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Chomsky Compendium Interview
From Greek, Spanish and French Press

 

 

A response that is too abstract may be misleading, so let us consider a current and quite typical illustration of what such plans mean in practice. This morning (Sept. 21), the New York Times ran an opinion piece by a respected intellectual who is considered a moral leader (MIchael Walzer). He called for an "ideological campaign to engage all the arguments and excuses for terrorism and reject them"; since as he knows, there are no such arguments and excuses for terrorism of the kind he has in mind, at least on the part of anyone amenable to reason, this translates as a call to reject efforts to explore the reasons that lie behind terrorist acts that are directed against states he supports. He then proceeds, in conventional fashion, to enlist himself among those who provide "arguments and excuses for terrorism," tacitly endorsing political assassination, namely, Israeli assassinations of Palestinians who it claims support terrorism; no evidence is offered or considered necessary, and in many cases even the suspicions appear groundless. US-supplied attack helicopters have been used for such assassinations for 10 months. Walzer puts the word "assassination" in quotes, indicating that in his view, the term is part of the "fervid and highly distorted accounts of the blockade of Iraq and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict." He is referring to criticism of US-backed Israeli atrocities in the territories that have been under harsh and brutal military occupation for almost 35 years, and of US policies that have devastated the civilian society of Iraq (while strengthening Saddam Hussein). Such criticisms are marginal in the US, but too much for him, apparently. By "distorted accounts," perhaps Walzer has in mind occasional references to the statement of Secretary of State Madeleine Albright over national TV when she was asked about the estimates of 1/2 million deaths of Iraqi children as a result of the sanctions regime. She recognized that such consequences were a "hard choice" for her administration, but "we think the price is worth it."

 

I mention this single example, easily multiplied, to illustrate the substantive meaning of the relaxation of constraints on state action. We may recall that violent and murderous states quite commonly justify their actions as "counter-terrorism": for example, the Nazis fighting partisan resistance. And such actions are commonly justified by respected intellectuals.

 

To be sure, there are many factors to be considered in thinking about your question. But the historical record is of overwhelming importance. At a very general level, the question cannot be answered. It depends on specific circumstances and specific proposals.

 

For the moment, European powers are hesitant about joining Washington's crusade, fearing that by a massive assault against innocent civilians the US will be falling into a "diabolical trap" set by bin Laden (in the words of the French foreign minister), helping him to mobilize desperate and angry people to his cause, with consequences that could be even more horrifying.

 

The Bush administration at once gave the nations of the world "a stark choice": join us "or face the certain prospect of death and destruction" (NY Times, Sept.14). It might be interesting to seek historical precedents.

 

The "global community" strongly opposes terror, including the massive terror of the powerful states, and also the terrible crimes of Sept. 11. But the "global community" does not act. When Western powers use the term "international community," they are referring to themselves. For example, NATO bombing of Serbia was undertaken by the "international community" according to consistent Western rhetoric, although those who did not have their heads buried in the sand knew that it was strongly opposed by most of the world, often quite vocally. Those who do not support the actions of wealth and power are not part of "the global community," just as "terrorism" conventionally means "terrorism directed against us and our friends."

 

It is hardly surprising that Afghanistan is attempting to mimic the US, calling on Muslims to support it. The scale, of course, is vastly smaller. Even as remote as they are from the world outside, Taliban leaders presumably know full well that the Islamic states are not their friends. These states are prime targets of the radical Islamic forces organized and trained by the CIA, Egypt, Pakistan and others to fight a Holy War against Russia. These states have, in fact, been subjected to terrorist attack by the radical Islamicist forces they helped to create ever since the assassination of President Sadat of Egypt -- one of the most enthusiastic of the creators -- 20 years ago.

 

 

An attack against Afghanistan will probably kill a great many innocent civilians, not Taliban but their victims, possibly enormous numbers in a country where millions are already on the verge of death from starvation. It will also answer bin Laden's most fervent prayers, as Washington is hearing from foreign leaders, specialists on the region, and presumably its own intelligence agencies. Such an attack will be a massive crime in itself, and will very likely escalate the cycle of violence, including new acts of terror directed against the West, possibly with consequences even more horrifying than those of September 11. The dynamics are, after all, very familiar.

 

 

I doubt that it would have made any difference. It would have been a terrible crime even if the toll had been much smaller. The Pentagon is more than a "symbol," for reasons that need no comment. As for the World Trade Center, we scarcely know what the terrorists had in mind when they bombed it in 1993 and destroyed it last week, but we can be quite confident that it had little to do with such matters as "globalization," or "economic imperialism," or "cultural values," matters that are utterly unfamiliar to bin Laden and his associates and of no concern to them, just as they are, evidently, not concerned by the fact that their atrocities over the years have caused great harm to poor and oppressed people in the Muslim world and elsewhere, again on September 11. Among the immediate victims are Palestinians under military occupation, as they surely must have known. Their concerns are different, and bin Laden, at least, has been eloquent enough in expressing them in many interviews: to overthrow the corrupt and repressive regimes of the Arab world and replace them with properly "Islamic" regimes, to support Muslims in their struggles against "infidels" in Saudi Arabia (which he regards as under US occupation), Chechnya, Bosnia, western China, North Africa, and Southeast Asia; maybe elsewhere.

 

It is convenient for Western intellectuals to speak of "deeper causes" such as hatred of Western values and progress. That is a useful way to avoid questions about the origin of the bin Laden network itself, and about the practices that lead to anger, fear and desperation throughout the region, and provide a reservoir from which radical Islamicist terrorist cells can sometimes draw. Since the answers to these questions are rather clear, and are inconsistent with preferred doctrine, it is better to dismiss the questions as "superficial" and "insignificant," and to turn to "deeper causes" that are in fact more superficial even insofar as they are relevant.

 

 

There is no precise definition of "war." People speak of the "war on poverty," the "drug war," etc. What is taking shape is not a conflict among states, though it could become one: the US has warned, loud and clear, that the nations of the world face a "stark choice": join us in our crusade or "face the certain prospect of death and destruction" (RW Apple, NYTimes, Sept. 14). If the US literally follows through on that threat, or anything like it, there will be war on an extraordinary scale. I think that is highly unlikely, but not excluded.

 

 

It is neither "new," nor a "war against terrorism." We should not forget that the Reagan administration came into office 20 years ago announcing that a primary focus of foreign policy would be the threat of "international terrorism," and it reacted to this threat with programs of international terrorism on a remarkable scale, even leading to a World Court condemnation of the US for "unlawful use of force" (i.e., international terrorism).

 

What happened on Sept 11 was, unquestionably, a horrifying crime. There are proper ways to respond to crimes, great or small, in accord with US domestic and international law, and there are precedents; for example the one I just mentioned. Nicaragua presumably could have reacted to Washington's terrorist war by setting off bombs in Washington. Instead, it approached the World Court, which issued the judgment that I just cited. The US of course dismissed the Court with contempt. Its response was to escalate the terrorist attack, and to veto a Security Council resolution calling on all states to observe international law, then voting against a similar General Assembly resolution (alone with Israel and El Salvador; the following year Israel alone). The US could choose to adhere to its obligations under international law as well, and of course would face no barriers. That is by no means the only example. When the US attacked Sudan in 1998, destroying the facilities that produce half its pharmaceutical supplies (which it could not replenish), causing the death of unknown numbers of people, Sudan approached the Security Council, but the US refused to permit even an inquiry. When IRA bombs were set off in London, there was no call to bomb the US, the source of most of the financial support for the IRA. Rather, efforts were made to deal with what lay behind the resort to terror. When a federal building was blown up in Oklahoma City, there were calls for bombing the Middle East, and it probably would have happened if the source turned out to be there. When it was found to be a militia-based bombing, there was no call to obliterate Montana and Idaho, where most of the ultra-right militias are based. Rather, there was a search for the perpetrator, who was found, brought to court and sentenced, and there were efforts to understand the grievances that lie behind such crimes and to address the problems. Just about every crime -- whether a robbery in the streets or colossal atrocities -- has reasons, and commonly we find that some of them are serious and should be addressed.

 

These are the proper ways to respond to criminal acts, whether by individuals or by states.

 

 

This is fashionable talk, but it makes little sense. Suppose we briefly review some familiar history.

 

The most populous Islamic state is Indonesia, a favorite of the US ever since Suharto took power in 1965, as army-led massacres slaughtered hundreds of thousands of people, mostly landless peasants, with the assistance of the US and with an outburst of euphoria from the West that was unconstrained, and is so embarrassing in retrospect that it has been effectively wiped out of memory. Suharto remained "our kind of guy," as the Clinton administration called him, as he compiled one of the most horrendous records of slaughter, torture, and other abuses of the late 20th century. The most extreme Islamic fundamentalist state, apart from the Taliban, is Saudi Arabia, a US client since its founding. In the 1980s, the US along with Pakistani intelligence (helped by Saudi Arabia, Britain, and others), recruited, armed, and trained the most extreme Islamic fundamentalists they could find to cause maximal harm to the Russians in Afghanistan. As Simon Jenkins observes in the _London Times_, those efforts "destroyed a moderate regime and created a fanatical one, from groups recklessly financed by the Americans." One of the beneficiaries was Osama Bin Laden. Also in the 1980s, the US and UK gave strong support to their friend and ally Saddam Hussein -- more secular, to be sure, but on the Islamic side of the "clash" -- right through the period of his worst atrocities, including the gassing of the Kurds, and beyond.

 

Also in the 1980s the US fought a major war in Central America, leaving some 200,000 tortured and mutilated corpses, millions of orphans and refugees, and four countries devastated. A prime target of the US attack was the Catholic Church, which had offended the self-described "civilized world" by adopting "the preferential option for the poor."

 

In the early 90s, primarily for cynical great power reasons, the US selected Bosnian Muslims as their Balkan clients, to their enormous harm.

 

Without continuing, exactly where do we find the divide between "civilizations." Are we to conclude that there is a "clash of civilizations" with the Catholic Church on one side, and the US and the most murderous and fanatic religious fundamentalists of the Islamic world on the other side? I do not of course suggest any such absurdity. But exactly what are we to conclude, on rational grounds?

 

 

 

 

It is said that Gandhi was once asked what he thought of Western civilization, and answered that he felt it might be a good idea. No civilized society would tolerate anything I have just mentioned, which is of course only a tiny sample even of US history, and European history is even worse. And surely no "civilized world" would plunge the world into a major war instead of following the means prescribed by international law, following ample precedents.

 

 

The US might follow the course it has proclaimed, attacking Afghanistan and probably killing a great many innocent civilians, not Taliban but their victims, possibly enormous numbers in a country where millions are already on the verge of death from starvation. By doing so, it will also answer bin Laden's most fervent prayers, as Washington is hearing from foreign leaders, specialists on the region, and presumably its own intelligence agencies. Such an attack will be a massive crime in itself, and will very likely escalate the cycle of violence, including new acts of terror directed against the West, possibly with consequences even more horrifying than those of September 11. The dynamics are, after all, very familiar.

 

Or, the US might heed the warnings that it is receiving, for example, from the French foreign minister, who warned that the US would be falling into a "diabolical trap" set by bin Laden if it massacred innocents in Afghanistan.

 

I would not venture a prediction. But there clearly are choices within the spectrum just indicated.

 

 

That depends on which course is chosen. The consequences of one or another choice are not certain, but we can make some rather plausible estimates.

 

 

I presume no one knows the answer better than the CIA, who helped establish and train the terrorist networks, and has been well acquainted with them since the first time that they turned against their creators, in 1981, when they assassinated President Sadat of Egypt. Or two years later, when one suicide bomber, perhaps with links to the same networks, drove the US military out of Lebanon. And on many occasions since. They have also been quite clear in articulating their goals, particularly bin Laden himself, in many interviews over the past 10 years: to overthrow the corrupt and repressive regimes of the Arab world and replace them with properly "Islamic" regimes, to support Muslims in their struggles against "infidels" in Saudi Arabia (which he regards as under US occupation), Chechnya, Bosnia, western China, North Africa, and Southeast Asia; maybe elsewhere. Their terrorist activities have been very harmful to the poor and oppressed majority, but that is not their concern, and they know that they can draw from the reservoir of desperation, fear, and anger that in significant measure results from US policies, as people of the region, including the most pro-American of them, are well aware.

 

 

For the radical Islamists mobilized by the CIA and its associates, the hate is just what they express. The US was happy to support their hatred and violence when it was directed against US enemies; it is not happy when the hatred it helped nurture is directed against the US and its allies, as it has been, repeatedly, for 20 years. For the population of the region, quite a distinct category, the reasons for their feelings are not obscure. The sources of those sentiments are also quite well known. The Wall Street Journal recently reviewed the attitudes of "moneyed Muslims": bankers, professionals, businessmen, pro-American but severely critical of US policies in the region. They deplored Washington's support for harsh and repressive regime, its opposition to democratic tendencies, and the barriers it places to independent economic development by "propping up oppressive regimes." But their primary concern was Washington's decisive support for Israel's harsh and brutal military occupation, a policy that is even more shocking by contrast to the devastating US assault against the civilian society of Iraq, a huge crime against innocent people that also happens to strengthen Saddam Hussein. Similar sentiments prevail, though in much harsher terms, among the great majority outside the narrow circles of privilege. They do not, of course, share the comforting illusions prevalent in the US about the "generous" and "magnanimous" offers at Camp David, let alone other favored myths.

 

 

Yes, exactly as in the past. Who have been the victims of the crimes I have already mentioned, a minuscule sample?

 

 

Like virtually everyone, Europeans reacted with justified horror, shock, and dismay to the terrorist atrocities. But for Europe and its Northamerican offshoot, these came as a particular shock. The crimes have been described as something new in modern history, and that is correct -- not in scale, regrettably, but in the target.. For the US, this is the first time since the War of 1812 that its national territory has been under attack, even threat. Its colonies have been attacked, but not the national territory itself. During these years the US virtually exterminated the indigenous population, conquered a large part of Mexico, intervened violently in the surrounding region, conquered Hawaii and the Philippines (killing hundreds of thousands of Filipinos), and in the past half century particularly, extended its resort to force throughout much of the world. The number of victims is colossal. For the first time, the guns have been directed the other way. The same is true, even more dramatically, of Europe. Europe has suffered murderous destruction, but from internal wars, meanwhile conquering much of the world with extreme brutality. It has not been under attack by its victims outside, with rare exceptions. It is therefore natural that NATO should quickly rally to the support of the US; hundreds of years of imperial violence have an enormous impact on the intellectual and moral culture.

 

Nevertheless, European leaders, and to some extent public commentary, have been warning the US not to react with extreme violence. They have not, I believe, gone as far as President Mubarrak of Egypt, who urged the US to provide credible evidence before launching an attack, and to operate within the framework of international law -- and recall that Egypt, one of the initial creators of the terrorist networks, has suffered bitterly from its atrocities for 20 years. However, Europe has been, so far, a restraining force, with variations of course.

 

 

That depends what these citizens want. If they want an escalating cycle of violence, in the familiar pattern, they should certainly call on the US to fall into bin Laden's "diabolical trap" and massacre innocent civilians. If they want to reduce the level of violence they should use their influence to direct the great powers in a very different course, the one I outlined earlier, which, again, has ample precedents. That includes a willingness to examine what lies behind the atrocities. One often hears that we must not consider these matters, because that would be justification for terrorism, a position so foolish and destructive as scarcely to merit comment; but unfortunately common (this morning's New York Times, Sept. 21, for example, on the part of a respected intellectual). But if we do not wish to contribute to escalating the cycle of violence, with targets among the rich and powerful as well, that is exactly what we must do, as in all other cases, including those familiar enough in Spain.

 

 

Such atrocities commonly benefit the harshest and most repressive elements on both sides, just as a massive retaliation against civilians is widely expected to benefit the terrorist networks. In this case, the Sept. 11 atrocities were a crushing blow against Palestinians living under military occupation, and Israel made no effort to conceal its satisfaction in exploiting a "window of opportunity" (as it was openly described) to tighten its grip on Palestinians. The Bush administration at once moved to exploit the opportunity to ram through its own agenda: militarization, including "missile defense," a code phrase for militarization of space; undermining social democratic programs and concerns over environmental issues, the harsh effects of corporate "globalization," and so on; instituting measures that will intensify the transfer of wealth to very narrow sectors (e.g., eliminating the capital gains tax); regimenting the society so as to eliminate discussion and protest. That is all natural, and to be expected. Escalation of violence is likely to have similar effects, on all sides. Again, the dynamics are familiar.

 

 

The attacks were an atrocious crime against humanity. No one seriously doubts that. That something of this scale and sophistication could take place, no one could have predicted. That includes the world's intelligence agencies, which monitor very closely the activities of the terrorist networks that are presumably responsible. Bear in mind as well that the leading intelligence agencies know a great deal about the terror networks, if only because they helped establish them and observed their criminal activities closely while continuing to provide them with massive aid and training . But although an assault of this nature was surely not anticipated, that some kind of terrorist attack might take place is a surprise to no one who has been paying attention to US policies in the Middle East region.

 

 

 

The attacks are not "consequences" of US policies in any direct sense. But indirectly, of course they are consequences; that is not even controversial. There seems little doubt that the perpetrators come from the terrorist network that has its roots in the mercenary armies that were organized, trained, and armed by the CIA, Pakistani intelligence, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and others (with initiatives from French intelligence too) in order to fight a Holy War against the Russian invaders in Afghanistan. The backgrounds of all of this remain somewhat murky. President Carter's National Security Adviser, Zbigniew Brzezinski, has boasted that he was responsible for drawing the Russians into an "Afghan trap" (his words) by initiating support for Mujahideen fighting the government in mid-1979, six months before the Russian invasion. China and Iran were also apparently active in 1978-79 in similar activities, joining later with the US-centered operation. It is possible that Brzezinski is simply bragging about his brilliance in helping unleash the monster that has been causing havoc around much of the world since, but there may be something to his story. There is no doubt that these operations were underway at an enormous scale from early 1980. And it is not surprising that the CIA and its associates preferred the most extreme radical elements that they could round up from North Africa, Saudi Arabia, and elsewhere, to form the core of their "Afghanis," who were forged into a mercenary army of hundreds of thousands, armed with advanced weapons. These radical Islamists (called "fundamentalists," in much Western commentary) were the most fanatic and dedicated killers. And the "blowback," to borrow the CIA's term, began at once. In 1981, radical Islamists with "Afghani" roots assassinated President Sadat of Egypt, one of the most enthusiastic creators of the "Afghanis". In 1983, a single suicide bomber, possibly with indirect links to the same growing networks, effectively drove the US military out of Lebanon. Since then, particularly in the 1990s, they have spread terror around much of the world. Their great triumph was driving the Russians out of Afghanistan, at enormous cost. The end result was to "destroy a moderate regime and create a fanatical one, from groups recklessly financed by the Americans" (_London Times_ correspondent Simon Jenkins, a specialist on the region; most of the funding was apparently Saudi). "Afghanis" then joined Muslim forces fighting in Chechnya, Bosnia, Kashmir, Western China (themselves veterans of the Chinese-inspired campaigns), the Philippines, and elsewhere. They have carried out murderous terror attacks in the countries where the regimes are their main enemies, Saudi Arabia and Egypt. And in the 1990s, against the United States, which, according to bin Laden and his associates, have been occupying Saudi Arabia much as the Russians occupied Afghanistan, since the US established permanent military bases there. And the US of course is the prime backer of the corrupt and brutal Saudi regime, and others like it in the region -- none of them "Islamist" by the standards of the terrorist monster that was created by the West for its own purposes.

 

Furthermore, as is common knowledge among anyone who pays attention to the region, the terrorists draw from a reservoir of desperation, anger, and frustration that extends from rich to poor, from secular to radical Islamist. That it is rooted in no small measure in US policies is evident, and constantly articulated to those willing to listen.

 

 

The _Wall Street Journal_ (Sept. 14) published a survey of opinions of wealthy and privileged Muslims in the Gulf region (bankers, professionals, businessmen with close links to the US). They strongly support the general policies that the US is advancing throughout the world: corporate globalization, and all the rest. But they bitterly resent US policies in the Middle East. Their primary grievance is the massive US military, diplomatic, and economic support for Israel's brutal military occupation, now in its 35th year, a stand that contrasts sharply in their minds with Washington's attack against Iraqi civilian society, devastating it while strengthening Saddam Hussein -- who, as they know, the US strongly supporter through his worst atrocities, including the gassing of the Kurds. They also object strenuously to US support for harsh, repressive and corrupt regimes throughout the region, its opposition to democratic tendencies, and its imposition of barriers against economic development by "propping up oppressive regimes." Among the great majority of people suffering deep poverty and oppression, similar sentiments are far more bitter. Though the bin Laden network and others like them cause immense harm to the people of the region, nonetheless their denunciation of the brutal and corrupt regimes, and their condemnation of US policies, surely has ample resonance.

 

 

I find the question baffling. The US is, after all, the only country condemned by the World Court for international terrorism -- for "the unlawful use of force" for political ends, as the Court put it, ordering the US to terminate these crimes and pay substantial reparations. The US of course dismissed the Court's judgment with contempt, reacting by escalating the terrorist war against Nicaragua and vetoing a Security Council resolution calling on all states to observe international law (and voting alone, with Israel, against similar General Assembly resolutions). The terrorist war expanded in accordance with the official policy of attacking "soft targets" -- undefended civilian targets -- instead of engaging the Nicaraguan army. That was only a small component of Washington's terrorist wars in Central America in that terrible decade, leaving 200,000 corpses and four countries in ruins. In the same years the US was carrying out large-scale terrorism elsewhere, including the Middle East: to cite one example, the car-bombing in Beirut in 1985 outside a Mosque, timed to kill the maximum number of civilians, with 80 dead and 200 casualties, aimed at a Muslim Sheikh, who escaped. And it supported much worse terror: for example, Israel's invasion of Lebanon that killed some 18,000 Lebanese and Palestinian civilians, not in self-defense, as was conceded at once; and the vicious "iron fist" atrocities of the years that followed, directed against "terrorist villagers," as Israel put it. And the subsequent invasions of 1993 and 1996, both strongly supported by the US (until the international reaction to the Qana massacre in 1996, which caused Clinton to draw back). The post-1982 toll in Lebanon alone is probably another 20,000 civlians. In the 1990s, the US provided 80% of the arms for Turkey's vicious counterinsurgency campaign against Kurds in its southeast region, killing tens of thousands, driving 2-3 million out of their homes, leaving 3500 villages destroyed (10 times Kosovo under NATO bombs), and with every imaginable atrocity. The arms flow had increased sharply in 1984 as Turkey launched its terrorist attack and began to decline to previous levels only in 1999, when the atrocities had achieved their goal. In 1999, Turkey fell from its position as the leading recipient of US arms (Israel-Egypt aside), replaced by Colombia, the worst human rights violator in the hemisphere in the 1990s and by far the leading recipient of US arms and training, following a consistent pattern. In East Timor, the US (and Britain) continued their support of the Indonesian aggressors, which had already wiped out about 1/3 of the population with their crucial help (France as well). That continued right through the atrocities of 1999, with thousands murdered even before the September assault that drove 85% of the population from their homes and destroyed 70% of the country -- while the Clinton administration kept to its position that it is the responsibility of the Indonesians, and we don't want to take that away from them. It was only after enormous pressure that the Administration informed the Indonesians that the game was over, at which point they immediately withdrew, revealing the latent power that was always there had the US not been committed to support for Indonesian mass murderers. In 1998, in one of the minor episodes of US terrorism, Clinton destroyed half the pharmaceutical supplies in Sudan and the facilities for replenishing them, with a casualty toll that must be enormous, though no one knows, because the US blocked a UN inquiry and Western intellectuals evidently are not concerned about such trivialities: similar attacks in France, or Israel, or the US would presumably lead to a different reaction, though the comparison is unfair, because these are rich countries with ample supplies that can easily be replenished. I have already mentioned the devastation of Iraqi civilian society, with about 1 million killed, over half of them young children -- "a very hard choice, but the price - we think the price is worth it," as Secretary of State Madeleine Albright explained on prime time TV a few years ago. This is only a small sample.

 

I am, frankly, surprised that the question can even be raised -- particularly in France, which has made its own contributions to massive state terror and violence, surely not unfamiliar.

 

 

I don't recall ever referring to a "Clinton doctrine on retaliation," but if you have in mind official US policy, in all administrations, the explanation seems transparent. Merely to take a single example -- uncontroversial because of the World Court ruling -- according to US doctrine, after Washington had rejected the orders of the World Court and the Security Council, and escalated its terrorist war, Nicaragua should have set off bombs in Washington. And after Washington's decisive support for Israeli atrocities in Lebanon and the occupied territories, the victims should be doing the same. And so on. This is just simple logic. If the doctrine is accepted -- not just for ourself, but for others -- the conclusions follow at once.

 

 

If you mean the reaction of outrage over the horrifying criminal assault, and sympathy for the victims, then the reactions are virtually unanimous everywhere, including the Muslim countries. Of course every sane person shares them completely, not "partly." If you are referring to the calls for a murderous assault that will surely kill many innocent people -- and, incidentally, answer bin Laden's most fervent prayers -- than there is no such "unanimous reaction," despite superficial impressions that one might derive from watching TV. As for me, I join a great many others in opposing such actions. A great many. The New York Times surveyed opinion in the streets of New York, and at a memorial for the victims, discovering that the sentiments expressed in words and in signs were overwhelmingly opposed to a resort to violence. What majority sentiment is, no one can really say: it is too diffuse and complex. But "unanimous"? Surely not, except with regard to the nature of the crime.

 

 

Such atrocities commonly benefit the harshest and most repressive elements on both sides, just as a massive retaliation against civilians is widely expected to benefit the terrorist networks. Predictably, the Bush administration at once moved to exploit the opportunity to ram through its own agenda: militarization, including "missile defense," a code phrase for militarization of space; undermining social democratic programs and concerns over environmental issues, the harsh effects of corporate "globalization," and so on; instituting measures that will intensify the transfer of wealth to very narrow sectors (e.g., eliminating the capital gains tax); regimenting the society so as to eliminate discussion and protest. That is all natural, and to be expected. What the longer term consequences will be depends, as always, on how the population responds after the initial shock is absorbed and the efforts to inspire obedience become less effective. I suspect that the society will prove rather resilient.

 

 

It depends which countries you mean. Surely many countries will rejoice at the opportunity to enlist Washington's support for their own atrocities. Commentators express much satisfaction that other countries are expressing some willingness to join Washington's "crusade against evil," but they are not explaining why. They surely know the reasons. US assistance is welcomed by Russia for crushing Chechens, by China for its wars against Muslims in Western China, by Indonesia for its continuing atrocities in Aceh and elsewhere, by India for destroying resistance to its rule in largely-Muslim Kashmir, and on, and on. If you have in mind the Middle East, the regimes that are the targets of bin Laden's wrath and despised many of their own citizens will be inclined to join Washington's assault against their enemies, but they are also wary of the consequences. They doubtless agree with Foreign Minister Vedrine about the "diabolical trap" laid by bin Laden, who reiterated what has been stressed by specialists on the region and presumably US intelligence agencies. They understand the likely consequences of a ground war in Afghanistan, and understand as well that the massacre of Afghanis -- not Taliban, but their victims -- will only help bin Laden and others like him to enlist others in the horrendous cause, the familiar dynamic of an escalating cycle of violence.

 

We cannot be confident about consequences, just as Washington planners cannot be. But there are plausible assessments of the likely consequences of the various choices that Washington and its allies might make.

 

 

 

10/ What shoud the US government do now? What can they do? And the European countries?

 

It should follow the rule of law and its treaty obligations, a course for which there are ample precedents. For example the case of Nicaragua, just mentioned -- and recall that the US attack against Nicaragua was a serious affair, leaving tens of thousands killed and the country ruined. True, Nicaragua's efforts to follow the rule of law were blocked by a violent superpower, but no one will block the US. That is far from the only example. If half the pharmaceutical facilities and supplies in the US were destroyed by the bin Laden network, the crime would be considered horrendous, and there might be a violent response. Sudan however, went to the UN, where it was of course blocked by its attacker. When IRA bombs went off in London, the government did not send the RAF to bomb the source of their finances; where I live in Boston, for example. Even if that had been feasible, it would have been criminal idiocy. A more constructive response was to consider realistically the background concerns and grievances, and to try to deal with them seriously, while at the same time following the rule of law to punish criminals. Or take the bombing of the Federal building in Oklahoma City. There were immediate calls for bombing the Middle East, and it probably would have taken place if there had been even a remote hint of a connection. When the perpetrator was found to be a militia sympathizer, there was no call to obliterate Montana and Idaho and Texas, and other places where the ultra-right militias are based. Rather, there was a search for the perpetrator, who was found, brought to court and sentenced, and to the extent that the reaction was sensible, there were efforts to understand the grievances that lie behind such crimes and to address the problems.

 

Just about every crime -- whether a robbery in the streets or colossal atrocities -- has reasons, and commonly we find that some of them are serious and should be addressed. At least, that is the course we follow if we have any concern for right and justice, and hope to reduce the likelihood of further atrocities rather than increase it. The same principles hold quite generally, with due attention to variation of circumstances. Specifically, they hold in this case.

 

There are lawful and proper ways to proceed in the case of crimes, including horrifying crimes of international terrorism -- of which this, regrettably, is not the first example.

 

As for the European countries, they do not need my advice.