A War Against the Poor Or a “New Kind of War”

A War Against the Poor Or a “New Kind of War”
Dr. Lenora Fulani

Last week, while our government was marshalling its resources to bring the fanatic perpetrators of the World Trade Center attack to justice, the New York Post editorial staff took time out to pen another of its diatribes against me. This one stemmed from my having raised questions about whether U.S. foreign policy had in any way contributed to the atmosphere of anti-American hatred that fueled the attackers. The Post singled me out for its usual vitriol, as if I am the only person in America to raise them.

In the days that followed the tragic event, however, others from across the political spectrum began to ask similar questions and offer some answers.

In a special report entitled “The Roots of Resentment – Why so many people hate America,” Business Week asserts, “Beneath the surface of public promises of solidarity with the U.S. in this time of crisis lurks a deep and growing resentment of America and its policies. To be sure, anti-Americanism in most places is hardly the virulent variety exhibited by flag-burning mobs. And more often than not, it’s mixed with admiration and even a desire to live in America. But the sentiment is serious enough that it could pose major challenges…”

Conservative commentator Pat Buchanan, my one-time coalition partner in a left-right alliance for democracy reform and anti-interventionism, weighed in at the Los Angeles Times: “What took place last Tuesday was an atrocity. What is coming may qualify as tragedy. For the mass murder of our citizens has filled this country with a terrible resolve that could lead it to plunge headlong into an all-out war against despised Arab and Islamic regimes that turns into a war of civilizations, with the United States almost alone.”

Author and social critic Susan Sontag wrote in The New Yorker:

“The voices licensed to follow the event seem to have joined together in a campaign to infantilize the public. Where is the acknowledgment that this was not a “cowardly” attack on “civilization” or “liberty” or “humanity” or “the free world” but an attack on the world’s self-proclaimed superpower, undertaken as a consequence of specific American alliances and actions?”

Perhaps most striking to me among the commentaries was an exchange between Meet the Press host Tim Russert and Secretary of State Colin Powell. Russert concluded his interview with Secretary Powell (by all accounts the most progressive of the President’s advisors) by asking him why we are so hated by the Islamic world.

Secretary Powell attempted to answer by counter-example, pointing to the many Arabs and Muslims who have emigrated to the United States to share in our way of life, like so many other nationalities before them, including his own.

But Powell makes an even deeper point than he (perhaps) intended. For while we may be loved by those who have become beneficiaries of American prosperity, we are deeply resented by those who haven’t. “Admiration and envy commingle with resentment and outright hatred,” observes Iran expert Elaine Sciolino in Sunday’s New York Times.

Some Americans are blinded by the pain of the tragedy and the bipartisan war rhetoric coming out of Washington, DC. Many others are concerned that war rhetoric may be functioning as a cover-up for what The Economist called “an extraordinary failure of intelligence gathering.”

Many who have reached out to me are aware that behind all the rhetoric, it is the continued immiseration of so much of the world, the graphic inequality in the distribution of wealth that must somehow be addressed. Counter-terrorist actions can and should be exercised to the fullest extent to catch and punish the murderers and protect against future attacks. But the “new kind of war” we most need is a U.S.-led war on international poverty.

Right now, the U.S. financial spigot is on full force. The Bush Administration is horse-trading for political and military partners. It eased economic sanctions on Pakistan and promised help with its $38 billion debt in exchange for President Pervez Musharraf’s agreement to squeeze the Taliban in neighboring Afghanistan. It has negotiated to base U.S. troops in Tajikistan and Uzbekistan, both formerly part of the Soviet Union and on the Afghanistan border. It is expected that U.S. aid to both governments will be forthcoming in exchange for that access.

This economic aide is a double-edged sword because while it shores up the U.S. coalition, it does less by way of redistributing the wealth than supporting authoritarian regimes. This merely exacerbates the problem which Sciolino describes as “the perception that America bolsters authoritarian governments even while it heralds democracy as an ideal.”

A new kind of war to eliminate poverty internationally is not a war to buy friends. It is a war to liberate the world’s people from misery and the ideological traps that often accompany misery, like ultra-nationalism, tribalism, and religious fanaticism. We have the technology. We have the wealth-producing capacity. We have the human capital to support the institution-building needed to relieve poverty. What we need now is the will. And the will, ultimately, will have to come from the American people.

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