Fault Lines
September 21, 2001 4:18 PM   Subscribe

Fault Lines This piece counters the arguements of the self-laceration folks who blame the attack upon America as the result of our foreign policy, as though there can be no other explanation for Jihad. An apt title, since we are now seeing the split between far Right, Middle and far Left. Readers will, no doubt believe or argue with this relative to their perspective.
posted by Postroad (58 comments total)
A brilliant article. Beinart is always on the button. Readers who enjoyed it might like to check out Andrew Sullivan's comments on andrewsullivan.com
The New Republic is the best political magazine in the world and manages to keep us all, sort-of-right and sort-of-left, together. It's definitely a must-read daily bookmark, at newrepublic.com, if you enjoy being surprised, infuriated and strangely comforted, all at the same time.
Thanks, Postroad, for showing us you don't only read the Weekly Standard and the National Review.
Not a criticism: I'm a New Criterion and Commentary man, myself.
posted by MiguelCardoso at 4:30 PM on September 21, 2001

"self-laceration folks"

So what's the amusing catch phrase for those non-americans who think that the fault lies with your foreign policy?
posted by pixelgeek at 4:32 PM on September 21, 2001

Miguel, you may want to check out Postroad's weblog before you make assumptions about his reading material.

(Prior to the Current Situation Fred wasn't quite so vocal with his patriotism. Since you're new you probably didn't realize this.)

I'm with pixel: this is really yet another way of treating liberal politics as pathology rather than principle. I don't think it's a big revelation that is may not be in our self-interest to ghettoize countries like Afghanistan, then act surprised when criminal gangs find it a haven.

True, there are a few way-left kooks (and some very principled pacifists) who simply believe that war (and more war) is wrong, or who say "no wonder they're angry -- we made them angry by X, Y, Z". But those are really very few voices, and summarizing what people say often seems to reduce them to a few provocative soundbites, which may color how they're perceived (q.v. Bill Maher). The vast majority of the thoughtful left is discussing this as a problem which will simply not be solved by military action. One can see the solution as "ending states" who sponsor terrorism, as Paul Wolfowitz seems to, or as bringing justice to neglected backwaters and by creating civilized societies there starving out the terrorists who retreat there to plan and train. It won't eliminate terrorism in itself, which has existed in many forms for many many years and will continue to be a problem in any free society, but it will make it that much more difficult for them to collect the resources they need to execute operations, and most important, it will in time deprive them of the militants with wartime experience and training who make up the bulk of these organizations.
posted by dhartung at 4:45 PM on September 21, 2001

The Economist also has an argument along those lines, a piece subtitled: Whatever its mistakes, the idea that America brought the onslaught upon itself is absurd

As for me, I don't think we caused this. But I think we could better educate our foreign policy to help prevent such hatred.
posted by mattpfeff at 4:46 PM on September 21, 2001

yeah, i think it's more complicated than the "it's our fault/no, it's not" type arguments that point to a limited source of self-selecting evidence. william o. beeman traces it back 150 years...
posted by kliuless at 4:50 PM on September 21, 2001

the US has done wrong and possibly brought the hatred onto itself

This is two separate statements, to which I say:

A) yes;
B) no.
posted by argybarg at 5:05 PM on September 21, 2001

Gee, I'm sorry postroad and thanks dhartung!
I'm Jewish and I always seem to agree with what he and you say ,so I'm afraid I jumped to conclusions.
But his weblog, still only lightly perused, and your kind clarification besides, made me even happier. It just shows and all that.

Though there's nothing wrong, though a lot a little too "right" with the NR and the WS, mind.
posted by MiguelCardoso at 5:09 PM on September 21, 2001

if you admit foreign policy in the middle east needs work you're accepting that the US has done wrong and possibly in brought the hatred onto itself

I don't agree. E.g., suppose I'm driving a car with faulty brakes, but I don't know it. If I drive 60 mph, I'll probably end up in an accident. If I drive 30, I have a better chance of avoiding one. Now suppose I have reason to suspect the brakes might, possibly be faulty. Then it's smart of me to drive slower, even though it wouldn't be my fault if the brakes were to fail.

That is, we can figure that there are certainly possible outcomes to our foreign policy, given the likely reaction of various groups of people that policy affects. All I'm saying is we can be smarter than we have been in the past, esp. now that we have so painfully learned the cost of speeding until the brakes fail.

So I think our foreign policy was rash and ill-advised (since there were many warnings the brakes would fail), but I don't know if it was wrong. (It might have been wrong, too -- I just don't have enough information to make that kind of judgment.)
posted by mattpfeff at 5:17 PM on September 21, 2001

But I think we could better educate our foreign policy to help prevent such hatred.

Which reminds me of this link via Jim Romanesko: "News must show a profit now, and international news is not as sexy as either slinging mud at a politician or any number of stories that we have concentrated on to the extent of all others."

As I've said before, this isn't about the WTC being an atonement for past mistakes; if such attacks make the US more like "those other countries", as some interviewees have suggested, then it's time to learn what those other countries have gone through, and how they've dealt with the threat. It's horrible to think that many Americans have learned more about Islam and the Middle East in the past couple of weeks than in school or college. It's about having the information.
posted by holgate at 5:20 PM on September 21, 2001

A note: separate if possible those covert actions that we bring about and those that are public policies. Who authorizes or allows the covert ones that need to be controlled so the public an make judgements and vote the bad people out.
posted by Postroad at 5:23 PM on September 21, 2001

What holgate says:
Even if you are a hawk who dreams only of nukes and carpet-bombing it's basic common sense to get to know your so-called enemy. Even Lao-Tzu didn't think this worth mentioning.
Yet Americans - even the most dovish - refuse to take the trouble and gain the insights, so easily available, into what "those other countries have gone through".
Information is a sort of starting-point. Proceeding without it is heinous.
When you do it repeatedly, as the U.S. foreign policy record seems to show, it's no wonder, to use a Portuguese expression, you keep raining on what's already soaked through and through.
posted by MiguelCardoso at 5:29 PM on September 21, 2001

Oh, and when Bienart adds his snarky little exclamation mark to Robert Fisk's comment on the destruction of the Ottoman Empire, he really shows his failure to grasp eighty years of history.

Bin Laden, after all, is an ethnic cleanser.

And yet the US eventually supported the Bosnian Muslims against Serbian ethnic cleansing; there were a fair few Afghans fighting on that side.

A note: separate if possible those covert actions that we bring about and those that are public policies.

Completely: and at least make covert action subject to later scrutiny by Congress.
posted by holgate at 5:29 PM on September 21, 2001

>...but if you admit foreign policy in the middle east needs
>work you're accepting that the US has done wrong and
>possibly in brought the hatred onto itself.

So by this line of thinking, it was okay for the boys in Columbine to go after those that had been bullying them and kill any other innocent students in their path, right? Give me a break. Everyone wants to make the poor little Iraqi government, terrorists, and Palestinians out to be these innocent by-standers. How about that woman in Israel that was killed in front of her child? That's okay, though, right, because Israel has been oppressing the poor little, mother-murdering Palestinians with the bombs strappd to them? We have to understand that the factions we are dealing with agree with the radical interpretations of the Quran which say that ANYONE who does not worship Allah, Muhammed, and the Quran is a free target. This is what makes this a nasty, nasty business. Some of them are in governmental positions, others are not. We have been slapped in the face by the Taliban on many levels. We helped Afghanistan push out the Soviets, and were told to butt out as they fell into the quagmire of civil war. We are the largest supporter of Afghanistan (the two are separate - the Taliban has hijacked Afghanstan and Islam IMHO) both in financial and humanitarian aid. They care so little for the Afghani people that they are willing to endure the sanctions against them, the non-recognition of their "government", and the sacrifice of the assitance that they (the citizens) receive for bin Laden. Osama's radical, Islamic mafia doesn't care a hoot for the people of Afghanistan or the Palestinians - they care about setting up all governments in the model of the Taliban. A government where women and children are reduced to less than second-class citizens, where there are no modern advancements, where Christians are put to death.... They don't hate us because of our policies, they hate us because we dare to give people religious freedoms, women rights, and our children a chance at a modern world.
posted by jw161020 at 5:29 PM on September 21, 2001

The article is built on a rhetorical house of cards:

Has America oppressed the Muslim world? Or, stated differently, does America have the moral authority to go to war?

If you take away the assumption that these two questions are the same, Beinart has no argument.

There are indeed some people who believe that there are ways American foreign policy in the Middle East can and should be improved, while simultaneously believing that America has not only the moral authority to defend itself, but an obligation to do so.

Does the fact that terrorists destroyed the World Trade Center retroactively make all of US foreign policy 100% correct?
posted by Chanther at 5:35 PM on September 21, 2001

jw, I don't think skallas was saying that the manner of retribution the terrorists chose is in any way defensible, just that there is an argument to be made that we should share some of the fault for some initial wrongdoing. (That sounds completely reasonable to me; I'm just not sure whether or not it's true.)
posted by mattpfeff at 5:36 PM on September 21, 2001

Other "countries" hate and resent us they say. How is this asserted?-based on what?. Please name one country in the Middle East which has ELECTED a government that hates and resents the US. My problem with the Left here is they actually believe "popularity" is a legitimate criterion in evaluating foreign policy. Maybe the people who dont like the policy are WRONG? Looking at the regimes in place in the Middle East-I am damn glad we are unpopular. I wouldn't want my views on race getting the stamp of approval from a KKK Grand Wizard-why then does the Left seem to crave these people's approval. If you draw a distinction between the regime and the common people, please tell me how the hell you know what the actual popular opinion is as votes are never taken.
posted by quercus at 5:43 PM on September 21, 2001


Perhaps Beinart should have stated more explicitly that many are connecting these two statements thusly:

America has oppressed the Muslim world;
America has no moral authority to go to war.

In more cases, the second statement is: "America is reaping the whirlwind" (token disclaimer about disagreeing with the method of repayment). Or: "Lie very still, you'll just make them angrier." Or: "If we just apologize and promise not to do it again, maybe they'll leave us alone."

So much is so wrong in these lines of reasoning, but I'm glad Beinart starts at the root. America has not oppressed the Muslim world. America has blundered in the Muslim world; America has gotten in over its head in the Muslim world; America has compromised (sometimes poorly) in the Muslim world. But to find heel-grinding, old-fashioned imperialist oppression in U.S. policy you have to turn to your limited imagination. (Not yours, Chanther; one's).
posted by argybarg at 5:57 PM on September 21, 2001

Everyone wants to make the poor little Iraqi government, terrorists, and Palestinians out to be these innocent by-standers.

Enough! I have YET to see ONE person make this claim, and those of you who keep setting up this straw man are losing ALL credibility. Do you really see everything through such extremist lenses?? To understand what some people ARE suggesting, ponder this excellent formulation by Chanther:

Does the fact that terrorists destroyed the World Trade Center retroactively make all of US foreign policy 100% correct?

Once you think, "no, of course not," then you understand how there can be room to question some U.S. policy without necessarily zoooooming to the other extreme of accepting responsibility and blame for terrorism.
posted by rushmc at 6:07 PM on September 21, 2001


But again:

   America has oppressed the Muslim world;
   America has no moral authority to go to war.


   America has oppressed the Muslim world;
   America is reaping the whirlwind.

are not equivalent statements. I hear a lot more people saying the latter - saying that any part of a US response has to include a frank look at our own foreign policy. There are some, to be sure, who are saying that US should not take any military actions. But this is a relatively small number. And I don't think that the accusation of "blaming the victim" is being leveled solely at those who oppose military action - it is being leveled more generally at those who want a reassessment of US foreign policy in the region.
posted by Chanther at 6:17 PM on September 21, 2001

There's a big difference between disagreeing with US Foreign Policy in Israel and thinking that it's the reason that Al Qaeda hates us. I don't think the US should be supporting Israel, especially with the actions their government is taking, but I can also see, from the knowledge I'm armed with, that the current WTC problems would be there whether the US was in Israel or not. Xenophobia is the root cause of the WTC problem. These people just don't like those who bring in another culture, and backed up with their interpretation of the Qu'Ran, they've acted on it. It has nothing to do with foreign policy.

posted by Kevs at 6:18 PM on September 21, 2001

Spare me. Bin Ladin and other terrorists have made it known in no uncertain terms that they despise American actions in the middle east especially concerning Israel. The attack on "freedom" is propaganda, there are lots of other liberal democracies out there yet its our embassies they bomb.

Skallas: you are ignorant. The fact that we were targeted in no way disproves that we are hated for our freedoms. I agree with you that our bad middle east policy created an environment that encouraged Muslim extremists to come to the conclusion that they must fight back against us, but the Taliban and bin Laden and other such extremists have a stated goal: cleanse the middle east of infidels, and bring Islam to the world through political and military means. They do hate our freedom, because it is freedom from Allah and their evil interpretation of their religion with its oppressive, murderous enforcement of barbaric rules. Why don't you read little about the Taliban and bin Laden before you open your mouth?

It scares the fuck out of me that so many liberal minded people take a healthy self-critical attitude of US policy and turn it into an apology for the religious/political agenda of Muslim extremists.
posted by ericost at 6:22 PM on September 21, 2001

If people think the entire issue isn’t as simple as “foreign policy creates US resentment” then it surely couldn’t be as simple as “Laden hates freedom.” Which means the truth probably contains some from column A and some from column B. (This picture leaves out home grown oppression in the region, but let’s just go with this for the time being.)

Both self-lacerators and drooling war mongers can act to change one of those things without picking up a gun. Will shaping a kinder, gentler foreign policy stop Laden’s hate? Probably not, but it won’t inspire any copycats, either.

For me, this comes down drooling war mongers not being able to take a little criticism.

q: America may have done wrong?
a: Yea, well maybe.

q: America can act to right those wrongs?
a: Ludicrous!
posted by raaka at 6:29 PM on September 21, 2001

There are only two sides to a coin, but this situation is not a coin, and I don't exactly enjoy being backed into a position I agree with.

This black-and-white polarization is useless. May I please be against simply the use of violence, in any manner? May I point out that we could possibly make less enemies by modifying our foreign policy?

Or am I just another hippie who hates the US?


We could probably pass off our misdeeds in the Middle East if they weren't so damn intentional. It's not like we forgot to fund only one side of the Iran-Iraq war. We actively baited the two countries against each other because we thought it would lower oil prices. These are only blunders if the actual purpose of US foreign policy is social justice. Clue: it's not.

We in the US (and by we I mean the people who make the decisions, not those of us who actually pay the price) put ourselves in a vulnerable situation by creating, purposely, environments in other countries which lend themselves to violence.

And no, this does not condone violence. But we should know better than to arm and train zealots. No one benefits when the crazies get CIA training.

And another thing: being against war does *not* mean being against action against terrorists. I would prefer diplomatic, economic, and legal sanctions instead of bombs. We need to show ourselves as being law-abiding, since in past history we just bomb the fuck out of whatever irritates us (Libya, Sudan, Afghanistan, et al).

But wait! This isn't an opinion which matches a simple "nuke them" vs. "do nothing" worldview! Ye gods! Quick, someone label me and throw me into a box with all the other "do nothing" types.
posted by Coda at 6:36 PM on September 21, 2001

"The main difference between September 11 and what came before is that bin Laden desires ethnic cleansing on a scale far greater than the Hutus and the Serbs, a scale that has only one true twentieth century parallel. "

never a truer scholar than this Beinart moron. to begin with, do we even know what extent Bin Laden played in this yet? the US government certainly hasn't been forthcoming with convincing evidence, just excessively imperialist and militaristic rhetoric. It could have been a number of terrorists and this act does not in any way reek of "ethnic cleansing" considering the ethnic diversity of the target. Don't start with the Hitler shit. it's insensitive if not dangerous. before we start making holocaust allusions to frighten our readers into complicity, Mr. Peter Beinart, we need to at least attempt to think and to act as responsible citizens of the world.

If we ARE the world's only superpower, we need to stand up and face the sphere of our influence and the immense potential for devastation our foreign policies may be carrying with them, whether consciously for political and economic purposes i.e. OIL, or inadvertently, as a bi-product of our need for crucial resources, i.e. OIL.

you get where i'm going, broshot?...how cheap and for how long are the two most important questions the US poses when intervening in the middle east. not how many people are we killing to maintain the status quo in our relations with Saudi Arabia and Iraq. perhaps the "muslims" that Peter Beinhart is indirectly demonizing are really just people. this isn't about "a Muslim's right not to live with a non-Muslim." It's about a muslim population having to live with sanctions killing their children and b-52's flying over their airspace. it's time we understood that.
posted by aLienated at 7:18 PM on September 21, 2001

US foreign policy may create resentment, but I think the root of the problem goes much deeper and back farther in time. Thousands of years probably, but let us start in fairly recent history.

Without the Balfour Declaration of 1917 there would not have been a Zionist movement for the partition of Palestine. Without partition there would not have been a vote in the United Nations in 1948 to allow the formation of the State of Israel. After which all hell broke lose. The US choice to support Israel, which did not set well with the surrounding countries.

The clock has been ticking away since then. This is only my opinion. Everyone has one you know.
posted by bjgeiger at 7:19 PM on September 21, 2001

IMHO we have to consider what it is that is driving people to join these organizations. We can start with the feeling of double standards that much of the Arab world suffers from. Israel invades Lebannon? UN tells them to stop, we do nothing. Iraq invades Kuwait? Well, we can't have that.

If we continue to treat the third world as little more than a sweat shop to produce cheap oil and Nikes for us then it shouldn't come as much of a surprise when they get angry about this. If we continue to use organizations such as the world bank and the WTO to create more areas of what is laughably called Free trade (it's free for the countries that can afford it) then we are effectively removing the choice of the third world to assert its independence.

I hope I don't have to say that this is neither an apology for Tuesdays events nor a call to do nothing, rather I just worry that an all out war on Afghanistan can only do little more than force more people into the hands of the extremists.

Well, that's my opinion anyway. I'm new to this site, but I have to say it's refreshing to read such a well argued set of postings.
posted by ciderwoman at 7:28 PM on September 21, 2001

Skallas, I apologize for sounding like a troll, and I agree with almost everything you said in your last post. The US has indeed made itself a target for Muslim extremists. Some of the actions of the US in the mid east have been wrong headed and have incited the rage of radical Muslim fundamentalists.

But you said in your previous post that The attack on "freedom" is propaganda and I beg to differ. We have made ourselves a target, but we are targeted for more reasons than our actions in the mid east.

Who is actively saying "I apologize please bomb us some more sir?" Simple minded strawmen are an unconvincing as you can get.

I'll admit that I did set up a bit of a straw man. Thinking about it some more, what upsets me is really that I hear so many people crying so loudly that the US is partly responsible for the attack (which it is) but not also crying loudly that Al Qaeda is an evil power in the world which has proved itself a very real threat to the safety and freedom of countries and citizens that do not share their religion. It seems out of balance, like some people are not admitting how awful Islamic fundamentalism is. It robs people of their freedoms, sometimes their lives, and treats women as chattel. I'd like to hear more outrage over that.

Perhaps I am wrong. I respect the right of everyone to criticize US foreign policy, and maybe I should not expect a person to qualify their criticisms with a statement declaring their disgust with what is such an obvious evil.

PS -- I find it mildly humorous that in your criticism of my straw man comment, you commit the same fallacy :)
posted by ericost at 7:58 PM on September 21, 2001

It's the easiest thing to do: Jumping on bandwagons. Peace should be the only alternative sought. Surgical military strikes should be used if any strike at all. Carpet bomb the fuck out of 'em.

I've gone, like so many leftists, through the gamut of each of these going ideas. I don't know how I feel (ie this isn't purely an issue left to such emotionalists such as myself). I feel like I should be lockstepping with "my" party line. But I don't. I can't. Expunging the god talk from Bush's speech, I found myself moved by it. I saw its sense. For the first time I respected what that man had to say to me, as a leftist American. All emotion though. All emotion.

Therefore, for many of us, most everything we know about this, we, in truth, merely just feel it--feel how we should feel in a time like this. Futilely we've tried for years to put ourselves in the shoeless feet of the, yes, poor Iraqis, the oppressed and starving Afghanis--all for want to peacefully, through discourse, change the course of "our government's" policies on these seemingly unknown, forgotten people of these "odd" nations.

Now with this presumed head of steam we'd acquired, we've been dealt a stunning blow. Which direction now? We're now, as sympathetic people, placing ourselves in the penny loafers of the victims. Victims filling their lives with something as leftists we've perennially denounced.

The only solace I can find in any of this, is the stupid, intellectually lazy cry I make with others for peace. For whatever our reasons, I feel there is one idea who needs no reason. To strive for peace and hope.

Oh well. How stupid. One day though, I swear I'll have a more reasoned idea of what the hell caused this all to happen.
posted by crasspastor at 8:07 PM on September 21, 2001

eric: I hear so many people crying so loudly that the US is partly responsible for the attack (which it is) but not also crying loudly that Al Qaeda is an evil power in the world

Citizens in a democratic country are directly responsible for one of the things you mentioned. Our leaders have made it incredibly clear that they have no intention of changing (Rumsfeld said that would be “unacceptable”), but every intention of creating a massive military attack on terrorist groups and at least one oppressive regime.

So, which needs to be repeated until our leaders get the message: “We want revenge.” Or, “Stop being so violent in the Mid East.”
posted by raaka at 8:24 PM on September 21, 2001

TNR is a cesspool of mediocrity. Flimsy articles printed on even flimsier paper. It exists solely as a foil to The Nation.
posted by espada at 8:29 PM on September 21, 2001

Raaka, a good point. But I am not asking people to cry for revenge! I do not want revenge, nor do I want our government to act vengefully. Like most, I want justice. I want there to be repercussions for the death of 5000 people, and I want the US and other free nations to band together to fight terrorists in a battle that has been coming for a long time. We've had a hand in starting this war, no doubt, but our enemy is not some benevolent, freedom loving victim caught surprised by a sudden international movement against them. (I'm not saying that's what anyone thinks, just pointing out the fact.)

So yes, call for a change in US mid east policy. And consider that a war on terrorism and extremist factions that aspire to rule the world with their oppressive doctrines will make change a little easier for us; if such factions did not exist, perhaps the US would not have a reason to meddle in mid east affairs.

I don't claim to understand all of this.
posted by ericost at 8:45 PM on September 21, 2001

What everyone said. I learned a thing or two meself from the article, most especially what the "other side thinks" (as if we dont get enough of that on Mefi) and I thank postroad for posting it.

But I'm with cost (I think that was who it was) -- it pisses me off when people lump the "pacifists" in with the "self-lacerators" and thence with those of us usually on the left who do want justice, but only for the guilty, and who hope that some of the most wretched, oppressed people of the world, the Afghans, are left unscathed. (Wishful thinking.)

I'm an understanding-monger, rather than a pacifist. But my idea of "understanding" does not equal "forgiveness" (forgiveness can't be felt by the non-repentant anyhow -- a Christian pastor said that in a sermon I heard once).

Understanding equals knowledge in this case. That said I'm all for intelligence operations to find and eradicate the actual perpetrators (and those who harbor them). I'll take James Bond over Rambo. We need to stop assuming that the only revenge possible involves the same level of indiscriminate violence the U.S. has in the past either sanctioned or perpetrated in the Middle East.
posted by mirla at 9:07 PM on September 21, 2001

You can argue shadings and nuances about what part the U.S. played historically in fertilizing the field bid Laden sprang from.

You can argue what that part obligates the U.S. to do, nor not do.

What you can't argue with is that vast numbers of Americans totally reject any link between our nation's behavior in the world and what happened on 9.11.

And it's to those people that President Bush's speech seemed to be pitched.

Hopefully later on the White House can enter into a more nuanced articulation of the U.S.'s responsibilities and role.
posted by sacre_bleu at 9:09 PM on September 21, 2001

America should sieze the opportunity created by these attacks to make justice in the world. First justice for America. Second, Justice for the Iraqi people. Third, Justice for Palestinians and Israelis.

Israel and Palestine both have leaders who are former terrorists (Sharon officially in pre-Israel Palestine, and later as the architect of the invasion of Lebanon), and whose governments use (or permit) illegal and immoral force against civilian populations. We need to take strong action to get Israel to comply with International Law and with the United Nations, which did, as it has been noted in this thread, help create Israel. We should also use take strong action to eliminate terrorists within Palestine-- that includes Hamas, Islamic Jihad, and radical settler movements, among others.

The simple fact is that we have an opportunity now to right wrongs, and the Israeli-Palestinian situation is a wrong on both sides. With strong action, peace can be achieved, and you remove a major impediment for Arab states to gripe, correctly, about unfair US policy. After a peace agreement, the gloves are off for Syria, and any other country that threatens Israel.
posted by chaz at 9:29 PM on September 21, 2001

Hey Postroad and all of you who think that the U.S. is not to blame in the least: Please tell me where you find fault with this argument of mine in another thread.

You all seem to be attacking somethhing that we are not advocating. Although I am inclined to argue this point yet again, I will not. Read the above and I'll save some storage space.

One more thing. In the past, there clearly has been a disconnect between the people of this country and our foreign policy. In too many instances, our government did things which we either didn't understand, didn't care enough to find out about (beyond what Dan Rather said), or were even misled about by the one-dimensional reporting of the media, or political propaganda.

The people of America are good people, but sometimes, our government has not reflected that kindheartedness and compassion. Perhaps this incident will move more people to really understand what we are doing internationally. Once people are aware (and a HUGE majority are not), then our policy will more accurately reflect the nature of the American people.

Up to this point, the politicians have not been held accountable by a large majority of the population... (Hell, just look at our voter turnout)

Finally, here are some changes I think we should make in our foreign policy. This does not preclude meting out justice to the terrorists. This is in addition to that. Comments??

(BTW, why wasn't this posted in one of the other 58 threads which were either devoted to this subject or veered to it.)
posted by fooljay at 9:32 PM on September 21, 2001

This pretty close to the opposite argument of the original link. Short and worth a read on the other side.
posted by chaz at 9:36 PM on September 21, 2001

I think the idea that "America must makes changes in it's foreign policy" makes complete sense, but I think those of us who also believe there should be some form of justice/military action done - see the first mantra repeated over and over and see it as "let's listen to the terrorists". Regardless of your actual intent, that is how it comes across. That idea, of course, is abhorrent to us - because they don't care what we think.

I also think that's why the populace rejects the argument, because (once again) the American liberal-left sucks big time at selling their message to more than the "radical" college-style audience. So now you have the perception of being sympathetic to the terrorists (as irrational as that may seem there is truth to that perception).
posted by owillis at 10:20 PM on September 21, 2001

From chaz's link:

But surely the growing rancor toward the United States throughout the Middle East and Muslim world has crippled American intelligence capacities, deprived us of needed allies and potential warnings, and made the fight against the evil that much more difficult.

A pratical interpretation. Whether they hate us for our policies or our freedom or our capitalism or our religion or our hairstyles, we've made it very difficult to operate over there.
posted by Dean King at 10:50 PM on September 21, 2001

I think that it is important to distinguish between the vast numbers of people who are pissed off at the US foreign policy, and the few who are pissed off about it enough to attack Americans over it.

The demands of those who have cared enough to attack us are simple. You get out of our holy land and let us do what we want, and we'll leave you alone. We could easily meet these demands.

Oil would cost a little more. There'd probably be a short nuclear war killing a couple million people. But those who are currently muderously angry with us would be happy.

Is it worth it? Obviously not, but in my darker moods I'd almost like to see someone give it a try.
posted by jaek at 11:14 PM on September 21, 2001

In the past, there clearly has been a disconnect between the people of this country and our foreign policy. In too many instances, our government did things which we either didn't understand, didn't care enough to find out about (beyond what Dan Rather said), or were even misled about by the one-dimensional reporting of the media, or political propaganda.

Then let me be the first to bring campaign finance into this argument. It seems that our foreign policy is not dictated by the will of the people any more. (see voter turnout)It is designed to sell more gas, manufacture more Old Navy halter tops, and get thousands hooked on marlboro's. (and why isn't Phillip Morris not bankrupt by now?) Our goverment no longer acts in the best interests of the American people. They act in the best interests in the American economy. Which sometimes are the same, but most of the time are not. Once we get the people dictating foreign policy again, we reduce the risk that our government's actions provoke the enactment of rage and hatred.

Who's to say this attack wouldn't someday come from the native peoples displaced in south america, or columbian drug lords, or the factory workers in southeast asia?

As a liberal, and also one who sees that there is a need to severely punish those responsible for this attack, that is how I see the "self-laceration" point. We need to get our government working for us again. It is obvious from the posts here, save for a hawkish few, that no one wants us to go in and fire blindly.

One of the best ways to stop a warrior is not only to take away his means to conduct war, but his will to conduct it as well.
posted by themikeb at 11:39 PM on September 21, 2001

Jay, your earlier post was excellent. It is particularly important to point out, as you do, that if we can improve our foreign policy, we should improve our foreign policy -- whether or not acts of terrorism helped us realize the value of doing so.

But I don't agree that "we did create a climate of hate and fear which made [the WTC attack] possible". We didn't prevent that climate, but we didn't create it, either. And responsibility for that climate continuing isn't on us, even if we continue with our unsympathetic foreign policies.

That said, we should still improve our foreign policy. We have practically always pursued the foreign policy that, based on the evidence we had, best served our national interests. (These interests do, I think, include, as has been pointed out here, the desire of the American people to generally display "kindheartedness and compassion". I'm not saying that's been our main priority, but it is a preference.)

We have all now learned that we didn't consider certain things closely enough. Experts long anticipated increasing terrorist acts, but our public, and the politicians we elected, were blissfully unconcerned. Not anymore.

Accordingly, it is now clear that it is in our best interests to revise our foreign policy, beyond dismantling any support systems the terrorist groups may have built. We now know that it is in our best interests to radically change the tenor of our presence and image in the Middle East. One way to do this would be to encourage Muslim political leaders to discontinue their anti-American propaganda, and to help foster economic prosperity in that region (b/c clearly (as you say) the poverty there is a vital element in creating the hopelessness and frustration that terrorist leaders use to recruit their followers).

All this follows without entering into any discussion of whether or not the U.S. was "wrong" or "at fault" for anything. Clearly we erred in judgment, and paid a steep price. But whether or not we were wrong is another question.

If you wish to raise that question, here's what you need:

1. You must establish some sort of criteria for when it is wrong (in principle) for a country to protect its own interests. (Nothing tricky here, you just need to define what you mean by "wrong".)

2. You must point to a specific act committed by the U.S. against Muslims that is wrong by the criteria defined in 1.

3. And, in order for this to be relevant to the discussion here, you must further explain how this specific act led to the WTC attack.

This is harder than it sounds. For instance, U.S.-led sanctions vs. Iraq are probably not a real cause of the Iraqi people's hardships -- Sadam has been impoverishing his country without our help (we've even intercepted ships loaded with foodstuffs coming from Iraq, while it was under sanctions). U.S. support of Israel isn't likely to be wrong by any fair criteria of "wrong", either. Similarly with stationing "infidels" (U.S. troops) in Saudi Arabia, at the invitation of the Saudis, though bin Laden has described that act as one that particularly enrages him. Even our past support of bin Laden is unlikely to be demonstrably wrong -- misguided, absolutely, but it was essentially intended to protect our national security from the Soviet threat.

So, to sum up, we have two distinct issues here: 1) What's our best course of action now (specifically, should we alter our foreign policy in the Middle East); and 2) Were the WTC terrorists responding to genuine wrongdoing on the part of the United States.

My thoughts:

1) We should educate and improve our foreign policy.
2) I dunno.
posted by mattpfeff at 11:45 PM on September 21, 2001

1. We have tried non-violent means; we have tried talking; and every time the Taliban has thumbed their nose at us. The sanctions there have done as much good as they've done in Iraq. A bully will gladly let you keep talking while he beats the crap out of you. Unless you like emergency rooms, you have to take a stand at some point. They want our money and our aid (which we have been supplying in large numbers compared to others) - then accuse us of being imperialist; we start to pull out and focus elsewhere - we're accused of not caring or ... to simplify it ... acting superior. So, which do they want? We can't be on everybody's side, and with the way the ties are tangling, we can't get out of their squabbles either. I agree with fooljay: we need to support installing "democratic" gov'ts or at least defend the oppressed OR stay the hell out of it.

2. It's not that they aren't interested in other targets, they targeted us first because we are the world's superpower. A basic rule of fighting more than one person, take out the biggest guy, and the others will be afraid of you. They feel that if they can cripple us, the other countries will cower in fear of what they could do to them.

3. owillis has a good point. They don't care what we think, nor do they care about working with us - we were not even allowed to send in representatives to talk directly, we had to do it through diplomats from Pakistan. You cannot negotiate with them, and our previous attempts at working with them on this issue prove that. If the Taliban truly cared about negotiating with us - and the people of Afghanistan for that matter - they would've yielded or tried to open discussions when the sanctions were first imposed.

4. Let me also make the point that there are 8 people over there guilty of "preaching Christianity." They will probably die for that offense. Does this sound like a government interested in "getting along" or making peace with us through non-violent methods? I don't think so.
posted by jw161020 at 11:46 PM on September 21, 2001

I don't agree. E.g., suppose I'm driving a car with faulty brakes, but I don't know it.

I've got an even better argument. Saying the US brought this upon itself (oh, let's just dispense with the niceties and say what they really mean, that we DESERVED this attack and bombing and mass murder) because of things it did in the past is like trying to make the argument that the reason the TRS-80 eventually died out is because Radio Shack wasn't smart enough to include Ethernet and FireWire ports on the motherboard.

In other words, it's presentism: Trying to claim the US should have known decades ago that the actions they took then in order to maintain geopolitical stability would somehow eventually cause actions B, C and D years and years down the road, leading to current situation E. The argument, at its core, is that the US, back in the '70s and '80s, could have been 100% prescient as to every important political event of the next 20 to 30 years to come (at the very least). And since our government "chose not to" have a little psychic seance and look into the distant future, well, it's our fault for not making better use of our amazing psychic abilities during the Carter and Reagan Administrations to see that what we'd done was inevitably going to lead to the events of 9.11.2001. The obvious fact that all of this is COMPLETELY IMPOSSIBLE, well, that's just our problem too, in their eyes.
posted by aaron at 1:03 AM on September 22, 2001

No, I'm not saying they deserve to die, but if your voluntary spiritual fulfillment brings you to suicidal situations then you cannot ask sympathy from me.

Given that this is the entire MO of the al-Qaida nutbags, does this mean you wholeheartly support the effort to eliminate them before they eliminate us? I can't entirely figure out what your opinion is from this thread.
posted by aaron at 1:11 AM on September 22, 2001

Presentism? Not really. We spent a minimum of six billion dollars and ten years developing a presence in the country. That is sufficient time and resaources to ammend policy to reflect more accurate information about

It is not unreasonable to expect that our representatives in the field would have learned something of the nature of whom they were dealing with (various rebel factions, heroin farmers, etc.) and the outcomes of supporting their activity blindly.
posted by Sqwerty at 1:44 AM on September 22, 2001

Going a bit meta : Probably an unpopular thing to say, and I've said it before, but a lot of the handwringing that has been happening in threads like this (and no offense, Fred - thanks for posting the link, and I agree with the comment in Metatalk that this has been a truly enlightening discussion here on 10688) seems to me to be, at least in part, a result of the fact that a lot of Americans have just discovered that a lot of people don't like America.

Now I'm not talking here at all about the attacks, or about what retribution and revenge, if any, are appropriate. What has happened has happened, and what will, will.

What interests me is this feverish point-counterpoint around the question of whether or not some people in other parts of the world (and in particular, some very nasty people who wish to do violence to innocent civilians) are justified in intensely disliking America.

The subtext seems to me to be that most folks in America, even to one degree or another some of the clearly learned and cosmopolitan folks on MeFi, were completely unaware that everyone else in the world was not joining them in rousing chants of "U!S!A!" on a scheduled basis.

This amazes me.

(An aside : 'ethnic cleansing'? I don't want to be a vocab-nazi (if there is such a thing), but that term, along with some other obvious ones like 'collateral damage'.... well, I think using the word 'genocide' avoids plastic army-PR-speak, and paints the picture a lot more clearly, don't you?)
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 5:21 AM on September 22, 2001

It's only presentism if you refuse to acknowledge past concerns.

Certainly, no-one could have predicted a fundamentalist movement taking over Afghanistan in the early 80s. The assumption was that client-state wars between the US and USSR created a long-term alternative to face-to-face conflict. But in the early 90s, anyone with half a clue and a radio tuned to the BBC World Service could appreciate that the power vacuum in Afghanistan was at least as dangerous as that in Somalia, and possibly more so because of the military advances of the Taliban.

And yeah, that was mostly Clinton's call, though Bush Sr had a big role, and both missed it. (And I'm surprised that those on the right have themselves missed it; instead, we've had plenty of shrill "Hillary is a traitor" comments.) But he was just continuing in a long-standing tradition of concentrating on peace missions in regions which have strong American lobbies, and fuck the rest of 'em. A cynical assessment is that the US usually left countries in no state for the disenchanted to plan malicious retribution, but that's now changed.
posted by holgate at 7:10 AM on September 22, 2001

Is there not one friggin Falwell's evil twin leftist who can answer my question?
Please name one country in the Middle East which has ELECTED a government that hates and resents the US.
If you draw a distinction between the regime and the common people, please tell me how the hell you know what the actual popular opinion is as votes are never taken?
posted by quercus at 7:14 AM on September 22, 2001

If you draw a distinction between the regime and the common people, please tell me how the hell you know what the actual popular opinion is as votes are never taken?

Indirectly I suppose, like the fact that some of those 'common people' hate us enough to fly planes into our buildings. Or throw parties in the streets following said action; it's these subtle little hints that the rest of us seem to be picking up on. Or do you believe that this is the result of some evil regime's "Subcommittee on Flying Planes into Skyscrapers"?

Disclaimer: I am not Falwell's evil twin.
posted by boaz at 8:00 AM on September 22, 2001

this might help quercus:

In the Middle East, South and Central Asia, where the Bush administration hopes to achieve the greatest cooperation, most governments sit very uneasily. Extreme pressure by the United States on the political leaders of these nations places them in a bind. If they don't cooperate, they risk military retribution by the United States. If they do cooperate, they risk being overthrown or removed from office, or even assassinated by extreme elements in their own societies. A few examples illustrate this point.

President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt has had the most nervous of administrations. Cognizant of the fact that militant forces in his own nation assassinated his predecessor, Anwar Sadat, Mubarak has lived his life in a virtual bunker. Further crackdown on terrorist groups in Egypt could destabilize his government and perhaps cost him his life.

Ayatollah Mohammad Khatami in Iran is a reformer dealing with recalcitrant conservative forces in his own nation -- including supreme religious leader Ayatollah Ali Kahmene'i. The conservatives in Iran control both the military and the judiciary. Khatami must walk a fine line in his dealings with elements within his own government, or the conservatives will paralyze him and perhaps foment his removal from office.

President Rakhmanov of Tajikistan refused to allow the United States to use his nation, which borders on Afghanistan, as a staging area to attack the Taliban. Tajikistan has just secured a truce in a debilitating civil war where Islamic forces have confronted the Russian-backed secular government. Any U.S. attack on terrorists involving the Tajikistan government would be perceived as an attack on Islamic forces. It would destabilize the peace, and touch off another round of civil war.

These situations are even more acute for Pakistan, Algeria, the Palestinians, Syria, and Saudi Arabia. Each of these governments or authorities risks destabilization and destruction if it cooperates openly with the United States.
posted by kliuless at 8:36 AM on September 22, 2001

Skallas: I'm not expecting a cut and dry answer, but if you admit foreign policy in the middle east needs work you're accepting that the US has done wrong and possibly in brought the hatred onto itself. Shared fault anyone?

Ahh [sarcasm] but we are at WAR man. If you are not in favor nuking Afghanistan until no structures exist in the country, then you are an fucking moslem apologist who believes that we diserved it.[/sarcasm]

aaron: In other words, it's presentism: Trying to claim the US should have known decades ago that the actions they took then in order to maintain geopolitical stability would somehow eventually cause actions B, C and D years and years down the road, leading to current situation E.

Well I don't know. A local paper reported on unclassified pentagon policy memos on aerospace defense from 10 years ago that explicitly stated that our foreign economic policy was explicitly creating a new class of military enemy. Again, I find it rather frustrating that saying exactly the same thing that was said last month, saying exactly the same thing that the U.S. military has been saying for over a decade, saying exactly the same things that were said about Islamic extremism from both people who advocate military and peaceful solutions, suddenly becomes an "apology" or "we diserved it" or even "treason." It's like we have collective amnesia in which suddenly 25 years of policy analysis regarding the conflict between Islam and Christianity must be forgotten.

Personally I certainly would have no objections to watching Ben Ladan rot and this is a conflict for me. Spiritually and morally, I believe war can never be morally justified. I don't believe that an unconditional war with Afghanistan will protect American lives, nor do I believe in a right to retaliation. Practically however war may be necessary to protect us. But that does not make it a morally just act, simply politically justified.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 9:06 AM on September 22, 2001

The argument, at its core, is that the US, back in the '70s and '80s, could have been 100% prescient as to every important political event of the next 20 to 30 years to come

I don't buy this. We've known since the 80s that terrorism was a threat. We've known our airport "security" was a myth (every European tourist knew this). In fact, according to an earlier Salon.com article, Gary Hart, who co-chaired a bipartisan committee on the threat of terrorism that made a recommendation in January of this year, said of the WTC attacks: " 'We predicted it. We said Americans will likely die on American soil, possibly in large numbers -- that's a quote (from the commission's Phase One Report) from the fall of 1999.' "

Problem was, the American people didn't take the threat seriously, so naturally our politicians didn't.

I don't blame anyone for this -- that's the way our political system works. Now the American people have learned a lesson. It's unfortunate (yes, that's understatement) the terrorists were so successful, but clearly they had to have some success before we would pay attention.

And no, I don't think the 80s were too late to start addressing the conditions in the Middle East that fostered this hatred of the U.S. We should have done so, not because we were necessarily doing anything "wrong" (as far as I know), but because that hatred is a very real threat. Obviously.
posted by mattpfeff at 11:20 AM on September 22, 2001

Here's a parable...


Two workers at RJ Reynolds are having a discussion.

"I don't know how I feel about working here anymore. My wife's sister smoked all her life and was just diagnosed with lung cancer."

"Did she smoke our cigarettes?"

"Yeah, some of the time. She was an addict, though... she'd chain smoke just about anything that had tobacco in it."

"Sounds like it was her fault. She could have always stopped."

"Not that we didn't help get her addicted and keep her that way..."

"We didn't do anything. Some executive somewhere might have boosted nicotine levels or targeted ads at her, but how can we be blamed? We're just following orders. Gotta make a living..."


The obvious truth is that all of us bear some responsibility for the situation that led to the attack... admittedly, we aren't the main players in the conflict, but are we really any less responsible for the situation than, say, an Afghani farmer that might get killed as "collateral damage" in the upcoming conflict... is the farmer "acceptable losses" in this conflict from our perspective? Does that make you the same from somebody elses' perspective?
posted by insomnia_lj at 1:45 PM on September 22, 2001

So Boaz you really think bin Laden is representing the common will? By that logic, the CIA represents you-yet I somehow intuit you don't wholly back all their actions. Street protests? Overlooking the fact that protests without government sanction do not happen in these dictatorships, even assuming the protest is genuine, you can't really believe the Seattle street protesters of last year represent majority American opinion, do you? A foreigner who made this assumption based on TV coverage would be poorly informed indeed. There is no way to know what the majority of the Middle East's populace actually believes-the governments are all repressive tyrannies-see Klueless's nice summary. Democratic governments dont worry about (internal) coups.
posted by quercus at 5:54 PM on September 22, 2001

Addressing that article Kliuless-I don't see the leap in logic that holds as the presently unpopular governments may be toppled if they support the US-the popular will must hate the US. Obviously, these countries can be ruled without democratic support. They are now. Why should it be assumed that if another faction takes power they must have the populace behind them, and wont be toppled in turn. Per my original inquiry-Please check back with an elected government that hates the US.
posted by quercus at 6:02 PM on September 22, 2001

So Boaz you really think bin Laden is representing the common will?

I know he's not recruiting these suicide bombers in Canada. I think he's representing a lot of people in the Middle East. Besides, he's not a regime of any sort, so I'm not sure how you think he's forcing people to support him.
Your focus on the common will is entirely missing the point; if he can recruit thousands of suicide bombers from these common people, that's a problem for us no matter what the majority feel. Life is not poll-driven.

Democratic governments dont worry about (internal) coups.

This is just untrue. They happen in South American democracies all the time. Pakistan had one recently too. They had a tense relationship with us before the coup as well.

I don't see the leap in logic that holds as the presently unpopular governments may be toppled if they support the US-the popular will must hate the US. Obviously, these countries can be ruled without democratic support.

The way this works is very simple. The military is made up of these common people and are given guns, tanks, etc. If popular opinion goes too far against the rulers, these common people use those guns and tanks to capture or kill the rulers.

Please check back with an elected government that hates the US.

Now that's framing the debate; I'll ignore any country without an elected government, whatever their citizens, government or extremist factions living within think.
posted by boaz at 6:36 PM on September 22, 2001

If you can recruit violent people from the richest, freest, best-educated (well, close enough), and most stable nation in the world, such as those that join white-supremacy, anarchist, or other violent groups, imagine how it is to recruit them from countries in precisely the opposite predicament.
posted by chaz at 10:22 PM on September 22, 2001

That's my point Chaz/Boaz-yes in America you can recruit plenty of hate filled morons-you can in the Middle East as well. Does any one seriously propose some skinheads in Idaho represent the majority of American opinion? Why then do we conclude some radical jihadists holed up in a cave in Afghanistan tells us something about the majority will of that country?
posted by quercus at 10:00 AM on September 24, 2001

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