Why Terrorism?

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At
10:15am on September 11, five other professors and I gathered around
a small radio in our department chairman's office to try to figure
out what was going on. Not only had the World Trade Center and the
Pentagon been attacked, but we also heard (falsely, it turns out)
that a car bomb had gone off outside the State Department and another
outside the New York University Medical Center. As I drove home,
I had no idea what was in store for us that day.

A
week later, I wonder what lay ahead. Although I live quite a distance
from the World Trade Center (which I had never visited in my eight
years as a New Yorker), I am writing this during an afternoon that
became free when what authorities described as a "plausible
bomb threat" led to the midday cancellation of classes at the
college where I teach.

That
was the work of some deranged kid, no doubt, but authentic dangers
to the United States are now very real.

One
of the more frustrating aspects of the crisis so far has been the
maddeningly monolithic news "analysis" of the event. The
liberals who ceaselessly urge us to consider the "root causes"
of crime are mysteriously silent in the wake of these attacks. No
"root causes" of terrorism, apparently. All they and their
"conservative" clones can come up with is that the terrorists
must hate "freedom" and "democracy." But as
one observer put it, I don't see anyone flying planes into Big Ben
or the Eiffel Tower.

Pat
Buchanan was the only person who warned that the barbarism of recent
American foreign policy was bound to lead to a terrorist catastrophe
on American soil. Consider Pat's remarks two and a half years ago:

America
is the only nation on Earth to claim a right to intervene militarily
in every region of the world. But this foreign policy is not
America's tradition; it is an aberration. During our first 150
years, we renounced interventionism and threatened war on any
foreign power that dared to intervene in our hemisphere. Can
we, of all people, not understand why foreigners bitterly resent
our intrusions?

With
the Cold War over, why invite terrorist attacks on our citizens
and country, ultimately with biological, chemical or nuclear
weapons? No nation threatens us. But with the proliferation
of weapons of mass destruction, America will inevitably be targeted.
And the cataclysmic terror weapon is more likely to come by
Ryder truck or container ship than by ICBM. And no SDI will
stop it….

Battling
terrorism must go beyond discovering and disrupting it before
it happens and deterring it with retaliation. We need to remove
the motivation for it by extricating the United States from
ethnic, religious and historical quarrels that are not ours
and which we cannot resolve with any finality.

This
simple and obvious analysis seems utterly beyond either our rulers
or what we laughingly refer to as our foreign-policy experts.

Following
the Persian Gulf War, which many in the Arab world saw as an outright
massacre, a vastly disproportionate response to Iraq's invasion
of Kuwait, Presidents Bush and Clinton enforced sanctions against
the civilians of Iraq that no just-war criterion could possibly
justify. Food and medicine could not enter the country. United Nations
estimates have pegged the number of dead as a result of the sanctions
at a mind-boggling 1.4 million, 500,000 of whom were children. This
one area where current Vatican policy on external relations with
the world is exactly right; even the American bishops have got it
right. Not coincidentally, it was again Buchanan — practically alone
among American political figures — who repeatedly deplored the senseless
loss of life, to say nothing of the increasing alienation of the
Arab world, that the sanctions were causing.

Indeed,
killing half a million children sure seems like terrorism to much
of the Arab world, and they smell hypocrisy when George W. Bush
intimates that the deliberate targeting of innocents is the exclusive
province of Muslim extremists. The sanctions against Iraq showed
us the New World Order with the benign mask removed, in all its
ugliness and cruelty. And you can be sure the Arab world was listening
when Clinton Secretary of State Madeleine Albright casually remarked
to 60 Minutes' Leslie Stahl, when asked about the terrible
human toll that the sanctions had taken, that "we think the
price is worth it."

Half
a million children dead was "worth it." But of course
we are to believe that it is hatred for "freedom" and
"democracy" that motivates terror.

Fast
forward to 1998, when Bill Clinton was in the middle of the Lewinsky
scandal. In that year, the U.S. military hit a pharmaceutical plant
in Sudan that later turned out to be — well, a pharmaceutical plant.
No apology or compensation was forthcoming, of course: the empire
of democracy apologizes to no one. This kind of humiliation breeds
resentment, which in turn provokes retaliation.

Think
back to World War I, when the Allies continued their starvation
blockade of Germany for four months after that country had surrendered.
Estimates of the consequences of that policy range from 750,000
to one million German civilians dead from hunger. Within a generation,
as you will recall, a rather distasteful political party emerged
there, whose members, generally young, remembered having nearly
been starved to death as children. People remember such things.

Nothing
could be easier than to distort what I am saying. I am obviously
not suggesting that past U.S. actions somehow justified these unknown
savages in their kamikaze attacks on innocent Americans. What I
am saying is that if the American government has any purpose at
all, it is to protect the American people and keep them out of harm's
way. Now we know full well that there are conflicts around the world
that involve bitter enmities. We must also realize by now that when
we insist on involving ourselves in these, there will be real and
possibly devastating consequences. Persistent meddling will without
doubt continue to expose us to the kinds of attacks we have just
witnessed.

A
foreign policy that possesses anything of the spirit of Catholicism
will have rational and finite goals, mindful of the limits of what
is possible in this world and well aware of the silliness and ignorance
of utopian schemes. Officials free of the infection of liberalism
would understand that the only rational foreign policy is one whose
goal is not global democracy, or an attempt to "rid the world
of evil" (to use the President's phrase — apparently the United
States can achieve a goal of which even the angels are incapable),
but to protect our people. And if protecting our people means minding
our own business — which, after all, is what every other sane country
does, and what wiser American statesmen have traditionally counseled
— then so be it.

It
is interesting to contrast the monolithic analysis of what we congratulate
ourselves as our "free press" with that of newspaper editorialists
around the world. Thus in Russia, Vremya had this to say:
"The Americans should review their military doctrine. Now is
the time for them to think about what makes anti-American sentiment
so strong in the world, why the Great Satan is hated so much, and
if the late Senator William Fulbright was right about the u2018arrogance
of power.'"

Even
America's friends are beginning to say the same thing. In South
Korea, the pro-government Hankyoreh Shinmun commented: "Given
that the U.S. has been under fire from the international community
for its power-based, arrogant attitude, the Americans need to take
this incident as an opportunity to reflect on whether they have
encouraged this desperate and hostile terrorism." Similar statements
are evident even in some European editorials. (Readers interested
in foreign reaction should consult this Chronicles
article
.)

Jang,
the leading Pakistani daily, hit the nail on the head: "Not
a single media commentary from the United States has hinted at a
critical appreciation of the country's foreign policy. Only one
statement is being repeated, that the terrorism against America
will be responded to and the terrorists will be crushed."

I
am all for a monument to the innocents who perished in this barbaric
attack. At the same time, I'd also like to see a monument to the
foreign-policy geniuses who put the American people in all this
danger in the first place. I'm imagining something toilet-shaped.

Still,
one can hope that it is not too late for something of value to be
learned in all this. Earlier this year, Secretary of State Colin
Powell seemed to be on the right track when he observed that U.S.
sanctions policy had only served to alienate countless millions
of Arabs and showed "a degree of American hubris and arrogance
that may not, at the end of the day, serve our interests all that
well." That was a pretty good start, and indicates at least
an inkling of where the United States needs to go from here.

A
massive military campaign, it should go without saying, would 1)
lose world support in relatively short order and 2) inevitably cause
enough civilian deaths to inspire a whole new generation of worse
— indeed, catastrophically worse — terrorism. They would
escalate, then we would escalate, and the war would go on literally
forever. No, a military campaign cannot be the ultimate answer,
unless the Pentagon proposes to kill all these people. Civilian
deaths caused directly or indirectly by U.S. action are what helped
to inspire this wave of fanaticism in the first place. A prize-winning
American historian recently posed the question: "Why do you
suppose that the killing of an Arab mother, or sister, or daughter,
either directly by the United States or through its Israeli proxy,
is something that Arab men will take in stride and just let go,
forget about, and go on to something else — new restaurants, maybe,
or the latest Hollywood movies? Do you think they have no sense
of honor?"

Again,
and obviously, none of this in any way excuses the deliberate targeting
of American civilians. Identifiable perpetrators should certainly
be punished. But it is time for the U.S. to stop trying to build
the Tower of Babel, to realize the price of empire before it is
too late.

If
these lessons are not learned, I fear that we have discovered how
the seemingly impregnable American empire will someday be toppled.
God hates the proud. Our leaders have attempted the hubristic enterprise
of running the world — and not even on Christian principles, but
on a combination of simple greed and Enlightenment philosophy. That
cannot go on forever.

October
17, 2001

A
version of this essay originally appeared in The
Remnant
, highly recommended biweekly Catholic newspaper.
Thomas E. Woods, Jr. [send
him mail
] teaches history in New York.

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