By now everyone who has been paying even the slightest bit of attention to the news from Tuesday night’s GOP presidential debate knows that the big moment of the evening occurred when Ron Paul finally got the chance to talk for more than 30 seconds. Paul gave a thorough explanation of why a noninterventionist foreign policy is the proper American foreign policy. When asked by one of the moderators if 9/11 hadn’t changed his mind about that, he replied that, no, U.S. intervention "was a major contributing factor" to the cause of the attacks. He went on to cite 10 years of bombing and sanctions against Iraq as one of the grievances of al-Qaeda that led to their attacking innocent Americans.
At this point Rudy Giuliani, who is running for president primarily on his alleged expertise in security (because, apparently, being mayor of a city that is attacked to great effect makes one a security expert much as being the captain of the Titanic makes one an iceberg expert), broke the rules of the debate to denounce Paul for this perfectly reasonable opinion, claiming that he’d never heard it before and demanding a retraction. Paul has repeatedly refused to do so and has challenged Giuliani to apologize to him since the very sentiments Paul expressed about blowback from U.S. intervention are expressed in the 9/11 Commission Report, which Giuliani the "security expert" has apparently not read.
For all this Paul has been denounced by various blowhards on the right as a "blame America first" type who claimed that the 9/11 terrorists were justified in their actions because of U.S. foreign policy. Nothing, of course, could be further from the truth.
First let’s set one thing straight: America and its federal government are two completely different entities. Was America, the conglomeration of its individual citizens, responsible for provoking the 9/11 attacks? Of course not. Was the U.S. government, the world’s largest organized crime ring, responsible for provoking the attacks? Absolutely. Unfortunately, innocent Americans were made to suffer for their government’s attempts to run the world.
What Ron Paul was trying to convey in the limited amount of time he had was that actions have consequences, and the actions of the U.S. government can have extremely negative consequences, as one would expect all the conservatives who are denouncing him to recognize.
For example, while not all conservatives oppose the welfare state on principle (i.e., that it’s nothing but legalized plunder), they all oppose it because of its negative consequences. By paying women to have children out of wedlock, it has fostered an underclass of angry, indolent males with no fathers to provide them with either discipline or example. As a result, many of them become criminals.
One might correctly say, then, that the policies of the federal government have had a direct bearing on the criminal behavior of these individuals. Is this "blaming America first"? Are those who agree with this blaming the victims of the crimes committed by the underclass? Are they justifying the crimes because they were the result of government policy? The obvious answer to all of these is no. The crimes of the underclass are indeed a direct result of bad government policy, and part of the solution is to change that policy. Nevertheless, the individuals who committed the crimes ought still to be brought to justice because they are responsible for their own actions.
Let’s consider something even closer to the 9/11 situation. Timothy McVeigh, a U.S. government-trained killer, was justifiably angry at the federal government’s murder of innocent Americans (allegedly to protect other Americans from dangerous people) at Waco and Ruby Ridge. In response, McVeigh bombed the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City, killing 168 and wounding 850. (Change a few details here and you have the Osama bin Laden story.)
Again the policies of the federal government had a direct bearing on the actions of a criminal. Again those policies were very bad, and conservatives generally recognized them as such. Were they then "blaming America first" for suggesting that these bad policies ought not to be repeated? Were they blaming the victims of McVeigh’s crime? Were they justifying the crime because they, too, believed the policies were bad and believed that justice should be done?
Once again the obvious answer is no. McVeigh’s crimes were indeed the result of bad government policy, and one way to prevent such crimes in the future is to change that policy. At the same time, McVeigh was fully responsible for having murdered innocent people in response to a government injustice and was rightly punished (leaving aside for now the debate over capital punishment) for his mass-murdering ways.
Now the next line of defense for the blame-the-U.S.-government-last crowd will be that our government hasn’t done anything to cause Muslims to hate us. The same federal government that conservatives are correctly convinced does so much harm domestically, even when its policies are ostensibly for our benefit, could not possibly do any harm internationally. When people in other countries hate our government for its policies, it is simply because they don’t understand that Uncle Sam’s killing their families, neighbors, and friends is for their own good. As far as conservatives are concerned today, we are free to examine the rightness and the results of liberals’ domestic programs regardless of their original intentions, but we are not to question the rightness and results of U.S. foreign policy because the intentions of its originators are allegedly righteous.
If you really believe that our government’s foreign policy has given Muslims no reason to hate our government and to wish to exact revenge on us, I suggest for starters the 12-point list of U.S. depredations against the Iraqi people presented here by Jacob Hornberger.
Now given that (a) the U.S. government has indeed visited numerous evil acts upon innocent people in other countries, acts that are both unconstitutional and unwise; (b) bin Laden and other terrorists have repeatedly stated that their attacks are motivated by anger at these acts; and (c) the results of (a) and (b) were seen in horrific, deadly color on September 11, 2001, is it wrong to suggest that the federal government bears some responsibility for the deaths of innocent Americans in New York, Pennsylvania, and Washington and that these very bad policies ought to be changed while at the same time insisting that the perpetrators of the attack and their accomplices be brought to justice? Is this "blaming America first"?
America is a wonderful country populated by varied and interesting individuals, most of whom go about their daily lives in exactly the manner that Ron Paul is suggesting the federal government go about its business both at home and abroad (i.e., minding its own business). America’s government, on the other hand, is a gang of looters, busybodies, and egomaniacs that wants to micromanage not only the lives of Americans but the lives of everyone else in the world as well.
The trouble is that when people get fed up with the depredations of Rome-on-the-Potomac, they tend to take it out on innocent Americans. Then when those of us not enthralled with the emperor’s new clothes dare to point this out, we are accused of blaming the victims. In fact, we have nothing but the deepest sympathy for the victims and the deepest contempt for both the terrorists and the imperial thugs who by their own evil actions provoke such despicable acts.
Michael Tennant [send him mail] is a software developer in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.