Meanwhile, Former US Secretary of State Alexander Haig (mentioned in the
article) appears on Larry King Live...
Bush is walking into a trap
16 September 2001
Retaliation is a trap. In a world that was supposed to have learnt that the
rule of law comes above revenge, President Bush appears to be heading for the
very disaster that Osama bin Laden has laid down for him. Let us have no doubts
about what happened in New York and Washington last week. It was a crime
against humanity. We cannot understand America's need to retaliate unless we
accept this bleak, awesome fact. But this crime was perpetrated - it becomes
ever clearer -to provoke the United States into just the blind, arrogant punch
that the US military is preparing.
Mr bin Laden - every day his culpability becomes more apparent - has
described to me how he wishes to overthrow the pro-American regime of the
Middle East, starting with Saudi Arabia and moving on to Egypt, Jordan and the
other Gulf states. In an Arab world sunk in corruption and dictatorships - most
of them supported by the West - the only act that might bring Muslims to strike
at their own leaders would be a brutal, indiscriminate assault by the United
States. Mr bin Laden is unsophisticated in foreign affairs, but a close student
of the art and horror of war. He knew how to fight the Russians who stayed on
in Afghanistan, a Russian monster that revenged itself upon its ill-educated,
courageous antagonists until, faced with war without end, the entire Soviet
Union began to fall apart.
The Chechens learnt this lesson. And the man responsible for so much of the
bloodbath in Chechnya - the career KGB man whose army is raping and murdering
the insurgent Sunni Muslim population of Chechnya - is now being signed up by
Mr Bush for his "war against people''. Vladimir Putin must surely have a sense
of humour to appreciate the cruel ironies that have now come to pass, though I
doubt if he will let Mr Bush know what happens when you start a war of
retaliation; your army - like the Russian forces in Chechnya - becomes locked
into battle with an enemy that appears ever more ruthless, ever more evil.
But the Americans need look no further than Ariel Sharon's futile war with the
Palestinians to understand the folly of retaliation. In Lebanon, it was always
the same. A Hizbollah guerrilla would kill an Israeli occupation soldier, and
the Israelis would fire back in retaliation at a village in which a civilian
would die. The Hizbollah would retaliate with a Katyusha missile attack over
the Israeli border, and the Israelis would retaliate again with a bombardment
of southern Lebanon. In the end, the Hizbollah - the "centre of world terror''
according to Mr Sharon - drove the Israelis out of Lebanon.
In Israel/Palestine, it is the same story. An Israeli soldier shoots a
Palestinian stone-thrower. The Palestinians retaliate by killing a settler. The
Israelis then retaliate by sending a murder squad to kill a Palestinian gunman.
The Palestinians retaliate by sending a suicide bomber into a pizzeria. The
Israelis then retaliate by sending F-16s to bomb a Palestinian police station.
Retaliation leads to retaliation and more retaliation. War without end.
And while Mr Bush - and perhaps Mr Blair - prepare their forces, they
explain so meretriciously that this is a war for "democracy and liberty'', that
it is about men who are "attacking civilisation''. "America was targeted for
attack,'' Mr Bush informed us on Friday, "because we are the brightest beacon
for freedom and opportunity in the world.'' But this is not why America was
If this was an Arab-Muslim apocalypse, then it is intimately associated with
events in the Middle East and with America's stewardship of the area. Arabs, it
might be added, would rather like some of that democracy and liberty and
freedom that Mr Bush has been telling them about. Instead, they get a president
who wins 98 per cent in the elections (Washington's friend, Mr Mubarak) or a
Palestinian police force, trained by the CIA, that tortures and sometimes kills
its people in prison. The Syrians would also like a little of that democracy.
So would the Saudis. But their effete princes are all friends of America - in
many cases, educated at US universities.
I will always remember how President Clinton announced that Saddam Hussein -
another of our grotesque inventions - must be overthrown so that the people of
Iraq could choose their own leaders. But if that happened, it would be the
first time in Middle Eastern history that Arabs have been permitted to do so.
No, it is "our'' democracy and "our'' liberty and freedom that Mr Bush and Mr
Blair are talking about, our Western sanctuary that is under attack, not the
vast place of terror and injustice that the Middle East has become.
Let me illustrate what I mean. Nineteen years ago today, the greatest act of
terrorism - using Israel's own definition of that much misused word - in modern
Middle Eastern history began. Does anyone remember the anniversary in the West?
How many readers of this article will remember it? I will take a tiny risk and
say that no other British newspaper - certainly no American newspaper - will
today recall the fact that on 16 September 1982, Israel's Phalangist militia
allies started their three-day orgy of rape and knifing and murder in the
Palestinian refugee camps of Sabra and Shatila that cost 1,800 lives. It
followed an Israeli invasion of Lebanon - designed to drive the PLO out of the
country and given the green light by the then US Secretary of State, Alexander
Haig - which cost the lives of 17,500 Lebanese and Palestinians, almost all of
them civilians. That's probably three times the death toll in the World Trade
Centre. Yet I do not remember any vigils or memorial services or
candle-lighting in America or the West for the innocent dead of Lebanon; I
don't recall any stirring speeches about democracy or liberty. In fact, my
memory is that the United States spent most of the bloody months of July and
August 1982 calling for "restraint".
No, Israel is not to blame for what happened last week. The culprits were
Arabs, not Israelis. But America's failure to act with honour in the Middle
East, its promiscuous sale of missiles to those who use them against civilians,
its blithe disregard for the deaths of tens of thousands of Iraqi children
under sanctions of which Washington is the principal supporter - all these are
intimately related to the society that produced the Arabs who plunged America
into an apocalypse of fire last week.
America's name is literally stamped on to the missiles fired by Israel into
Palestinian buildings in Gaza and the West Bank. Only four weeks ago, I
identified one of them as an AGM 114-D air-to-ground rocket made by Boeing and
Lockheed-Martin at their factory in - of all places - Florida, the state where
some of the suiciders trained to fly. It was fired from an Apache helicopter
(made in America, of course) during the 1982 Israeli invasion of Lebanon, when
hundreds of cluster bombs were dropped in civilian areas of Beruit by the
Israelis in contravention of undertakings given to the United States. Most of
the bombs had US Naval markings and America then suspended a shipment of
fighter bombers to Israel - for less than two months.
The same type of missile - this time an AGM 114-C made inGeorgia - was fired by
the Israelis into the back of an ambulance near the Lebanese village of
Mansori, killing two women and four children. I collected the pieces of the
missile, including its computer coding plate, flew to Georgia and presented
them to the manufacturers at the Boeing factory.
And what did the developer of the missile say to me when I showed him
photographs of the children his missile had killed? "Whatever you do," he told
me, "don't quote me as saying anything critical of the policies of Israel."
I'm sure the father of those children, who was driving the ambulance, will have
been appalled by last week's events, but I don't suppose, given the fate of his
own wife - one of the women killed - that he was in a mood to send condolences
to anyone. All these facts, of course, must be forgotten now.
Every effort will be made in the coming days to switch off the "why''
question and concentrate on the who, what and how. CNN and most of the
world's media have already obeyed this essential new war rule. I've already
seen what happens when this rule is broken. When The Independent published my
article on the connection between Middle Eastern injustice and the New York
holocaust, the BBC's 24-hour news channel produced an American commentator who
remarked that "Robert Fisk has won the prize for bad taste''. When I raised the
same point on an Irish radio talk show, the other guest, a Harvard lawyer,
denounced me as a bigot, a liar, a "dangerous man'' and - of course -
potentially anti-Semitic. The Irish pulled the plug on him.
No wonder we have to refer to the terrorists as "mindless''. For if we did not,
we would have to explain what went on in those minds. But this attempt to
censor the realities of the war that has already begun must not be permitted to
continue. Look at the logic. Secretary of State Colin Powell was insisting on
Friday that his message to the Taliban is simple: they have to take
responsibility for sheltering Mr bin Laden. "You cannot separate your
activities from the activities of the perpetrators,'' he warned. But the
Americans absolutely refuse to associate their own response to their
predicament with their activities in the Middle East. We are supposed to hold
our tongues, even when Ariel Sharon - a man whose name will always be
associated with the massacre at Sabra and Shatila - announces that Israel also
wishes to join the battle against "world terror''.
No wonder the Palestinians are fearful. In the past four days, 23
Palestinians have been killed in the West Bank and Gaza, an astonishing
figure that would have been front-page news had America not been blitzed. If
Israel signs up for the new conflict, then the Palestinians - by fighting the
Israelis - will, by extension, become part of the "world terror'' against which
Mr Bush is supposedly going to war. Not for nothing did Mr Sharon claim that
Yasser Arafat had connections with Osama bin Laden.
I repeat: what happened in New York was a crime against humanity. And that
means policemen, arrests, justice, a whole new international court at The Hague
if necessary. Not cruise missiles and "precision'' bombs and Muslim lives lost
in revenge for Western lives. But the trap has been sprung. Mr Bush - perhaps
we, too - are now walking into it.