Is This the Wrong Time to Question Foreign Policy?

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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 them,
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 that 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 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?

September
27, 2001

Mr.
Hornberger [send him mail] is
president of The Future of Freedom
Foundation
in Fairfax, Va, and co-editor of The Failure of America's
Foreign Wars. Much longer analyses of the war on terrorism are posted
in the Commentary section of the Foundation's website.

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