Cleaning House

The reasons we're resented aren't as simple as President Bush would have you believe

Probably the most heartrending situation has been in Iraq, which Ramsey has been monitoring ever since the Persian Gulf War. Although the best estimates of Iraqi deaths during the war itself ranged from 70,000-100,000 (both soldiers and civilians), a far greater number of civilians have died in the decade since, as a result of both the effects of the war and the U.S.-championed sanctions that are still in place. "What we're talking about here is not simply a collateral effect of the sanctions or an unintended effect of the sanctions," says Ramsey, but, rather, the intended effects. And although the sanctions were imposed by the Security Council of the United Nations, Ramsey is quick to note that all the other members, with the exception of Britain and the U.S., have been ready to lift them incrementally.

"We're not dealing with somebody flying a jet into a building in Iraq, but we are dealing with a policy that was deliberately designed to affect the civilian population of Iraq," he says. "What we're dealing with here is 500,000-600,000 children alone that have died over the last 11 years as a result of not having clean water, adequate food and adequate medical attention. So if you work out this calculus, which I hate to do, what you're talking about is, the Iraqi people have had a catastrophe of the same magnitude [as the events of Sept. 11] in terms of human life, every month, since 1991 and that most of the victims in that catastrophe have been children. Basically, 5,000-6,000 people a month have died as a result of the sanctions. And the rest of the world, the Muslim world, is very aware of it."

But not the American public. Unlike the saturation coverage of Sept. 11, the grief of Baghdad hasn't shown up on our television screens. Nor has the fact that some American corporations have violated the sanctions on Iraq, including Halliburton Co., an oil-field-supply corporation, when two of its subsidiaries signed contracts to sell more than $73 million in oil equipment and spare parts to Iraq. The head of Halliburton, until last year, was none other than Vice President Dick Cheney, who prosecuted the Gulf War as secretary of defense. Asked about the situation last fall, Cheney said he wasn't aware of the contracts.

Bill Ramsey: "There are very clear, explicit reasons why people in the Middle East resent us."
Jennifer Silverberg
Bill Ramsey: "There are very clear, explicit reasons why people in the Middle East resent us."

Among the "explicit reasons" America is resented in the Muslim world, Ramsey lists "the occupation of Palestinian lands by Israel with U.S. support, the sanctions and bombings on Iraq which continue, the positioning of troops in Saudi Arabia and other Arab countries and -- this is an irony the president doesn't want to talk about -- our support of repressive Arab regimes, because we keep saying, 'Israel is the only democracy in the region.' Well, the subtext is 'Thank God!' because we could not deal with a real democratic Arab world. It's much easier for us to deal with kings and princes and royal families than it is to deal with the Arab street.

"So if we can come out of this crisis with the understanding that those four things, that we have to make adjustments there, not in response to terrorism but in response to the need for justice and cooperation and good relationships, that will do more to protect us against another act of terror. A clean house is our best protection against terrorism."

Recent published stories from around the Muslim world corroborate Ramsey's analysis. In a lengthy Sept. 27 report from a dozen Muslim nations, the Christian Science Monitor said: "From one end of the region to the other, the perception is that Israel can get away with murder -- literally -- and that Washington will turn a blind eye." The same report quoted a Palestinian member of Hamas, a radical group sending suicide bombers into Israel, saying: "Even small children know that Israel is nothing without America. And here America means F-16, M-16, Apache helicopters, the tools Israelis use to kill us and destroy our homes." In an Oct. 2 story in the New York Times, a Kuwaiti political scientist said "The story [here] is not bin Laden, the story is the injustice to the Palestinian people." In a Sept. 23 emergency meeting, reported the Times, "the six members of the Gulf Cooperation Council -- Saudi Arabia and its five small neighbors, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Oman and Qatar -- coupled their support for the coalition against terrorism with condemnation of what they called terror acts by Israel." As America's closest ally, Israel receives more than $3 billion in aid from the U.S., the largest amount of such aid given to any nation.

John Esposito, head of the Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding at Georgetown University and the author of several books on Islam, told a reporter: "Since the Cold War ended, America has talked about promoting democracy. But we don't do anything about it in repressive regimes in the Middle East, so you can understand widespread anti-Americanism there."

Not only do we not do anything about the repressive Arab regimes, we have established permanent U.S. military bases there -- more than 5,000 troops each in Kuwait and in Saudi Arabia, in which Mecca and Medina, the two holiest sites of Islam, are located -- after repeatedly saying during the Gulf War that the American presence would be temporary. Again, among Muslims worldwide, this has been akin to a colonial power's establishing a beachhead.

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