to cite its findings and criticize it in straightforward fashion.
The frontispiece of the first volume of that work shows the United
States as a “sun,” with lines running to 26 client state
“planets,” aided and supplied with weapons by this country
in the 1970s, who used torture on an administrative basis. They
constituted a great majority of the torture regimes of those years.
In this same volume, and in my book

The R



where I described the growth of National Security
States, death squads, and disappearances in Latin America from 1952-1982—the
U.S. support of regimes of terror was explained as a result of the
desire for amenable regimes that would provide a “favorable
climate of investment.” We showed that the business community
loved Suharto, Marcos, and the Latin American generals for their
resistance to “populism” and willingness to crush unions
and open their doors to foreign investment. Berman mentions with
derision Chomsky’s characteristic vast welter of facts, but
he fails to mention that Chomsky also provided a coherent explanation
for the U.S. support of state terror in Brazil, Guatemala, Indonesia,
etc. This explanation, and the supportive mass of facts, that show
the creation of a Pentagon-CIA

Archipelago to be a rational
response to business interests, fly in the face of Berman’s
portrayal of a United States fighting for liberalism and opposing
totalitarianism, so Berman simply refuses to confront either facts
or explanation

am not aware of Berman engaging in any serious analysis or criticism
of U.S. support of the National Security States of Latin America
and the continent-wide state terrorism that these brought to their
victim populations. But while the Somoza dictatorship in Nicaragua
never aroused him to anger and action, the relatively democratic
Sandinista government that replaced it surely did. I was on a panel
with him at the Socialist Scholars Conference in the 1980s and recall
his thrust then and in other writings, which was that Nicaragua’s
suffering was a result of Sandinista mismanagement rather than the
U.S.-sponsored contra war. Michael Moore was dismissed from the
editorship of

Mother Jones

in 1986 following his rejection
of a Berman report on Nicaragua that Moore couldn’t stomach.
Even his ally and defender Eric Alterman expressed “profound
disagreement with Berman’s evenhanded treatment of the contras
and Sandinistas” and others viewed his defense of the contras
less kindly. The crucial point is that Berman did not focus on and
attack terrorism; instead, he assailed its victims, putting U.S.-sponsored
terrorism in the best possible light. This is a pattern that culminates
in his present volume,

Terror and Liberalism

problem for Berman in making the global struggle one between freedom
and the United States, on one hand, and Islam and totalitarianism,
on the other hand, is that the United States has often aligned itself
with some of the most regressive forces in Islam. It has long supported
the fundamentalist and reactionary Saudi government along with the
other Emirates and it played a key role in collaboration with Saudi
Arabia in building up the mujahaddin, Al Qaeda, and Bin Laden for
a holy war against the Soviet-sponsored regime in Afghanistan. It
supported the Bosnian Muslims in the 1990s and the Clinton administration
helped transport some of the thousands of mujahaddin brought in
from Afghanistan and elsewhere to fight in Bosnia. U.S. officials
were surely aware that Bin Laden was friendly with and supportive
of both Bosnian fundamentalist leader Alija Izetbegovic and the
KLA in Kosovo.

frequent support of aggressive and regressive Islam seriously compromises
Berman’s attempt to counterpoise a liberal U.S. against totalitarian
Islam—the good guy doesn’t seem that opposed to the forces
of evil and has encouraged them on an opportunistic basis (as has
Israel, which for years supported Hamas as a means of undermining
the more secular PLO). Berman glosses over the problem and, in the
case of U.S. support of the Bosnian Muslims, even uses this to show
that the United States is not biased against Islam. The opportunism
in this support and its real reasons escape him entirely (see Diana

Fools’ Crusade


also dismisses or ignores the view, widely held by students of Islam
and terrorism, that the combination of U.S. support of regressive
Islamic regimes, the undeviating half century-long U.S. backing
of Israel’s occupation of Palestine and brutal ethnic cleansing
of Palestinians in opposition to an international consensus, its
“sanctions of mass destruction” against Iraq and then
the invasion and conquest of that country, have combined to produce
both widespread hatred of the United States and an upsurge in attachment
to the Islamic religion. In this perspective, the Islamic religious
revival has been a result of frustration at the failures of the
Arab states, their reactionary character and inability to serve
their citizens, and their deference to a foreign power that has
protected these regimes and caused their leaders to behave in a
manner contrary to the desires and interests of their own people.
Berman cannot tolerate such an analysis—he prefers that their
totalitarian tendencies and the associated “culture of death”
arise from the fundamentalist strands of Islamic religion. This
is complete nonsense, as every religion has many strands and those
that come to be adopted by significant numbers are accepted because
social, economic, and political forces make them attractive. 

treatment of the Islam tradition is selective to a purpose, failing
to take account of its great diversity and the long debates and
disagreements over questions like the use of violence (see Karim
H. Karim,

Islamic Peril: Media and Global Violence, Black Rose,

He also misrepresents the position and influence of Sayyid
Qutb, to whose writings he devotes much attention. As was pointed
out by Hamid Algar, who has translated several of Qutb’s articles,
Berman has “failed to show any line of filiation from Qutb,
executed in 1966, to Al Qaeda, established in the 1980s. Nowhere
in Qutb’s writings…can one find a parallel to Al Qaeda’s
advocacy of mass slaughter. Conversely, Osama bin Laden’s statements
show not a trace of Qutb’s distinctive philosophy. Berman’s
article exemplifies the tendency to conflate into a malevolent blur
all Muslims regarded as troublesome” (letter in the


commenting on a Berman article in the




March 23, 2003). 

is notable that Berman never mentions the fundamentalist religious
strands so important in the United States and Israel and their possible
influence on U.S. and Israeli policy. The Christian Right is a force
in the Bush administration and it constitutes what Berman would
call an “irrational” influence on policy-making if found
in an enemy state. The importance of fundamentalist religion in
Israel is far more important and numerous Israeli leaders and analysts
have stressed the power of the idea of “redemption of the land”
as a driving force in Israel’s long policy of territorial expansion
at the expense of non-Jews (see Israel Shahak,

Jewish History,
Jewish Religion,

Pluto 1994). This irrational influence is unmentionable
by Berman.


Only Retaliates 


discussion of Israel and terror is a centerpiece of his book, but
his truncated history, marked by staggering evasions and distortions,
is crude to the point of laughability. 

starts right in with suicide bombers—“Our current predicament
was brought upon us by acts of suicide terrorism—and it is
worth taking the trouble to glance at the political landscape of
those acts, beginning with the agonies of the Israelis and the Palestinians.”
But he hardly discusses at all the agonies of the Palestinians and
the choice of suicide terrorism as the starting point of the discussion,
rather than the long prior occupation, expropriations, humiliations,
and abuses of the Israelis, reflects profound bias. Berman never
mentions the first Intifada, during which over 1,000 Palestinians
were killed protesting the occupation, but with no Israelis hit
by suicide bombers—and no relief from the occupation by Israel
and its superpower supporter. He fails to discuss the thousands
of demolitions of Palestinian homes to make way for Jewish settlers,
the scores of thousands of olive and fruit trees uprooted, the seizure
of land for settler “security” or road construction exclusively
for settler convenience, and the periodic “closures” paralyzing
Palestinian economic activity and movement. He never mentions the
Israeli takeover of West Bank water resources and diversion of over
80 percent to Israel and the settler minority. 

ignores the daily humiliations that the subject people have been
forced to undergo by their overlords, which causes the honest and
non-racist Israeli reporter Amira Hass to suggest that the Israelis
should look into a mirror and see what they have become in a regime
of subjugation and ethnic cleansing. Numerous Israeli reservists
have refused “to fight on the other side of the Green Line
with an intent to control, expel, starve and degrade an entire people,”
and scores of horrified foreign observers denounced the Israeli
attacks on the Palestinian cities and refugee camps for the “deliberate
destruction and disrespect for human life,” the fact that “the
Israeli military did not seem to regard Palestinians as human beings,”
and the “morally repugnant” 11 day refusal of the Israeli
authorities to allow search and rescue teams into Jenin. None of
this touches Berman. Former Shin Beth head Ami Ayalon can say that
Palestinian violence “is not madness but [is based on] a bottomless
despair,” and that the Intifada explosion “was spontaneous,
against Israel, as all hope of ending the occupation disappeared,”
but Berman finds it puzzling that the suicide bombing should be
attributed “to how oppressive were the Israelis.” 

is even impressed with the Israeli restraint —“the killings
on both sides were sizable,” and Israel’s policy represents
“a breakthrough in relatively civilized army tactics.”
He never mentions that Jenin, Nablus, and other Sharon targets were
not military but virtually defenseless civilian sites assaulted
by a powerful army. At no point does Berman ever mention the ratios
of killings by the Palestinian “terrorists” and Israelis,
which slowly changed in Intifada 2, from 1 to 20 to the current
1 to 3. 

notes allegations that Israel is a racist society imposing apartheid
on its victims, but he implicitly rejects such claims by once again
refusing to confront inconvenient, but obvious facts—here on
the double -standard in laws and treatment of Jews and non-Jews,
within Israel as well as in the occupied territories. Even a cursory
review of these topics, including a history of the occupation, would
quickly explain the emergence of suicide bombers, as scores of observers
and participants like Ami Ayalon have done.

cannot admit that Israel has had a long-term interest in taking
over Palestinian land for Jewish use and that it has been engaged
in systematic ethnic cleansing because that would suggest a dynamic
stemming from Israeli actions, not irrational Palestinians. It would
interfere with his systematic ideological usage that requires in
the “deadly pong” it is “Palestinian terror and Israeli
reprisals,” never Israeli terror and Palestinian reprisals. 

one amazing tour de force of misrepresentation, Berman even suggests
that the suicide bombers came along to disturb an improving scene
for the Palestinians. He speaks of “the many authentic indications
of Palestinian progress during the years since the Oslo Accords
in 1993, the expansion of the Palestinian middle class, the new
businesses and tourist hotels, the joint ventures with Israelis,
the ever-increasing number of muncipalities where the Palestinian
Authority had taken over administrative responsibilities, the visible
approach of a fully recognized Palestinian state —all of these
fragile achievements of the 1990s collapsed, flattened by Israeli
tanks.” This big lie by omission ignores the fact that under
the Oslo “peace process,” Israel doubled its number of
settlers on the West Bank by systematic expropriations, demolitions
of over 1,000 Palestinian homes, the destruction or removal of some
10,000 Palestinian olive and fruit trees, the construction of some
300 miles of highways and bypass roads to serve the settlements
but which interfered with Palestinian traffic, and several hundred
devastating “closures,” all of which helped reduce Palestinian
per capita income by more than 25 percent. 

from the alleged irrationality and Islam-fanatic basis of suicide
bombing, the other arrow in the Berman quiver of obfuscation and
explanation of why the Palestinians and Islam, rather than Israel
and the United States, are to blame for “our current predicament”
is the Palestinian rejection of a Clinton peace proposal in 2000.
According to Berman, Barak had agreed to this plan that would have
given the Palestinians an entirely contiguous territory, except
for Gaza, with “most” of the settlements to be evacuated,
and there would have been a Palestinian capital in a “shared
Jerusalem.” Berman got this from “Clinton’s principal
negotiator, Dennis Ross,” who he takes as an objective source,
just as Berman considers the United States to be an honest broker
in dealing with Israel and the Palestinians. Ross is a well-known
protagonist of Israel who moved straight from the pro-Israel think
tank, Washington Institute, to the State Department and then back
to the Washington Institute and to work at the Jewish Agency. Only
a person with a similar bias could consider Ross an objective spokesperson
and believe the United States, which has funded and protected Israel
from international law for decades, was unbiased. 

Berman-Ross version of the diplomatic process rests on a vague Clinton
statement and late negotiations that ended when Barak, not the Palestinians,
called off the meetings. (An alternative account of the source of
this breakdown—by another member of the Clinton team and a
colleague, Robert Malley and Hussein Agha, “Why Barak is Wrong,”


, May 27, 2002—is unmentioned by Berman).
The last-published Clinton-Barak demands included a vastly expanded
“Jerusalem” extending virtually to Jericho and cutting
the West Bank in two. Barak had never before accepted an “almost”
total evacuation of the settlements and I don’t believe Clinton
ever proposed that he do that (and if he did, it wouldn’t have
been accepted or put into effect). The contiguous territory, if
actually offered, would still have contained numerous and sizable
Israeli settlements, presumably protected by the IDF. Would this
tiny little enclave have its own armed forces? Would it have control
of the water supply seized and allocated by Israel? Would the “shared
capital” be a sharing of Jerusalem proper or would the Palestinians
just have a few little towns east of Jerusalem now labeled a part
of Jerusalem? 

thing Berman would never do is to suggest that maybe the U.S.-Israel
collective was imposing a bad deal on an overmatched Palestinian
delegation and that justice would call for the Palestinians to have
the West Bank, Gaza, and East Jerusalem intact, rather than ratifying
the huge post-1967 Israeli encroachments in violation of the Fourth
Geneva Convention and international consensus. Berman never mentions
the Fourth Geneva Convention in accord with the U.S.-Israel party
line that he follows undeviatingly. Justice is what the U.S. and
Israeli leadership offer, just as “terrorism” is what
these leaders say is terrorism. 

U.S. Benevolence in the Balkans 


uses the Balkan wars to show how Europe and the UN have failed to
implement liberal principles, requiring the United States to resolve
matters satisfactorily. This is another case where he follows a
party line and myth structure without deviation to come to the desired
ideological conclusion. There were the bad “nationalist”
Serbs who were violating human rights in Bosnia and Kosovo, but
those weak Germans and French, depending on a paralyzed UN, couldn’t
stop them. It took the United States to offer the “steadying
arm” and to prevent genocide, etc. 

is baloney from beginning to end. The Serbs were no more nationalist
than the Croatians, Bosnian Muslims, or Kosovo Albanians and the
killing among them was mutual. What is more, the Germans, in particular,
but also the French and other NATO powers, encouraged and sponsored
the breakup of Yugoslavia while failing to follow this up with means
of preventing violence. The U.S. entry actually encouraged further
violence as it repeatedly blocked a peaceful settlement in Bosnia
(as documented in Lord David Owen’s

Balkan Odyssey

which you may be sure Berman never consulted) and eventually entered
into an alliance with the KLA in Kosovo that assured an international
war rather than any peaceful settlement there as well. Berman fails
to mention that neither Bosnia nor Kosovo have democracies and that
Serbia is a conflict-ridden Western client state with rapidly shrinking
civil liberties and no more democracy than in the Milosevic years. 

Saddam the Beast Stopped in Time 


the fact that Saddam Hussein was an immediate U.S. target in 2002-2003—and
with Israel also eager for his removal—Berman naturally devotes
much space and rhetoric to his evil character and immense threat.
No cliché or exaggeration in demonization eludes him and his
account parallels the public relations work of the Bush warriors
in both claims and suppressions. 

the Berman fairytale, Bush I failed to do the job right in 1991.
Saddam subsequently “yielded not at all” in seeking arms,
the United States began to “show fear” as Saddam “grew
stronger,” and eventually “threw the inspectors out.”
Saddam made a specialty of chemical and gas warfare and minefields
and his war on Iran caused a million deaths. The Saudis had been
“rescued” from the Saddam threat, which kept growing and
instilled “mortal fear in the Americans.” But the French
and Russians were preoccupied with their “business interests”
and could not see this horrible threat, for which the U.S. responded
with “pinpricks.” So the earlier victory required “a
second round, graver and more dangerous than the first.” 

“pinpricks” from the United States included the “sanctions
of mass destruction,” estimated to have led to the death of
over a million Iraqi civilians and we may be sure that Berman did
not cite Madeleine Albright’s statement that the death of 500,000
Iraqi children from those sanctions was “worth it.” Berman
asks, “Where were our high-minded friends of the Third World”
when Saddam used chemicals in the war with Iran, but again we may
rest assured that the high-minded Berman never mentions that the
United States gave him active support during that war. He fails
to point out that Saddam didn’t use chemical weapons during
the Gulf War, knowing that U.S. retaliation would be massive, and
Berman’s claim that Saddam “grew stronger” and posed
a threat with his growing weapons stock has collapsed alongside
of the overlapping Bush-Blair lies in the wake of the easy defeat
of the “frightful” enemy who once again failed to use
his fearsome weapons. Berman’s assertion that Saddam “threw
the inspectors out” has been well established as a lie—they
were withdrawn in 1998 in preparation for U.S.-British air attacks
on Iraq—but it can still fly in the mainstream so he repeats
it (and may not even be aware that it is a lie). The same is true
of the alleged threat to the Saudis, exploded as a lie but still
viable in the mainstream. It never occurs to Berman that the U.S.
“fears” were contrived and that the desire and plan to
overthrow Saddam were based on economic, political, and geopolitical
factors, along with the absence of any containment threat. For Berman,
only the French and Russians have underhanded motives like “business
interests,” not the heartland of liberalism. 


Terror and Liberalism

has done extremely well in the “free”
press, with numerous, mostly flattering, reviews and Berman invited
to give his views in the

New York Times

and on national TV.
He is the kind of “leftist” that the imperial establishment
wants to encourage, who attacks the real left for its failure to
commit to the crusade against terror and totalitarianism—as
defined by the imperial establishment—and ignores or gives
support to the approved terror, which is called counterterror, retaliation,
and response. His work, like that of his predecessors Claire Sterling,
Kanan Makiya, and Judith Miller, collapses on close inspection on
any topic that he addresses, but that is irrelevant in the mainstream
where the ideology, premises, and message are congenial and lend
support to ongoing policy. 

the “war on terror” and other strands of ongoing policy
are eroding liberty at home and serve as a cover for a war on poor
people both in the United States as well as on the West Bank and
in many other places, Berman’s book is, ironically, supportive
of both serious state terror and an assault on the liberalism he
claims to favor. He mentions that “war and hysteria” are
instrumental for dictators like Saddam Hussein, but he is completely
oblivious to the service of war and hysteria to a reactionary regime
in his own country and to his own contribution to that regime’s
program. In short, Berman is a very model of a cruise missile leftist.

S. Herman is an economist, author, and media analyst. He has been
a regular contributor to


since 1988.