Two years after the September 11 attacks on the United States he is alleged to have masterminded, Osama bin Laden, the world’s most wanted man, is apparently still alive—and from all appearances, reasonably well.

Bin Laden has appeared in another video-tape, most probably authentic, which shows him with another leader of Al Qaeda, Aymanal Zawahiri, unhurriedly walking down mountain trails—probably in an area along the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Though presumably not in circumstances as comfortable as those of their adversaries in Washington, the two men seemed fit enough—and still in control of the Al Qaeda network—for Zawahiri to urge Iraqis to “bury (US occupation troops) in the Iraqi graveyard,” and for bin Laden to celebrate the deed of the 19 men who hijacked the airliners on September 11, 2001 that slammed into New York’s World Trade Center and the Pentagon in Washington, DC.

Bin Laden and company, for those who have forgotten, were supposed to be the targets of the US “war on terror” George W. Bush launched in 2001. It was a war that was supposed to avenge the nearly 3,000 people of various nationalities (including an estimated 18 Filipinos) who died at the World Trade Center, destroy the global terrorist networks, and as a result make America and the rest of the world safe.

But Bin Laden and most of the other leaders of Al Qaeda survived everything the United States military could throw at them and their putative Taliban patrons, and have lived to terrorize another day. Their cohorts all over the world, including those in Southeast Asia, also managed to bomb Bali and the Philippine ambassador to Indonesia, and to plot foiled but chillingly elaborate attacks against Western interests in Singapore.

If the terrorists aren’t doing so badly, it’s the world that’s not at all well. With the memory of the Bali bombings, the escape of convicted bomb-maker Fathur Al Ghozi, and Abu Sayyaf depredations still fresh in their minds, in Southeast Asia governments are still on alert, and entire populations wary of when and where the next bomb will come. Half a world away in the Middle East the deadly Israeli- Palestinian conflict continues to rage via suicide bombings, Israeli raids and air assaults against Palestinian communities, and other forms of unremitting violence.

While Al Qaeda remains intact, and apparently still capable of launching the bombings and other terrorist acts to which it is committed, two countries now lie in ruins, adding to the sum total of world misery their populations’ own. Their names are Afghanistan and Iraq.

In pursuit of bin Laden the United States attacked Afghanistan in October 2001. Within the year the US had removed from power the fundamentalist Taliban, which it claimed was harboring bin Laden and other leaders of Al Qaeda.

The United States has since installed an acquiescent government in Afghanistan, but has had to keep a sizeable military presence there to prevent a Taliban resurgence. Both US and other foreign troops have been under fire from Taliban guerillas, and have taken hundreds of casualties. They have inflicted casualties in turn, and almost everyday there are reports of guerillas killed and captured. But the government of President Hamid Karzai has control only of the capital, Kabul, as the warlords that helped the US drive the Taliban out flourish in the outskirts and throughout much of the country.

Although it promised to rebuild Afghanistan after its bombs had practically flattened it, the United States forgot to include even a red cent for Afghanistan in its aid budget for 2003. This neglect caused Karzai last summer to fly to Washington post-haste to beg for money from his patrons. Unfortunately, no money—at least not in the billions needed to rebuild Afghanistan—has been forthcoming, and Karzai must await the inevitable lot of US clients: that of being overthrown by the warlords breathing down Kabul’s neck, and, like his predecessors, quite possibly being hung from the nearest lamppost.

If Afghanistan has any future at all, it doesn’t at all look bright, with even the pre-war US promise of liberating women from the strictures of Islamic fundamentalism being at best spottily met. Some schools have accepted women, it’s true, and some women have resumed working as in pre-Taliban days. But that’s in Kabul, mostly. As for the rest of the country under warlord rule, it’s still as it was during Taliban days for women, who can’t work or go to school, and must be completely covered in public.

If nothing much has changed despite the cost in lives lost during the bombings and whatever remained of the country’s infrastructure leveled by US bombs, what then was the point, especially since the purported targets, Osama bin Laden and Al Qaeda’s other leaders, are still free to go where they please and when they please?

One can ask the same question about Iraq. Though damaged by 12 years of US-instigated United Nations sanctions, Iraq nevertheless had a functioning society, and Baghdad was the epitome of the modern Middle Eastern city. Today the country is in ruins, with the most basic services and utilities—medical care, schools, water and electricity, not to mention law and order—either working only sporadically or not at all.

Having won an easy victory due to its overwhelming military might—and unscrupulous use of such weapons of mass destruction as cluster bombs, tomahawk missiles and uranium-tipped ammunition—the United States has found the occupation of Iraq a far more difficult task than taking Baghdad and Iraq’s major cities.

US forces are taking casualties, which now number more than those who died during the March-May campaign, and what’s more are stretched thin across hostile territory. The promised rebuilding of Iraq into a glorious display case of US- style democracy has not even begun, among other reasons being the high cost of US occupation.

George W. Bush—the President of the US whom many people worldwide except Filipinos regard as a silly, dangerous man—has asked the US Congress for an additional $87 billion for Iraq, while Americans by the millions are losing their jobs and his diplomats frantically implore the world’s capitals and the UN for support by way of troops, materiel and funds.

Why Bush is frantic is easily understandable. There is widening talk among US and other analysts of a reprise of the Vietnamese quagmire, which by 1975 had tied down 500,000 US troops in a futile and vicious colonial war that cost it 58,000 casualties by the time it was over.

In both countries the obvious way out for the US is out. But despite the lessons it’s re-learning about underestimating the capacity of people to resist invasion and occupation, and its high cost in lives and treasure, the US insists that it’s in both countries for the long haul, because, Bush says, they’re committed to the making of democratic societies in Afghanistan and Iraq.

What Bush and his band—and that includes their cronies in Halliburton and Bechtel companies, which among other Bush-friendly corporations have cornered the reconstruction contracts in Iraq—are actually committed to are the material rewards of conquest for themselves, even if it be at the cost of the safety, welfare and even lives of the American people including those of their sons and daughters in combat.

If the costs are high, the rewards are far greater, and easily run into trillions of dollars. The rewards include, in Afghanistan, control by Bush’s oil company cronies of oil and gas sources in Central Asia and the Caspian sea, via pipelines it can now build in Afghanistan—which the Taliban had resisted—and Pakistan.

In Iraq the rewards have been even bigger. Bush and gang now have control over the second biggest oil reserves in the world, an ocean of natural gas under Iraqi sands, and still untapped Iraqi oil resources. This control assures the US military machine and the insatiable US consumer a lifetime of cheap gasoline—which will of course be extracted, processed and sold at the pumps by US oil companies.

Beyond these rewards are the ideological imperatives that drive the neo-conservatives that have seized control of the US government: that of using the opportunity made possible by the demise of the Soviet bloc in 1990 to achieve total US world domination for an open-ended period, which they hope will be forever.

The material interests of Bush, Cheney and others, and the drive for the consolidation and expansion of an empire such as the world has never seen in breadth and power, explain why the capture and/or neutralization of bin Laden and his fellows, for all the havoc they have wrought and have promised to wreak—while a US priority, and while providing the motive power for Bush’s “anti-terrorism” policy—took a backseat in 2001 to the conquest of Afghanistan, and in 2003, to the invasion of Iraq.

What September 11, 2001 was about was terrorism. Bush since then has turned it into an excuse for US world dominance.

(Today/, Spetember 13, 2003)

Prof. Luis V. Teodoro is a former dean of the University of the Philippines College of Mass Communication, where he used to teach journalism. He writes political commentary for BusinessWorld.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *