|Curt Jones is a member of this journal ’s editorial advisory board. He spent thirty-years as a career diplomat, most of it stationed in the Middle East or concerned with Middle Eastern affairs in Washington. His article “Trying to Stop the Clock in the Middle East” appeared as part of a Middle East policy debate in the Summer 1998 issue of this journal.
Us Against Them on Terrorism
A Statement of Opinion
Guest Editorial –
By firing missiles at alleged terrorist targets in Sudan and Afghanistan, President Clinton enhanced the parallels between nineteenth century Britain and twentieth century America. Empowered of its mastery of the seven seas, the United Kingdom tried to establish world order by the exercise of gunboat diplomacy. The effort eventually failed.
Now the new superpower, the United States, has resorted to cruise missile diplomacy with the same objective in mind. The outcome hangs on the answers to several questions presently obscured, I believe, by propaganda:
- Does the data really justify a military response of this magnitude?
No organization claimed responsibility for the Nairobi and Dar es Salaam bombings that precipitated the American attack. Raw intelligence, particularly that obtained by subornation, is notoriously unreliable. Experts have questioned the identification of Sudan’s Shifa Pharmaceutical company as a chemical weapons manufacturer.
- Can Washington reconcile unilateral attacks on the territory of supposedly friendly foreign states with the document that has a distinct American imprimateur—the UN Charter?
- By singling out one of the hundreds of shadowy activist organizations for superpower reprisal, did America bestow on it a worldwide notoriety it could not otherwise achieve?
- Already on bad terms with Iran, do we want to add Iran’s adversaries, Afghanistan and Pakistan, to the list?
Reportedly two of our missiles fell off course in Pakistan. We should beware the unexpected consequence.
- How can the United States launch missiles on the Third World without reinforcing the widespread belief that it is solicitous of American lives but uncaring of others?
- Is the United States overplaying the demonization card?
Indictment of Saddam or bin Ladin for their hatred of the United States and all it stands for contradicts their status, not too long ago, as de facto U.S. allies.
- In the light of past U.S. performance in southeast Asia, Latin America, and the Middle East, should we take for granted assurances that our policies are benevolent and theirs evil?
- Are we ready to slay these dragons all by ourselves? Neither Saddam, Khomeini, nor bin Ladin invented terrorism. Many others preceded them and many others surely will follow.
- How do we reconcile our assertion of the right to intervene abroad with our categorical rejection of other nations’ right to interfere in American affairs?
All of the questions cited above are ancillary to the primary question of pragmatism. Whatever exhilaration policy makers may derive from unleashing a small portion of America’s military might, past experience suggests that its effect on the global incidence of terrorism will be inconsequential. Conviction of the two Libyan operatives in the Hague, if that were to eventuate, would be cold comfort for the lives lost over Lockerbie, a loss incurred two years after America supposedly taught Libya a lesson through an air strike.