As soon as the first mention of an American response to the recent terrorism was made, there were those who started complaining that we should do nothing, sometimes because we brought this upon ourselves.
Answering them is, of course, complicated. As to the claims that we created Osama bin Laden and people like him, the explanations as to how tend to revolve around us sticking our noses where they don”t belong our arming and training of militants fighting the Soviets who then turned on us and our continued meddling in the affairs of Middle East.
But in the 1980s, were we wrong to arm Afghani freedom fighters? Their battle against the Soviets cost that nation so much in men, money and morale that it was undoubtedly a major reason for its collapse and the subsequent freeing of nations and peoples across Europe and Asia. The Afghanis would have eventually won by themselves and the Soviet Union would have eventually collapsed under its own unworkable weight, but so much the better that we sped those events, saving many lives in the process.
Whatever weapons we gave them, bin Laden and the Taliban were not our creation. If anyone deserves that honor, it is Pakistan, a nation whose government deliberately fostered and injected the most extreme brand of religious fundamentalism into their politics and society and into Afghanistan”s, though we never complained.
And our other meddling in the Middle East?
It is true that what we have done to Iraq is a great tragedy. We are rightly concerned about holding in check the depredations of the inhuman tyrant who leads them, though we supported this madman in the past. In our effort to keep him contained, we left millions of Iraqis penned in with him, suffering horribly.
But that all started at the request of his neighbors. When, in 1990, Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait we rushed to help it as well as protect the terrified Saudis. Now we hear that our troops in Saudi Arabia, the home of Islam, are one of the great offenses for which we must suffer, never mind that we were invited. As for the plight of the Iraqis, our government should have moved faster, but has been trying to modify the sanctions on Iraq. They couldn”t have just been dropped. Who can argue that a man who uses chemical weapons on his own people should not be prevented from getting the chemicals to make them?
Then there are the Palestinians. When, in the wake of the first strikes on Afghanistan, bin Laden said he wanted peace and security for Palestine, he meant he wants Israel destroyed. What he is concerned about is not what is happening to the Palestinians, but all those Jews where he doesn”t think they belong, which is anywhere actually. Our support of Israel greatly angers many people in the Middle East, as well as some Americans who have gripes with Israel for personal reasons (or who like to call themselves liberals, but are usually just misguided, college town fetishizers of poverty and weakness). We seem to have little choice but to endure this particular source of foreign anger because if there were a Palestinian state tomorrow (which, with due consideration to Israel, there should be) the anger would live on. Judging by the fiery anti-Semitism of much of the Middle East”s press, this sore spot isn”t about Palestinians, it”s about Jews. And they, as well as our support for their state, are not and should not be going anywhere.
The rush to use these issues to pin the blame for terrorism on the United States was swift. But all these arguments have answers, good ones. I wasn”t thrilled to almost immediately hear discordant voices among the overwhelming solidarity, but I was even more disturbed to hear the shrill condemnation of “un-American” against them. These people should not be merely hectored, but answered.
True, there is no sufficient answer for some, because their gripe is not really with U.S. foreign policy, but the U.S. as a whole. I wonder if the Chomskys and Sontags of the world would be calling Americans who had flown planes into buildings full of civilians in the Middle East brave? Or is it only those they consider “oppressed” who are capable of virtue?
But they are the exception.
Most people opposing what we are doing are more rational and less motivated by personal grudges against the United States. Those who support our policies should be happy to have the chance to explore why by hearing and responding to their critics. Despite Ari Fleisher”s apparent distaste for freedom of speech, I don”t think anyone is or should be any more apprehensive than normal about expressing unpopular views. Bill Maher”s right to have FedEx sponsorship was infringed, but his right to free speech is intact.
We are indeed remarkably unified at the moment, but that unity is done no favors by hysterical condemnation of dissenters. People and leaders should concentrate on making and pushing the right policies, not worry about keeping errant columnists in line.
Are the naysayers objectively pro-terrorist as Michael Kelly calls them? Sure, by his logical construction, but let”s not get carried away. Treating someone who doesn”t like what our government does as a traitor or somehow un-American is pointless and forgetful of a few things about America. I don”t agree with the peace protesters, but you”re wasting your breath if you think you can berate them into silence. Their concerns are valid and deserve response as much for our good as for theirs.
Peter Cunniffe can be reached via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.