That Pre-9/11 Mindset

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That Pre-9/11 Mindset: Meet the New Normal, Same as the Old Normal

by Roderick T. Long by Roderick T. Long

Critics of the current rgime’s so-called “War on Terror” are often accused of having a “September 10th” or “pre-9/11″ mindset. (Our ever-articulate Prince President garbled both descriptions into the phrase “pre-September 10th mentality” during the first debate.) The suggestion is that everyone’s worldview should have been radically transformed by the events of September 11th; anyone whose worldview wasn’t so altered, anyone who continues to favour diplomacy over a resort to military force, must simply be blind to reality. But there’s a problem with this argument: it assumes that everyone’s worldview needed changing. After all, any worldview that was radically altered by the September 11th attacks must have been radically mistaken to begin with. But anyone whose understanding of the world was substantially correct would not have had his or her overall view of things shaken by those events. Why didn’t more of us (“us” being those of the anti-war/anti-state persuasion, whether “left” or “right”) abandon our way of thinking in response to 9/11? Because 9/11 didn’t teach us anything we didn’t already know. We’ve been saying for decades that the U.S. government’s arrogant interventions around the world have only been increasing the risk of blowback, and that the State, in the event of such blowback, would be as ineffective at protecting the civilian population as it is at everything else. The 9/11 attacks simply corroborated our “pre-9/11 mindset.” In 2000, for example — a year before 9/11 — the Mises Institute’s Jon Basil Utley was predicting that the United States’ disregard of international law was fueling a potential terrorist backlash. And the year before that, our own Lew Rockwell observed that thanks to its “foreign policy, imperial military reach, and global arrogance, the U.S. government is the most hated in the world,” so it’s “not surprising” that terrorists might “blame us for the actions of the government.” The Cato Institute also saw what was coming. In 1996, Cato analyst Stanley Kober wrote a rather moderate piece (referring, whether navely or diplomatically, to the U.S. government’s “noble intentions”) in which he warned of the rising terrorist threat from someone named Osama bin Laden, whose “motivation stems from the American assistance to Saudi Arabia when it was threatened by Iraq.” Noting that the United States “has been all but oblivious to the way some of its actions are perceived by ordinary Arabs and Muslims,” Kober suggested that terrorist “bombings in Saudi Arabia should not be viewed as isolated aberrations. … The danger for the United States is that it will also become the target of those extremists.” Two years later, in 1998, Cato’s Ivan Eland was explaining:

One of three terrorist attacks worldwide is directed against a U.S. target. And that’s not because the United States is a rich capitalist nation. There are plenty of countries that fit that description. It’s not because the United States exports its “decadent” culture overseas. Other nations export Western culture, and some of their exports are as “decadent” as or more “decadent” than those of the United States. No, terrorists attack the United States primarily for what it does, not what it is. In light of the fact that “[e]ven comparatively weak terrorist groups can now inflict massive damage on a superpower,” Eland argued that “the only viable way to significantly reduce the chances of a catastrophic attack” was for the U.S. government to “concentrate its efforts on minimizing the motivation for such attacks in the first place.” He concluded that “Americans should not have to live in fear of terrorism just so Washington’s foreign policy elite can attempt to achieve amorphous and ephemeral gains on the world chessboard.” And in 2000, Cato’s Doug Bandow wrote that rather than “[s]imply threatening the attackers,” the U.S. government should “review U.S. policies that encourage terrorism.” Quoting an al-Qaida representative’s remark that it is “time to take action against this iniquitous and faithless force the U.S. which has spread troops through Egypt, Yemen and Saudi Arabia,” Bandow concluded that the United States’ “promiscuous intervention in small but bitter foreign conflicts” and “[f]oolish attempts at nation-building risk turning all of America into a war zone.” What about the Libertarian Party? The 1990 party platform contained the following language: We call upon the United States government to cease all interventions in the Middle East, including military and economic aid, guarantees, and diplomatic meddling, and to cease limitation of private foreign aid, both military and economic. … We oppose the incorporation of the Persian Gulf and the countries surrounding it into the U.S. defense perimeter. We oppose the creation of new U.S. bases and sites for the pre-positioning of military material in the Middle East region. We condemn the stationing of American military troops in the Sinai peninsula as a trip-wire that could easily set off a new world war. And in 1988, I myself warned that “when we wade ignorantly into some third-world mess and throw our support behind the slimiest right-wing thug we can find, we not only betray our principles, we also create generations of fervent anti-Americans; Shahs beget Ayatollahs. It’s hard to see how the manufacture of enemies can be conducive to the national interest.” Of course it’s not only libertarians who were sounding the alarm; recognition of the threat that America’s foreign policy posed to its own civilians was being voiced across the political spectrum. On the left, Noam Chomsky worried in 1993 that the first “bombing of the World Trade Center in New York on February 26, which killed 6 people and caused great damage, may be a portent of things to come.” Until the American people “questioned crimes that their government commits against the people of the traditional colonial domains,” their acquiescence in their government’s foreign policy would continue to invite “further torment.” On the right, Pat Buchanan was asking in 1999: With the Cold War over, why invite terrorist attacks on our citizens and country, ultimately with biological, chemical or nuclear weapons? … [B]attling 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. And of course there were plenty of books available like Jonathan Kwitny’s 1984 Endless Enemies: The Making of an Unfriendly World and Chalmer Johnson’s 2000 Blowback: The Costs and Consequences of American Empire. Indeed, the Clinton administration’s own Hart-Rudman Commission noted in 1999 that the United States was widely perceived as “exercising its power with arrogance and self-absorption,” leading “[m]uch of the world [to] resent and oppose us,” and concluded that “[s]tates, terrorists, and other disaffected groups will acquire weapons of mass destruction and mass disruption, and some will use them.” The upshot? “Americans will likely die on American soil, possibly in large numbers.” Such was the “pre-9/11 mindset” of those who, today, criticise the “War on Terror” as likelier to provoke more terrorism than it prevents. The reason the 9/11 attacks didn’t shake our view of the world was that they were the most eloquent confirmation of that view. Those whose worldview was shaken by the 9/11 attacks must have had their heads in the sand. It may sound rude to say “we told you so,” but given that our opponents’ decision to ignore our warnings has led to thousands of deaths, perhaps a bit of rudeness is in order. We told them so. Of course, if truth be told, the 9/11 attacks didn’t have much of an effect on our opponents’ worldview either. The neoconservative D.C. establishment favours the same policies of imperial aggrandisement now that they favoured before 9/11; the attacks merely made it easier for them to get away with what they had been hankering after all along. We know from Richard Clarke and other White House insiders that plans for the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq had already been drafted, and were simply awaiting a pretext. Not only freedom’s friends, but freedom’s foes too, are continuing in their pre-9/11 mindset.

Roderick T. Long [send him mail] is Associate Professor of Philosophy at Auburn University; President of the Molinari Institute; author of Reason and Value: Aristotle versus Rand; Editor of the Libertarian Nation Foundation periodical Formulations; and an Adjunct Scholar of the Ludwig von Mises Institute. He received his Ph.D. from Cornell in 1992, and maintains the website Praxeology.net, as well as the web journal Austro-Athenian Empire.

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