Financial War Against Terrorism Off to a Slow Start
The Record (NJ), October 26, 2001 Knight-Ridder/Tribune Media Services, October 11, 2001
Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel, October 12, 2001
"Every nation has a choice to make," said President Bush as he announced the beginning of the bombing raids on Afghanistan. "In this conflict, there is no neutral ground."
Maybe so. But when it comes to the financial front of the War Against Terrorism, a good deal of foot-dragging is permissible, if you know the right people.
It seems that Saudi Arabia, home to the Bin Ladens' multi-billion dollar family fortune, has yet to freeze the financial assets of organizations and individuals linked to the terrorists.
These financial measures are going to be far more important and effective in fighting terrorism than anything that falls out of a B-1 bomber. According to US intelligence sources, Bin Laden has supplied the Taliban with more than $100 million dollars a year since 1996. This is a major source of income for the government, and probably buys him a lot of protection, too.
Even more urgently, if we take those videotaped threats from the finger-wagging fanatic and his friends seriously—and most people do—denying them access to accumulated funds ought to be priority number one.
It is true that the atrocity of September 11 was a low-tech operation, using box-cutters and suicidal determination to turn fuel-filled airliners into weapons of mass destruction. But it still cost at least $500,000, and the most horrific feared attacks of the future—involving chemical or biological weapons—may require even more tapping of Bin Laden and Associates' assets in various parts of the world.
Yet our government does not seem to be twisting any arms for co-operation from the Saudis. This ought to worry anyone who thinks that the safety of American citizens from terrorist attacks should be our first concern.
The problem is that the Bush administration has other priorities, based on more traditional foreign policy concerns: greed and power.
US oil companies earn billions of dollars annually from marketing and refining Middle Eastern oil. And US power in the Middle East, which guarantees the security of the Gulf dictatorships, gives Washington leverage over everyone else—including Europe and Japan. Policing the world also gives our leaders many privileges. For example, the US Treasury Department gets to call the shots at the IMF, World Bank, and other supposedly multilateral institutions. This gives them a major say in running the economies of dozens of low and middle-income countries.
During World War II, American generals sometimes found themselves at odds with their British allies over strategy, since one of Britain's goals was to preserve the British Empire. This led to differences over how best to defeat the Nazis.
Now it is America that has the global empire, with Britain a very subservient junior partner. So if we are going to fight terrorism, it will be up to the American people to make sure that we don't put our lives at risk for the ambitions of our leaders.
At this point, our best bet would be to work through the United Nations. This would help keep our government's eyes on the prize: preventing future terrorist attacks and bringing guilty parties to justice. The current military campaign is unlikely to accomplish either of these goals.
More likely, it will cause the death of hundreds of thousands and perhaps even millions of innocents in Afghanistan. The air drops of food are just for show, as even the Bush Administration has acknowledged. At most they will reach only a tiny fraction of the millions of people whom the war has cut off from food deliveries. Women, children, old people—that is who will die as a result of American military actions.
In a TIME/CNN poll taken just two days after September 11, in spite of their profound anger and shock, 46 percent of Americans opposed "massive bombings that might kill civilians." It is safe to assume that many more would oppose any military strategy that causes millions of people to die from starvation or exposure.
But the media has avoided this reality, with the airwaves carrying mostly government propaganda since the bombing began. Polls showing overwhelming support for the bombing are therefore meaningless: right now the public is like a jury that has heard only the prosecutor.
Rather than starving the people of Afghanistan, let's try starving the terrorists of their funds. Even if it means offending the royal family of Saudi Arabia.
Mark Weisbrot is co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research, in Washington, D.C. and president of Just Foreign Policy. He is also the author of the forthcoming book Failed: What the "Experts" Got Wrong About the Global Economy (Oxford University Press, 2015).