After more than two years of the "War on Terrorism," few of us feel safer here at home and many around the world many people feel less secure. Two wars have been launched--and continue--in Afghanistan and Iraq. While the Bush/Cheney administration persistently asserts that we're "winning" this war, their claims rings hollow.
Their approach has focused on "pre-emptive" wars and heavy-handed limits on civil liberties.
Below is a list of actions/approaches which I believe are necessary components of a plan to really end terrorism, followed by a summary of the US government's actions in these areas.
Honestly Define Terrorism as Attacks Which Directly or Indirectly Target Civilians' Regardless of the Perpetrators
Our government refuses to meaningfully define terrorism because such a definition would include various US actions as well as those of some allies. The US government and many of its allies and client states have been big-time practitioners of terrorism-from Jackson, Mississippi to the jungles of Viet Nam, from the refugee camps of the Gaza Strip to the island of East Timor, from the mountains of Colombia to the Bay of Pigs in Cuba. To end terrorism, we must first stop terrorizing.
Create Viable International Institutions to Prosecute Crimes Against Humanity
Our government has repeatedly blocked efforts to create an effective International Criminal Court. The Clinton administration gave lip service while insisting on special treatment. The Bush administration seeks to scuttle the entire enterprise. As long as unequal standards are applied to the judgment of international conduct, violence will remain an acceptable option.
Strengthen International Institutions to Address Poverty and Inequality
Our government has withheld funds from the United Nations for many years and frequently denigrates the UN. (This approach changes temporarily when UN support for US priorities is sought). US foreign aid is low compared to the size of our economy, is rarely targeted at the countries most in need, and often comes with requirements that benefit US corporations more than impoverished people.
Support International Efforts to Address Global Problems
Our government actively resists efforts to address global warming, ignoring the international consensus. It was a "no show" at the 2001 UN Conference on Racism. The US is among the "rogue states" who refuse to sign the International Treaty to Ban Land Mines. The US government regularly thwarts the will of the international community through power politics.
Work to Eliminate Weapons of Mass Destruction
Our government continues to maintain the world's largest stockpile of nuclear, chemical and biological weapons. We have been a leader in developing all these technologies and are ready to embark on the development of a new generation of nuclear weapons. The US government played a key role in preventing the passage of a Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty with teeth which would have committed the nuclear powers to a timeline for disarmament. The US insists on the right of a few nations to maintain a nuclear monopoly.
Reduce Weapons Exports
Our government is the largest exporter of all types of arms and has often sold weapons to both sides of a conflict-for example, Iran and Iraq. According to the Arms Sales Monitoring Project of the Federation of American Scientists, "Since 1990, the United States has exported more than $152 billion worth of weapons to states around the world. Many of these sales have been to repressive and/or unstable governments." In 2001 (the last year for which information is available) the US accounted for 45.8% of the world's total arms exports. At the UN Conference on the Illicit Trade in Small Arms in 2001, the US delegation sought to water down and undermine agreements to reduce the international flow of small weapons.
Base US Foreign Policy on Fairness and Equality
US foreign policy is based on self-interest, particularly for its corporate backers. Our trade policies benefit large corporations and hurt poor and working people throughout the world. The tremendous pressure for further extension of what is misleadingly called "free trade" threatens to worsen this process.
Preserving our "way of life"-i.e. our right to consume as many resources as we can, is consistently cited to justify support for repressive regimes the world over. The US government's military and political power is used to guarantee access to cheap natural resources.
Recognize and Address Historic and Current Racism
Our government denies the powerful role that racism has played in creating and defining our world. They go even further in denying the way that racism drives much of our current policies. Ignoring the desperate humanitarian needs in parts of Africa and the Rwandan genocide are examples of this long and sordid record.
Refuse to Support Military Solutions to Social Problems
If it is acceptable for our government to use military force to solve conflict, then other countries and groups will follow suit. After the US bombed Afghanistan in 2001, India used this example to justify its military build-up and threats against Pakistan. Israel seized the opportunity to step up its military assault on occupied Palestine. Foreign aid resources must be diverted away from military support and training and used for education, healthcare, infrastructure development, etc. The "War on Drugs," now largely supplanted by the "War on Terrorism," is another example of the US government's choice of military responses (arms to the Colombian military, greater police presence at the Mexican border, etc.) to a social and economic problem.
Don't Train or Support Terrorists
Our government has threatened to strike any nation which trains or harbors terrorists. Remember the CIA training manuals for the Nicaraguan contras? It advocated terrorist attacks on union leaders, mining harbors, and more. Similar manuals have been produced by the US Army's School of the Americas to train terrorists throughout Latin America.
Seek to Understand what Motivates "Terrorist" Attacks
Bush administration officials continue to define this as a struggle against "evil," defining terrorism as a problem solely of small groups of "wicked" people. Instead, we should seek to understand what motivates those who attack civilians. Seeking to understand and address the root causes of terrorism does not mean that we condone those acts.
Use the Media to Promote Education and Understanding
The Bush Administration has consistently misled the public and the media to sell the Iraq War to the American people. Their statements are designed to make it seem "unpatriotic" to raise questions and criticisms. President Bush shuns news conferences or other situations in which he is questioned by journalists.
Reduce US Dependence on Oil
Our national addiction to oil remains unchallenged, including in the Energy bill before Congress. The need for massive oil supplies fuels US foreign policy in the Middle East and affects policy in other parts of the world. Efforts to increase efficiency standards for automobiles, particularly SUVs, have been rebuffed.
This list is certainly not comprehensive, but can serve as a starting point for discussion about how to eliminate terrorism. Since this "war" will be a major issue in the 2004 Presidential election, debunking the myths and looking at reality is critical to the success of democracy at home.
Andy Mager is a staffperson at the Syracuse Peace Council, a nonviolence trainer and freelance writer.