Freedom-fighters into terrorists: Conversion on the way to New York


While watching the horror that was unfolding on their television screens on 11 September, and for months after, bewildered people posed several questions that refused to go away when the World Trade Center images were replaced by the triumphant war drama in Afghanistan. Where did the terrorists spring from? Why Afghanistan? Where does Saudi Arabia fit into the picture? How did the terrorists become so powerful? Who funded and armed them? And, asked by most Americans, why pick on peace-loving, civilised, altruistic America, for goodness sake? This article seeks to provide some of the answers.

Why bother?

The tradition that no criticism could be made about any war “while our soldiers are risking their lives” has ensured yet again that actions by the ‘forces of global order’ have gone relatively unchallenged. We know now that the copiously televised war in Afghanistan, in line with other recent wars conducted mainly at 50,000 feet above a primitive enemy, was undertaken at minimal risk to the attacking forces.

All the same, under cover of security, lackluster political reputations were revived, repressive laws and enlarged military budgets were rushed through compliant parliaments, and xenophobia against refugees, Arabs, and Muslims became acceptable overnight. There were still rules. One was not expected to say openly that the cloud of 11 September had a silver lining that allowed scores to be settled, hegemony to be extended, new weapons to be tested, and unwelcome news to be buried. Russia and Israel joined in the spirit of the occasion by intensifying their wars against their foes. Suddenly, everyone was fighting heinous terrorists that posed a threat to world peace.

Fortunately, constraints placed on commentators degrade rather quickly, and as deceptions and half-truths are exposed after each violent episode on the world stage, even the most indifferent individuals end up being wiser, and less ready to take the claims of their leaders on trust.

Plain speaking is required for another reason. the American people, and their government, do not seem to have learnt much from the painful experience of 11 September. Naturally, revenge was uppermost in the mind of most Americans, and the US government and its allies were happy to oblige. Beyond that, little was learnt from the events that led to the deaths of three thousand people of different nationalities on 11 September, and more who perished in the wars that followed that dreadful day.

At base, the appetites of those who have something to gain from conflict, on both sides of the fence, are insatiable. In the absence of critical analysis conflict will escalate and gain unjustified legitimacy. Buoyed by their occasional ‘successes’ the ‘terrorists’ will go in for more action, and elated by their ‘triumphs’ the ‘forces of global order’ will unleash their military superiority at will.

Who calls the shots in a globalised world?

America is blamed for everything. That is the lot of any hegemonic power as was the case in the heyday of the British Empire. However, there are two additional factors at play nowadays. First, the global communication networks bring all events and utterances to the attention of every human being in an instant. More by choice than anything else, America looms large on all occasions. Second, the end of the economic golden age that stretched from the 1950s to the mid-1970s placed new pressures on the leading corporations, mainly but not exclusively American based, to seek profits by expanding their operations abroad. In the main, the forces of ‘global order’, led by the USA, act as their muscle in that endeavour.

Global institutions such as the World Bank, the IMF, the World Trade Organisation (WTO) and, to some extent, the United Nations itself have been subverted in a similar way to act as ‘enforcers’ for the powerful business lobby championed by America. It is no accident that the era of ‘adjustment lending’, which paved the way for the imposition of a strict capitalist system on weaker nations, began shortly after the end of the golden age.

We have to avoid oversimplification though. America is a vast country that offers a bewildering mix of races, religions, and shades of political opinion from extreme right to extreme left. Should we blame the ‘US government’ then? We are getting closer but the US ‘government’ is an intricate web of groups and interests that work more or less independently, and quite often at cross purposes, from each other. And finally, what is meant by ‘American corporations’? Again, that term has lost much of its clarity as businesses increasingly operate extra-territorially. . An understanding of this concept will help to explain why America, a nation of predominantly decent people, sometimes acts as a ‘rogue state’ (in the words of Blum, 2001). It would also explain why America is becoming increasingly unpopular, progressively more erratic and unstable, and potentially the target for further terrorist attacks. (see America’s Turbulent Decline).

The blessings of regimented ‘order’ at a price

‘Order’ and ‘chaos’ have specific meanings in systems theory. Order implies a high level of predictability, stable cause and effect relationships, and laws of universal applicability. Orderly systems, sometimes referred to as being linear or Newtonian, respond well to command-and-control styles of management, as seen on an industrial assembly line. ‘Chaos’, on the other hand, does not mean anarchy and lawlessness. It defines situations that have less predictability and in which behaviour seems, on the face of it, random. Social, political and economic systems do not offer comforting orderly traits. They present instead an unsettling mix of ‘order’ and ‘chaos’.

The local chaos, caused by numerous interactions between human beings produces, under the right conditions, stable, ‘orderly’ overall patterns capable of evolution in response to changing circumstances. This feature is sometimes referred to as self-organised complexity. Think of Adam Smith’s “invisible hand” in market economics and the concept becomes crystal clear. Predictability is at a premium in this case, and force from the top is less effective, and often harmful. Subtlety and flexibility, rather than B52s and 2000lb bombs, are essential to achieve sustainable results.

The ‘American system’ presents a classic mix of chaos and order that produces stable self-organised patterns. Its survival relies heavily on variety and pragmatism, and the ability of the America public at large to interact freely but in accordance with simple rules that command general willing support. The capitalist elite in the USA cannot take all. They have to grant sufficient ‘socialist’ concessions to the voters to achieve social stability. Equally, politicians have had to curb their natural tendency to impose strict order within the industrialised democracies. Such an attempt would have been impossible, as rulers of the defunct USSR found to their cost. In short, both capitalism and socialism are fundamentally disorderly.

The global socio-economic system is no different: it is a mix of order and chaos that does not offer much predictability and responds badly to coercion. Therein lies a problem. The global elite are determined to squeeze more ‘order’ out of an essentially disorderly system. Lessons learnt after centuries of turmoil in today’s leading countries are forgotten or ignored when their leaders cross the border to address global issues. In this case they set out to impose rigid order on one and all.

The effort to weed out inbuilt chaos could be succeed for a short while but it entails the sustained application of considerable ‘force’. Minds and resources are focused on one or two objectives and good results are dully achieved. Temporary success provides false hope that the feat is actually feasible. However, once the initial focus slips, and it always does when other events re-exert their influence, the system goes back to its natural mode of operation. From that point success depends on the basic viability of the overall setup.

(Note added in May 2005: The present debate as to whether the USA committed sufficient forces to win the peace as well as the war in Iraq is a good illustration of this concept. General Shinseki, the Army’s chief of staff at the time, said it would take hundreds of thousands of troops to pacify Iraq. That was the end of his career. New York Times, Stranger than Fiction, 9 May, 2005.)

The push for a globalised economy

The ‘global system’, therefore, might be made to function temporarily as a rigid and controllable entity. But who posses the massive force needed to undertake that task? It is now becoming clear that a few corporations have accumulated sufficient, largely invisible, power to focus the combined resources of the amorphous system we recognise as ‘America’, or the ‘US government’, or ‘the civilised world’ on a particular project or issue when necessary. There is no formal conspiracy. The companies and individuals concerned often compete against each other with ruthless vigour. But they share a credo that could best be described as capitalist fundamentalism. They do not have to meet to plot and plan their response to this or that occurrence: the creed is perfectly clear on all issues. Herman and Chomsky (1994) and, more recently, Hertz (2001), shed some light on the tight coterie of individuals and corporations, who often exercise control over not only what America does but also over global policies and actions.

Significantly, control by the same group of people extends over business and the media. In this context, the Nation magazine published an illuminating article on 7 January 2002 which identified the ‘Big Ten’ media and business conglomerates ( When the stakes are sufficiently high they succeed in dictating events but that success comes at a heavy price in terms of the resources expended and casualties caused, and in respect of the other important issues that have to be given lower priority in the meantime. Inevitably, the system goes ‘out of control’ again once the initial push is over. Beyond that point, events become more chaotic and, therefore, less predictable. In essence, the elite might profit from their machinations in the short-term, but the world, including America and the American people, must live with the unpredictable long-term consequences.

But why do they set out to impose ‘global order’ and how does that end up in widespread conflict and acts of terrorism? The explanation is reasonably straightforward. The Industrial Revolution resulted in rapid growth and high profits. Some became hugely rich while others suffered intolerable hardships. Clearly, that situation could not continue for ever. Demands for reforms took some time to gather momentum, but the crunch came in 1848 when revolutionary movements erupted in several European countries almost in concert, beginning in France in February of that year. Interestingly, the Communist Manifesto, drafted by Marx and Engels for the League of the Just, was also published at the same time.

Although the revolutionary fervour did not last long, the uprisings in 1848 had a profound effect on the flow of events through the 19th and 20th centuries. Voting rights and social reforms became unavoidable. In time, the ‘welfare state’ became an integral part of the system of government within the industrialised countries. The nations concerned enjoyed good economic growth as well as social stability ever since.

Plainly, outright capitalism is unknown in America and Europe. The economy is a healthy mix of capitalism and socialism that varies from time to time to suit circumstances. Excessive capitalism, strongly advocated for the ‘underdeveloped’ nations, is avoided because it was found that that form of fundamentalism leads to conflict and instability. ‘Socialist’ concessions within the industrialised countries act as a check on ‘capitalist’ excesses.

This is a good enough reason for seeking opportunities and higher rewards abroad, but there is an even more pressing need to follow that route. The golden age that began in the 1950s yielded unprecedented economic growth and profits. In time, the special circumstances which pushed the economy to these heights of achievement; mainly to do with post-war reconstruction and the subsequent cold war, ran their course (Shutt, 2001: 25-26). By the mid-1970s growth rates went back to their normal levels of about 1-2 percent. Despite the optimistic rhetoric dished out for public consumption, the economies of the industrialised nations are in the grip of a chronic, possibly endless, recession when measured by the yardstick of the golden age. Recent corporate collapses that attracted much publicity, and ‘disappointing performance’ by most of the leading businesses reflect this trend. Chairmen and chief executives come and go, with golden ‘hellos’ and even more generous ‘good byes’, but the underlying trends persist.

The systems has reverted to its normal, and in absolute terms quite acceptable, level of performance, but corporate interests in America and Europe could not reconcile themselves to the new lower rates of growth and profits. Yes, it was possible to undertake ‘adjustments’ at home. The power of trade unions was reigned in, productivity was optimised, social benefits and pensions were reduced and public enterprises were privatised and then subsidised heavily. Nonetheless, this was not enough to go back to the good old days. Something else was needed: a globalised economy imposed, governed and protected by the ruling hegemonic power.

The new structure offered an added advantage: demands for ‘socialist’ reforms, that had to be satisfied at the national level within the industrialised economies, could be discouraged, and if necessary crushed without fears of revolts at the ballot boxes. The activity had to be presented as helping other less fortunate nations to ‘progress’ and ‘develop’, and the media giants took care of this side of the project. A country that resisted the ‘new world order’ (known also as the ‘Washington consensus’) was classed as a rogue state that had to be dealt with firmly. Under unyielding pressure, such countries ended up behaving as rogue states, which simplified matters considerably.

In short, the healthy mix of capitalism and socialism enjoyed by the industrialised countries (and euphemistically referred to as the ‘Keynesian model’, the ‘mixed economy’, ‘the social democratic system’, ‘the third way’, or whatever) is denied to the rest of humanity. For them the World Bank, IMF, WTO and their masters; Western governments led by the USA, have only one model on offer: an extreme form of capitalism (euphemistically referred to as neo-liberalism, economic development, stabilisation, ‘structural adjustment’ or whatever). The fuse was lit at many locations and here and there the powder exploded.

The link to terrorism

Conflict and terrorism became unavoidable. As perceived by the elite, the ‘vital economic interests’ of the leading industrialised powers are dependent on the West’s, in practice the USA’s, ability to install compliant regimes abroad who are prepared to adopt extreme capitalist policies that have been rejected elsewhere. More to the point, client regimes had to accept an overall setup that gives the richer nations an unfair advantage. Reliable sources of cheap raw materials and minerals (not just oil but also diamonds, uranium and other essential and nonessential imports), and open markets for exports, including arms, were secured in that way. However, there was a price to pay: increased global instability.

As was described so eloquently by Noreena Hertz (2001), this model of global capitalism is strangling democracy. The resulting turmoil is hardly surprising. Compliant regimes have to be installed and maintained, often at great cost and with the use of considerable force against the local populations, to achieve economic advantage abroad. This policy was adopted in Iran when Mussadeq tried to introduce reforms that did not appeal to the West. He was toppled by an operation masterminded by the CIA that eventually (and predictably?) brought the Ayatollahs to power. When free elections in 1992 threatened to bring the ‘wrong sort of people’ to power in Algeria, France and other interested parties stepped in and encouraged the military to annul the elections. Algeria has been in turmoil ever since. Islamic groups, many veterans of the Afghan war, have emerged and thousands of innocent civilians, mainly from defenceless rural communities, lost their life as a result. Global ‘order’ does indeed come at a heavy price.

Thomas Carlyle’s description of pure capitalism as ultimately “anarchy plus the constable” was modified within the industrialised countries by the introduction of the welfare state. However, the same model is not yet on offer globally. This omission explains the escalation of lawlessness within the ‘global community’. The World Bank estimated that by 2015, up to one billion people might still have to manage on one dollar per day. Put bleakly, there are many people out there who have little to lose and much to gain from acts of terror, this being one of the few channels of entrepreneurship open to penniless and hopeless people.

Major conflicts such as the two world wars in the 20th century monopolise the attention of historians and analysts. But the wider picture is infinitely worse: about 200 million people were killed, directly and indirectly, through conflicts of one form or the other in that turbulent century. And in most cases the leading powers were involved in the major conflicts that erupted in the underdeveloped world.

Plainly, in pursuit of ever increasing profits, a permanent state of turmoil and tension and an endless supply of ‘most dangerous threats to humanity since Hitler’, become unavoidable. To this end, people such as Batista, Mobutu, and the Shah of Persia were nurtured, befriended and protected from their oppressed populations, while others; such as Allende, Castro, Lumumba, Mussadeq, and Qaddafi were vilified and hounded at every turn, up to and including assassination, euphemistically referred to as ‘executive action’. Plots to assassinate Castro, to cite one case, became legendary; including Operation Mongoose instigated by no less a wholesome figure than Robert Kennedy (Ranelagh, 1992: 59, 95).

Focus on the ‘Arc of Crises’

Covert and overt operations, mounted at huge human and financial costs to enforce order on intrinsically disorderly situations, are the tools of that form of global management. For reasons associated with natural resources, markets, and geopolitics, certain strategic locations have become the principal venue for such activities. Brzezinski, President Carter’s National Security Advisor, described the swathe of land that includes Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iran, Iraq, Israel, Palestine, Jordan, the Gulf States, Somalia, Ethiopia, Kenya and Yemen as the ‘Arc of Crises’.

The USA (and the USSR before its collapse) went out of its way to militarise official and unofficial groups in the Arc. Between 1975 and 1982, for example, the USA equipped its local clients with 4,933 tanks and self-propelled guns, 785 aircraft and 6,311 surface-to-air missiles (Johnston and Taylor, 1986: 248). The flow of arms has increased and the USA is now the leading supplier of weapons of every description. Significantly, arms (exported by the leading economies) and drugs (exported to the leading economies) go hand in hand, as was seen in Vietnam, the Lebanon and in Afghanistan, but that is another story.

Over the years, different countries in the ‘Arc’ assumed centre stage. In the late-1970s, months before Russia committed its forces in Afghanistan (Blum, 2001: 4), a decision was taken by the US government that the regime in that country was not to its liking. As Afghani governments went, the government of the day was undoubtedly weak and inefficient, but it was reasonably stable and secular. Women were liberated from centuries of oppression and actions were being taken to improve basic social programmes such as primary healthcare and education. However, the regime was supported by the USSR and during the cold war that was unacceptable. Ironically, the US decided to undermine the secular regime by initiating and bankrolling an Islamic Jihad.

Where does one look for Islamic fervour? Reasonably, the organisers of the jihad felt that the Gulf area in general, and Saudi Arabia in particular, was a natural first port of call. Pakistan was another useful partner. However, the Gulf region had an additional asset on offer: abundant oil money unencumbered by public accountability. An ingenious plan was hatched, therefore, to make life easy for the US administration, and the interests it served, to undertake covert operations away from public scrutiny. A ‘Safari Club’ was set up in the 1970s “at the suggestion of the CIA, with huge sums of Arab and Iranian money…” The Safari Club provided the funds to create, arm and train many groups of ‘freedom fighters’, including the Mujahideen in Afghanistan (Heikal, 1992: 45).

Pretence became unnecessary after the invasion of Afghanistan by the USSR in 1979. Congress openly backed the guerrillas and voted $250 million to recruit and arm more warlords and ‘freedom fighters’ (Ranelagh, 1992: 225). Clearly, the ‘freedom fighters’ of the 1970s and 1980s, who became the ‘terrorists’ of the 1990s, were well chosen, armed, trained and funded by the USA and its cohorts. Interestingly , the director of the CIA at the time when the ‘freedom fighters’ were created was none other than George Bush. It is ironic that his son, George W Bush, was in the White House when the original Mujahideen experienced their conversion on the way to New York; from ‘freedom fighters’ to ‘terrorists’.

Return to a chaotic mode of operation

For a while a chaotic system was made to behave as though it were a predictable and perfectly controllable, Newtonian, system, by the allocation of vast sums of money and focused management by both puppets and puppeteers. That form of intensive dedication to one cause could not be kept up forever. Inevitably, other priorities required attention. The system then reverted to its normal mode of operation. However, in the absence of sensible rules that commanded general and willing support the ensuing chaos could not yield self-organised stability. Enforced order turned into rampant anarchy. What else?

When the USA and its allies, and the interests they served, shifted their collective gaze from Afghanistan, they did not think they were under any obligation to tidy up on the way out. As Benazir Bhutto, Pakistan’s Prime Minister at the time, put it in 1996, “We are left on our own to cope with the remnants of the Afghan war, which include smuggling…drugs and …[religious] zealots who were leaders at the time of the Afghan war.” (Blum 2001: 34).

Those trained, armed and funded by the CIA and the Safari Club spread far and wide, beyond Afghanistan and Pakistan, to commit acts of heroism or terrorism, depending on your viewpoint, in other countries such as Algeria, Bosnia, Chechnya, Kashmir, and Tajikistan. It was estimated in 1996 that about 15,000 veterans had returned from Afghanistan to Saudi Arabia alone. They have already made their presence felt (including the death of five Americans in November 1995 in Riyadh). Their, unpredictable, future role in destabilising the US backed regime there is yet to emerge in full, but already the American-Saudi alliance is beginning to creak. What the ‘global elite’ sowed others, Americans and non-Americans alike, reaped and will continue to reap in spades.

The fact that a few extremists and dissidents were handpicked, trained, and funded by ‘civilised’, ‘democratic’, and ‘peace-loving’ public and private interests and governments seems to have slipped the mind of most politicians and commentators who stepped forward after the 11th of September 2001 to fill the media with their learned observations on ‘international terrorism’. It is not surprising, therefore, that Americans at large are perplexed by the tragic events of that day.

Why pick on the USA/ “why do they hate us”?

In relative terms, America has not suffered badly from terrorist attacks, of the domestic and international varieties. Up to the time of the atrocities of 11 September 2001, North America somehow managed to escaped the attentions of foreign terrorists almost altogether. Figures published by the US State Department on the pattern of international terrorism between 1993-1998 show that North America experienced 14 attacks while Western Europe, Latin America and the Middle East endured 766, 569 and 374 attacks respectively. (See terrorism on this website)

It is interesting to note that worldwide 66 US citizens were killed, of which 7 died in America, from 1993 to 1998 in terrorist incidents. By contrast, 6,824 Asians, 5557 Africans, 2524 Middle Eastern nationals, and 1455 West Europeans were killed in the same period.

Any death or injury is one too many. However, in the context of the size and power of the USA and its overbearing involvement in world affairs, it would seem that the scale of American casualties were remarkably low up to 2001. Approximately 3000, Americans and non-Americans, perished on the 11 September. Clearly, that was a departure from past experience. It remains to be seen whether this development is a random occurrence or whether it presages a new trend.

It is too much to assume that the terrorists simply did not want to harm Americans. On the other hand, it is possible to speculate that distance, deterrence and vigilance ensured that the USA was spared the worst of international terrorism up to 2001. Moreover, it is likely that a repeat of the horrendous events of 11 September is not on the cards for these same reasons. This is fortunate, but it has a negative aspect in that it would not diminish American appetite for funding and arming other groups of ‘freedom fighters’. It is busy doing just that at the present.

Nonetheless, it would be rash to think that America will continue to enjoy relative safety in future years. For a start, America’s provocative belligerence and interference in the affairs of other nations could only help to focus attention on that country as a potential target for terror attacks. To the USA one should add agencies that are implicated in promoting American interests and aspirations such as the IMF, World Bank and WTO. These organisations are increasingly seen as oppressive bodies that have brought misery to millions of people. Peaceful protests have gradually changed to demonstrations and then to violent riots. Annual meetings have had to be held in remote countries able to provide shelter through controlled access. Not a promising sign for global organisations that are supposedly charged with promoting ‘liberal’ economic and political practices. Targeting America as the ringmaster is an inevitable next step.

The Palestinian problem is everyone’s problem

The uncritical support given to Israel by successive US administrations from 1948 to the present despite Israel’s counterproductive treatment of the Palestinians and their, now, limited aspirations is another cause for potential terrorists to fight and die for. That was cited as one major factor in the terrorist attacks on the American mainland in 2001.

Much of the justification for the creation of Israel was the intolerable persecution experienced by Jewish people at the hands of the Nazis and their supporters in Europe. In the rush to correct that injustice, the Palestinians were pushed aside although they had nothing to do with the vicious crimes committed against the Jews. With good reason, the Palestinians have been described as “the victims of the victims of European history”. This festering wound will continue to cause trouble while extremists continue to rule Israel and while the USA continues to pat them on the back. Basically, the Palestinians lost their homes, their lands and their dignity when the state of Israel was created and in the aftermath of that event. They have little more to lose. In perversion of logic, Israel now demands concessions from the Palestinians and Western governments do not think this is odd!

On the other hand, the Israeli government shows scant interest in peace. The dramatic and positive proposal, put forward recently by the Saudi crown prince, for full Arab recognition of Israel, complete with reciprocal diplomatic relations, in return for Israeli withdrawal from Gaza and the West Bank seems to have fallen on deaf ears. The Israelis feel that they have little to gain from a comprehensive peace settlement. More to the point, the USA is not yet ready to step in. Despite protestations to the contrary, a continuing state of conflict is thought to be advantageous for the moment.

The security of Israel is not an issue. Israel is now a military power of considerable clout. Admittedly, the Israeli lobby is powerful and, equally obvious, the preponderance of Jewish persons at the top levels of most American organisations, including the government, business and the media, colour the nature of policies and actions adopted by the USA. However, that unremitting support has an added aspect. Israel has been, and is, used to destabilise the Middle East, and beyond as happened in Israeli ventures into Africa. Yet again, these aims come at a price. Obviously, the USA, and the global interests it favours, has decided this price (including added risk of further terrorist attacks) is worth paying.

Unfathomable policies on Iraq

Madeleine Albright (who was at the time the US ambassador to the UN), in an infamous 1996 interview, considered the death of half a million children as a result of the sanctions against Iraq “worth it” in the context of ‘American’ objectives in the area. As far as she was concerned the area of Iraq south of the 32nd parallel was “vital to US interests” (Simons, 1998: 66). There have been many more deaths since these comments were made by Albright. On the other hand, president Saddam Hussein seems to be secure in Baghdad, his palaces have not been touched by any of the air raids mounted by the American and British air forces. More to the point, he featured in the Forbes list of the world’s wealthiest people as the seventh richest head of state with an estimated fortune of some $6 billion.

After more than a decade of harsh sanctions that exclusively punished the ordinary members of the population, Iraq has been dragged back into the Middle Ages. Rightly or wrongly, people in that once prosperous and progressive country have come to the obvious conclusion that what has befallen them and their country is nothing more than an endless game played according to mysterious rules and even more mysterious expected outcomes. More to the point, they have come to believe, again rightly or wrongly, that America designed ,and now referees, the game. They can only look forward to a new set of principal players when America tires of those now on the field. The same conclusions have been reached by others in the Middle East and the Islamic world. Essentially, it seems that the well-being of millions of people count for little as far as the ‘global forces of order’ are concerned. On the other hand, misery, injustice, and no hope for the future are potent ingredients in fermenting new bouts of terrorism.

America and other Western powers seem to have learnt little from the tragic events of 11 September. George W Bush has now taken the ‘war against terrorism’ to the Philippines. We are also told that Iran and North Korea are next in line. The push on Iraq has already started. In a move reminiscent of what happened in Afghanistan, Congress allocated $97 million dollars under the 1998 Iraqi Liberation Act to allow the Iraqi National Congress (INC) to take the fight to Baghdad. The unspoken hope is that the ‘freedom fighters’ will go back to their farms, offices and schools once the regime has been replaced by someone who is more to Washington’s liking. Thoughts of hell freezing over spring to mind here. On past experience, some fighters will venture into neighbouring countries in the Middle East and beyond. Terror, like capital, moves freely across borders these days. Freedom fighters will be converted into terrorists on the road to where next?

(Note added in May 2005: the above comments seem prophetic. Saddam is now in prison following a brief war in 2003 followed by the inevitable turmoil that has lasted to the present. Terrorists, or freedom fighters take your pick, have flocked to Iraq and once they have finished their initial training they have started to invade other countries in the region. In an astonishing twist of events some Iraqis who were implacably opposed to Saddam now think even his reign was better the agony brought about by America’s supposed attempt to bring ‘freedom and democracy’ to Iraq.)

The ‘Ugly American’ is back

The ‘Ugly American’, associated with unsavoury regimes, hated dictators, naked power, greed, and selfishness, is staging a come back. The most expansive claim made by America is that it is the champion of good causes and that it strives to create world consensus and to engender international cooperation. The facts do not support this stance. Blunt (2001:184-197) lists almost 150 instances on which the US government voted at the United Nations on its own or with one or two other states to frustrate General Assembly resolutions that attracted wide support from most members. The topics vetoed by the USA are revealing. They included resolutions to promote “human rights, peace, nuclear disarmament, economic justice, the struggle against South African apartheid and Israeli lawlessness, and other progressive causes.”

The average American, whose information is strictly regulated by the media giants, is convinced that his or her government’s actions enjoy widespread support from all ‘sensible nations’. In fact, the USA is isolated and it often pursues policies and actions that cause extensive irritation, and real harm, to other people. The USA government seems to go out of its way to provide causes round which disaffected extremists could come together to commit acts of terror against overwhelmingly decent and well-intentioned people in America and elsewhere.

A ‘prime directive’ would help

Star Trek, the popular sci-fi television series, depicts space travel and exploration in future centuries. The crew of Starship Enterprise have to operate within a strict ‘prime directive’ that forbids interference of any kind in the affairs of alien beings encountered in the course of the spaceship’s endless travels. As a first step in restoring America’s reputation and popularity, the US government could do worse than adopt a prime directive of its own. That might seem like a gamble, in the view of the economic interests involved, but things could not be much worse than they are at present. It is possible to speculate that a reduction in global strife resulting from policies based on cooperation rather than confrontation might yield better economic returns.

The above suggestion is not as fanciful as it might appear on first inspection. Could anyone sensibly argue now that the benefits derived from adoption of the mixed economy model or the welfare state within the industrialised nations would have been exceeded by a policy founded on brute force and constant turmoil? Why would anyone argue, therefore, that the present global policies are remotely sensible? They are reminiscent of the Borg’s repeated assertion in Star Trek that ‘resistance is futile’ as they seek to assimilate other species.

Present practices have failed miserably. For the moment, the 11 September tragedy has been used by the elite to assert that the current status quo should be maintained and in fact intensified. Sooner or later, that disastrous and bankrupt policy will have to be ditched. Put starkly, it is not an evolutionarily stable strategy.


  • Blum, W. (2001) Rogue State London: Zed Books
  • Heikal, M. (1992) Illusions of Triumph London: HarperCollins
  • Herman, E. S. and N. Chomsky (1994) Manufacturing Consent London: Vintage
  • Hertz, N. (2001) The Silent Takeover London: Heinemann
  • Johnston, R. J. and P. J. Taylor (eds.) (1986) A World in Crisis? Oxford: Blackwell
  • Shutt, H. (2001) A New Democracy London: Zed Books.
  • Simons, G. (1998) The Scourging of Iraq London: Macmillan.