In 2002, at a time when insurance providers were unwilling to provide coverage for losses resulting from acts of terrorism, and when construction and utility companies were stalling in their development projects, Congress passed the Terrorism Risk Insurance Act (TRIA). They decided to socialize some of the financial risk, giving a federal government guarantee on insurance payouts exceeding 100 million dollars.
Over the next 12 years, Presidents Bush and Obama and six different Congresses made countless decisions to increase the risk of terrorism (and of a bailout under TRIA). Of course, the most brutally profound effects of those decisions were imposed on children, women, and men in other parts of the world. Likely the least affected people were the ones complaining in the business sections of major papers last month.
They are worried because TRIA expired Jan. 1. An unexpected fluke on the last day of the last congressional session is to blame. “Everybody expected this would get done,” fumed Manhattan developer Douglas Durst to New York Times reporter Jonathan Weisman.
He won’t be waiting all that long: House Speaker John Boehner promised the Baltimore Sun to “act very quickly” to renew TRIA on January 6, when Congress reconvenes. Democratic Senator Charles Schumer, quoted by Weisman, estimated that the act is 95% likely to pass through his chamber.
If rhetorical announcements in the past week turn out to be accurate, the first order of business tomorrow will not actually be TRIA, but a bill to approve the Keystone XL pipeline. A few days ago, activists in United Against Nuclear Iran announced that after Keystone, the next vote will be on a bill to impose tougher sanctions on Iran, which would scuttle any peace deal. This will paradoxically make a “nuclear Iran” much more likely. Presumably, TRIA would be acted on “very quickly” sometime after all that.
Whether the lapse in coverage will last a total of 6 or more days is probably not an issue that concerns most constituents of U.S. Congress members. People in the U.S. are much more likely to be concerned with how to reduce the threat of terrorism in the first place. Unfortunately, a desire to avert danger to the greater public is not what guides U.S. foreign policy. Policy makers, instead, insist that people in the U.S. and in other countries subordinate themselves to what U.S. elites claim is the national interest.
In 12 years, the Afghanistan War did not end. The Iraq War was started, ended, and then started again. Torture became commonplace, with prisoners indefinitely held at Bagram, Guantánamo Bay, and a network of secret CIA prisons; some prisoners were rendered to third countries such as Egypt, Libya, and Syria to be tortured there. Israel, Egypt, and many other brutal regimes conducted wars of choice and campaigns of repression while making use of U.S. weaponry, vehicles, and diplomatic support. And then a systematic drone war attacked people in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, and Somalia; the ‘targets’ were chosen by Obama in consultation with the Pentagon or by secret algorithm.
The former commander in Afghanistan, General Stanley McChrystal, in a 2013 interview with Reuters, said that the use of drones is hated on a visceral level and exacerbates a perception of American arrogance. Former General James E. Cartwright, quoted in the New York Times on March 21 of that year, stated an obvious fact: “If you’re trying to kill your way to a solution, no matter how precise you are, you’re going to upset people even if they’re not targeted.”
The April 2013 issue of The Atlantic recounts the U.S. Senate testimony of a young man named Farea al-Muslimi, a Yemini. He attended English classes in Yemen before going to high school in Rosamond, California, then college in Beirut—all funded through U.S. State Department scholarships. One day a drone strike hit his remote home village of Wessab. Seven of his siblings died from injuries they sustained. During his testimony to the Senate, he said he has met dozens of civilians who were injured during drone strikes and other air attacks in Yemen. “The killing of innocent civilians by U.S. missiles in Yemen is helping to destabilize my country and create an environment from which AQAP benefits. [Drone strikes] are the face of America to many Yemenis.” (He was quoted using the acronym for al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.)
The Rehman family was victim to another U.S. drone strike, this time in Pakistan. The strike appeared to be targeted at a 67-year-old midwife but also injured her two grandchildren. These children and their father came to testify to a congressional hearing in late October 2013, yet only 5 members of Congress attended. Other Congress members did not attend despite knowing that law enforcement officers had recently investigated a botched car bombing in Times Square and identified U.S. foreign policy in Pakistan as a motive in the perpetrator’s attempt.
Now that TRIA has expired, the horrors inflicted by the United States on human beings abroad have more potential to cut into the bottom lines of insurance brokers and developers. This explains why the business press is paying attention to terrorism, yet the only genuine hedge fund against social decay for the rest of us is to transform the U.S. foreign policy, and quick.
Instead of reauthorizing TRIA, Congress should “act very quickly” to end the wars, ground the drones, stop using torture, and invest in the needs of children and adults through an internationally-administered reparations package. Justice is the only insurance of real security for everyone in the world.
Buddy Bell is co-coordinator of Voices for Creative Nonviolence. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.