Critics: Military focus, perceived arrogance ignore problem’s
MEDGHIL AL-JEDAAN, Yemen – A U.S. convoy cut past wild camels and
ancient stone cities recently to a rocky plateau west of Osama bin
Laden’s ancestral home.
U.S. Ambassador Edmund Hull got out in a crowd of pro-al-Qaeda
tribesmen, proud in their turbans, cheeks puffed with sour wads of
qat, armed with traditional curved daggers and Kalashnikov assault
“Welcome,” Sheik Bin Rabeesh Kelaan told Hull. The two cemented a
ceremonial brick in a wall of what is to be a U.S.-funded health
clinic Rabeesh’s people desperately need.
It was one brick in a wider wall against terrorism that – a year
after the Sept. 11 attacks – is far from solid.
Resistance to the U.S.-led campaign to eradicate terrorism is
growing across much of the world. America’s emphasis on military
and police tactics rather than addressing the roots of terrorism
often causes as much concern abroad as terrorism itself.
Here in Yemen, young men cry, “Osama bin Laden a good man!” In
the capital, Sana’a, a recent explosion ripped open an apartment
where Islamists had hidden bombs like those used to attack the USS
Cole warship two years ago as it refueled in a Yemeni port. Yemen’s
government, though officially a partner against terrorism,
restricts U.S. special forces.
Nearly a year ago, Bush declared “you’re either with us or against
us.” He announced a 136-country military coalition to fight “a
new enemy.” Nations teamed up to topple an Afghan regime that
tolerated anti-American training camps and hosted Osama bin Laden.
Now, with Bush invoking terrorism to push military action in Iraq
and elsewhere, official government support is strained. People from
Arabia to London who initially rallied with America are becoming
doubtful and sometimes openly hostile to the U.S.-led campaign.
A Denver Post assessment based on dozens of interviews and visits
in five countries found that:
Treating the campaign as a “war,” with military deployments and
open threats, fosters resentment that feeds support for
Bin Laden and al-Qaeda fighters have ready support in areas beyond
Backlash against broader U.S. policies – toward Israel and the
Palestinians, Iraq, and on global issues from the environment to
criminal justice – erodes support for U.S.-led efforts against
Key allied governments call on America to focus more on root causes
of terrorism and consult more about tactics.
“We are acting in solidarity with the United States, but we really
do not mean war,” Karsten Voigt, Germany’s coordinator of
relations with America, said in a telephone interview from his
office in Berlin.
An ex-parliament member targeted by European terrorists in the
1970s, Voigt said Americans must deal with a perception “that the
campaign against international terrorism is only pretext, that what
you are really interested in is access to oil and gas pipelines.”
One of Bush’s strongest overseas allies on Afghanistan, British
Prime Minister Tony Blair, has said something must be done about
Iraq’s Saddam Hussein – but just what is “an open question,” he
said. Any military action, he said last week, would require “the
broadest international support.”
Bush in recent days also has lobbied the leaders of Russia, China
and France to support U.S. pressure to oust Hussein.
Beyond Blair, there is little sign of support for a war on Iraq.
And allies worry about U.S. tactics on foreign policy in general.
European leaders are increasingly concerned that U.S. policymakers
approach all the world’s complex and interconnected challenges
through “the exclusive prism of the war on terrorism,” French
Ambassador Bujon de l’Estang said from Washington, D.C.
“The response to terrorism cannot be only a military response,”
de l’Estang said. “That’s the basic issue. There are a number of
causes of terrorism, roots of terrorism that we need to address. If
you want to win people’s hearts – not only to be feared – you
certainly need to address these roots.”
America’s efforts also raise questions in Africa. Millions of
jobless Africans struggling to survive watch America ramping up “a
war economy,” said Ambassador Molelekeng Rapolaki of Lesotho, a
south African nation.
Some who grow bitter could be prey for terrorist recruiters, she
said. “A poor person can become so desperate that he can be
vulnerable,” Rapolaki said.
Even in Turkey, a NATO member straddling Islam and modern Western
ways, public opinion is shifting quickly.
The government favors “international cooperation against
terrorism, and in that regard supports the United States,” said
Turkish Foreign Ministry spokesman Huseyin Dirioz. U.S. warplanes
use Turkish bases for patrols over Iraq’s no-fly zones.
Turkey is strongly opposed to a U.S.-led war on Iraq, but the NATO
member has long been an ally with the United States.
Yet when Turks saw television images of U.S. bombs exploding in
Afghanistan, popular support for the campaign against terrorism
plummeted. Relying on force to stop terrorism “will only make more
enemies,” said Murat Sabuncu, 33, an editor at Milliyet, one of
Turkey’s largest newspapers. “When Muslims see (military action),
they think it is a ‘crusade.’ Uneducated people especially think it
is a ‘crusade.”‘
Some Turkish university students now link the war against terrorism
with U.S. foreign policy toward Palestinians, Iraqis and economic
growth at all costs.
“America is using the attack on Sept. 11 as a reason to attack, to
push its policies around the entire world,” said biomedical
engineering researcher Koray Ciftci, 28, sitting in a Bosphorus
In Istanbul’s working-class Fathi neighborhood, political
campaigner Turker Saltabas, 44, a district director for the
“Saadet” Happiness Party that tries to restore Islamic
traditions, said America could be a model for Muslims who desire
greater religious freedom.
“But now America only gives freedom to its own people” while
supporting repressive governments for Muslims, Saltabas said.
“Before, the United States was for human rights. After Sept. 11,
it changed. Now it is for security first, freedom second,”
Saltabas said. “Why did this change? I think the American nation
is going to end, and the U.S. president and government see that. So
they are trying to do whatever they can to keep it on top.”
So how much global goodwill does America need to be safer?
Some diplomats and scholars contend that lining up official
government support for counter-terrorism – as opposed to rallying
popular support – is sufficient. But governments such as Yemen’s
can’t always control all their people. In a wired world where a few
men hidden in apartments can cause great harm, others contend
grassroots support and cooperation will be crucial.
Today, U.S. programs aimed at building understanding and goodwill
lag. Funding for exchanges that bring influential foreign
professionals to America decreased by 33 percent from $349 million
in 1993 to $232 million last year. While Bush has called for some
increases in aid, his emphasis in words and dollars has been on the
Meanwhile, a U.S. Council on Foreign Relations study found that 85
percent of Germans, 80 percent of French and 73 percent of Britons
believe the United States is acting in its own interests in the
fight against terrorism. It found that more than two-thirds of
Turks, and higher percentages in Arab countries, opposed U.S.
bombing of Afghanistan as morally wrong.
If bin Laden or al-Qaeda fighters walk into the outskirts of Sana’a
seeking help, Yemenis say, they would be as likely to be welcomed
Al-Qaeda “is for Islam,” said qat farmer Mohammad Rabiama, 19,
chewing a cheekful of the mildly narcotic green leaf with his
brother, Yahya, 20. Al-Qaeda fighters “are the good guys,”
Mohammad said, “because they support Muslim people.”
A month or so after the Sept. 11 attacks, said dagger-maker Ali
Odary, 28, terrorist recruiters approached him outside a mosque.
They offered money. He shares their views – that “the United
States wants to colonize the whole world.”
Only his religious belief against killing, and his devotion to his
family’s dagger business, made him resist, he said: “I want to be
rich, but I want to be rich in my own way.”
It’s not just in Arab countries that al-Qaeda forces draw support.
In graffiti-splotched immigrant apartment blocs north of Paris,
men’s “hearts are with Osama bin Laden, against Bush,” said
Abdallah Selman, 30, a preacher struggling to moderate extremists
at his mosque. “Put yourself in their place. They are a minority
in France. They see injustice. They experience racism. They are
rejected in French society.”
They find their identity in a fundamental Islam that blames
infidels for their woes.
What most worries people in France – not only Muslims – is the
sense conveyed by Bush in the fight against terrorism “that ‘I
decide who is good and who is bad,”‘ said Syria-born Farouk Mardam
Bey, 55, a scholar at the Arab World Institute in Paris. America’s
approach, demonizing perceived enemies while disregarding global
treaties on the environment and other matters, only encourages more
terrorism, Bey said.
Back in Yemen, the Aug. 9 explosion that rocked a three-story
apartment building raised U.S. concerns of a possible escalation of
violence. The blast killed two men, both identified by authorities
as bomb-makers plotting attacks against U.S. interests. Jamal
Al-Badani, 27, who lives nearby and rushed to the scene, said he
counted 16 wooden boxes of explosives among other weapons before
police hauled them away.
It was only the latest reminder of resistance. A man lobbed a
grenade over the U.S. Embassy wall in March, and a bomb exploded
near the embassy in April. Yemen’s president, Ali Abdullah Saleh,
had visited Washington in November and agreed to crack down on
pro-al-Qaeda elements. He reversed his previous refusal to accept a
rotating contingent of about 100 U.S. special forces soldiers to
mobilize a Yemeni counter-terrorism force.
But the situation is far from solid. Some security officials in
Yemen are former jihad fighters who returned from Afghanistan in
the mid-1990s and were rewarded with government positions. Yemen’s
coastline is still unpatrolled, and airport security lets
Pakistanis, Iraqis and Saudi Arabians come and go freely.
Ambassador Hull and others seek other ways to undermine terrorist
recruiting, training and plotting here.
Three days after the explosion, Hull set out through the searing
heat to open what he called “another front.”
His convoy wound through mountains and dry river beds into one of
three northern provinces where al-Qaeda forces recently have
clashed with soldiers.
Hull, through intermediaries, had proposed funding a health clinic
By diverting $80,000 from other projects, he could help
tribespeople address medical needs that Sheik Bin Rabeesh Kelaan
considered dire. Since 1990, tribesmen in the area, where average
annual income is less than $380, have kidnapped more than 100
tourists in an effort to get government money and draw attention to
“After the building is finished, it must have equipment inside”
and trained doctors, Rabeesh demanded upon Hull’s arrival at this
Hull nodded, then announced in fluent Arabic: “God willing, we’ll
try to do the best we can do.”
The two cemented the ceremonial brick. Then Rabeesh and tribesmen
in a Toyota topped with a mounted machine gun escorted Hull down a
backroad to a mud-walled compound resembling the Alamo.
Inside they sat, shoeless, on blue cushions and talked quietly
about everything from guns to U.S. support for Israel.
Even as Hull and Rabeesh conferred, 40-year-old tribesman Saleh
Ahmed, sitting across from them, confided that the only solution to
terrorism he sees is for Osama bin Laden to rule the world.
But guns were set down. A goat feast followed.
Hull’s commitment “shows how American authorities are willing to
help the Yemeni people in the future,” Rabeesh said.
Winning over these tribesmen “would be a major victory,” Hull
said. “It will make it very difficult for al-Qaeda and like groups
to find refuge, to have breathing space, which they use to
organize, to train, to plot. What we did today may not be as
dramatic as some of the military operations. But I think it is just
Other sheiks who control Yemen’s countryside are seeking American
Sheik Abdul Karim Bin Ali Murshed, 38, formed a group of tribal
leaders that U.S. officials have dubbed “sheiks against terror.”
They include 60 of about 200 sheiks in the three provinces where
al-Qaeda is active, Murshed said, “who find it very difficult to
convince their people to give up weapons and fighting.”
Young jobless tribesmen with nothing in the world but their machine
guns “are the ones most easily recruited,” Murshed said. Clinics,
schools and exchange visits to America would give hope.
That may seem like extortion, but some officials in Washington see
a strategic rationale.
America must step in with development assistance, Murshed said,
because pro-terrorist forces “are waiting for the chance to say,
‘Look, this project is no good.’ They are willing to spend their
own money to undermine the efforts.”
If America only sends soldiers and police, he said, “people will
say you are selfish and people will become enemies.