Although it is considered by many to be beyond the pale of proper discourse to discuss whether U.S. foreign policy may have contributed to the current crisis, the American people ignore this possibility at their peril. After all, if U.S. foreign policy is giving rise to terrorism against the American people, what good is it going to do to smash current terrorists if they’re simply going to be replaced by new ones?
Consider the U.S. government’s 30-year-long war on drugs. Despite the manifest failure of the drug war and all the violence arising from it, the government steadfastly adheres to the same policy: Smash the drug lords, only to have them immediately replaced with new ones. Ending the root of the problem — the drug war and its related violence — is not considered an acceptable option.
Recall the government’s attitude after Timothy McVeigh’s attack on the federal building in Oklahoma City. Any inquiry as to why McVeigh committed the bombing (in retaliation for what the government had done at Waco), would be immediately met with: “You’re defending or justifying what McVeigh did!” But if the government commits another Waco, how can we rest assured that we won’t encounter another McVeigh?
This refusal to examine governmental policy is not only foolish, it’s also dangerous. If government policy is giving rise to adverse consequences, then it stands to reason that efforts to eradicate the consequences will be fruitless and actually might give rise to even greater adverse consequences (e.g., the loss of domestic civil liberties).
If, on the other hand, adverse behavior can be diminished by putting an end to the governmental policies that are giving rise to it, then why shouldn’t people consider that option while, at the same time, bringing the retaliators to justice?
U.S. officials claim that the attacks on New York and Washington were motivated by hatred for freedom, democracy, and Western values. But what if they’re mistaken? After all, doesn’t Switzerland support those values? Why aren’t the Swiss being targeted by terrorists?
In a recent (September 21) Washington Post article entitled “Understanding the Mind of Osama bin Laden,” bin Laden is quoted as saying that among the principal reasons he declared a holy war against the American people was the U.S. government’s long-standing war against Iraq, including the bombs our government has dropped for 10 years and its economic embargo that bin Laden says has starved a multitude of Iraqi children, with the use of U.S. military forces that are occupying holy lands in Saudi Arabia.
Is bin Laden telling the truth? Should it matter?
If indeed a U.S. governmental policy is a principal factor that is motivating retaliation against the American people, why should it be considered beyond the pale of legitimate discourse to examine its rightfulness and inquire whether it should be continued, especially if its continuation is likely to lead to more reprisals against Americans?
No one, of course, would argue that the U.S. war against Iraq and its embargo against the Iraqi people would justify what happened in New York and Washington. But isn’t there a big difference between justifying and explaining?
After all, wouldn’t the Iraqi people, after 10 continuous years of bombs and embargoes leveled against them, be likely to feel the same hurt, pain, and grief that the American people feel after the attacks on New York and Washington? Wouldn’t they be likely to feel the same ache for revenge and retribution that Americans have?
There are those who claim that now is not the time to question foreign policy. Why not? Is it the duty of the citizen to blindly follow his government into war, no questions asked? Or is it to arrive at an independent determination as to whether his government is pursuing a wise, prudent, and moral course of action, especially if he and his loved ones have a big personal stake in the outcome?