Since the assassination of bin Laden, the mainstream media have been yammering on about who should get credit for the kill—Team Bush or Team Obama. Like in a bad Hollywood sequel, political critters whom most of us had hoped we’d never lay eyes on again—Rummy, Cheney, Condi and co.—have been trotted out to claim their piece of the “victory.”
Perhaps they could each get a World’s Best Assassin trophy and we could all move on to the reality of Afghanistan’s nightmare today and how we got here.
Toward that end, I picked up a copy of Mahmood Mamdani’s curiously titled Good Muslim, Bad Muslim: America, the Cold War and the Roots of Terror. The subtitle, in my opinion, more accurately captures the essence of the book and I learned, or perhaps relearned, a few things that I’d either forgotten or never knew. I forget which one, since as the U.S. strafes and bombs its way across North Africa and the Middle East in a desperate attempt to extend its lease on empire, I’ve had to pack my brain with factoids and histories I never learned in school.
Satirist and journalist Ambroise Bierce really did have a point when he wrote, “War is God’s way of teaching Americans geography.”
It’s not news to many people with a political memory of 9/11, that the United States had a significant role in creating bin Laden and al Qaeda, but Mamdani’s book goes deeper. Mamdani elucidates the political calculations behind our government’s conscious decision to stoke terrorism. Rather than simply the unintended consequence of actions by presidents, the CIA and other intelligence spooks, terrorism was their weapon of choice, even if the eventual targets were not.
Non-state terrorism is usually conceived by leftists as the means of battle for those without an air force, which is true. Mamdani, however, introduces a fascinating insight that helps us understand how well-financed movements like al Qaeda led by middle- and upper-class, educated men came about. He writes:
Terrorism distinguished itself from guerrilla struggle by making civilians its preferred target. If left-wing guerrillas claimed that they were like fish in water, right-wing terrorists were determined to drain the water—that is, civilian life—so as to isolate and eliminate the fish. What is now termed collateral damage was not an unfortunate by-product of the war; it was the very point of terrorism.
From the Contras in Nicaragua to Unita in Angola and al Qaeda in Afghanistan, the United States has spent billions of dollars to arm, train and mobilize terrorist forces as proxy armies throughout the world. The U.S. government so feared the threat to profits that communists and nationalist movements posed in the post-war era, that it helped create jihadist movements and drug cartels to stop them.
Here’s a fascinating tidbit about how $50 million of our tax dollars were spent in Afghanistan in the late 1980s and early 90s. The University of Nebraska printed third-grade mathematics textbooks for Afghan children attending madrassahs that included the following word problem:
The speed of a Kalashnikov bullet is 800 meters per second. If a Russian is at a distance of 3,200 meters from a mujahid, and that mujahid aims at the Russian’s head, calculate how many seconds it will take for the bullet to strike the Russian in the forehead.
Rate x time = distance, right?: four seconds? I would have thought faster. Anyway, U of N’s textbook press continued to churn out brain teasers about plucking out the eyes of enemies and chopping off their legs until 1994. Tariq Ali estimates that “2,500 madrassahs with an annual crop of 225,000 students” trained young word sleuths with American-made primers that taught the alphabet using words like “cannon,” “blood” and “Kalashnikov.”
Back in 1979, Jimmy Carter—who posed in those years as a kindly, cardigan-wearing Georgian peanut farmer turned president—hatched a devious plan with his CIA to bring the Soviet Union to its knees. Carter set in motion the arming and training of the Mujahidin in Afghanistan, knowing it would lead to a Soviet invasion with the aim of creating a war zone of hell that would become the Soviets’ Vietnam. He succeeded brilliantly.
In 2002 he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.
Lest you believe that the sole prerequisite for a Prize is mass murder of Afghans—Obama too was awarded one of those after escalating the war in Afghanistan—Democratic president Carter’s resumé is far more extensive:
Most of the hundreds of thousands of deaths in East Timor took place during the Carter administration, which increased military aid to the Indonesian dictator Suharto by 80 percent. In Zaire, Carter sent the U.S. air force to ferry Moroccan troops to put down a popular uprising against the brutal dictator, Mobutu Sese Seko. He echoed Corporate America’s opposition to sanctions on the apartheid South African regime and vetoed UN Security Council resolutions that attempted to stop supplies to the racist military by U.S. companies.
Carter ignored pleas from Salvadoran archbishop Oscar Romero to stop arms shipments and advisers to the junta there that was massacring trade unionists and human rights workers—and he continued arms transfers even after the junta brutally murdered Romero. During a state visit in 1977, Carter toasted the Shah of Iran, calling him an “enlightened monarch who enjoys his people’s total confidence.” Two years later, the Shah’s forces fired upon thousands of protesters at the start of the revolution that threw him out of power.
All’s to say, without American aid and guidance, the infrastructure of terrorism would have been inconceivable. The man bin Laden may have been born in Saudi Arabia, but terrorist leader bin Laden was Made in the USA.
See? We still manufacture some things here.
What do the titles: “‘That’s not art': An analysis of modern art,” “Out on the street: The housing crisis and the movement against foreclosures” and “Will China rule the world?” have in common? They are all talks at Socialism 2011: Revolution in the Air, July 1–4, Chicago. I’ll be there, don’t even think of missing it.