Thursday, May 31, 2007

What He Said

[posted by Callimachus]

Forgive me for being late about this. I made a mental note to look into it when it happened. Giuliani Calls Ron Paul 'Absurd' on 9/11. I didn't watch, so I have to rely on news reports. According to this one, Paul got castigated for "implying U.S. policies in the Middle East had contributed to the attacks in New York and Washington."

According to news accounts, what he said was, "Have you ever read about the reasons they attacked us? They attack us because we've been over there. We've been bombing Iraq for 10 years."

Then, it sounds like, he changed the subject.

Asked by a moderator if he was suggesting the United States invited the attacks, Paul said: "I'm suggesting we listen to the people who attacked us and the reason they did it. And they are delighted that we're over there because Osama bin Laden has said: I am glad you're over on our sand because we can target you so much easier."

That's when Giuliani interrupted and said, "That's an extraordinary statement, as someone who lived through the attack of September 11, that we invited the attack because we were attacking Iraq. I don't think I've ever heard that before, and I've heard some pretty absurd explanations for September 11th."

Well, he doesn't listen much, if that's true. Plenty of people have said that. Of course, a high percentage of them are odious Chomskyite myrmidons. But that doesn't make them automatically wrong about everything.

What do you suppose Ron Paul had in mind before he switched the subject to what Osama Bin Laden thinks about us now? This rambling article seems to hold a clue, buried in the text:

Unfortunately, the biggest failure of our government will be ignored. I'm sure the [9/11] Commission will not connect our foreign policy of interventionism – practiced by both major parties for over a hundred years – as an important reason 9/11 occurred. Instead, the claims will stand that the motivation behind 9/11 was our freedom, prosperity, and way of life. If this error persists, all the tinkering and money to improve the intelligence agencies will bear little fruit.

Over the years the entire psychology of national defense has been completely twisted. Very little attention had been directed toward protecting our national borders and providing homeland security.

Our attention, all too often, was and still is directed outward toward distant lands. Now a significant number of our troops are engaged in Afghanistan and Iraq. We've kept troops in Korea for over 50 years, and thousands of troops remain in Europe and in over 130 other countries. This twisted philosophy of ignoring national borders while pursuing an empire created a situation where Seoul, Korea, was better protected than Washington, DC, on 9/11. These priorities must change, but I'm certain the 9/11 Commission will not address this issue.

This misdirected policy has prompted the current protracted war in Iraq, which has gone on for 13 years with no end in sight. The al Qaeda attacks should not be used to justify more intervention; instead they should be seen as a guerrilla attacks against us for what the Arabs and Muslim world see as our invasion and interference in their homelands. This cycle of escalation is rapidly spreading the confrontation worldwide between the Christian West and the Muslim East. With each escalation, the world becomes more dangerous. It is especially made worse when we retaliate against Muslims and Arabs who had nothing to do with 9/11 – as we have in Iraq – further confirming the suspicions of the Muslim masses that our goals are more about oil and occupation than they are about punishing those responsible for 9/11.

So, if you strip out the ancillary libertarianism and clash of civilizations manichaeanism and overblown rhetoric about empire, I don't think it's that gob-smacking at all. Seems like pretty much common sense, considering the history of the U.S. since about 1940.

The Cold War changed us as nothing since the Civil War has done. It changed us in ways most of us never chose or considered, it forced us to make accommodations with very un-American people and ideas, and it allowed selfish individuals and entities to rewire the national culture. It seeped rot into institutions as diverse as the Ivy League and the Little League. It saddled us with a rogue CIA and a legacy of amateurish covert operations. A recent book on the Cold War and how it warped America has a title that sums it all up well: "The Fifty-Year Wound."

He's also correct about the suffering of Iraqi people under the post-1991 U.N. sanctions being one of the major grievances Osama listed in his screeds against America before 9/11. Paul overstated matters by describing this in an offhand way that made it seem to be the only reason for the attack. And he failed to adequately defend his assertion. But what he clumsily described certainly was in the mix that brought us 9/11. Giuliani, I would hope, knows this.

We ought to be able to talk like he did, to debate ideas and truths like this, in our national discourse. Paul may not be viable as a candidate, but this comment isn't the reason. He certainly shouldn't be hooted down for it.

It's difficult to put yourself in an enemy's place and try to see the world from his point of view. Even today, it's a very smelly feeling to admit Japan had arguable grievances against U.S. trade and military policies in 1941, or that the Roosevelt Administration was openly goading Hitler's Germany toward war and flouting America's official neutrality. To see and acknowledge these things doesn't make Pearl Harbor any less perfidious, or the Nazi regime any less evil.

Nowadays, it's mere historical scholarship to explore the other side's mind in Berlin and Tokyo. In a time of war, however, such cold-eyed understanding of the enemy's goals, fears, and motives could hold the key to victory -- or at least the avoidance of failure. A wise nation will allow itself to explore that, without relinquishing its own just anger and will to prevail.

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