The chances of catching Osama Bin Laden are reported to be improving due to Al-Qaeda’s increasing unpopularity in Pakistan. This opinion is based on the assumption that he is hiding in a cave somewhere in that country. Being an intelligent, experienced guerrilla strategist, that is highly unlikely. Even if he should be found and executed, no good whatever can come of it. This is asymmetrical warfare. He is one man; his capture and death can have symbolic value only.
By contrast, Osama can take satisfaction in fortuitous success beyond his wildest dreams due to the philosophical failures of his enemies. I mean success by the normal criteria of warfare – damage to one’s enemies and the gain of something valuable.
Osama made his enmity to the United States clear by his 1993 bombing of the World Trade Centre (WTC). This was followed by his 23 February 1998 fax to London’s Al Quds newspaper in which he charged, as evidently his primary reason:
Firstly, for over seven years the United States has been occupying the lands of Islam in the holiest of places, the [Saudi] Arabian Peninsula, plundering its riches, dictating to its rulers, humiliating its people, terrorizing its neighbours, and turning its bases in the peninsula into a spearhead through which to fight the neighbouring Muslim peoples.
Osama is, of course, a Saudi.
Osama’s sequence of success began with the destruction of the World Trade Centre and damage to the Pentagon. It has never been suggested that Osama acted other than independently in this, so although of appalling effect, these were criminal acts.
Instead of treating them as simple criminal acts, the Bush administration acted on a variety of unrelated agendas, treated them as acts of international warfare, bombed and invaded Afghanistan and followed up with the invasion of Iraq. The total direct military costs alone of US operations consequent from the WTC attack, both within and external to the US, is officially USD 516 billion as of November 2007. There are many additional costs and government programmes, for example, homeland security and enhanced intelligence that did not exist prior to 2001. Joseph Stiglitz, Nobel prize-winning economist, estimates that the cost of these wars to the US is USD 3 trillion, with the same cost to the UK and the rest of the world. These are phenomenal sums – not merely wasted but employed to inflict massive destruction against two wholly innocent countries.
In addition to this financial cost, the US’s invasions have destabilized the oil markets, creating an enormous increase in the price of oil with consequent price rises in all commodities. Together with domestic and government over-borrowing, government over-spending and Wall Street’s sale of worthless sub-prime mortgage debt, the US economy is at present in free-fall. The US dollar has collapsed in value and might well lose its reserve status. Rather than monitoring his domestic economy, the president has been preoccupied with his wars.
There have been about 4,430 US servicemen killed in Afghanistan and Iraq and at a ratio of about 8:1 wounded per fatality, 35,000 wounded. About 1,000 contract employees are estimated to have been killed. Sympathy with fellow Muslims has led to attacks with fatalities in European cities, notably London and Madrid. Al-Qaeda is now stronger than ever, having gained new recruits in Iraq, where there were none before, as well as Afghanistan.
The whole world sympathized with the US following the WTC attack. That sympathy has evaporated, to be replaced by hatred in Muslim countries, and by distrust, suspicion and condemnation from Europe and other formerly sympathetic countries.
This has been Osama’s success: causing the US high casualties and to exhaust itself in a wasteful war that was not only unnecessary but, to be blunt, a fraud, since, of course, neither the Taliban and the Afghan people nor Saddam Hussein and the Iraqis had anything to do with the WTC bombing. In attacking them, the US has created more enemies and disadvantaged itself further. Both these wars are continuing; nor is there any reason to believe that the US and its allies will “win” by any definition so far employed. Whatever happens to him, Osama has good reason to be pleased with the outcome of his actions.
To compound his failure of judgement to date, President Bush is inventing pretexts for attacking Iran. Judging by the unforeseen results consequent on attacking Afghanistan, which was completely defenceless, and Iraq which was very weakly defended, an attack on Iran, a much stronger country, would be without doubt catastrophic both to the US and the world generally.
President Bush and former Prime Minister Blair both call themselves Christians. It is absolutely clear, however, that this is not the case. Christians are by definition followers of Jesus Christ. There is no possible justification in Jesus’s teachings for undertaking a war of deception and aggression. Jesus essentially taught that one is judged according to how one treats others, for example, the “Good Samaritan” story. The message of the entire New Testament is of admonition to goodwill to others and good behaviour.
Traditional Christianity makes no distinction between the Old and New Testament. By contrast with the New Testament, the Jewish Torah, comprising the first five books of the Christian Bible’s Old Testament, names the Israelites (Jews) as God’s chosen people and gives many accounts of wars initiated by them, commencing with killing every inhabitant of the Canaanite city of Jericho in present Palestine. It is customary to take texts from either according to the point one wishes to make. I was brought up within an American fundamentalist sect and understand the closed frames of reference that govern religious thought.
In these and traditional Christian religions, it is customary to read, with full approval, of the Israelites’ exploits in defeating their enemiesl. There is full psychological identification with the Israelites. Such Christians think of themselves as, broadly, “spiritual Israelites” and that the mantle of God’s approval has passed to them or extends both to the Jews and to them so that they may share with the Jews the benefits of the coming of the Messiah, Jesus’s second coming or the End of Days, as the case may be. It is this that underlies the Christian fundamentalist political support of Israel.
There is nothing in Jesus’s teaching nor the New Testament to support these views. Jesus taught that it was individual goodness and conduct that is important, without racial distinction, as in the case of the non-Jewish Samaritan. This was the heresy that led to his death. It denied that the Jews had special status to God. As a matter of academic interest, Jesus’s vision appears to have been the same as that of Pharaoh Amenhotep lV or Akhenaten, who also envisaged a God who loved all mankind. The Israelites adopted monotheism from this source and adapted it to their needs. This is now generally accepted by scholars.
New Testament Christianity is Judaism’s further development and, as evidenced by Jesus’s death, is incompatible with it. American fundamentalist Christianity, as well as most traditional Christianity, incorporates the violence of the Torah. This violence can be seen in its original absolutist form in the actions of the “nation of Israel”, which is acting directly from its cultural roots both in its claim to Palestine and its means of securing it. For a thousand years the Western Christian countries have had New Testament Christianity as a restraining influence on men’s natural propensity to violence and its Old Testament justification. Christianity is also the impulse to the West’s highest ideals, claimed particularly in America, but now either discarded in practice or considered by humanists and the politically correct to have appeared spontaneously. We are all products of our cultures.
The alternative to the automatic adoption of unrestrained violence following the WTC attack was therefore for President Bush to have adopted a Christian approach. In practice, this would have meant negotiations with the Taleban, either directly or through the United Nations, for the apprehension of Osama Bin Laden. This would by no means preclude efforts by the CIA or other government agencies from finding him. Such negotiations would certainly have succeeded well within the six and a half years that have since passed. Similarly, if it were desired to remove Saddam Hussein, far more restrained methods would have succeeded, doubtless with the cooperation of most of the Iraqi people. In the event, as is well known, Zionist, corporate and other interests precluded such approaches.
Having now brought disaster on the Afghan and Iraqi peoples as well as damaging itself and the world generally, particularly the poor, it is surely worthwhile for the USA to attempt a Christian approach. This would mean the immediate cessation of military operations and withdrawal within months. The Iraqis are capable of reconstructing their own country; Afghanistan should receive genuine reconstruction assistance. A neutral country, e.g. Switzerland, should attempt reconciliation of the factions within both countries. In the final analysis, the inhabitants of Iraq and Afghanistan would have to make their own accommodations. There is no reason to believe that further military action by the invading forces will improve matters whereas years of killing indicate clearly that the position can only become worse.
The USA’s present practices of looting Iraqi oil, and as an occupier, imposing contracts for oil, Boeing aircraft and armaments that Iraq does not need, as well as suggestions that the Iraqis should commence paying the US’s costs for occupying and killing them, are stunningly outrageous. Then there are the Iraqi oil-for-food and oil sales funds made available by the United Nations, that have been stolen or wasted.
There is every indication from the US’s behaviour in Iraq that Osama had a genuine grievance in saying that that it was plundering Saudi Arabia (presumably oil). The common depiction of Osama as a feeble rag-head hiding in a cave greatly under-estimates him. He achieved his strategic objective of removing the USA from his home country as well as inflicting grave damage on it, both material and moral, from which it might never fully recover. The USA fears further attacks, perhaps nuclear, and with good reason. Further individuals whom it has unjustly injured might well wish to retaliate in the future. This is also part of Osama’s legacy. As Cherie Blair said, before anyone could stop her, “One can understand how people without hope can become suicide bombers,” or something very much like it. Similarly, one may understand Osama.
Jesus said: “Yes, the way to identify a tree or a person is by the kind of fruit that is produced.” The general idea of Christianity is to avoid making enemies. If one has them, convert them to friends and influence others by good example rather than through conflict. One does not need to believe in Jesus, Christianity or even God to understand the value of doing this.
Last night I heard Gordon Brown, the minister’s son, say in the presence of George Bush, the overt Christian, “The world owes President George Bush a huge debt of gratitude for leading the world in our determination to root out terrorism ...” I’ve felt disconnected ever since as if in my own country I’m in a foreign land. Wasn’t the terrorist only one man, with a few surviving helpers? Doesn’t Gordon Brown know about the million dead, the three or four million refugees, the destruction and hunger? Christians have to start again.