What if in the weeks following the bombing of the federal courthouse in Oklahoma City, the FBI had launched dozens of cruise missiles at the Michigan town where Timothy McVeigh had built his bomb? What if it had done so even when evidence was still meager, when accounts were still contradictory? What if it did so without looking for less dramatic ways of serving justice? What if the missiles just killed and enraged more innocents?
Earlier today the United States attacked two nations accused of harboring the terrorist team responsible for the recent bombings in East Africa. Telling the world that “our target was terror,” U.S. naval ships fired seventy-five to one hundred cruise missiles into a busy urban neighborhood of the Sudanese capital of Khartoum, a city of 2.3 million people, and at a lightly-populated target in Afghanistan.
It is a solid principle of both international diplomacy and nonviolent action that the more peaceful options are exhausted first. No significant diplomatic efforts have been made with the Taliban government in Afghanistan to extradite reputed ringleader Osama bin Laden. No United Nations resolutions have been passed for inspection of the reputed chemical weapons factory in Sudan (local officials say it’s a factory for medical drugs).
If the chemical plant had been in a European capital, it is all but certain that the U.S. would not have fired dozens of cruise missiles with scant evidence and no preliminary diplomatic effort. But Khartoum is the capital of a militarily weak African nation. While Clinton claims to be saddened at all the African lives lost in the bombing at the embassy in Kenya, yet he has little regard for the lives of Africans in the neighboring Sudan.
Justice takes time. It needs the careful weighing of evidence by neutral parties. It took over a year for investigators to collect the evidence surrounding the Oklahoma City bombing and for Timothy McVeigh to be convicted of the crime. But while justice might take time, politics requires immediacy, drama. Clinton is a politician and he knows that tough military adventures against pip-squeak countries is the fastest way to rally bipartisan domestic support in times of trouble. Conservative politicians have stopped the ever-louder calls for his impeachment over the sex and perjury scandal to rally behind him and mutter the familiar imperialistic clichés about politics stopping at the water’s edge. But it is time to stop playing politics with Third World lives.
“Our target was terror” said President Clinton, but so was his solution. The only way America knows to respond to two bombs is to set off seventy-five bombs. The only way it know to avenge the death of hundreds of innocent Africans is by threatening the lives of hundreds of other Africans. Terrorist bombing by any other delivery method is just as deadly and it is just as disruptive to international world order.
As citizens, Americans have grown too complacent about these missile launches against unarmed cities. These attacks have become too familiar a part of U.S. policy. Too few questions are asked, either immediately following the bombing or in the years afterward. Terrorist missiles are not effective means of apprehending criminals or serving justice. Early reports from Afghanistan are that bin Laden is safe and continuing to plan further attacks against Americans. In the last decade, missile attacks have been used against Libya, Lebanon and Iraq but in no case have they damaged the enemy and have in fact only strengthened the anger and the resolve of their supporters.
As before, the missiles were launched by computer from ships hundreds of miles away. We never see the smoke and the fire, we never smell the blood, we never see the terror in the eyes of the children. Children whose nightmares will now featured screaming missiles from unseen terrorists known only as Americans. Children whose dreams will be the taste of revenge.
Osama bin Laden has won. He won by provoking the U.S. to shun it’s ideals of democracy and justice to wallow with him in the mud of organized international terror. Two hundred and fifty million Americans have now joined bin Laden’s crusade to avenge terrorist violence with more terrrorist violence. It is time to stop all terror, it is time to speak out against all violence.