You simply have to feel sorry for the poor soul who penned the term “Operation Infinite Justice,” which was supposed to be the name of whatever the US is going to do sooner or later, in Afghanistan, or elsewhere, or both. Perhaps it was found by an intern at the Pentagon (surely an English major, but with no theological or philosophical background) who happily presented the result of a no doubt harrowing brainstorming session to his superiors, who in turn were so amazed by this notion é so much grander than a mere Desert Storm é that they completely overlooked the infinite arrogance of the term, and the infinite impossibility of its achievement. In effect, by tentatively naming its new war effort “Operation Infinite Justice,” the US government seemed to be saying “we are God.” Thankfully, no sooner had the term been announced than some well-intentioned reporter apparently pointed out to Secretary Donald Rumsfeld the obvious connotations of “infinite justice.”
Moving quickly, someone at the Pentagon eventually came up with the definite name, “Operation Enduring Freedom,” which is not as bold as infinite justice, but whose ambitious objectives would still be hard to achieve if taken at face value. Operation Enduring Freedom will of course try to deal (somehow) with the perpetrators of the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11. In his address to Congress Sept. 20, President George W. Bush said: “Whether we bring our enemies to justice or bring justice to our enemies, justice will be done.” I presume that by “bringing justice to our enemies,” Bush does not really mean he will transport a whole courtroom, complete with judge and jury, to put the suspects on trial in whatever wild area of Central Asia his troops land. By now we know that the justice Bush was referring to is related to enduring freedom. We thus suppose that justice could be done precisely by achieving enduring freedom é but freedom for whom, and, more importantly, freedom from what? It would be fairly safe to assume that there will at least be an endeavor to bring enduring freedom to America from terrorism.
How this will be done remains unclear at this stage. May we further assume that by embarking on Operation Enduring Freedom, American soldiers are in fact becoming freedom fighters? More specifically, are we about to witness a clash between freedom fighters and terrorists? This becomes interesting. Until now, the fight between the two had been one of semantics, a war of definitions, with one people’s freedom fighter being another’s terrorist. But today, after the United States has defined its new war, would people struggling for their enduring freedom (say from occupation) be recognized as freedom fighters against terrorists denying them this freedom? If only it were that simple.
So far, it appears that Operation Enduring Freedom, in spite of its name that seems to encase the whole world, is nothing more than an operation to rid America of those it considers terrorists. Not that this is wrong by itself, of course é it is at the very least one of the prerogatives of being a superpower, especially one which has just been viciously attacked. However, the problem with being a superpower is that you at least have to pretend to be fighting for the good of the whole world when you say you will, especially when you have framed your effort within a “global coalition.” As naive as this sounds, it would mean that the United States and its allies will really fight all terror, and literally bring freedom to all.
Unfortunately, our current superpower has some allies which not only might have objections to bestowing enduring freedom to their own victims, but which carry out terror themselves while pretending to be its casualty. Foremost amongst these allies is Israel. Although it will not directly take part in this operation (if it did, it would logically have to withdraw at once from the West Bank, Gaza, East Jerusalem, the Shebaa Farms and the Golan Heights), it is America’s ally par excellence. If the US government’s aim is to achieve enduring freedom, then surely it will begin by liberating the only people in the world who have been stateless for 53 years, prisoners in their own land or refugees all over the planet. According to the new US definitions, these people (Palestinians) would be the freedom fighters, their occupiers (Israelis) being the terrorists. How is America going to handle this one? As always, Israel is trying to have its cake and eat it too, but this time many in the media are catching on and talking about it. First, Israel tried to convince world opinion that it had always been the victim of the type of terrorism seen on Sept. 11. Unfortunately for Israel, this means making a correlation between those attacks and the Palestinian “problem,” or what the United Nations considers the illegal Israeli occupation of Palestinian land. Consequently, if the terror is related in any way to the occupation of Palestine, then getting rid of that terror (in order to achieve enduring freedom) would imply first solving the problem of occupation. Simplistic logic, but debatable feasibility: remove the cause, solve the problem. So Israel is now trying to shift attention away from the issue of the Occupied Territories by pointing to another, more sensational target: “Islamic terrorism.” On top of having little incentive to give Palestinians their freedom (whatever the name of the operation), the advantages of having such a vague public enemy are certainly not lost on the US government.
With a Muslim population sprawling from the Middle East to the Far East, passing by Central Asia and reaching the Caucasus, many US interests could be served by having an established presence in those areas, all in the name of achieving enduring freedom of course. The United States (via the CIA, which has either shown incredible lack of foresight or extreme brilliance) has created many monsters (or excuses for intervention on the world scene) who were once allies (overt or covert) when supporting them suited American interests. Saddam Hussein, with his once massive power, was an American invention, armed to the teeth by the US when he was fighting Iran (to which the US also sold arms to finance the Contras in Nicaragua).
The Taleban was also a CIA creation, of course, a by-product of the Mujaheddin resistance to the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan. Whether it is fighting communism or “Islamic fundamentalism,” there is always a convenient reason for the United States to be in certain (oil-rich) areas of the world. The US has a right to see that justice be done after Sept. 11. Alas, this justice promises to be purely tailored to American interests, and not to the supposedly noble aims of the global coalition’s “Operation Enduring Freedom.”
* Rime Allaf wrote this commentary in Damascus for The Daily Star