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Alternative Views Of "America's War"

September 17, 2001

The terrorist attacks that demolished New York City's World Trade Centre towers and damaged the Defence Department headquarters at the Pentagon have led to a declaration by the American President, George W. Bush, that the United States are at war with terrorism.

This situation has important implications for Australia's foreign policy and defence arrangements. The Australian and international media have been publishing a range of alternative viewpoints about the crisis and VCEpolitics.com will monitor these over the coming weeks.

  1. Blaming the victim is an outrage - Michael Scammell - The former media officer for the US Consulate in Melbourne takes issue with the arguments of some writers that the United States "in some way it brought September 11's events upon itself."

    Scammell disputes what he calls moral equivalence: the idea that American foreign policy decisions over the years equate with the immorality of "definable evil" of the terrorist actions in the US.

    "In recent years moral equivalence has increasingly become a justification for terrorists' actions in the Middle East, where the premeditated taking of innocent civilian life is seen as being understandable and almost acceptable, given the nature of US foreign policy in the region.

    Of course such arguments are morally obtuse - how can you compare the calculated, cold-blooded murder of civilians with the unintended consequences of a nation's foreign policy? One is a tragedy, the other is murder."

  2. Bomb us into the Stone Age? - Tamin Ansary (Sep 21) - An Afghan, Ansary says he hates the Taliban and Osama Bin Laden, likening them to the Nazis, and condemning their "raping" of the Afghan people. Ansary believes the Afghan people would exult at the toppling of the Taliban, but he worries that an attack on Afghanistan would have to go through Pakistan and this would risk a major confrontation between the West and Islam.
    "Guess what: that's bin Laden's program. That's exactly what he wants. That's why he did this. "Read his speeches and statements. It's all right there. He really believes Islam would beat the West. It might seem ridiculous, but he figures if he can polarise the world into Islam and the West, he's got a billion soldiers. If the West wreaks a holocaust in those lands, that's a billion people with nothing left to lose; that's even better from bin Laden's point of view. "He's probably wrong. In the end the West would win, whatever that would mean. But the war would last for years and millions would die, not just theirs but ours. Who has the belly for that? Bin Laden does. Anyone else?"

  3. Fine words and fine sentiments. Just no soul - Alan Ramsey (Sep 19) - The Sydney Morning Herald writer says John Howard made one of his best speeches in Parliament last Monday, but that the condolence motion carried in both houses contained no discussion of Middle East politics. Ramsey says this is akin to discussing the collapse of Ansett without talking about Air New Zealand's role.

    "What happened in New York and Washington last week could not, by any measure, be a justifiable response in any circumstances. But those who think Washington's absolute support, military and diplomatic, for Israeli interests and behaviour had nothing whatever to do with the terrorism of a week ago do not live in the real world. Yet not one Australian politician had the courage to say so on Monday."

    Nevertheless, Ramsey quotes the ALP's shadow Foreign Affairs minister, Laurie Brereton, who referred to the perception of American double standards in the Middle East:

    "A Middle East policy perceived, rightly or wrongly, as one focused just on Western interests will ultimately fail ... It would be a pyrrhic victory indeed if we were to hunt down those immediately responsible for these atrocities but fail to find a lasting solution to the wider problems [of the Middle East]. Last year the Middle East peace process collapsed. Violence has followed on a weekly and daily basis ever since. Terrorism will not disappear until [we] eliminate not only the terrorists but the roots of terrorism ..."

  4. A nation still proud to have God on its side - Angela Shanahan (Sep 18) - This article explores the question of America's "breathlessly passionate patriotism" that is now on display following the terrorist attacks. Shanahan says that Australians "have little sense of the historical roots of national character" and are "hesitant, steeped in uncertainty".

    "The Americans are not cursed with this uncertainty. They know who they are one nation under God and what their mission is: liberty and justice for all. True children of the Reformation and the Enlightenment, the principal founding documents of their republic use language infused, as with incense, by a sense of the sacred.

    "How many people would dare boast a document that speaks of self-evident truths? The Declaration of Independence is, for Americans, a form of holy writ second only to the commandments given to Moses on Sinai. The US sees itself as a democratic beacon to the world and it is this Messianic sense, its historical sense of destiny, that binds the American people, despite the paradox of their melting-pot culture."

  5. America's chickens come home to roost - Alan Ramsey (SMH, Sep 15) - The failure of the Americans to "bring reason, let alone peace, to the killing ground of what is Middle East politics" is the central argument in this article by one of Australia's most experienced political commentators. Ramsey expresses concern about the Australian propensity to offer unqualified support to the Americans and mounts a case that American foreign policy is in part responsible for the rise of groups it now pledges to go to war with.
    "The Carter administration, using the CIA, began channelling tens of millions of dollars to various mujahideen factions in 1979, and the Reagan and Bush governments went on doing so right through the 1980s. To Reagan's administration they weren't "terrorist" groups, but "freedom fighters". And among the seven identified mujahideen parties operating out of Pakistan in opposition to the Afghan regime and its Soviet army supporters by the end of 1982 was the radical fundamentalist Islamic Union for the Liberation of Afghanistan, whose financial backers at the time included bin Laden...

    "And all the fine rhetoric as well as the wrenching grief cannot obscure the simple fact it is the United States' own behaviour, as well as past official Washington foreign policy, that is, in large part, likely responsible for what has happened."

  6. Seek Justice, Not War - London Guardian Editorial (Sep 16) - The Guardian argues that the US government has the rhetoric wrong, that "this was not an act of war against democracy, as the Bush administration characterises it. This was a supreme terrorist crime."

    The paper says that the attacks were in part a failure of the American intelligence services and "absurdly lax airport security" brought about by commercial imperatives. Moreover, the paper points to a perception of hypocrisy by the US's opponents through its championing of regimes such as that in Saudi Arabia "which have no proper respect for democracy".

    "Britain is the US's most significant ally and we too have suffered more deaths from last week's atrocities than in any other peacetime act of terrorism. The British Government should now seize a crucial role in redirecting and refocusing President Bush's response. This was a repulsive act of mass murder. But it is, we repeat, the forensic prosecution and administration of justice that the world should demand as the proper reaction. America has been grievously wronged and it must be supported wholeheartedly and without reserve. But it is justice, not war, that we should seek as we strive to come to terms with some of the most horrifying episodes that many of us will witness in our lifetimes."

  7. The death of trust and openness - Norman Abjorensen (Canberra Times, Sep 18) - Abjorensen argues that "in a curious historical reversion of the Roman Empire under siege, it is now very much a case of the civilised world versus the barbarians."

    Abjorensen says it is naive to believe that western values are shared in a world that is far less stable and secure than it was half a century ago.

    "It is hard to romanticise poverty, but it needs to be acknowledged that a great deal of Third World misery is created within its own confines and that has become an especially politically incorrect assertion to make.

    "The fact that not a single Arab nation has a democratic government says something of despotic tendencies towards their own, and the grotesque plutocracies that command oil wealth in the Middle East exhibit a singularly callous disregard of their people."

  8. Test of new US priorities - Glenn Milne (The Australian, Sep 17) - The Australian's political commentator suggests that whilst the terrorist attacks on the United States are an "attack on shared values", there is a problems ahead for Australia's relations with the Asian region in the light of the government's commitment to supporting Bush's "war".
    "Because inevitably Bush's solemn vow to fight and defeat international terrorism will inevitably see the US less engaged in the Asia-Pacific. For Bush, terrorism is a Northern European, Middle Eastern and South Asian paradigm. His declaration that this battle is now 'the focus of my administration' must ring diplomatic alarm bells for Australia.

    "Despite Howard being first out of the blocks to support Bush, that backing has received scant, if any, mention in the US media."

  9. End of warfare as a video game - Naomi Klein (The Age, Sep 17) - Klein is the author of "No Logo", an examination of globalisation and the corporate strategies of transnational companies. In this article she asks:
    "Did the US deserve to be attacked? Of course not. That argument is ugly and dangerous. But here's a different question that must be asked: did US foreign policy create the conditions in which such twisted logic could flourish, a war not so much on US imperialism but on perceived US imperviousness?

    "The era of the video-game war, in which the US is always at the controls, has produced a blinding rage in many parts of the world, a rage at the persistent asymmetry of suffering. This is the context in which twisted revenge-seekers make no other demand than that American citizens share their pain."

  10. Moderation is no option - Henry Kissinger (The Age, Sep 17) - Dr. Kissinger was US Secretary of State under Presidents Nixon and Ford. He was instrumental in opening up relations with China and developing the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty with the Soviet Union. He has been strongly attacked over his actions concerning Vietnam, Cambodia and Chile, amongst others. In this article he argues that a hardline approach needs to be adopted:
    "The most important task, however, is to go beyond retaliation to rooting out the core of terrorism. The war, President Bush has affirmed, must be won, not conducted as a tit-for-tat of exchanging blows. It is therefore imperative to move beyond the existing pattern of retaliation and criminal prosecution to taking the fight to the source of the problem.

    "The terrorist organisations must be put on the defensive, their networks broken up, their source of funds cut off and, above all, their home bases put under unrelenting pressure to deny them safe havens. Prevent further carnage by getting the terrorist groups on the run, and then destroy them."

  11. At last the world sees the war Israel has long fought - Avi Davis (The Age, Sep 17) - Davis is a columnist for Jewsweek.com who argues that earlier criticisms of Israeli strikes against terrorist have been proved wrong.
    "... the regular condemnation of Israel by the US State Department, and the incessant media outcry against Israel's surgical elimination of terror cells, now seem like ghostly murmurs from a distant past.

    "They, in fact, belong to a different world - a world more engaged in moral relativism and one far less willing to draw the stark distinctions between good and evil that Israelis have been required to make for years."

  12. America must ask itself the reason why - Morag Fraser (The Age, Sep 16) - The editor of the Jesuit magazine, Eureka Street, warns against the reflex of "military counterstrike" and worries about the reporting of the attacks in the US media.
    "George W. Bush's vow that America would "whip terrorism" was as frightening as it was banal. Frightening because it signalled no real understanding of the place America occupies in the imaginations and in the fears of much of the world, particularly - though by no means exclusively - the Arab world. Banal because it was cowboy-book rhetoric, a language that reduces fraught international relations to a formulaic battle between goodies and baddies. 'Good will prevail,' Bush promised. Yes, one devoutly hopes that it will, but the world is not a John Ford movie and neither America, nor George W., the man who so narrowly scraped home to his presidency, has a monopoly on the good."

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