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They Call This A Debate?


I hate to say it but the current big Richard A. Clarke/Condaleeza Rice debate on what might have been done to prevent 9/11 is straight out of Chomsky. By this I mean it’s taking place within an incredibly narrow set of moral, ideological, and political parameters as determined in advance by a strict “elite” consensus on shared imperial values.


Beneath all the bluster about the constricted issue of who knew and did what and when about impending al Qaeda terror attacks on the American “homeland” (what a revealing term to receive widespread usage in public domain…it acknowledges American Empire), a number of critical issues essential to any serious understanding of the al Qaeda terror attacks (which probably were inevitable in one form or another) are essentially off the table of solemn, forthright discussion in this supposedly great dispute:


1. America’s responsibility for fundamentalist anti-modernism in the Middle East. In the Arab world since World War II, Gilbert Achcar has noted, the U.S. has been “doubly responsible” for “the resurgence of anti-Western Islamic fundamentalism.” It “contributed directly to propagating Islamic fundamentalism” by supporting such groups as the Muslim Brotherhood against the specter of independent Arab nationalism (ie, Nasserism), falsely conflated with socialism under the ideological code rules of the Cold War propaganda. At the same time, by “helping to defeat and crush the Left and progressive nationalism throughout the Islamic world,” the U.S. “freed up the space for political Islam as the only ideological and organizational expression of popular resentment. Popular resentment, like nature, abhors a vacuum. The resurgence of Islamic fundamentalism,” Achcar notes, “is not the culturally inevitable form of radicalization in Muslim countries; until recently most people in Muslim countries spurned the ideology. It won out only by default, after its competition” – progressive secular and popular nationalism – “was eliminated by their common adversary,” the United States.


This victory is further fed by the related U.S.-enforced march of savage capitalist globalization on the neo-liberal/IMF model of the “Washington Consensus.” That great stampede into nothingness, frequently misunderstood as “modernization” and (worse) democratization, is itself a powerful strain of socioeconomic and cultural terrorism. It undercuts traditional social structures, values, and supports and leaves nothing in its wake but the atomized, soul-crushing chaos of the alienating, inequality-generating marketplace. It drowns all past human solidarities in what Karl Marx once famously called “the icy waters of egotistical calculation,” creating outrageous contrasts of fortune and rampant popular anomie that helps encourage certain displaced personalities to engage in suicide bombings (See Gilbert Achcar, The Clash of Barbarisms: Sept 11 and the Making of the New World Disorder [New York, NY: Monthly Review, 2002] and Tariq Ali’s Clash of Fundamentalisms: Crusades, Jihads, and Modernity [New York, NY: Verso, 2003] ).


2. The real chief U.S. goal in the Arab world (crucial context for the radicalization discussed above): control of the Arab world’s stupendous, imperially arch-strategic oil resources, and most definitely NOT – as everyone in the official debate seems to believe – the spread of “democracy” to the Middle East. Since the Arab majority has never had and has no special self-hating desire to grant Christian America such control, democracy has never been and is not now a serious U.S. goal in the in the Middle East.


3. Numerous more immediate and very specific US policies that provide critical context for the rise of the Muslim terrorist threat to Americans: (i) U.S. determination (pre-9/11) to keep American troops in the Saudi kingdom after the first Bush’s Iraq war; (ii) the imposition of economic sanctions on Iraq, a vicious policy that killed half a million Iraqi children and strengthened the domestic power of Saddam Hussein (secular dictator seen by al Qaeda as an “Infidel” butcher); (iii) Critical and massive U.S. support and coverfor Israel’s brutal Palestinian policy.


4. The dangerous asymmetry of world power relations in a post-Soviet age of raw unchallenged – globally unipolar – U.S. military hegemony. The United States’ near monopoly of the means of concentrated state violence means that those who would like (for some often very good reasons) to deter U.S. globalism see no alternative but to resort to stateless, de-concentrated, and (counter-) asymmetric terror, richly empowered by the terrifying willingness of a significant number of outraged Muslims to kill themselves in rolling back Great Satan Uncle Sam.



Unable and/or unwilling to acknowledge the nasty little matter of American capitalist ultra-imperialism and its deadly consequences (for people in the eye of the world-systemic hurricane too…a key lesson of 9/11), both sides of what passes for “debate” at the “elite” levels are left with little of substance to say for popular consumption (the more private intra-”elite”/”treetops” discourse is certainly more candid) about “why they hate us.” They both prattle on along with our moronic out-to-ranch president about mysterious Middle Eastern misfits, who strike out blindly at “freedom” and “democracy.”


As footnote to this discussion, which takes place against the barely mentioned backdrop of the 10-year anniversary of the U.S.-enabled genocide in Rwanda, some readers might like to know that Richard A. Clarke was a (perhaps the) leading policy actor behind the Clinton administration’s refusal to acknowledge and act upon the clearly imminent threat and then the reality of mass butchery (800,000 killed in one spring/early summer) in Rwanda. For chilling reflections based on extensive research, see Samantha Power, “Bystanders to Genocide: Why the United States Let The Rwanda Tragedy Happen” Atlantic Monthly, under the provocative title “Bystanders to Genocide: Why the United States Let The Rwanda Tragedy Happen,” available online at http://www.theatlantic.com/issues/2001/09/power.htm Read it – it’ s provocative and depressing. It came out in – get this – September 2001, when the U.S.-enabled jetliner attacks pushed everything else off the stage of history, withg a little help from the White House and its buddies in the spectacle-addicted corporate-state (“mainstream”) media.


See this and other cheerful reflections (including “Perplexed and Perverted at the New York Times”) at Paul Street’s new ZNet blog, “Empire and Inequality,” available off the ZNet top page.

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