It is impossible to overstate the fundamental differences between the foreign-policy philosophy of our American ancestors and the foreign-policy mindset that guides our country today. The philosophy of our ancestors was nicely summed up in the Fourth of July address to Congress in 1821 by John Quincy Adams.
In essence Adams said, There are lots of bad things all over the world — dictatorships, tyranny, oppression, famine, and starvation. Nevertheless, he said, the U.S. government did not go abroad “in search of monsters to destroy.” Instead, the American people devoted their time and energies to developing the freest and most prosperous nation in history, which the world could then emulate.
However, Americans did not leave hanging those who were suffering political or economic oppression. They told the world, If circumstances in your country become intolerable and if you are willing and able to escape, even though every other nation might reject you and forcibly return you to your country there will always be at least one country that will accept you and your family permanently, with virtually no questions asked.
In their attempt to create a free society, our ancestors recognized a vitally important point — that the main threat to their freedom lay with their own government. They didn’t trust government, not even when such people as George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and James Madison were president. This lack of trust in government was manifested in the Constitution, the document that brought the federal government into existence and that expressly limited that government’s powers to those few that were enumerated in the document.
But even that wasn’t sufficient to satisfy our American ancestors. They also demanded passage of the Bill of Rights, which expressly forbade the federal government to infringe fundamental, preexisting rights of the people, such as freedom of speech, freedom of the press, the right to assemble, and the right to keep and bear arms.
Additionally, the Constitution and the Fourth, Fifth, Sixth, and Eighth Amendments required U.S. officials to recognize and honor long-established civil liberties, some of which stretched back to Magna Carta, that had been carved out over centuries in response to the government’s attempts to punish citizens in criminal prosecutions. Among them were habeas corpus, due process of law, right to counsel, trial by jury, the right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures, and protection from cruel and unusual punishments.
John Quincy Adams told the Congress that if America ever rejected its limited-government philosophy in foreign affairs and began going abroad “in search of monsters to destroy,” she would become a “dictatress” of the world, which would simultaneously damage the spirit of liberty that accompanies a free society.
The dictatress of the world
Who can deny that today, having abandoned the limited-government foreign policy of our ancestors, the United States has indeed become the dictatress of the world? What other nation has a government with the omnipotent power to go into nearly any nation on earth, kidnap any of its citizens, and send them to monstrous foreign regimes for the express purpose of torture and perhaps even extrajudicial execution? Or worse yet, to simply send them to a secret overseas prison to be tortured and perhaps executed?
No one can deny that we live in a country in which the president wields the omnipotent power to take the entire nation into war on his own initiative. That is, our ruler wields the power to ignore the constitutional restraint that requires him to secure a congressional declaration of war before waging war. He has the power to execute “signing statements” indicating the power to ignore any law enacted by Congress. He has the power to order his federal agencies to spy on the American people, even secretly and surreptitiously monitoring their telephone calls and email. The discomforting reality is that in his role as a military “commander in chief” in the never-ending “war on terror,” the president now has the power to ignore all constitutional restraints on his power.
Moreover, in what would constitute one of the most monumental legal revolutions in American history, the president, operating in conjunction with the CIA and the U.S. military, now claims the omnipotent power to take any American into custody as an “enemy combatant,” deny him due process of law and trial by jury, torture him, and detain him for the rest of his life.
As the commander in chief in the never-ending “war on terror,” the president essentially wields the same omnipotent powers as such military rulers as Napoleon and Santa Anna.
The root of the problem
There is something important to recognize: All of these powers revolve around U.S. foreign policy, specifically the U.S. government’s role as international policeman, interloper, intervener, invader, occupier, provider, and imposer of sanctions and embargoes.
U.S. officials often tell us that 9/11 changed the world. Actually, it did no such thing. The 9/11 attacks instead reflected the anger and rage that U.S. foreign policy had produced in the past and then provided the excuse for U.S. officials to continue such policy in the future.
Consider Iran, 1953. The CIA, which in reality constitutes the president’s private army, secretly and surreptitiously ousted Iran’s democratically elected prime minister, Mohammed Mossadeqh, a man who had been selected as Time magazine’s “man of the year.” Reinstalling the shah of Iran to power, the CIA then helped him establish a domestic version of the CIA, a terrifying and brutal secret police force called the Savak, which proceeded to terrorize and torture the Iranian people, with the full support of the U.S. government. That went on for 25 years, until the Iranian revolution in 1979, when the Iranian people not only ousted the shah from power but also took officials in the U.S. embassy hostage in angry retaliation for what the U.S. government had been doing.
One year later, 1954, Guatemala. Again, the president’s private army, the CIA, ousted the democratically elected president of that country, installing a brutal military dictatorial puppet into office. CIA officials celebrated this coup as a tremendous success, awarding medals to those agents who had pulled it off. Never mind that the coup engendered a civil war that would last 30 years, which killed and maimed hundreds of thousands of Guatemalans. After all, in the mindset of U.S. officials, they’re just Guatemalans. Just like Iranians. Just like Iraqis. The deaths of any number of foreigners in Third World countries are “worth it” if U.S. foreign policy is advanced.
Not all the U.S. government’s interventionist operations were successful. At the Bay of Pigs, the CIA’s regime-change operations failed to oust from power Cuba’s communist dictator, Fidel Castro. The Vietnam War, in which 60,000 American men died for nothing, was also a failure. But there were also interventionist “successes” — Chile, Grenada, Panama, to name three.
The United States and Iraq
Another long-established part of U.S. foreign policy has been the military and financial support that U.S. officials have provided brutal dictators. There was, of course, the shah of Iran. There was also Saddam Hussein, the brutal dictator who tortured and killed his own people. Google the following two terms, “Donald Rumsfeld” and “shaking hands,” and you will see the famous (or infamous) photograph in which Rumsfeld and Saddam are shaking hands, fortifying the partnership that U.S. officials had entered into with Saddam.
It was during the 1980s that the United States even furnished Saddam with biological and chemical weapons for the purpose of killing the Iranian people in a war that Iraq was waging against Iran with the full support of U.S. officials. It was those weapons of mass destruction that U.S. officials would use as the justification for invading Iraq more than a decade later. And keep in mind that the United States delivered such WMDs to Saddam so that he could use them to kill Iranians, who had previously been U.S. friends and allies while its puppet, the shah, was in power, but who were now enemies because the new Iranian regime was independent of U.S. control.
In 1991, the United States turned on its former friend and partner when Saddam invaded Kuwait, the United States killing an untold number of Iraqis during the Gulf War. It was during that intervention that the Pentagon did a careful analysis of what would happen if U.S. military forces were to bomb Iraq’s water and sewage facilities. The Pentagon analysts concluded that the destruction of such facilities would produce infectious illnesses among the populace from the dirty water. Having reached that conclusion in an official military report, the Pentagon proceeded to knowingly, intentionally, and deliberately bomb and destroy Iraq’s water and sewage facilities.
That was followed by more than a decade of some of the cruelest and most brutal sanctions in history, which prevented the Iraqi authorities from repairing the destroyed water and sewage facilities. Every year, as tens of thousands of Iraqi children were dying from the sanctions, as the Pentagon had accurately predicted, U.S. officials kept blaming the deaths on Saddam’s dictatorship, despite the obvious fact that the sanctions, year after year, were expanding, not reducing, his dictatorial powers. When Sixty Minutes pointed out to UN Ambassador Madeleine Albright that half a million Iraqi children had died from the sanctions, Albright’s callous response that such deaths had been “worth it” fairly summarized the U.S. government’s attitude toward the Iraqi people. While Albright’s statement was met with indifference in the United States, it reverberated throughout the Middle East, adding heat to the already boiling cauldron of anger and hatred toward the United States.
The United States also enforced “no-fly zones” over Iraq, which had not been authorized by either the U.S. Congress or the UN. The enforcement of those zones with bombs and missiles regularly caused the deaths of more Iraqis, including a 13-year-old boy whose head was blown off by an errant missile while he was tending his sheep.
Hornets’ nests and 9/11
To make sure that Muslims’ noses were rubbed in humiliation even more, the U.S. military stationed a large contingent of military forces on Islamic holy lands in Saudi Arabia. Although such action was done with the approval of the Saudi regime, Muslims throughout the Middle East considered it a grave affront that American “infidel” soldiers were occupying their holy lands.
Throughout it all, there was the unconditional military and foreign aid provided to the Israeli government.
Thus, after the fall of the Berlin Wall and the demise of the Soviet Union, the U.S. government embarked on a campaign of poking hornets’ nests throughout the Middle East. As nearly every schoolchild knows, when one pokes hornets’ nests, the hornets get riled up and sometimes attack and sting the poker.
When the 9/11 attacks occurred, U.S. officials acted as if they were shocked and stunned. Some of them even suggested that this was the first terrorist attack on U.S. soil in our time. But that was obviously a falsehood and denial of reality. Here at FFF, while we had certainly not predicted the method of the 9/11 attacks, the fact that such terrorist attacks had taken place didn’t surprise us. After all, long before 9/11, we were publishing articles in our journal, Freedom Daily, in which we were predicting terrorist attacks on U.S. soil in retaliation for U.S. foreign policy, especially in the Middle East. See, for example, “Terrorism, Anti-Terrorism, and American Foreign Policy” (November 1996) by Richard M. Ebeling; “Freedom Is the Best Insurance against Terrorism” (December 1996) by Sheldon Richman; “Fighting Terrorism with Terrorism” (October 1998) by Jacob G. Hornberger; and “Terrorism, War, and Crises” (February 2000) by Jacob G. Hornberger. (These are all available on-line at www.fff.org.)
It didn’t take a rocket scientist to make such predictions. Let’s not forget that in 1993 terrorists had struck the very same building — the World Trade Center — that they struck again on 9/11. When Ramzi Yousef, one of the 1993 attackers, appeared before a U.S. district judge for sentencing (U.S. officials considered terrorism to be a criminal act, not an act of war), in a fit of anger and rage he railed against U.S. foreign policy.
Then there were terrorist attacks on the USS Cole and on the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, which Osama bin Laden had made clear in his declaration of war against the United States were rooted in U.S. foreign policy.
Thus, the 9/11 attacks were simply part of a series of terrorist attacks in response to U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East. The terrorists were essentially telling the United States, “Butt out of the Middle East, stop supporting brutal Middle East dictators, stop the deadly sanctions, stop killing Muslims. Leave us alone.”
But that’s not what the U.S. government did in response to the 9/11 attacks. Instead, it essentially replied to the terrorists, Not only are we not going to stop doing what we have been doing in the Middle East, we’re going to do it even more. That was obviously the point behind the invasion of Iraq, which U.S. officials began discussing immediately after 9/11, even though Iraq had had nothing to do with the 9/11 attacks. U.S. officials knew that the fear generated among Americans by the 9/11 attacks, combined with some well-timed and exaggerated WMD scares, would generate popular support for a regime-change “success” in Iraq that more than 10 years of sanctions had failed to bring about. It was an invasion and occupation that would kill and maim hundreds of thousands more Iraqi people — deaths and maimings that U.S. officials would cavalierly claim were worth it, just as they had claimed that the earlier deaths of hundreds of thousands of Iraqi children during the sanctions period had been “worth it.”
It is not surprising that the invasion and occupation of Iraq have only added to the rage and hatred that people in the Middle East have for the United States. As U.S. intelligence agencies now confirm, the invasion and occupation have been a recruiting bonanza for Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda.
In one of the greatest perversions of logic ever, U.S. officials now claim that their continued occupation of Iraq, which entails routine killing of more Iraqis, is necessary to fight terrorism, when, in fact, it is their occupation of Iraq — along with all their other Middle East interventions — that has engendered the anger and hatred at the root of the terrorist threat against the United States. In fact, the U.S. government, precisely because of its foreign policy in the Middle East, has arguably become the greatest terrorist-producing machine in history.
To add insult to injury, U.S. officials have used the threat of terrorism that their own policies have engendered to suspend civil liberties at home, often with the support of frightened adult men and women. Habeas corpus, the linchpin of a free society, has been cancelled for foreigners taken into custody overseas on suspicion of terrorism. Americans have been spied on by government agencies. Overseas prison camps have been established for the purpose of avoiding the constraints of the Constitution, which U.S. officials take an oath to support and defend. The military takes into custody American citizens, tortures them, and denies them access to family, friends, and legal counsel. It’s all justified under a war on terrorists that the U.S. government’s own policies have produced and continue to produce.
Is there any hope in all this? Of course there is! That hope depends on the dissemination of truth and ideas on freedom. There is a reason that even totalitarian governments try to suppress truth and ideas on liberty — they are fully aware of their potential to arouse a populace to bring about a change in governmental policy. U.S. officials know that once Americans realize the truth about foreign policy and its production of terrorism against the United States, the American people may well choose to reject a foreign policy of empire and interventionism in favor of a limited-government republic.
Americans may well come to the realization that John Quincy Adams and our American ancestors were right and that their present-day pro-interventionist successors are wrong. They may choose to restore a republic to our land, thereby returning a sense of balance, harmony, security, and freedom to America. It would be the finest gift that we could ever win for ourselves and bequeath to our progeny.
This article originally appeared in the August 2007 edition of Freedom Daily. Subscribe to the print or email version of Freedom Daily.