Thought Not Vengeance
By Stephen Zunes
I write this as the extent of the carnage from the terrorist attacks continues
to unfold. My hands are still shaking as I sit at my computer. Like most
Americans, I am still in shock at the horror and the extent of innocent
There is no need to repeat that terrorism is not rational, but an emotive
reaction by frustrated and angry people. Yet the common reaction to terrorism
is often no less rational, no less a reaction by a frustrated and angry
It would behoove this great nation to not respond in ways that would
restrict civil liberties, particularly if the terrorists are from an
immigrant community. Already, analogies are being drawn to Pearl Harbor,
which resulted in the internment of tens of thousands of loyal U.S. citizens
of Japanese ancestry.
It is also important that the United States not retaliate militarily
in a blind, dramatic matter as has been done in the past. In 1997, in
retaliation of the terrorist attacks of two U.S. embassies in Africa,
the U.S. bombed a pharmaceutical plant in Sudan which supplied more than
half the antibiotics and vaccines for that impoverished country. The
Clinton administration falsely claimed it was a chemical weapons plant
controlled by an exiled Saudi terrorist. In 1986, the U.S. bombed two
Libyan cities, killing scores of civilians. Though the U.S. claimed it
would curb Libyan-backed terrorism, Libyan intelligence operatives ended
up blowing up a U.S. airliner in retaliation.
Military responses usually result only in a spiral of violent retaliation.
Similarly, simply bombing other countries after the fact will not protect
lives. Indeed, it will likely result in what Pentagon planners euphemistically
call "collateral damage," i.e., the deaths of civilians just as innocent
as those murdered in New York City. And survivors bent on revenge.
Today, in the Middle East, the U.S. backs an occupying Israeli army
as well as corrupt autocratic Arab dictatorships, which kill innocent
civilians using weapons our government supplies. We justify supporting
these repressive governments in the name of defending our strategic interests
in that important region. Ironically, it is just such policies that may
have provoked these terrorist attacks, inevitably raising the question
as to whether our security interests are really enhanced through such
Even when the U.S. puts itself forward as a peacemaker, as with the Camp David
Accord between Israel and Egypt, it may look very different to those in the
region. Indeed, not only did it avoid resolving the Palestinian question--the
key to peace in the Middle East--Camp David more closely resembled a tripartite
military pact than a real peace agreement, in that it resulted in tens of billions
of dollars worth of additional American armaments flowing into that already
overly militarized region.
It is no coincidence that terrorist groups have arisen in an area where
the world's one remaining superpower puts far more emphasis on arms shipments
and air strikes than on international law or human rights, and even blocks
the United Nations from sending human rights monitors or from enforcing
its resolutions against an ally. Nor is it surprising that that superpower
would eventually find itself on the receiving end of a violent backlash.
Similarly, it is not surprising that in the Middle East and other parts
of the world that have suffered violence, some people have the perverse
reaction of celebrating that the United States has now also experienced
such a massive and violent loss of life on its own soil.
These tragedies remind us of the need to focus not on unworkable missile
defense projects, but instead on improved intelligence and interdiction.
Instead of continuing the cycle of violence, we need to re-evaluate policies
that lead to such anger and resentment. Instead of lashing out against
perceived hostile communities, we need to recognize that America's greatest
strength is not in our weapons of destruction, but the fortitude and
caring of its people.
(Stephen Zunes <email@example.com> is a senior policy analyst and Middle
East editor of the Foreign Policy in Focus Project. He is an associate
professor of Politics and chair of the Peace & Justice Studies Program
at the University of San Francisco. This FPIF opinion piece was published
by the Baltimore Sun September 12, 2001.)