Breaking News & Views for the Progressive Community
We Can't Do It Without You!  
     
Home | About Us | Donate | Signup | Archives
   
 
   Featured Views  
 

Printer Friendly Version E-Mail This Article
 
 
Patchwork of Terror, Mosaic of Peace
Published on Saturday, November 3, 2001
Patchwork of Terror, Mosaic of Peace
by Terry Laggner
 
I believe we CAN win against terrorism. We may not be able to eradicate every incidence from the face of the earth forever, but we can embrace a new geopolitical balance and Weltanschauung that underpins health, dignity, opportunity, and respect for human life. We can create a soil so rich in nutrients no poison will be able to take root. Will it take money? Yes. Will it take political will? Yes. Is it doable? Absolutely.

This essay is intended to contribute to the thinking that will stimulate such change.

It suggests three essential ingredients:
I A global Marshall Plan
II Combining internationalism and justice for Afghanistan’s women
III Move from reliance on oil to renewable resources

I Treatment Successful; Patient Dead -- and How to avoid It

Never have so many of us heard so much talk about solving a global problem. We are told over and over that we will defeat terror by breaking up the networks and getting the perpetrators of terrorist crimes. Yet absent from the outpourings of analysis and commentary is the acknowledgment that we cannot defeat terror by pulling out its manifestations at their roots. Manifestations are symptoms. Causes have roots, and at those -- poverty, despair, ignorance, helplessness -- we must unerringly aim our search and destroy missions. We must think, interpret and act in ways that root out the global origins of global terrorism. Lacking such an overarching perspective our questions will not be deep enough, our vision too myopic, and our actions piecemeal. Instead of defeating terror we may well find ourselves perpetuating it.

It is essential that we ask ourselves uncomfortable questions such as what are the costs and benefits of dropping bombs against one country harboring one terrorist mastermind? Granted, we could potentially defeat Osama Bin Laden, the Taliban and Al-Quaeda. AND THEN WHAT?

Would we seriously delude ourselves into thinking the world was better or safer, or that we had just ‘won the war against terrorism?’ Would we be prepared for the next mastermind, the next fundamentalist takeover, the next terror network? And the next? War itself is inherently toxic. Bombs are effective at killing, destroying, and forcing temporary setbacks. But they can never root out anything. Especially not powerful ideas, hatred, or the misery and suffering that is fertile soil for future terrorists.

I assume military analysts would be the most aware of the limits of warfare. They would likely be the first to point out the need for stabilization and rebuilding. It was, after all, a General who understood the pressing need to rebuild Europe after WW II. Yes, I advocate here for a new and global Marshall Plan, but I also wonder if we have really asked ourselves about the long-term toxic impact of our current course of action on the delicate fabric of the 21st century. Answer we must, or be held accountable by our offspring and their children.

By viewing terrorism through a global big-picture lens we create the opportunity for effective action, permanent solutions and a positive legacy. Lacking that we can drop as many targeted bombs as we want against one particularly onerous symptom. Ultimately it will prove futile if we overlook the origins of the disease and the importance of health.

By far the most important piece missing in the anti-terror discussion is the enormous mosaic of developing nation poverty. While poverty in Afghanistan and to a lesser extent in Pakistan have at least been acknowledged, we dangerously ignore the implications of magnitude. Today our 'target' is Afghanistan. Who and where are next? The tentacles of terrorism are as widespread as poverty and despair. Will we be viewed historically as the nation that attempted to preserve democracy and freedom at home by bombing country after country in the developing world? "We don't really need to spend another dime on ‘intelligence’ to recognize the conditions that leave whole countries in a state of despair and misery."

Some 1.2 billion people worldwide struggle to survive on $1 day or less “ 150 million children are malnourished “ 10 million children under 5 will die in 2001 “ 150 million people want to work but can’t find jobs

These numbers are far greater than Afghanistan, Pakistan, Asia and the Middle East. Everywhere such misery exists, desperation, extremism and terrorism take root and flourish. In a globally interdependent world in which a fifth of our inhabitants are desperate, it is only a matter of time until we all are. We’re still accustomed to closing our eyes to misery that seems geographically or culturally distant from us. September 11th should have gone a long way to show us the danger of such blinders.

Because Europe wasn’t so far from us and because General Marshall’s vision prevailed, Europe did not sink into an abyss of despair and turmoil following the Second World War. Our own country and the world have benefited enormously from its recovery. In 1947, Gen. George C. Marshall said post-war U.S. policy was directed "not against any country or doctrine but against hunger, poverty, desperation, and chaos." A half-century on, the Marshall Plan is still credited as the single most important component in establishing peace and prosperity in war-ravaged Europe. It is also still viewed as one of the most generous acts of enlightened self-interest ever carried out by one nation in support of others. Today’s Americans are likely no less generous in nature. But we are a lot less informed about the world around us!

A global Marshall Plan would be led by the country that already did it once and by the countries that were direct beneficiaries. Is it possible to use the same foresight, political will and technical savvy to create a wealthy-nation's Marshall Plan? One impediment is the magnitude of the task. It seems overwhelming in scope and cost. But let’s number crunch for a moment.

Just a cursory glance at our initial response to the terror of September 11th shows how costs soared into the tens of billions of dollars. Then there's the $40 billion Congress quickly offered President Bush for anti-terror activities. Remember too, these unanticipated billions are beyond our proposed defense budget of almost $343 billion. Current projections put our military actions over the next 12 months at an additional $100 billion. There is no attempt here to quantify the additional billions yet to be spent on defenses against biological, chemical or nuclear terrorism. Neither does this touch on similar costs to European nations as they protect themselves from its global reach.

What would it actually cost for the United States and other industrialized nations to launch a global Marshall Plan that would provide everyone on earth with a decent standard of living? Nowhere near what you may think.

A 1998 report by the United Nations Development Programme estimated the annual cost to achieve universal access to a number of basic social services in all developing countries. Three years ago that would have been

$ 9 billion -- water and sanitation
$12 billion -- reproductive health for all women;
$13 billion -- basic health care and nutrition; and
$ 6 billion -- basic education for all.

To those who may still think it "costs too much," I would suggest that the $40 billion price tag is less than negligible when pitted against the cost of inaction. Ironically, it is also the amount of Congress's anti-terror check to the president. But the price tag itself is inaccurate because even if it is underestimated by an order of magnitude this is not pure outlay. This money is being invested in people, in business, trade, infrastructure, knowledge, technology, and a positive future. This is not the kind of money that drops one time from a plane and disappears into a crater of destruction.

The comparative numbers are also inaccurate because the jury is still out as to the potential costs of not making global education, social welfare, and health care a top priority. Given the events of September 11th and all that has followed, my imagination balks at being asked to project where the policies of warfare and counter-warfare, terrorism and counter-terrorism will take our troubled world.

By blinding ourselves to the enormous human suffering on our planet we become a mad doctor treating the terrible manifestations of toxic disease by offering toxic cures. The patient’s system is already filled with poison. Even if one of the toxins kills off one of the poisons the patient will still die.

There is another way in which the dollar comparison fails. Just as we can’t imagine the damage of inaction I don’t believe we can accurately assess the benefits of positive investment. A global Marshall Plan could eradicate barriers in our thinking and behavior, create partnerships as yet unimaginable, and set us on a new path of creative problem-solving. The one component I am sure of is that where political will goes, miracles follow. The Marshall Plan is only one case in point. Our world has seen many examples, for good and bad.

President Bush is right when he repeats that this is a war unlike any other. What he either fails to grasp or refuses to acknowledge is that this war is different because all we can possibly win on the ground is battles. This war can be waged but never won through warfare. It is a lose-lose proposition for the good, the bad, and especially for the masses of innocent people alive today and the masses of children yet to be born.

This is a war unlike any other in that it is cannot be fought in the air, inside mountain caves or on the ground. This one can only be fought deep in the soil in which the human soul germinates and is replenished.

So, what will it be America? Will we be warriors and use our guns and bombs to till the soil of deprivation, inhumanity and hate? Or will we be visionaries and stewards of the future by cultivating the soil that breeds dignity, hope and respect for human life?

II What Do You Women Want?

Have you wondered if we could talk with the Afghani people what they would say? I most wonder what the women would say, the faceless and voiceless among a people surviving in stifling silence after years of internal conflict, war, and fundamentalist dictatorship. Do we have even the least idea of what they want? I wonder, if we could know would it affect our attitudes and policies?

When the bombs first began falling on Afghanistan I believed at least 60% of the population -- the women of Afghanistan -- would secretly rejoice if it heralded an end to the era of Taliban atrocities. When I heard an Afghan woman speak against the bombing, her words pricked the comfortable bubble of my own callousness.

She was a representative of the Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan (RAWA) speaking from Pakistan. RAWA describes itself as "a political/social organization of Afghan women struggling for peace, freedom, democracy and women's rights in fundamentalism-blighted Afghanistan." Not only their name, but their words draw clear lines in the sand:

"The Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan (RAWA) was established in 1977, long before the current Taliban regime seized power. >From the beginning, RAWA opposed how Muslim extremists in Afghanistan misinterpreted traditional practices and Islamic law to justify the oppression of women. The Taliban are the champions of illiteracy and highest incarnations of ignorant arrogance. RAWA believes that despite manifold impediments and meager resources, one of its duties is to carry the torch of literacy and knowledge among women in defiance of the Taliban and enlightenment-hating fundamentalists."

Yet this RAWA representative opposed the bombing. No matter how many times the seemingly surprised interviewer asked, her position remained firm. She gave two reasons. The first was simple: “Because innocent people will die.” After hearing the interview I researched further and found the same sentiment in a press release of September 12th. This statement was issued by a different organization called The Afghan Women's Mission. Both groups want to see the perpetrators of the criminal acts of September 11th brought to justice. Neither endorses our method of accomplishing that objective.

"Afghans have been suffering the results of extreme war, poverty, disease, hunger, lack of education, health care and shelter for too long. Afghans comprise the second largest refugee group in the world today. In addition, there are millions of internally displaced Afghans who are living on the edge of survival throughout the country. To attack Afghanistan now would be to attack a weak and defenseless people who have no control over those that rule them with violence and terror. While we insist that those responsible should be identified and tried in a court of law, we urge the United States government to not answer violence with violence."

My surprise at the RAWA representative’s second reason for opposing the bombing bespoke of my own ignorance and RAWA’s long-term vision for Afghanistan. Reason number two lies interwoven into the social and political complexities that we Americans know little of; complexities that could unravel Afghanistan into more years of instability and warfare.

RAWA is unsure what a future government will look like. As some of us in the west are only slowly beginning to understand, politics in Afghanistan is a quagmire of tribal divisions, changing loyalties, and deeply cherished beliefs. Make no mistake however. Her invectives against the Taliban were powerful indeed. She described them as misogynist criminals illegally enforcing the world's most oppressive regime against women, and spoke of atrocities against 7-year old girls and 70-year old grandmothers. Yet RAWA is firm. Not only the Taliban, but any fundamentalist government is dangerous to Afghan women and children.

As a recent news analyst noted: “Afghans have a history of uniting against governments imposed from abroad - a legacy that turns any talk of a post-Taliban Afghanistan into mere speculation.” Not only is the political situation within the country divided among some 45 disparate factions. The six countries bordering Afghanistan -- Iran, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, China and Pakistan are all attempting in various degrees to influence Afghan politics to meet their own country’s needs. The U.S. is now the lone western country in the midst of complexities of which we know so little.

Given our government's past history of forming alliances with the " enemy of my enemy" it is unclear where our intervention will lead and where it will end. A few results of such policies include support for the Shah of Iran, Saddam Hussein, Osama Bin Laden, Pinochet, and other criminal dictators of Latin America. We have not been wise in this arena. Neither have we been patient. Nor have we had a larger view of the long-term overt results of our covert activities. And to all appearances, we have still not learned from history.

Obviously RAWA and the Afghan Women’s Mission do not represent all Afghanis or even all of Afghanistan’s women. But they do speak with knowledge of their country and the suffering of their people. And they are not a self-serving political faction. So what do these women want? In my opinion what the world should want. Justice. Not a swift sword of vengeance, but justice rooted in the living soil of long-term solutions.

If we were to listen, understand, and act on their vision, what might we do differently? How would we implement their plea for justice while supporting a solution from within Afghanistan itself that would satisfactory RAWA’s objectives of ‘peace, freedom, democracy and women's rights?’ I see only one option -- use this opportunity to strengthen both the United Nations and the international rule of law. Having worked at the UN for over a decade, I am well aware of its flaws and am not suggesting that as it is today it has the power to do the job. But if we put our political will behind it, it could.

The UN could become a forum to demand of world governments that accused terrorists be brought before the world court in The Hague. This approach, like that of RAWA itself, would require time, vision and patience. But there are precedents. That method was globally endorsed and ultimately forced Libya to hand over the Lockerbie bombing terrorists without an invasion. The world is again slowly succeeding against Serb perpetrators of genocidal ‘ethnic cleansing’ in Bosnia. It is requiring time and patience, but we know that is a small price to pay for increasing stabilization in the Balkans.

If we chose to do so, we could funnel some of our anti-terror resources into the creation of a UN anti-terror agency with teeth. It could be modeled along the lines of NATO, affiliated with national intelligence agencies, military and Interpol. Is this even conceivably possible? Actually yes. The UN can become as strong as we are willing to let it. It’s just that before we would be willing to undertake a shift from an American-led coalition approach to strengthening the rule of international law through a global body we would have to answer for ourselves some hard questions about who we are, what we have done, and what we want.

What does it mean to be a superpower? Will we be the sword of vengeance or the stewards of the future? How strong are we? Are we strong enough to come to terms with our own past and encourage other countries to do the same? If each nation were to stand up to acknowledge its actions without fear of reprisal the world could act with a new unity and combined force against modern-day terrorism. South Africa used that method as one means of beginning to heal the deep wounds caused by Apartheid.

If the U.N formed a South-African style Truth Commission on terror, which nation would be left to cast the first stone? In the light of honest recognition and with the moral weight of a global body it would be appropriate for the U.S. and others to ostracize any nation unwilling to take a stand. Within the forum of a global body either a country would stand alone in support of terror or work within a powerful global body against it.

As powerful as the combined weight of the global body committing to eradicating the real roots of terrorism and working through the world body are, there is another extremely powerful and no less urgent way to win against terror while protecting our country and the earth itself. It entails rooting out a source of evil more pervasive and potentially far more devastating than any terror network we have yet seen.

We need only release our dependence on three tiny letters -- oil.

III What price oil?

"To go a bit further, it is not a great stretch to say that Tuesday's (September 11th) events were about oil. Our presence in the Middle East, our support of the Saudi regime, the Gulf War, our support of Israel, oil - they are all connected, in our geo-political western view of reality. If we have seen anything this past week, it is the urgency of sustainability - to get beyond our dependence on petroleum, our umbilical cord to Earth in the Middle East, and find a better basis for our relationship to the region."

If the Middle East and the Persian Gulf held no precious oil supplies, would we have intervened following Iraq's incursion into Kuwait? Most analysts think not. If oil were not in the region, would we have kept US troops on Saudi soil over the past decade? Certainly not.

What has our dependence on oil cost us? The answer to the question depends on what you include in the calculations. Going by prices at the gas station, it would seem like oil must be a pretty inexpensive commodity. But many of the costs of oil are not calculated into the price at the pump. Include the price of keeping troops on foreign soil, ships at foreign ports to protect oil supply lines, and the price will skyrocket.

Our dependency on foreign oil is estimated to cost $60 billion per year. Add intangible but real costs such as damage to the earth, loss of a virtually non-renewable resource, lives lost and hatreds created, and the price becomes apparent in currency other than dollars.

It would make enormous sense to turn our backs on oil now. Today. Obviously it would free us from having to protect oil interests in the Middle East. By relying on renewable resources we would preserve the earth and stop stealing from future generations the possibility of living as well or better than we do now.

As an added bonus it would make our nation more secure by removing the possibility that any terrorist could again topple another building with an airplane, as hydrogen fires generate almost no heat. Retrofitting airplanes to hydrogen has also been suggested as a means of avoiding layoffs at Boeing, making flying safer, and a smart approach to updating our natural gas line system.

It is unfortunate that the leaders of the current administration not only appear as symbolic supporters of oil ueber alles, but in actuality are leaders in the oil and drilling industries. President Bush proposed on October 11th that we should drill in the Alaskan refuge to decrease our reliance on foreign oil. In ten years, when we would have that oil, the decrease would be somewhere between 3 and 5%.

A very real way of combating terrorism is for voters to insist their elected officials push for the implementation of alternative energy as a matter of urgency and national security. Congressional candidates in the November election should be questioned on their position. It is extraordinarily important to turn this country away from oil and petrochemical production to renewable energy so we can truly win the 'war' on terror, defend our country and safeguard our future.

Terry Laggner is the communications director at the Washington Council on International Trade and previously worked as communications advisor to the U.S. Ambassador to Austria (Swanee Hunt) and in press and communications at the United Nations in for about 10 years.

“New Marshall Plan. Advancing Human Security and Controlling Terrorism” by Dick Bell & Michael Renner, Worldwatch Institute www.worldwatch.org Ibid Ibid

National Public Radio broadcast of an interview with a RAWA representative

www.rawa.org ibid

www.afghanwomensmission.org

MSNBC analysis “After the Taliban, What Next?” by Preston Mendenhall in Islamabad, October 15th

Ray Anderson, chairman Interface Inc. from remarks in Seattle, September 18, 2001 (full text at www.wcit.org )

Natural Capitalism, Paul Hawken, Amory & L. Hunter Lovins, pg. 23

 

###

Printer Friendly Version E-Mail This Article
 
     
 
 

CommonDreams.org
Breaking News & Views for the Progressive Community.
Independent, non-profit newscenter since 1997.

Home | About Us | Donate | Signup | Archives

To inform. To inspire. To ignite change for the common good.