Why They Attack Us

"We`re at war," the young
waitress, her voice catching, informed me when I first
heard of the terrorist attacks on the World Trade
Center and the Pentagon this week. She was hardly the
only one. "America at war," the Washington Times`

lead editorial
pronounced the next day. "It`s
WAR," screamed its editorial cartoon.  A "new kind of
war has been declared on the world`s democracies," the
Wall Street Journal`s editorial pontificated. 
"The War against America" was the subject of the

New York Times
editorial. "A state of war,"

Washington Post
called it. "This is war,"
pronounced columnist

Charles Krauthammer
. "They were acts of war,"
confirmed the

President of the United States.
 Well, it probably
is—except that, even as everyone from waitresses to
the president was declaring war or howling for it,
nobody was exactly sure who we were at war with. The
usual suspect was the shadowy

Osama bin Laden
, though some experts said the
attacks didn`t fit his profile, and even if we were
sure, no one seemed able to say how we should wage the
war, how we could win it, or what would constitute
victory. Mainly, what most Americans wanted to
do—entirely understandably—was to blow the hell out of
somebody or something. No doubt, in time, we will. 

But the blunt truth is that the
United States has been at war for years—at least a
decade, since we launched a war against Iraq in 1991,
even though Iraq had done absolutely nothing to harm the
United States or any American. Our bombing attacks on
Iraq certainly caused civilian casualties, and if they
were not deliberate, nobody beating the war drums at the
time felt much regret for them. For ten years, we have
maintained economic sanctions on Iraq that have led to
the deaths of hundreds of thousands of civilians, and we
have repeatedly bombed it whenever it failed to abide by
standards we imposed on it. 

Under Bill Clinton, we

again launched bombing raids against civilians
against so-called "terrorist training camps" supposedly
under bin Laden`s control in Afghanistan and at the same
time against a purported "chemical weapons factory" in
Sudan that almost certainly was no such thing. The
attacks just happened to occur on the same day as Monica
Lewinsky`s grand jury testimony that she had engaged in
sex with the president. "This is unfortunately the war
of the future," Secretary of State Madeleine Albright
said in justifying the U.S. raids, officially launched
in retaliation for

terrorist attacks on American embassies

Later the same year, Mr. Clinton
ordered (but later countermanded) yet more missile
attacks on Iraq—the day after the Paula Jones sex
scandal was settled in court. Later yet again Mr.
Clinton ordered more bombings in Iraq the day before
Congress was scheduled to vote on his impeachment. Then
there are the Balkans, where the United States has
waddled forth to war for

no compelling reason
, and where it has also
slaughtered civilians with its

unprovoked bombings

In all the buckets of media gabble
about the terrorist attacks in New York and Washington,
not once have I heard any journalist ask any expert the
simple question, "Why did the terrorists attack us?"

There is, of course, an implicit
answer to the unasked question: It`s because the
terrorists are "evil"; they "hate democracy"; they are
"fanatics," "barbarians" and "cowards."  Those, of
course, are answers that can satisfy only children. Some
day it might actually dawn on someone in this country
that the grown-up but unwelcome answer is that the
terrorists attacked us because they were paying us back
for what we started. 

Let us hear no more about how the
"terrorists" have "declared war on America." Any nation
that allows a

criminal chief executive
to use its military power
to slaughter civilians in unprovoked and legally
unauthorized attacks for his own personal political
purposes can expect whatever the "terrorists" dish out
to it. If, as President Bush told us this week, we
should make no distinction between those who harbor
terrorists and those who commit terrorist acts, neither
can any distinction be made between those who
the murderous policies of a criminal in
power and the criminal himself. 

The blunt and quite ugly truth is
that the United States has been

at war
for years—that it started the war in the name
of "spreading democracy," "building nations," "waging
peace," "stopping aggression," "enforcing human rights,"
and all the other pious lies that warmongers always
invoke to mask the truth, and that it continued the war
simply to save a crook from political ruin. What is new
is merely that this week, for the first time, the war we
started came home—and all of a sudden, Americans don`t
seem to care for it so much.


September 16,