Azerbaijan International

Autumn 2002 (10.3)
Pages 26-27

Analysis - War On Terrorism
Failing to Grapple with the Political Dimension
by Zbigniew Brzezinski

Other articles related to Zbigniew Brzezinski published in Azerbaijan International:

(1) Geopolitically Speaking: Interview with Zbigniew Brzezinski - Betty Blair
(2) The Caucasus and New Geo-Political Realities: How the West Can Support the Region - Zbigniew Brzezinski
(3) Geopolitically Speaking: Russia's "Sphere of Influence" - Chechnya and Beyond - Zbigniew Brzezinski
(4) Russia as Empire - Quote by Zbigniew Brzezinski
(5) Freedom is Fragile - Quote by Zbigniew Brzezinski
(6) Honorary Doctorate Bestowed on Brzezinski - Zbigniew Brzezinski

This opinion piece is one of many articles recently published by the U.S. media to mark the first-year anniversary of terrorist attacks on New York's World Trade Center and the Pentagon in Washington, D.C. on September 11, 2001. Dr. Zbigniew Brzezinski's article appeared in the New York Times on September 1, 2002 in a slightly abbreviated form with the title, "Confronting Anti-American Grievances".

Dr. Brzezinski was National Security Advisor to U.S. President Jimmy Carter (1977-1981). In 1981 he was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom for his role in the normalization of U.S.-Chinese relations and for his contributions to the human rights and national security policies of the United States.

He currently serves as Counselor at the Center for Strategic and International Studies and Professor of American Foreign Policy at the School of Advanced International Studies (CSIS) at Johns Hopkins University in Washington, D.C. He is on the Honorary Council of Advisors of the U.S.-Azerbaijan Chamber of Commerce and has visited Azerbaijan on several occasions.

A victory in the war against terrorism can never be registered in a formal act of surrender. Instead, it will only be divined from the gradual waning of terrorist acts. Any further strikes against Americans will thus be a painful reminder that the war has not yet been won. Sadly, a main reason will be America's reluctance to focus on the political roots of the terrorist atrocity of Sept. 11. - Zbigniew Brzezinski

The U.S. war on terrorism is facing the growing risk of being hijacked by several governments, each with its own repressive agenda. If such hijacking should succeed, the U.S. may not ever win that war. For a while, the rhetorical smokescreen of "whoever is not with us is against us" may delay the public's eventual awareness that, instead of leading an effective global coalition against terrorism, the United States could itself become the increasingly isolated target of future acts of terrorism.

The U.S. Administration's definition of the challenge that America confronts has been cast largely in semi-religious and abstract terms. The public is being told over and over again that terrorism is "evil" - which undoubtedly it is - and that "evildoers" are responsible for it - which doubtless they are. But beyond these justifiable condemnations, there is a historical void. It is as if terrorism was suspended in outer space as an abstract phenomenon, with ruthless terrorists acting under some Satanic inspiration unrelated to any other motivation.

U.S. President George W. Bush has correctly eschewed identifying terrorism with Islam as a whole. Indeed, he has been careful to stress that Islam as such is not at fault, though Islamic extremists or fundamentalists may be. However some supporters of the Administration have been less careful about such distinctions. They quickly launched a campaign to the effect that, while no specific political causes are at play, Islamic culture as a whole is so hostile to the West, and especially to democracy, that it has created a fertile soil for terrorist hatred of America.

The Real Culprit

Missing from much of the public debate is discussion of the simple fact that behind every terrorist act is a specific political antecedent. Of course, such an analysis justifies neither the perpetrator nor his political cause. Nonetheless, the fact is that almost all terrorist activity in one way or another has originated from some political conflict and, furthermore, is sustained by it. This is true as well of the IRA in Northern Ireland, the Basques in Spain, the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza, the Muslims in Kashmir and others.

Left: Grief of War by Adalat Mammadov for the Unocal Poster Contest "Azerbaijan Today" 1995

In the case of Sept. 11, it does not require deep analysis to note-given the identity of the perpetrators - that the political history of the Middle East has something to do with the hatred of Middle Eastern terrorists for America. The specifics of the region's political history need not be dissected too precisely because terrorists presumably do not delve deeply into historic texts before embarking on a terrorist career. Rather, it is the emotional context of felt, observed, or historically recounted political grievances that shape the fanatical pathology of terrorists and eventually trigger their inhumane actions.

American involvement in the Middle East is clearly the main impulse of the hatred that has been directed at America - just as, for example, English involvement in Ireland has precipitated the IRA's frequent targeting of London, and even of the Royal Family itself. The British have recognized this simple fact and have tried to respond to it on both military and political levels. In contrast, America has shown a remarkable reluctance to confront the more complex historical dimensions of terrorism. Instead, there has been an inclination to stress abstract clichés, such as that terrorists "hate freedom" or that their religious background makes them despise Western culture.

Yet there is no escaping the fact that modern political history of the Middle East, and thus also Arab political emotions, have been shaped by the region's encounter with French and British colonialism, by the defeat of the Arab effort to prevent the appearance of Israel and by the subsequent American support for Israel and its treatment of the Palestinians, as well as by the direct injection of American power into the region. The last has been perceived by the more fanatical elements in the region as offensive to the sacred religious purity of Saudi Arabian custodianship of Islam's holy places, and as hurtful of the welfare of the Iraqi people. The religious aspect adds fervor to their zeal, but it should be noted that some of the September 11 terrorists lived a notably non-religious lifestyle. Their attack on the World Trade Center had thus a definite political cast to it.

To win the war on terrorism, one must therefore set two goals: first to destroy all terrorists, and second, to begin a political effort that focuses on the conditions that precipitated their emergence. That is precisely what the British are doing in Ulster, the Spaniards in Basque country, and what the Russians are being urged to do in Chechnya. Doing so implies neither propitiation nor concessions to the terrorists, but it is an imperative component of a strategy designed both to eliminate and to isolate the terrorist underworld.

Consider the terrorist threats that the United States faces today and compare them to the dilemmas that America confronted domestically in the 1960s and 1970s. At that time, American society was shaken by violence undertaken by groups like the Ku Klux Klan (often in semi-autonomous klaverns), White Citizens' Councils, the Black Panthers and the Symbionese Liberation Army. Without the civil rights legislation and the concomitant changes in America's social views on race relations, the challenge that these extreme organizations posed might have lasted much longer and become even more menacing.

The rather narrow, almost one-dimensional definition of the terrorist threat favored by the Bush administration poses additionally the special risk that foreign powers will also seize upon the word "terrorism" to promote their own agendas, as President Vladimir Putin of Russia, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon of Israel, Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee of India and President Jiang Zemin of China are doing. For each of them, the disembodied American definition of the terrorist challenge has been both expedient and convenient.

Hijacked War
When speaking to Americans, Putin and Sharon can hardly utter a sentence without the "T" word in it in order to transform America's struggle against terrorism into a joint struggle against their particular Muslim neighbors. Mr. Putin sees an opportunity to deflect Islamic hostility away from Russia despite its own crimes in Chechnya and earlier in Afghanistan.

Mr. Sharon quite obviously would welcome a deterioration in United States relations with Saudi Arabia and, perhaps, even American military action against Iraq while gaining a free hand to repress the Palestinians. Hindu fanatics in India are also quite eager to conflate Islam in general with terrorism in Kashmir. Not to be outdone, the Chinese quickly succeeded in persuading the Bush Administration to list an obscure Uighur Muslim separatist group in Xinjiang province as a terrorist organization with ties to al-Qaeda.

Losing Allies
For America, the potential risk is that its nonpolitically defined war on terrorism may thus be hijacked and diverted to other ends. The consequences would be dangerous. If America comes to be viewed by allies in Europe and Asia as failing to address terrorism in its broader and deeper dimensions - and if it is also seen by them as uncritically embracing intolerant suppression of ethnic or national aspirations - global support for America will drastically decline. America's ability to maintain a broad democratic, anti-terrorist coalition will suffer gravely. The prospects of international support for an eventual political or military confrontation with Iraq will also be drastically diminished.
Such an isolated America is likely to face even more threats from vengeful terrorists who have decided to blame America for any outrages committed by its self-appointed allies. A victory in the war against terrorism can never be registered in a formal act of surrender. Instead, it will only be divined from the gradual waning of terrorist acts. Any further strikes against Americans will thus be a painful reminder that the war has not yet been won. Sadly, a main reason will be America's reluctance to focus on the political roots of the terrorist atrocity of Sept. 11.

Zbigniew Brzezinski (1928-) has authored numerous books including: "Out of Control: Global Turmoil on the Eve of the 21st Century"; "The Grand Failure: The Birth and Death of Communism in the 20th Century" ; "Game Plan: A Geostrategic Framework for the Conduct of the U.S.-Soviet Contest"; "Power and Principle: The Memoirs of the National Security Advisor, 1977-1981"; "The Fragile Blossom: Crisis and Change in Japan"; "Between Two Ages: America's Role in the Technetronic Era"; "The Soviet Bloc: Unity and Conflict"; and "The Grand Chessboard: American Primacy and Its Geostrategic Imperatives" .

Articles by and about Brzezinski that have appeared in AI include: "Geopolitically Speaking: Interview with Zbigniew Brzezinski" by Betty Blair, AI 3.4 (Winter 1995); "The Caucasus and New Geopolitical Realities: How the West Can Support the Region," AI 5.2 (Summer 1997); and "Geopolitically Speaking: Russia's 'Sphere of Influence' - Chechnya and Beyond," AI 8.1 (Spring 2000).

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