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  Global Viewpoint



Salim Lone was spokesman for the United Nations mission in Iraq until the U.N. envoy, Sergio Vieira de Mello, and others were killed when the mission was bombed in 2003.

By Salim Lone

GENEVA — My heart goes out to all those who have suffered so grievously in London and around the world from the latest terrorist act.

This time the extremists struck when British Prime Minister Tony Blair had got something right for the world, the bombs violently undercutting what millions of Britons, Africans and others had passionately campaigned for in the last six months: concerted G8 focus on African poverty and global warming, the two great challenges imperiling humanity.

The Gleneagles summit’s grand stage would actually have showed to most of the world President George W. Bush’s hypocrisy in regularly proclaiming, as he did again right after the bombings, his commitment to an “ideology of compassion.” Instead, the bombings allowed him and Prime Minister Blair to again strut as anti-terror champions, when in fact their policies continue to produce thousands of new terrorists.

One hardly expected British and American officials to admit the Iraq-terror link. Indeed, Blair and Condoleezza Rice, the U.S. secretary of state, as well as a number of other officials, denied in interviews this linkage with the seemingly compelling argument that the first major international terrorist attacks, the 1998 East Africa U.S. embassy bombings and Sept. 11, took place before the 2003 Iraq war.

It was astonishing that not a single interviewer or reporter challenged such assertions by pointing out that those two attacks were preceded by  another  war against Iraq, following its invasion of Kuwait. Indeed it was that 1991 war and the accompanying U.N. sanctions, plus the stationing of U.S. troops in Saudi Arabia, that ushered in our age of global terror with the attempt to blow up the World Trade Center in 1993.

The two leaders were also back in full throttle over the terrorists’ barbarity and the western world’s own superior culture and values. Terrorists were inherently evil and were motivated by hatred for the western way of life, they said.

The two, it seems, have never hurt a soul. There was no memory, including among reporters, of the half-million Iraqi children killed by sanctions ruthlessly pressed by the two governments. Indeed, this holocaust was defended as necessary to advance U.S. interests by Madeline Albright, the former secretary of state. “It was worth it,” she told CBS-TV’s “60 Minutes” in 1996.

In reporting repeatedly in the last few days on comments asserting the other side’s inhumanity, no western television networks even hinted at the images they all possess of more recent crimes against humanity committed in Fallujah, Najaf, Qaim, the mountainous villages of Afghanistan, Jenin and Qana. Yes, the terrorists are definitely barbaric — but who is more so?

Be that as it may, President Bush and Prime Minister Blair, and all the countries threatened with terror, have the world’s support in wanting to take all lawful steps necessary to protect their citizens. Muslims in particular want to see an end to terrorist carnage. For every westerner killed by terrorists since the end of the cold war, a hundred Muslims have died in wars and occupations perpetrated against them by the west.

In addition, almost all Muslim countries have been polarized, with the Iraqi and Afghani nations ripped off their moorings, their forced reorganizations to serve western interests introducing long-lasting sectarian hatreds that will keep their societies divided and weak — if they survive as nations at all.

Action against terrorism is imperative, but it will only succeed if accompanied by steps to attend to a host of intense grievances of the global Muslim community — “root causes,” as they are called. The beginning must center on curbing wars of aggression and occupations, all of the latter being of Muslim nations, with Iraq’s being the most immediate cause of the exponential growth in terror.

But no one dares to put these items on the international agenda because of U.S. might — and the support given to the U.S. by the U.K. Without that British support, the U.S. would be comprehensively isolated and forced to reconsider its policies.

The greatest blow Bush and Blair could strike against terror would be to terminate the occupation of Iraq within a fixed time. This would profoundly affect the outcome of the coming elections, and forge peace through power-sharing with Iraqi insurgents.

But there is little pressure for President Bush to do so since two key Democratic Senators, John Kerry and Joseph Biden, themselves urged the sending of more U.S. troops there a fortnight ago! These Democratic leaders seem to have bought into the strategic U.S. goals for which the Bush administration fought the war and wishes to hold on to: control of a huge chunk of oil in an oil-thirsty world, with economic rival China the thirstiest of all; establishing military bases in support of the American project to redraw the political landscape of the region; and weakening Iraq so it could never pose a threat to Israel again. That grand design will not work; few Iraqis can abide American dominance.

The difficulty in pressing for an end to U.S. occupation is compounded by the extremely limited awareness of most Americans about the brutality that is at the heart of both occupations and related U.S. actions in the Muslim world. The violence reported in most American media is almost all committed by insurgents or terrorists.

Despite media coverage, sometimes superb, of individual lawless or inhumane U.S. actions abroad, there is nevertheless a lack of media acknowledgement of the profound transformation since Sept. 11 of the United States. It’s gone from the world’s most powerful advocate of human rights, democratization and the rule of law to a country that is pursuing categorically outlawed practices such as indiscriminate use of force in densely populated areas, as well as using torture and working closely with a number of brutal regimes, mostly Muslim, known to practice it.

So most Americans continue to believe that theirs is an essentially good country trying to fix the world and rid it of U.S.-hating Muslim terrorists. It’s hardly surprising that there is little domestic pressure to terminate the Iraqi occupation.

We live in age of imperfect western democracies, where citizens still have limited knowledge of what their governments do. And the major western powers are incapable of seriously pressuring American power, even when it is destabilizing  their  world. But if Blair warned Bush privately that the U.K. could not continue supporting the Iraqi occupation, that would be a huge blow and the Americans would be forced to reconsider their policies.

Is it possible that the British public and legislators will place pressure on Blair to de-link from Bush on Iraq as a result of the current atrocity (as Spain did)? Or will they rally around Blair? The British media will help determine the answer.