Why Ron Paul Is Right About Terrorism: A Letter to the GOP Base

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toward Iraq is … not designed to protect U.S. national security.
It is instead a threat to our security because it may lead to
war and loss of American lives, increase terrorism and certainly
an additional expense for the U.S. taxpayer. The hyped rhetoric
coming from Washington which describes Hussein as the only evil
monster with which we must deal in the world is a poor substitute
for wise counsel. “

Rep. Ron Paul, Letter to President Bill Clinton, November 19, 1997

“If we
don’t stop extending our troops all around the world in nation-building
missions, then we’re going to have a serious problem coming down
the road.”

Gov. George W. Bush, Presidential debate with Al Gore, October
3, 2000


Open Letters


Many conservatives
have said that they agree with Republican presidential candidate
Rep. Ron Paul on just about everything, but they just can’t see
things his way when it comes to dealing with the Middle East. Paul’s
views — correctly or incorrectly perceived — could well be a deal
breaker for some in the base of the Republican party who look for
strong presidential leadership to protect us from foreign threats.
This open letter is an attempt to persuade you that Paul has been,
and continues to be, right about the terrorist threat and what should
be done about it.

Ron Paul understands
something that the other candidates from both parties apparently
cannot: Osama bin Laden’s al-Qaeda is a relatively small organization
with limited reach. The attack of September 11th was a desperate
act from a desperate group who has failed miserably in their quest
to conquer and unify the Islamic world. They do not control a single
state on earth. By all indications Bin Laden, al Zawahiri and their
closest followers remain isolated in the no-man’s-land between Afghanistan
and Pakistan.

Al Qaeda is
not an Islamo-fascist caliphate on the march, but they have
attacked us and remain a threat. It is al Qaeda — not extremism
everywhere — that Dr. Paul means to fight. Responding appropriately
demands a cold and objective assessment of the situation, not unchecked,
knee-jerk emotion.

Let us start
with the question “Why did they attack us on September 11th?”

Dr. Paul’s
fellow GOP candidates may publicly denounce him all they want for
his view that the September 11th hijackers, their accomplices and
financiers were motivated by a hatred of American policy in the
Middle East. The terrorists themselves cite U.S. support for Israel
and an indefinite military occupation of the Saudi desert, necessary
for the enforcement of the blockade and no-fly zones against neighboring
Iraq during the 1990s.

former Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz, a primary architect
of the Iraq invasion, explained to Vanity Fair magazine soon
after the fall of Baghdad, in May, 2003, that the ability to move
the bases from Saudi Arabia to Iraq was a great benefit of the war
because it detracted from one of bin Laden’s motivations for attacking
the U.S.:

“There are
a lot of things that are different now, and one that has gone
by almost unnoticed — but it’s huge — is that by complete mutual
agreement between the U.S. and the Saudi government we can now
remove almost all of our forces from Saudi Arabia. Their presence
there over the last 12 years has been a source of enormous difficulty
for a friendly government. It’s been a huge recruiting device
for al Qaeda. In fact if you look at bin Laden, one of his principle
grievances was the presence of so-called crusader forces on the
holy land, Mecca and Medina. I think just lifting that burden
from the Saudis is itself going to open the door to other positive

According to
authors Lawrence Wright, Terry McDermott, Michael Scheuer, Loretta
Napoleoni and James Bamford, the purpose of al Qaeda terrorism,
and specifically the September 11th attacks, was to provoke a
reaction. Bin Laden and his partner Zawahiri have both explained
that they already saw the U.S. as being in a state of war with them,
but through their own governments and from far away North America.
Their strategy was to hit us hard enough to provoke a full-scale
invasion of Afghanistan. Essentially, their goal was to recreate
their war against the Soviets a generation before — a war that they,
of course, consider to be the primary cause of the USSR’s collapse.
In other words, they meant to lure our military to their sandtrap
to bleed our treasury dry, forcing our empire out of their region
for good.

In this sense,
Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld’s decision to keep the invasion “light
and fast” — at least at first — was smart insofar as it would deny
the terrorists the quagmire they sought to provoke. Unfortunately,
the administration’s decision to topple Saddam Hussein’s regime
in Iraq stole defeat from the jaws of victory, ridding the largest
Arab state of its secular and formerly Western-backed dictator and
creating a second chance for bin Laden to claim gains against the
United States.

Years before
9/11, In February 1998, Dr. Paul told
the Congress

“Mr. Speaker,
the Saudis this past week expressed a sincere concern about an
anti-American backlash if we start bombing Baghdad. We should
not ignore the feelings of the Saudis. If a neighbor can oppose
this bombing, we should be very cautious.”

Later that
year, while Bill Clinton was shooting cruise missiles at antibiotics
factories and empty training camps in Afghanistan, Ron Paul spoke
from the floor of the House of Representatives, warning the public
and the Congress that our policy was in fact making enemies of our
former friends, the mujahedeen warriors of Afghanistan (who he had
opposed funding in the first place during his stint in Congress
in the 1980s):

“Osama bin
Laden and his Afghan religious supporters were American allies
throughout the 1980s and received our money and training and were
heralded as the Afghan ‘Freedom Fighters.’ Even then, bin Laden
let it be known that his people resented all imperialism, whether
from the Soviets or the United States. …

“[T]he region’s
Muslims see America as the imperialist invader. They have deeply
held religious beliefs, and in their desire for national sovereignty
many see America as a threatening menace. America’s presence in
the Middle East, most flagrantly demonstrated with troops and
bases in Saudi Arabia, is something many Muslims see as defiling
their holy land. Many Muslims — and this is what makes an extremist
like bin Laden so popular — see American policy as identical to
Israel’s policy; an affront to them that is rarely understood
by most Americans.

“Far too
often, the bombing of declared (or concocted) enemies, whether
it’s the North Vietnamese, the Iraqis, the Libyans, the Sudanese,
the Albanians, or the Afghans, produces precisely the opposite
effect to what is sought. It kills innocent people, creates more
hatred toward America, unifies and stimulates the growth of the
extremist Islamic movement and makes them more determined than
ever to strike back with their weapon of choice — terror.”

You can see
now why Ron Paul did not endorse Bill Clinton’s endless bombing
campaigns back then and why he opposed the war in 2003. He saw the
consequences of U.S. policy on their way back when most were caught
up with the dot-com bubble and White House sex scandal.

Between these
two warnings from Dr. Paul about the possible terrorist blowback
from U.S. foreign policy, Osama bin Laden had re-released his 1996
“fatwa” against the United States. Titled “Declaration of War Against
the Americans Occupying the Land of the Two Holy Places” (the Arabian
peninsula), he invoked support for Israel, the occupation of Saudi
Arabia, the backing of local dictatorships and the continuous bombing
of Iraq as his major grievances against U.S. policy.

For those determined
to see bin Laden as simply a cold-blooded murderer who hates us
because we are free, what is important to understand is that no
matter what he actually believes, his message is one of specific
complaints against U.S. policy. And it is this, as Ron Paul noted
back in 1998, that makes bin Laden’s message useful in gaining new
recruits to his “jihad.”

Even though
some on TV complain that recognizing these facts somehow implicitly
excuses the actions of those who attacked the United States, this,
of course, is a red herring. Nothing could excuse the acts of September
11th. A Congressman identifying the motives at play is not justifying
the attacks any more than when a local DA tries to figure out why
someone has committed any other crime. If we believe that the terrorists
are motivated to attack us because we have freedom, or have yet
to invade their countries and give them freedom, then our policy
prescriptions for multiple regime changes across the Middle East
can only make matters worse. With opinion of the United States falling
all across the world, and especially in the Muslim world, the continued
presence of U.S. combat troops on Arab soil makes attacks against
this country much more likely, not less. Paul voted to give the
president the authority to use military force against bin Laden’s
group in Afghanistan and has repeatedly stated that were he president,
actually doing so would be a top priority.

Not only did
Paul foresee the problem with terrorism stemming from our continuous
bombing campaign in the 1990s, he also predicted the consequences
in Iraq were Saddam and the Ba’athists to fall. In the February
’98 speech quoted above, he also asked:

“And even
if we do kill Hussein, what do we do? We create a vacuum, a vacuum
that may be filled by Iran. It may be filled by some other groups
of Islamic fundamentalists.”

The invasion
of Iraq created what the CIA calls a “training and recruiting ground”
for al Qaeda wannabes in that land, though it seems the low numbers
of so-called “foreign fighters” being brought into “al Qaeda in
Iraq” have had even less influence than the skeptics had predicted.

These al Qaeda
wannabes in Iraq have worn out their welcome with the local Sunni
insurgency and have not been able to mount attacks outside Iraq.
The local Sunnis tolerated them only as long as they were useful
in fighting the occupation and were able to flick off “al Qaeda
in Iraq” like a switch when they felt like it, as seen in the 2006–2007
“Sunni Awakening” in provinces where they had been welcomed.

The president
threatens that if the U.S. withdraws, Osama bin Laden and his followers
could somehow take over Iraq and create a new terrorist state bent
on attacking the America. This just does not hold water. Osama’s
movement remains small and marginal. The “central front” in the
fight against them is in the Waziristan region of Pakistan, not
in far away Iraq.

The end of
Saddam’s rule has also empowered Iran, which has used the democracy
provided by the American occupation to get their proxies elected
to power. The Bush administration apparently tolerated this for
no other reason than that the pro-Iran factions needed the U.S.
occupation and so welcomed it, while the nationalist Shi’ite leaders
like Muqtada al Sadr insisted on withdrawal. Were the American occupation
to end, it is much more likely that nationalist types such as Sadr’s
Mahdi Army would drive the Iranians back to Persia.

the U.S. has spent 2007 accusing Iran of backing and waging war
against American forces in Iraq through the Sadrists, who are not
Iranian proxies and who are not fighting the occupation. They have
provided no evidence that this is the case and our Shi’ite allies
in Iraq have nothing but praise for Iran’s support of their government.

When it comes
to Iran, Ron Paul’s view isn’t much different than that of Gen.
John Abizaid, George Bush’s former head of Central Command. The
General stated recently that Iran is not much of a threat and still
would not pose one were they to obtain nuclear weapons — an achievement
they are years away from, according to Mike McConnell, Bush’s National
Intelligence Director.

The Iranians
pose no real threat to Israel or the West. Their nuclear enrichment
equipment is nothing more than first-generation crap bought second-hand
from the Pakistanis, every bit of which is monitored by international
inspectors. Ninety percent pure Uranium-235 or Plutonium-239 is
needed to make an atom bomb; the Iranians have yet to enrich their
uranium higher than 4 percent and could not do so in the presence
of the International Atomic Energy Agency monitors and sensors.
Harvesting plutonium from their nuclear reactors would take years
and likewise could not even begin without everyone knowing.

Iran’s much
touted “support for international terrorism” has nothing whatsoever
to do with Osama bin Laden, al Qaeda or the September 11th attacks
on this country. Iran supports Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in
the Gaza Strip. While often times extremely violent, these groups
are not global in their reach, are not enemies of the United States
and pose no threat to this country.

It has been
claimed that the president of Iran, who actually holds the power
of a glorified Secretary of the Interior, has threatened to “wipe
Israel off the map,” in a speech in October, 2005. But according
to those who are fluent in Farsi, he said no such thing. What he
said was that the “regime” over Jerusalem would one day “vanish
from the page of time.” This was not even a subtle or implied threat,
much less a promise of imminent attack. The fact also remains that
Iran has no capability to destroy Israel, conventionally, with nukes
they don’t have or through nearly powerless groups like Hamas.

No country
in the world would attempt to “annihilate” Israel. The politician
who did so would be dooming himself and his entire nation to perish
in nuclear flames. Israel has at least 300 nuclear bombs and the
delivery systems necessary to “wipe Persia off the map” in the space
of an afternoon. As Paul has noted, the U.S. triumphantly faced
down the Soviet Union (who actually were an existential threat),
while our modern day think-tankers say the only way to deal with
nearly-helpless Iran is with preemptive war.

Many Americans
believe they need the government to defend them from “radical Islam,”
but those who hold truest to enforcing the strictest interpretations
of Islam as a way of life have no chance of gaining or maintaining
real dominance over humanity in the 21st century. Even if 100 impossibilities
found Osama bin Laden leading the new caliphate in the Middle East,
it would be as doomed as Communism was in the last century. Do we
really fear that a stateless band of pirates in exile in the Hindu
Kush will destroy us? Have we so much confidence in the capabilities
of those who had to steal our planes in order to launch their Kamikaze
attack and so little belief in the resilience of our own civilization?

Speaking of
(Japanese Shintoist and Buddhist) Kamikazes, why should we believe
that terrorism is intrinsically connected with Islam at all? Suicide
bombings are rife in Sri Lanka where neither side is Muslim. By
contrast, radical Islam is prevalent in Sudan, where it has no relationship
to the current widespread violence (both sides are Sunni Arabs)
and there has never been a suicide bombing. Did
radical Catholicism motivate the IRA?

In the book
to Win: The Strategic Logic of Suicide Terrorism
, Dr. Robert
A. Pape’s research shows that suicide terrorism is a strategic response
to occupation by foreign armies, plain and simple. The only role
religion plays in this struggle, according to Pape, is that the
willingness of the occupied to resort to suicide attacks increases
when the occupying army is made of people who come from far away,
look different and believe differently due to the fear that their
entire way of life will come under attack.

Americans are
the same way. Our irrational fear that Arab Islamic terrorists from
the Middle East are coming here to force us all to convert to Wahhabism
has convinced us to spend thousands of lives, trillions of dollars,
pass piles of new laws and nearly break our defenses in our efforts
to preempt them. Now that’s suicide.

The hyperbole
about “radical Islam” has also helped to obscure divisions among
those who oppose the U.S. in the Middle East and Central Asia. Even
presidential candidates speak as though al Qaeda, the Ayatollahs
in Iran, Sunni radicals in Palestine and Hezbollah in Lebanon are
all one unified threat that must be “preempted.” This may be good
for defense manufacturing firms and votes, but if we can’t even
tell who our adversaries are, what distinguishes one from another,
how are we supposed to win the fight?

A recent local
newspaper story from Dr. Paul’s Texas Gulf Coast district quoted
one of his constituents complaining that if Paul were elected president
and withdrew U.S. troops from the Middle East, we would have no
oil at all. This is just not the case. In fact, it is the economic
theory of mercantilism that Adam Smith refuted in The
Wealth of Nations
back in 1776.

It is not necessary
for the Japanese, Chinese or Swiss to send armies to the Middle
East in order to get the petroleum their economies demand. They
simply buy it on the market like anything else. The only reason
one would need the Marine Corps to “secure” the oil is to ensure
which companies get to do the pumping and distributing. The fact
that the price of oil is now approximately triple what it was before
the war ought to tell us that someone is benefiting. But who? Is
it you and me? Or is it politically connected big-wigs such as oil
company shareholders and executives? The oil will always be for
sale. Even if unfriendly regimes sit on the wells and sell only
to others, it will free up other supplies elsewhere in the market
and we’ll be just fine.

It is a mistake
to think of Ron Paul’s foreign policy as some sort of liberal exception
to the rest of his conservative outlook. Instead, his views follow
the tradition of the Old Right Taft Republicans. They opposed foreign
interventionism for the same reason America’s founders did — out
of caution for the inevitable domestic detriments that accompany
permanent military establishments. It has only been since the Vietnam
War era that the antiwar position has been perceived as the province
of hippies and leftists. Paul’s prescriptions for dealing with the
world are the most conservative in the race. Meanwhile, the current
National Security Strategy — unlikely to change substantively under
Giuliani, Romney or Hillary administrations — is itself a radical
doctrine, called “Hard Wilsonianism” by its closest adherents. Paul’s
policy is to pull back the empire in order to preserve the republic
and the Constitution from the radical changes brought about by avoidable
conflict. These are conservative principles of independence and
prudence, friendly relations and open trade. As Gov. George W. Bush
once advised,

“[U]se of
the military needs to be in our vital interest, the mission needs
to be clear, and the exit strategy obvious. … I think one way
for us to end up being viewed as the ugly American is for us to
go around the world saying, ‘We do it this way. So should you.’
… I think the United States must be humble … in how we treat
nations that are figuring out how to chart their own course.”

Sooner or later
the U.S. must leave Iraq — for financial reasons if nothing else
— and the jihadists will attempt to claim credit for it no matter
when it happens. Leaving Iraq and the larger Middle East as a matter
of principle, however, is the only way to do so with any hope of
restoring some of the integrity that has been lost since the invasion.
Dr. Paul believes we have no business maintaining a world empire
and that its consequences cost us far more than the gains. A withdrawal
from Iraq under a Ron Paul administration would not be a victory
for the terrorists, but an event to which they quickly become irrelevant

When someone
finally captures or kills Osama bin Laden and his few hundred followers,
the larger “Global War on Terrorism” must end as well. The sooner
the U.S. disengages from the Middle East, the quicker al Qaeda’s
support will dry up. International cooperation from the various
national police forces and intelligence agencies will be plenty
to handle the problem. The more America intervenes in the affairs
of others, the more blowback we can expect to suffer, but it is
not too late to put our country back on the right track.

Thanks to
Chad McMahill for helping to edit this article.

28, 2007

David T.
Beito [send him mail]
is a member of the Liberty
and Power
group blog at the History News Network and Scott Horton
[send him mail] is assistant
editor at Antiwar.com, hosts Antiwar Radio in Austin, Texas and
runs the blog Stress.

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