Centre for Research on Globalisation
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The Threat of Global Terrorism


by Edward S. Herman and David Peterson

Z Magazine,  February 2002

Centre for Research on Globalisation (CRG),  globalresearch.ca,   4  February 2002


We are living in a very dangerous time, but for reasons almost exactly the opposite of those conventionally accepted. The consensus view in the United States right now is that the danger lies in the terror threat from Bin Laden and his network, and perhaps other terrorists hostile to the West. But Bin Laden and his network, though evidently formidable terrorists, cannot compete in terrorizing with states, and especially with a highly militarized superpower. His is a "retail" terror network, like the IRA or Cuban refugee terrorist network: it has no helicopter gunships, no offensive missiles, no "daisy cutters," no nuclear weapons, and although its death-dealing on September 11 was remarkable (although down from the initially estimated 6,000 or more to below 3,900), it was unique for a non-governmental terrorist organization. Having no air force of their own, his cadres had to resort to hijacking commercial airliners, a tactic that will be more difficult to use successfully in the future now that its terrorist potential is recognized.

Really large-scale killing and torture to terrorize-- "wholesale" terrorism--has been implemented by states, not by non- state terrorists. The reason people aren't aware of this is that states define terrorism and identify the terrorists, and they naturally exempt themselves as always "retaliating" and engaging in "counter-terror" even when their own actions are an exact fit to their own definitions. And their mainstream media always follow the official lead. The U.S. Code definition--"any activity...dangerous to human life...intended to intimidate or coerce a civilian population...[or] to influence the policy of a government by intimidation"--surely fits U.S. policy toward Iraq, where the incessant bombings and "sanctions of mass destruction" have been designed to intimidate the Iraqi people and influence Iraqi government policy. This serious terrorism has been killing more children PER MONTH than the total casualty figure for the September 11 terrorist attacks, but in this country it is Iraq that, if not terrorizing, is a terrorist threat getting what it deserves. This distorted perspective is made possible by a mainstream media that serves state policy by focusing attention on Saddam's efforts to develop "weapons of mass destruction," while keeping pictures of dying Iraqi children out of sight.

As another illustrative case, Israel has been using torture on an administrative basis for at least 25 years, a feat no retail (non-state) terrorist could duplicate. This, and the U.S. policy toward Iraq, are wholesale terrorist operations, carried out on a large scale over an extended period of time, as only the institutions of state terrorism are capable of doing. And as the 1984 Alfonsin National Commission on the Disappeared explained after reviewing the record of the deposed military regime of Argentina, which had tortured and killed thousands in over 300 detention centers from 1976 to 1983, that regime's (wholesale) terrorism was "infinitely worse" than the (retail) terrorism it was combating.

In our view, the real danger to world peace and security arising out of the events of September 11 lies in the responsive wholesale terrorism that will result--and already is resulting--from the resurgent aggressiveness of the United States, with its excessive military power, its global interests that can be served by a forward military policy, its self-righteousness and habituation to getting its way, and the absence of any country or group of countries able to contain it. This country is also especially dangerous by virtue of its being perhaps the most religiously fundamentalist in the world (ranging from the Christian Right and its various militia-like sects to the blind patriotic fervor in the wake of September 11 to belief in close encounters of the third kind, angels, and End Times); and with a population that, with the help of the mainstream media, can be brought to approve or ignore any level of external violence that the leadership deems useful. We may recall that the United States is the only country that has used nuclear weapons and has threatened their further use many times. Its employment of chemical weapons more than competes with Saddam Hussein's use in the 1980s, one of the U.S. legacies being some 500,000 Vietnamese children with serious birth abnormalities left from a decade of U.S. chemical warfare in the 1960s.

The 9/11 bombing was a windfall for the Bush administration and military-industrial complex, so much to their advantage that theories have been circulating suggesting that the U.S. leadership engineered, or at least failed to interfere with, the bombings. We don't accept the purported evidence for this, but we do believe that after the initial shock at their failure to protect U.S. citizens from attack, the leadership realized that this was what they had been waiting for as a substitute for the Soviet Threat to justify a new projection of U.S. power. In fact, the "war against terrorism" may prove to be more serviceable as a tool for managing the public than the Soviet Threat, given its open-ended and nebulous character.

The Soviet Threat gave the United States a Cold War propaganda cover to justify its support of numerous military dictators and other goons of convenience who would serve U.S. economic and political interests. Thus, in the name of fighting both Soviet "expansionism" and "terrorism" the United States supported terrorist states that engaged in really serious terrorism, combatting a lesser (retail) terrorism that was frequently a response to that state terrorism. One document produced by the Catholic Church in Latin America in 1977, made the telling observation that the military regimes needed to employ terror because the ruthless economic policies that they encouraged, their "development model," which featured helping foreign transnationals by giving them a "favorable climate of investment" (i.e., crushing labor unions), "creates a revolution that did not previously exist." It is hardly a coincidence that "liberation theology," with its "theology from the underside of history" and its "preferential option for the poor" (Gustavo Gutierrez), was born out of the turmoil and victimization of this era of U.S.-sponsored counterrevolutionary violence.

In the earlier period the United States got away with claims that it was opposed to and was fighting terrorism, while it was actually supporting "infinitely worse" terrorisms. The mainstream media allowed the government to define terrorism and name the terrorists; so, for example, the New York Times regularly referred to the retail terrorism in Argentina as "terrorism," but never called the infinitely worse state terrorism in that country by its right name. And the Times--and the rest of the mainstream media-- rarely discussed the ugly details of Argentinian state terrorism, never related it to any development model, and failed to express indignation over it. And of course they never referred to the Nicaraguan contras or Savimbi's UNITA as terrorists, or the United States as a sponsor of terrorism for giving them support.

In the Cold War years, also, the media never questioned the alleged objectives of U.S. interventions. If the U.S. government claimed back in the early 1950s that it was overthrowing the elected government of Guatemala for fear of Soviet control and to stop the spread of communism, the media never doubted this; they never suggested that this was a fraudulent cover for the desire to protect the United Fruit Company, to dispose of an annoyingly reformist and independent government, and resulted from an arrogantly imperialistic government's refusal to brook any opposition in its backyard. The media served then as uncritical propagandists for the "war against communism," featuring the alleged threats and focusing heavily on the progress of that notorious intervention. They made the destruction of a democratic government and introduction of a police state into a noble venture that saved the United States from a wholly fabricated threat.

Sound familiar? It should, as the media are doing the same job of protecting state actions today. If their government says that what it is doing in Afghanistan is a "war against terrorism," that is what the media label it. If the administration hints at extending the war on terrorism to Iraq as one of its state sponsors, the media talk about this only in terms of strategy, whether allies will go along, and possible repercussions. They never suggest that the attack on Afghanistan was itself an act of terrorism, or beyond that, an act of aggression done in straightforward violation of the UN Charter and international law. They never suggest that Iraq has been a victim of very serious state-sponsored terrorism for more than a decade, in which 23 million Iraqis have served as hostages to be starved into rebellion. Never. Although what this country does may fit the official U.S. definition of terrorism with precision, the supposedly free and independent media exempt its actions from the label as a matter of course. In using this double standard they perform exactly as Orwell's media did in 1984 under the rule of Big Brother.

As they did back in 1950-1954 in reference to Guatemala, the mainstream media focus on U.S. claims regarding enemy maneuvers and sinister plans (back then, Red infiltration; today, the location and tricks of Bin Laden and Al-Qaeda); the planning and military activities of the forces supported by the United States (back then, the "contra" army invading Guatemala from Somoza's Nicaragua; today the military successes of the bombing and "coalition" fighting on the ground in Afghanistan); who is winning and losing in the fighting and diplomatic maneuvering. There was no discussion in the earlier years of objectives other than that supposed "war against communism"--such as the welfare of United Fruit, or the U.S. objection to any social democratic reforms or independent state in its backyard--just as today the media will not discuss the Bush administration's broader agenda--gaining access to and control over the Caspian Basin's enormous oil and natural gas resources, or using antiterrorism as the rationale for going after any global target, or to help create a moral environment that will serve to advance its domestic programs.

Just as the Cold War provided a cover for U.S. support of a "real terror network," so now the "war against terrorism" is providing a cover for a similar and rapid gravitation to contemporary goons of convenience like Russia's Putin, Pakistan's Musharraff, and Uzbekistan's Karimov. Putin himself is a major wholesale terrorist, whose political career has been built on terrorizing Chechnya; Musharraff is a military dictator who previously was closely allied with the Taliban; and Karimov is another holdover dictator from the Soviet era, whose only virtue is a willingness to serve the "war on terrorism." Just as the media back in 1954 never discussed the fact that that first generation contra invasion of Guatemala, allegedly to "free" Guatemala, was being organized in Somoza's "unfree" Nicaragua, nor questioned U.S. support of that dictator, so today the media never ask the obvious question: How can a new order of democracy be created by supporting and consolidating the power of dictators and wholesale terrorists?

The "war against terrorism" has given a freer hand to terrorist governments that are "with us," like Russia's but also that of Israel, whose leaders quickly recognized their improved political position after 9/11 and greatly intensified their violence in the occupied territories. China has also joined the fight against terrorism, and is expected to "use the international war against terror for a new crackdown on the Turkic-speaking Uighurs," and "arrests in the region have increased significantly" since September 11 ("China using terror war against separatists," UPI, Oct. 11, 2001). The new "war" has encouraged governments across the globe to ask for military support from the United States to fight their own "terrorists," and the Bush administration has already come through with aid to the Philippines and Indonesia in these local struggles. So it looks very much as if insurgents anywhere, if they don't happen to be supported by Washington as "freedom fighters," will be transformed into targets of the new "war against terrorism," now to be fought on a global basis. Whereas in the Cold War years these insurgents were tied to Moscow in preparation for supporting states like Argentina which would then crush them; now they will be branded "foreign terrorist organizations" or linked to Bin Laden, or perhaps that won't even be necessary in the New World Order--just call them terrorists, flash pictures of the victims of the World Trade Center, and bomb them.

Back in the earlier years, also, as the government wanted the public mobilized to the frightful threat posed by the disarmed Guatemala, the media beat a steady and incessant drum, day in and day out. Similarly, since September 11, the Bush administration wanting the public frightened and mobilized to support its new and open-ended war, the media have provided incessant and frightening-- as well as hugely biased--coverage of "A Nation Challenged," as the New York Times's daily section would have it, or "At War With Terror," in the Philadelphia Inquirer's regular account. The public is led to believe that the Pitiful Giant has had its back against the ropes in its struggle against retail terror, a truly frightening situation; whereas in the earlier case, a social democratic government threatening United Fruit and U.S. prerogatives, but LINKED TO MOSCOW, provided the media with grist for creating public panic, and justifying U.S. aggression.

In the earlier case, after the elected government of Guatemala was overthrown in June 1954, and was replaced by a puppet that proceeded to dismantle all the human rights and social gains brought by democracy, media attention to Guatemala disappeared, and it stayed invisible as a counterinsurgency state, built on wholesale terror, took over and has remained in place for almost half a century. The media helped overthrow the democratic government, and in the years that followed they kept the public unaware that under U.S. auspices, with U.S. funding, training, Green Beret participation in counterinsurgency campaigns, and diplomatic support, a terror state was built, aided, and protected (for details, Michael McClintock, The American Connection: State Terror and Popular Resistance in Guatemala [Zed, 1985]). The same pattern was observable in the case of Nicaragua in the 1980s: huge media attention to the Sandinista government's "threat of a good example" that followed U.S. support of the Somoza dictatorship for 45 years; then after the ouster of the Sandinistas, with the crucial aid of U.S. direct and sponsored terrorism, the media once again lapsed into silence.

This media practice allows the United States to carry out a hit- and-run policy, without any serious public cost to its leadership, as the public is kept in the dark about the fact that this country has "run" following its extended and devastating "hit," because media attention falls to close to zero.

This should clue us in on the likely developments in Afghanistan after this fearsome military challenge is met--and the United States and its antiterrorist "coalition" can celebrate another victory in which they created a desert and called it peace. There is a great deal of talk now of "nation-building" and modernizing Afghanistan, but that is NOW, when the establishment needs to fend off suggestions that it is better at killing and starving people than it is at spreading democracy and development that helps them. But Vietnam, Guatemala, Nicaragua, Kosovo, and many other cases, teach us that there will be no nation-building at all, although building oil and natural gas pipelines and military bases is another matter.

Once the great military victory is achieved, budget priorities will hardly extend out to Afghanistan, any more than they did to other victims of imperial violence. Official attention will disappear, and the media can be counted on to shift their focus elsewhere. Call it a Law of the Free Press, which falls in line whenever duty calls and boldly follows the flag and priorities of the elite and government establishment. If these call for nation destruction, and then a silent exit, so be it.


Copyright   Ed Herman and David Peterson.  2002. Reprinted for fair use only

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