by Eric Margolis © 1998 Eric Margolis
Osama Bin Laden's `terrorist network' in Afghanistan and Sudan was destroyed last week by barrages of Tomahawk cruise missiles. Or so Washington claimed, though Bin Laden, the latest Muslim malefactor to bedevil the west, managed to escape America's high-tech wrath.
In fact, two of the Afghan camps were actually training bases for Harakat Mujihadin, one of many resistance movements fighting to liberate the Indian- controlled Kashmir. The third was used by Saudi-supported Arab groups. None were part of Bin Laden's group. Initial examination of the wreckage of the Khartoum pharmaceutical plant showed no evidence of chemical warfare production. The US attacks killed some 25 Afghans, Pakistani, Arabs and Sudanese, and wounded over a hundred.
America's galaxy of see-all spy satellites and omnivorous electronic monitoring cannot wholly compensate for its dreadful human intelligence, which has caused one special operations failure after the next, from the Iran hostage rescue, to Somalia, and now the bombing the wrong targets in America's growing war against Islamic radicals.
In this case, haste compounded errors from poor intelligence. The US had to respond quickly to the murderous August 7 attacks on its embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, but lacked, as so often after terror attacks, a clear target. President Clinton was eager to distract public attention away from his tawdry misbehavior. So the president who had dodged the draft in wartime, committed an act of war by launching missiles that hit Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Sudan. Americans were delighted. By contrast, the world's 1.2 million Muslims reacted with fury.
Thanks to a drumfire of leaks from CIA and the Pentagon, Osama Bin Laden, an almost unknown religious eccentric from Saudi Arabia, became an overnight international celebrity. He joined the long list of Muslim malefactors that have disturbed the Pax Americana: Nasser, Arafat, Khadaffi, Khomeini, Saddam Hussein. With his long beard, wild eyes, and bloodcurdling threats, the sinister Bin Laden was the perfect image of the modern Islamic terrorist.
I visited the same guerilla training camps in Afghanistan's Khost province during the 1980's and early 90's that the US attacked last week. A ramshackle collection of huts, tents, caves, and firing ranges, they hardly fit our image of a James Bondish terror central. The guerillas were deeply idealistic young men from across the Muslim world who had come to fight the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan in the Great Jihad, or holy war.
In 1986, I became the first journalists to learn the full story about the Islamic International Brigades that had been formed to fight the Soviets in Afghanistan. The CIA, Saudi intelligence, and Pakistan's Inter-Service Intelligence(ISI) transported, trained, armed and directed the Islamic Brigades, whose story I covered in Peshawar, Pakistan, and in combat against the communists, inside Afghanistan. Osama Bin Laden was employed by CIA as a chief recruiter, as was the Egyptian cleric, Sheik Omar Abdul Rahman, who was jailed for the 1993 World Trade Center bombing.
Once these idealistic young Muslims had liberated Afghanistan, they decided to continue their crusade. The next struggle was Kashmir, where India was brutally repressing the Muslim majority. Other Afghan veterans, or `Afghani,' went to fight in Chechnya, Bosnia, Algeria, Egypt, and the Philippines.
After defeating Soviet imperialism, some `Afghani' decided it was time to `liberate' the Mideast from `western imperialism.' In their view, the oil monarchs of Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and the Gulf, and the generals running Egypt and Turkey, were no different from the puppet Afghan communist regime. Extremists, including Osama Bin Laden, determined to overthrow these western client regimes, using any and all means, including terror bombing.
Bin Laden and his cohorts accused US-backed Mideast rulers of being corrupt, godless, western stooges who stole their nation's oil wealth, and gave it away to the west in exchange for protection from their own people. America, they claimed, had replaced Great Britain as the Mideast's colonial ruler. In fact, the US certainly does keep dictatorial regimes in power across the Mideast, while championing human and political rights in economically unimportant places like Burma and Haiti.
Islamic extremists claim American troops are `occupying' Saudi Arabia, Islam's holy land, as well as Kuwait and the Gulf. That, and the growing covert struggle mounted by CIA , FBI and military intelligence to defend the Egyptian, Saudi, and Gulf regimes against Islamic and democratic opponents has put America into the Mideast's front lines. Current efforts by Washington to overthrow the anti-US governments of Libya, Iran, Iraq and Sudan have further exposed the US to retaliation. Last week's attacks on Afghanistan will add new foes to the swelling ranks of America's enemies.
Israel, the other object of Bin Laden's fury, is a later-day crusader state, he claims, a beachhead of western imperialism that will one day be driven out. He calls for a war against Jews, as well as Israel. Like many Islamic radicals, he and his supporters can't seem to decide if Israel runs American policy in the Mideast, or if it is merely a cat's paw of US strategic interests.
Bin Laden even absurdly issued a `fatwa,' or religious decree, calling for attacks on the US and Israel. As a non-religious figure, he has absolutely no right to do so. Whether Bin Laden actually mounted the terror attacks in Africa remains unknown, but his boasting and threats have certainly earned him America's justified anger and retribution. Like Libya's Khadaffi a decade ago, he appears to be reveling in new-found fame as the world's terrorist du jour.
Unfortunately, Muslim everywhere are increasingly dismayed at America for its support of Israel's repression of the Palestinians, Many even blame America for the slaughter of Muslims in Bosnia, Kashmir (wrongly), and Chechnya, and Lebanon(rightly). They see Clinton hugging IRA terrorist chiefs while bombing Muslims. The United States is increasingly seen as the enemy of the Muslim World, a process long encouraged by America's powerful Israel lobby and Hollywood.
Too many Muslims will mistakenly believe the crackpot Bin Laden a hero, a Muslim David with a sling of bombs, standing up to the American Goliath.
Too many will believe the cowardly bombing of an embassy, and death of hundreds of innocent civilians, was somehow a positive act against what many see as Washington's growing arrogance in treating the rest of the world like a legal extension of the United States; and the Mideast as it personal Oil Raj, policed by the FBI. Americans, infuriated and frightened by terrorism, will be even less likely to examine how their own intrigues and blunders have led to much of the Mideast's current travails.
Americans like to view world affairs in simplistic black and white. They have always personalized Mideast complexities into a few evil or saintly leaders, like Khomeini, or Sadat, and brand all who oppose US strategic dictates in the region as `terrorists,' or `rogue states.' Few Americans understand that Muslims are today the world's main troublemakers not because of their religion, but because Muslim lands were the main victims of European 19th-century colonialism, and are still struggling from Morocco to Indonesia to throw off the mantle of lingering western political, economic, military, and cultural domination.
Washington maintains Mideast terrorism is an evil, amorphous force that bears no connection to its political behavior in the region. Not true. Because all Mideast nations, save Israel and Iran, are harsh dictatorships, the only means of popular dissent is under the banner of Islam. As a result, democrats and moderates are lumped together with murderous fanatics like Bin Laden. By denying democracy and human rights to the Mideast, and staunchly defending despotism, America has sowed much of the extremist whirlwind it is now reaping.
[Eric Margolis is a syndicated foreign affairs columnist and broadcaster based in Toronto, Canada.]
Copyright © 1998 Eric Margolis - All Rights Reserved