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Terrorism: The US Role - part 3 of 3


Since September 11th, 2001, the United States has waged war on terrorism while advancing an agenda of democracy and freedom. But some U.S. critics say the policies of the Bush administration are instead encouraging terrorism. Leta Hong Fincher looks at U.S. policies in this final part of her series, "The Roots of Terrorism"

The Bush administration has declared that it is winning the war on terrorism. U.S. officials say two-thirds of al-Qaida's senior leadership has been captured or killed.

But some dispute this claim and say that widespread anger about U.S. policies in the Muslim world is creating terrorists faster than the United States is able to defeat them.

Michael Scheuer is a former head of the bin Laden unit of the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency.

Mr. Scheuer resigned from the agency so he could speak more openly about what he calls the government's failure to address the threat posed by Osama bin Laden and his followers.


"Bin laden has always said that al-Qaida is not capable, he is not capable of beating the United States, of driving us out of the Middle East by themselves. They have always regarded themselves as a vanguard, as an example for others to follow. Indeed, bin Laden says his most important role is to incite Muslims or instigate Muslims to take actions against the United States in response to what are perceived as attacks on the Islamic religion."

Among those perceived attacks on Islam, according to Mr. Scheuer: the U.S. military presence in places like Iraq, Afghanistan, Yemen and other Muslim countries. Another perceived attack is the unwavering U.S. support for Israel.

Other analysts agree that a settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict could help redress the grievances of many Muslims, and limit the appeal of extremist groups.

Omer Taspinar, a scholar of Islam at the Brookings Institution think tank in Washington D.C.


"In the eyes of Muslims, Israel basically equals the United States. There is not much difference. The U.S. support for Israel is basically unequivocal and it doesn't waver much, especially with this administration. Therefore, whatever they see as the persecution of the Palestinians in occupied territories, they blame as much Washington as Tel Aviv for this."

Mr. Taspinar believes the death of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat gives the United States an opportunity to revitalize the Middle East peace process. He also urges the United States to provide what he calls "serious funding" for socioeconomic development and poverty alleviation.

Is it fair to hold the United States responsible for the problems of people in the Middle East and Asia?

Yes, according to Benjamin Barber, a democracy expert at the University of Maryland. Mr. Barber says that even when the United States pursues good goals, the unintended consequences can be bad.

He says the U.S. invasion of Iraq, for example, has overthrown a brutal dictator. But civilian casualties appear to have turned some Iraqis against the United States, playing into the hands of terrorists.


"The United States is the most powerful country in the world. That doesn't mean it is associated with and responsible for everything that happens. It often is not. Often people are responsible for their own poverty, their own tyrannies and so on. But because it is the most powerful country in the world, it will be held responsible for what happens in the world."

The Bush administration argues that what is happening in the world, thanks to the United States, is the gradual triumph of freedom. It points to last October's elections in Afghanistan and upcoming elections in Iraq as evidence that the forces of democracy will prevail over terrorism.

President Bush says terrorists have made Iraq the central front in the war on terrorism because they know what is at stake.


"When a free and democratic society is established in Iraq in the heart of the Middle East, it will be a decisive blow to their aspirations to dominate the region and its people. A free Iraq will be a standing rebuke to radicalism and a model to reformers from Damascus to Tehran."

The University of Maryland's Benjamin Barber argues that the United States cannot simply export democracy and expect it to flourish in places that lack functioning public institutions.

And he says the United States needs to forgive more debt in the developing world, increase foreign aid, and work more closely with nongovernmental organizations and transnational institutions like the United Nations.

Mr. Barber says in a world of increasing interdependence, the fate of a child in Afghanistan is linked to the security of a child in New York.


"Once upon a time we lived in a world of separate nation states, each in its boat on a rising tide. Today we're all in the same boat, and if there's a hole in the hull, down on the lower level, sooner or later the people up on first class are also going to drown when the boats go down."

In other words, he says, terrorists will lose -- only when there is security for all.