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News ::
US Foreign Policy and the Roots of Terrorism
13 Nov 2001
Modified: 27 Nov 2002
f we wish to understand the roots of terrorism, we need to understand what it is about US foreign policy that drives some people to terrorism.
Most people living in the Middle East resent the US government’s foreign policy in the region, even middle class Arabs who otherwise admire America. While this in no way justifies the September 11 attacks, if we wish to understand the roots of terrorism, we need to understand what it is about US foreign policy that drives some people to terrorism. Osama bin Laden, the leader of the Al Qaeda network believed to be responsible for the attacks, has repeatedly condemned US policy regarding Iraq, Palestine, and the support of oppressive regimes. It is probably these issues that brought people into Al Qaeda.

The US government and mainstream media tell us that the government’s foreign policy is motivated by a concern for democracy and human rights, but if we look at the record, things appear much different. Most US allies in the Middle East are highly repressive. Saudi Arabia is an Islamic fundamentalist absolute monarchy. The Turkish government brutally represses its Kurdish minority. The real goal of US policy in the region is military domination to maintain control of the oil supply. Let us look at US foreign policy at work in Iraq, Palestine/Israel and Afghanistan.

Before Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait in 1990, Saddam Hussein’s regime had been a US ally, despite his record of suppressing dissent. The US government sold Hussein most of his chemical and biological weapons for use in Iraq’s war against Iran and ignored their use on Kurdish civilians within Iraq. After the invasion of Kuwait, upset that Hussein had overstepped his bounds, the US lead an alliance in the Gulf War to drive him out. During the war, the US government deliberately bombed Iraq’s civilian infrastructure, killing many civilians and leaving the infrastructure in rubble.

Since the end of the war, economic sanctions have remained on Iraq--imposed by the UN to force Hussein to destroy his chemical and biological weapons. Unfortunately, the US government repeatedly stated that it intends to block any end to the sanctions as long as Hussein is in power, giving him no incentive to comply. The sanctions prohibit Iraq from importing the parts it needs to repair its civilian infrastructure, leading to massive inflation, unemployment and poverty. Although an oil-for-food program set up in 1996 does provide some relief, it is barely enough for Iraqi families to survive. Indeed, at least 500,000 children have died from the sanctions. Meanwhile Hussein’s inner circle is living well off the black market. Most people in Iraq are too busy trying to survive to try to overthrow Hussein.

In the Palestine-Israel conflict, the mainstream media has presented the US government as an unbiased mediator. In reality, the US is Israel’s major arms dealer and has consistently blocked UN resolutions that would force Israel to end its illegal occupation of Palestine. To Palestinians, Israel’s 1948 war of independence was a war of conquest, in which Israel conquered 78% of what historically had been Palestine. Israel conquered the rest of Palestine--the West Bank and Gaza Strip (the Occupied Territories)--in 1967. Afterward, Israel began colonizing it with Jewish fundamentalist settlements.

The Palestinians feel that they made their great concession at the start of the Oslo peace process when they recognized Israel in its pre-1967 borders and gave up any claim to 78% of their original homeland. The Israeli government at first allowed the creation of a Palestinian Authority with partial control over limited areas of the Occupied Territories. However, they continued to build more Jewish settlements in Palestine. In negotiations, they demanded permanent control over most of these settlements, Palestine’s water supply and borders, and roads that crisscrossed the West Bank breaking it into several non-adjacent pieces, in return for Palestinian “independence” in the remaining regions.

When the intifada (uprising) broke out in response in 2000, Israel reacted with disproportionate force, using live ammunition on stone-throwing civilians. 723 Palestinians have died compared to 185 Jews (as of 10/17/01), and several thousand Palestinians have been permanently disabled. The Israeli army has cut off Palestine from the international economy, leading to widespread poverty. The US government has continued to sell Israel arms and has repeatedly blocked UN efforts to send human rights observers in to control the conflict.

When the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan in 1979, the US government worked with the Pakistani and Saudi Arabian governments to drive them out. They created the mujahadeen-- Islamic fundamentalist militias. The CIA and Saudi Arabia funneled money through the Pakistani intelligence agency to train the mujahadeen, with the Saudi royal family supplying the fundamentalist ideology. Islamic fundamentalists from outside of Afghanistan were recruited to join the fight, including Osama bin Laden. After the Soviet Union pulled out in 1989, the mujahadeen fell to fighting among themselves. The Taliban eventually emerged victorious, controlling 90% of Afghanistan at the start of the current war. The Northern Alliance, which the US government has been aiding, controlled the other 10%; they, however, are composed of a number of rival fundamentalist militias, many of them guilty of mass murder and mass rape. Meanwhile, the country’s civilian infrastructure has been reduced to rubble by twenty years of war and it has just gone through three years of drought. US food drops would need to be increased 100 times to meet Afghanis’ needs and unless the war ends and international food aid is restored very soon, as many as 5 million Afghanis could die of starvation this winter.

The Islamic fundamentalists created by the CIA in Afghanistan have since turned against the US--what the CIA calls “blowback”. Refugees have reported that the war against Afghanistan is killing more civilians--creating more reasons for people in the Middle East to resent the US and join Islamic fundamentalist groups. Why don’t they join pro-democracy groups? There are a few, but pro-democracy groups are very weak in the Middle East. At one point they were much stronger, but they were repressed--often out of existence--by most governments, including many US allies. Islamic fundamentalist groups have stepped into the vacuum.

Bin Laden and other members of the Al Qaeda network should certainly be put on trial at the World Court. However, the best guarantee against further terrorism is a great change in US foreign policy, one that is consistent with American values of democracy, human rights and peace.

For more information, see ZNet (, the Electronic Intifada (, the Iraq Action Coalition (, and the Middle East Report (

Matthew Williams is a graduate student in sociology at Boston College; he spent several years working with the Campaign for the Iraqi People.
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Partial truths and World politics (english)
27 Nov 2002
Your article makes some valid points but a one page article can not get to the inner workings of global politics, nor will I try to do so here. I am certain the US, the greatest country in the world, is not the cleanest player. Nor should we fool ourselves that everything we do is for the benefit of the country we help. BUT we do help countries where there is no return of wealth, Bosnia, Somalia, Cuba to this day.

Everyone knows that we helped Kuwait because of oil and the conspricacy theorists are trying to draw the same parallel to Afghanisthan. We knew Saddam was an evil man when we helped him fight Iran, but we knew Stalin was evil when we helped fight Hitler. Sometimes you have to side with the lesser of 2 evils. What Saddam showed was he is ruthless and doesn't care about the stability in the region and at any time could attack any country. Should Saudi Arabia kiss our feet because we saved them, hell yes. If we didn't jump into the Persian Gulf, Saddam would have rolled over Saudi Arabia using chemical weapons and torturing people along the way and then UN would have said that is ok, just do not do it anymore. Look up appeasement of Hitler. Our country has to look out for the welfare of its own people and that includes supplying us with oil. Honestly, if we were to pull all troops out of the Middle East and stop supporting Israel, people would still hate us, we are not Muslims so we are evil; not to charcterize all Muslims as hating us but the extremists. So where would that leave us? Do we need to be a super power? No! Is everyone going to get a fair share? No! There will ALWAYS be winners and losers, people on the unfortunate side of life and our country does help a lot of other countries for nothing in return. The alternate thinker says, we use our wealth to control other countries, well maybe, but you have to get something in return. As the old saying is, there is no free lunch. During the Great Depression, what other country turned to help us? No one because we had nothing to give in return.

The freedom that is provided to the alternative media, like this site, should also take into consideration what it takes to keep that freedom. The government should always be questioned, kept in check but it also tries to do the best for the people here. Hell, we have people starving here, why should we worry about other countries? Global politics means getting yours before someone else does, plain and simple. It is not pretty, it is not ethically right but the utopian society that a lot of people wish the world was will never come to be. How many of the leaders of the world are democratically elected? Not many, so that leaves people who take control by force, who would do the same to your and my ability to prosper in life.