The Other Cheek?
Jack Straw, Al-Qaeda
And The 1998 Bombings
JNV Anti-War Briefing 58 (24 March 2004)
THE OUTRAGEOUSNESS OF JACK STRAW
In a wide-ranging interview, the British Foreign Secretary has
expressed regret that the international community failed to
take earlier action to deal with al-Qaeda and the
failing state which was harbouring it, which was Afghanistan.
If this earlier action had been taken, according
to Mr Straw, we might have avoided September 11 and everything
that has followed. (Telegraph, 20 Mar. 2004, p. 11)
The Foreign Secretary recalls eight years of a rising
crescendo of outrageous attacks from al-Qaeda from
the 1993 attempt on the World Trade Centre to the attacks on
the US Embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998, and on the USS
Cole in 2000.
Looking back, Mr Straw believes that al-Qaeda became increasingly
emboldened by the lack of reaction from the
international community, following these pretty astonishing
attacks. And that led to these amazing attacks
on the World Trade Centre and the Pentagon...
TURNING THE CHEEK: SUDAN AND AFGHANISTAN 1998
This is an amazing rewriting of history. Mr Straw told the Telegraph,
I am fully signed up to the biblical injunction of turning
the other cheek in certain circumstances but [9/11] was not
one of them. He implies that the West had turned
the other cheek on the previous occasions he listed, and
that this weakness led to 11 September.
Leaving aside the other incidents, it is hard to believe that
Mr Straw can have forgotten that after the US Embassy bombings
in 1998 Washington actually carried out the bombing of not one
but two sovereign nations: Sudan and Afghanistan. If that was
turning the other cheeks, let us pray the West never
TURNING THE OTHER CHEEK: THE DIRECT COSTS
The airstrike on Sudan destroyed a pharmaceutical factory which
produced half of Sudans pharmaceutical supplies. It specialised
in producing drugs to kill the parasites which pass from herds
to herders, one of Sudans principal causes of infant
motality. (James Astill, Strike one, Guardian,
2 Oct. 2001)
Sudan could not afford to import drugs to replace the supplies
formerly produced at the factory, and was also under sanctions.
US journalist Jonathan Belke reported a year after the attack
that as a result of the destruction of the pharmaceutical factory
tens of thousands of people many of them children
have suffered and died from malaria, tuberculosis, and
other treatable diseases. (Boston Globe, 22 Aug. 1999)
Noam Chomsky remarks that if these consequences were scaled
up to be proportional to the US population, it would be as if
the bin Laden network, in a single attack on the US, caused
hundreds of thousands of people many of them children
to suffer and die from easily treatable diseases.
(9-11, p. 51)
TURNING THE OTHER CHEEK: THE INDIRECT COSTS
According to the Financial Times, the US attack appears
to have shattered the slowly evolving move towards compromise
between Sudans warring sides and terminated promising
steps towards a peace agreement to end the civil war that had
left one and a half million people dead since 1981, which might
also have led to peace in Uganda and the entire Nile basin.
The missile strike seems to have shattered... the expected
benefits of a political shift at the heart of Sudans Islamist
government towards a pragmatic engagement with the
outside world, along with efforts to address Sudans
domestic crises, to end support for terrorism, and to reduce
the influence of radical Islamists. (FT, 8 Sept. 1998, cited
in Chomsky, 9-11, p. 51)
UNDERMINING US SECURITY
Not only were the US missile strikes on Sudan and Afghanistan
terrorist attacks of quite staggering proportions, they also
directly led to a worsening of US national security.
By summer 1998, Mullah Omar, the head of the Taliban, had become
so fed up with his unwanted guest Osama bin Laden that he concluded
a secret agreement with Saudi intelligence to expel the al-Qaeda
leader from his country.
But just before Mullah Omars order to oust the arrogant,
publicity-seeking bin Laden was carried out, President
Clinton launched his missiles against Sudan and Afghanistan.
Prince Turki bin al-Faisal, the head of Saudi intelligence who
had brokered the expulsion deal, says that after the missile
strikes, The Taliban attitude changed 180 degrees.
Returning to Afghanistan a month after the strikes, he found
Mullah Omar absolutely rude, and the deal was off.
(Times, 3 Aug. 2002)
EARLIER ACTION: TWO LESSONS
Returning to Mr Straws bizarre rendition of events, it
is quite untrue to claim that there was no earlier action
against al-Qaeda or their hosts in Afghanistan.
On the one hand, there were criminal missile attacks
against Sudan and Afghanistan by the US Government which
succeeded in causing the deaths of tens of thousands of civilians
many of them children and which also shattered
a regional peace process.
On the other hand, there were also non-military negotiations
by the Saudi Government which were effective in winkling the
leader of al-Qaeda out of his hideout in the mountains
of Central Asia an achievement smashed by US military
In short, effective earlier non-military action
which increased the security of the West was taken by
Saudi Arabia. Criminal earlier military aggression
which diminished the security of the West was carried
out by Washington (with support from London).
When the US National Commission on Terrorist Attacks published
a preliminary report and held hearings on 23 Mar. 2004, the
Independent notes the finding in the report that the Saudi expulsion
deal fell apart in September 1998 during talks in Afghanistan
beween Prince Turki and the Taliban leader Mullah Omar.
No reference is made to the missile attacks. (24 Mar., pp. 1,
4) The Guardian, on the other hand, reports that Clinton Administration
officials were asked in hearings why they had failed to
take more aggressive action against al-Qaida in the wake of
the 1998 bombings of US Embassies in Africa without
referring to the fact that these bombings led to the failure
of the Saudi initiative. (24 Mar., p. 11) Neither the FT (p.
8) nor the Telegraph (p. 1) made the connection.
Madeline Albright told the panel, referring to the 1998 missile
attacks, We didnt launch cruise missiles to serve
legal papers. We did everything we could. (Times, 24 Mar.,
p. 13) An oblique admission of the illegality of the attacks,
and a failure to admit (to recognise?) that the Clinton Administration
had done everything they could to sink the deal
that secured the expulsion of bin Laden.
EMBOLDENED OR EMBITTERED?
Mr Straw lies when he says, What you can say is that the
evidence was very, very clear that the al-Qaeda
organisation, and Osama bin Laden in particular, was becoming
increasingly emboldened by the lack of reaction... by
the international community, following the previous pretty
astonishing attacks. (Telegraph, 20 Mar., p. 11)
On the contrary, the evidence is very, very clear that
al-Qaeda, its Afghan hosts, and its supporters became
increasingly embittered by the lack of justice offered
to the worlds Muslims by the international community,
and by the series of pretty astonishing attacks on Muslims
by the US, and by Israel supported by the US.
The evidence is very, very clear, to be specific, that
the illegal cruise missile attacks of 20 Aug. 1998 not only
killed tens of thousands of people; they increased support for
bin Ladens network.
Far from turning the other cheek the US and
UK were committed, and remain committed, to smashing the cheek
of the other and to lying about it. The costs have
been borne by the innocent. Earlier [military] action
could not, and did not help to prevent 11 September. The earlier
aggression in 1998 (with a far greater death toll) only helped
to pave the way for 11 September.
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