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(founded by Ramsey Clark –former US General Attorney)

By Jack A. Smith

November 2001

The audience in a jam-packed Highland, N.Y., meeting hall listened in rapt attention Nov. 4 as Brian Becker, co-director of the International Action Center, identified and defined the extraordinary complexities behind the September attacks in the United States and the Bush administration’s decision to launch a war against Afghanistan.

"It is in the interests of the Washington warmakers to provide simple solutions for complicated problems," he told a meeting sponsored by the New Paltz-based Caribean and Latin America Support Project (CLASP) in analyzing the historic social, political and economic factors implicit in President Bush’s several-year, open-ended, "war against terrorism."

Becker, a principal organizer of the massive antiwar protests by the newly formed ANSWER coalition on Sept. 29 and Oct. 27, said the war against Afghanistan "is one of the great crimes and acts of terrorism" in our era. "The result will not be peace but counter-violence. Let us not forget that Sept. 11 was not the beginning of violence, but just one point in a long continuum of violence that is fundamentally a consequence of U.S. policies in the world."

Such policies of hegemony and the projection of military power "have generated hatred toward the United States government," he continued. "Hundreds of millions of people in the Middle East think these imperialist policies are no different from those of British and French colonialism in past years. People in the Middle East consider the U.S. to be an oppressor."

The Bush administration’s description of the terror attacks in New York and Washington as simply the product of extreme Islamic fundamentalism is superficial, he suggested, arguing that at bottom the conflict in the Middle East "has always been about economic, social and class interests," not religion.

Following are some of the points Becker covered in his one hour and 15 minute extemporaneous presentation, followed by a Q and A period.

• Actually, Washington is no enemy of extreme fundamentalism in the Middle East but has long used it to discourage social revolution in order to advance America’s primary interest in region--the control of the world’s richest reserves of petroleum. In 1981, he said, "President Reagan announced the U.S. would not permit a social revolution to take place in Saudi Arabia, a country so oppressive that it is illegal for women to work or drive a car, and where a women may still be stoned to death for alleged adultery." The U.S. has successfully kept a dictatorial monarchy in power all these years, he said, despite the fact that the people of Saudi Arabia desperately require a social revolution. "To the Saudi masses, Becker noted, "the U.S. is the real power in Riyadh," as well in most of the Middle East. Since the left and anti-imperialist forces have been smashed or paralyzed, with U.S. help, it is a fundamentalist Saudi such as the right-wing Osama bin Laden who is seeking to overturn the monarchy, in large part because of the huge role the Pentagon plays in the country, where tens of thousands of U.S. troops are stationed. Becker noted that one of bin Laden’s key purposes is to discombobulate the heretofore all-powerful, invulnerable United States in the Middle East and at home. As such, the people of the region, especially in Afghanistan, and in the U.S. as well, "are paying a big price for never allowing the Saudi revolution."

• Becker made several points when he discussed the differences between U.S. interests in the Middle east and now in the Afghanistan war, and the Vietnam war. "The biggest difference," he said, "was that the U.S. could leave Vietnam [even if] its image was tarnished." But Washington "can never leave the Middle East" because American corporations and banking interests view the region’s oil and gas resources as "the centerpiece of empire." If the U.S. pulled out of the region, he continued, the rival capitalist economies of Germany and Japan would instantly fill the vacuum. "The stakes are much higher in the Middle East, and at the moment Afghanistan, than they were in Vietnam," he concluded.

• A brief history of modern Afghanistan was one of the highlights of the evening. By the 1970s, Afghanistan remained a poverty stricken, oppressed nation with power generally held by various warlords in different parts of the country. He referred to the goals of the April 1978 revolution, with its socialist overtones, as replacing centuries of social and economic backwardness with democratic rights for all working people and the emancipation of subjugated women. This was a popular revolution in the cities, Becker said, but was opposed in the countryside, not the least because of antipathy to the notion of equality for women. The U.S. immediately intervened clandestinely to provide money, arms and leadership for the counter-revolution resulting in a long war that the left eventually lost, paving the way for the reactionary Taliban government in Kabul today. "The U.S. would not tolerate a revolution it couldn’t control. Washington used Islamic fundamentalism to wipe out tens of thousands of progressives and socialists and to overturn Afghanistan’s progressive reforms."

• What is the "war on terrorism" all about? According to Becker, "Sept. 11 was an unanticipated attack on the American ‘homeland.’ As an empire, the U.S. was required to respond massively, though not necessarily on terrain of its own choosing, to offset the impression it was no longer invincible. Our government rashly hit out at poverty-stricken and weak Afghanistan as the only immediately available target....But this was not simply a defensive war to prove a point. It is part of an existing American strategy [of expansion] already in place in the Middle East. Thus, the U.S. is not seeking just to ‘defend itself’ but is looking for advantages such as new markets and profits." He then pointed to the biggest prize of all--Washington’s goal of hegemony over the oil- and gas-rich republics of the south-central former USSR, now up for grabs by the world’s remaining superpower. "This used to be the Soviet Union’s oil and gas--some $4 trillion worth in the region of the Caspian Sea--now ‘freed’ to be exploited by the United States. Another element of the "war on terrorism," Becker suggested, may well be an attack on Iraq after phase one of the war, Afghanistan, is completed. Following that, he reminded, may well be the so-called "rogue states" that have long been on Washington’s hit list, including Libya, Cuba, North Korea and possibly liberation movements such as the FARC in Colombia.

• The speaker also warned that the Bush administration appears intent on extending "anti-terrorism" legislation into areas that will abrogate civil liberties in the U.S. "It’s really not about terrorism but about repression," Becker argued. "So-called anti-terrorism laws will be used against the growing anti-war movement," he said, noting that the FBI now considers several groups, including Workers World Party, to be "domestic terrorists." "Anti-terrorism has replaced anti-communism [as a unifying ideology] in the U.S. and on a global scale," Becker noted. "In the U.S., over 1,000 Arab-Americans have been rounded up and are still in detention--but so far no ‘terrorist’ has been found, prompting some influential right-wing politicians to suggest that the U.S. should begin using ‘Israeli interrogation techniques’ for extracting confessions. This is a call for torture....When the U.S. state apparatus is threatened, the Bill of Rights is put aside. Civil liberties may be quickly eroded. The purpose will be to intimidate our movement. The coming period will offer many chances for antiwar and other left organizing, but it also suggests the possibility for potential repression. We must pledge now to stand together and with others similarly targeted should this come about."


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