February 20, 2007

Violence Begets Violence, and Other Lessons from Iraq

Ask any proponent of the war why the US is still in Iraq, and you’ll more than likely be told that we’re fighting to keep America safe. For instance, Anne Coulter recently wrote that the US occupation in Iraq has prevented another 9/11. She continues, “If absolutely nothing changed in Iraq over the next few years—if it didn't continue to get better and if the savages never lost heart…by 2010, 6,000 brave American troops will have died to prevent another 9/11 terrorist attack on American soil for a decade.”

Newt Gingrich echoed these sentiments in a recent column. Gingrich argues that victory in Iraq is necessary for protecting America from “the forces of fanatical Islam and their allies.” Failing to defeat these forces, he argues, will be devastating for America. “In our country,” he writes, “we face the greatest crisis in American civilization since the Civil War…And the reason for the current danger is this: If our enemies get nuclear weapons, they are going to use them.”

If Coulter and Gingrich are correct, then one has to wonder if our recent military endeavors in the Middle East have been justified. After all, if defeating “the forces of fanatical Islam” is the only way to prevent another 9/11, then current US policy is perhaps defensible. But is this assertion correct? Is military victory in Iraq the only way to keep America safe?

In order to answer this question, it seems that we should first answer a much more basic question, which is, why do the terrorists hate us and want to kill us?

George Bush provided an answer to this question when addressing Congress on September 20, 2001: “Americans are asking, why do they hate us? They hate what we see right here in this chamber—a democratically elected government. Their leaders are self-appointed. They hate our freedoms—our freedom of religion, our freedom of speech, our freedom to vote and assemble and disagree with each other.”

While many leaders have reiterated Bush’s sentiments, conservative writer Dinesh D’Souza contends in his latest book, The Enemy At Home, that al-Qadeda has targeted America because they despise our morally decadent culture. According to D’Souza, “what bin Laden objected to was America staying in the Middle East, importing with it the immoral ingredients of American values and culture.” To be more specific, D’Souza believes that the cultural left is responsible for 9/11 because it has “fostered a decadent American culture that angers and repulses traditional societies” and has waged “an aggressive global campaign to undermine the traditional patriarchal family and to promote secular values in non-Western cultures.”

If Bush is correct and the terrorists hate us because of our freedom, then it follows that, unless we’re willing to give up our freedom, the only way to live at peace with the terrorists is military victory. And if D’Souza is correct and the terrorists hate us because of the values propagated by liberals, then it follows that, unless we’re willing to deport the likes of Noam Chomsky and Hilary Clinton, the only way to live at peace with the terrorists is military victory.

But are either of these assessments correct?

In order to answer this question, it would behoove us to look at the words of Osama bin Laden himself, who has very clearly stated his reasons for attacking America.

In his 2002 “Letter to America,” bin Laden claims that he is at war with America because America is guilty of the following atrocities: (1) helping the Israeli, Russian, and Indian governments in their oppression of Muslims, (2) attacking Muslims in Somalia, (3) supporting corrupt regimes in various Muslim nations, (4) robbing Muslim lands of their natural resources, (5) having a military presence throughout the Middle East, and (6) enforcing sanctions against Iraq that resulted in the deaths of 1.5 million Iraqi children.

So, unlike Bush claims, bin Laden is not upset with American democracy. And unlike D’Souza claims, the thrust of bin Laden’s anger is not aimed at America’s decadent culture—although he certainly thinks our culture is decadent and goes to great lengths in condemning it. Rather, bin Laden is incensed over what he views to be atrocities committed by the American government against Muslims.

This assessment is shared by Michael Scheuer, who worked for the CIA for 22 years and headed the CIA’s bin Laden unit from 1996 to 1999. As Scheuer writes, “Bin Laden has been precise in telling America the reasons he is waging war on us. None of the reasons have anything to do with our freedom, liberty and democracy, but have everything to do with U.S. policies and actions in the Muslim world.”

So Osama bin Laden waged war against us because of our foreign policy. Does it follow, then, that America can end this war by simply changing this policy? According to the “Letter to America,” the answer is no. Along with demanding that America change its foreign policy, bin Laden calls upon Americans to convert to Islam and put an end to their immoral behavior.

But, according to Scheuer, a mere reversal of US policy is all it would take to engender peace with al-Qaeda. Bin Laden, Scheuer writes, has only been able to garner so much support because he has recognized “the difference between those issues Muslims find offensive about America and the West [i.e., their immoral cultures], and those they find intolerable and life threatening [i.e., their foreign policies].”

Scheuer points out that in the 1980s bin Laden and many other Muslims fought the Soviet army “not because the Soviets were atheists and communists,” but because they had invaded the Muslim Afghanistan. Once the Soviets withdrew from Afghanistan, so did the mujahideen, even though Muslims still regarded the Soviets as infidels.

So it seems that, contrary to the contentions of Bush and D’Souza, many Muslims have declared war against the United States because of perceived atrocities in American foreign policy. And, contrary to the contentions of Coulter and Gingrich, a military victory in Iraq is not the only way to keep America safe. Rather, America could ensure its safety by overhauling its foreign policy.

As is well known by those who look at recent history with even a semblance of objectivity, American policy in the Middle East has been, at best, deeply misguided and, at worst, unspeakably immoral. To give but one example, from 1990 to 2003, the Iraqi people suffered under US-led economic sanctions. Although the exact number of deaths caused by this policy is unknown, Columbia professor Richard Garfield conservatively estimates that from August 1991 to June 2002 the sanctions killed around 400,000 Iraqi children under the age of five. While this figure is horrifying, it is equally horrifying that the US knew of the sanctions’ devastating effects for well over a decade before deciding to lift them.

The United States, though a great country, a country I am proud to be a citizen of, has committed numerous actions over the years that have been equally wrong. Therefore, we must rethink our foreign policy because, not only is it putting America in harm’s way, but it is violating the basic human rights of millions of Muslims throughout the world.

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