A Terrorist Bombing by Any Other Name

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.