U.S. Policies Exacerbated Middle East Crisis (Letter to the Editor)

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U.S. Policies Exacerbated Middle East Crisis

Letter to the Editor: May 6, 2005

Ari,

I was perusing the archives of your Colorado Freedom Report when I found "A Few Thoughts on Foreign Policy and Libertarianism." In it, you quote from an e-mail exchange we had months ago.

Overall, I thought you were fair in your recap. But I don't "blame terrorism on America," as you conclude. A distinction needs to be made between the concepts of "blame" and "motivation."

I believe that terrorists have free will and are thus responsible for their actions. The moral culpability, or blame, for the 9/11 attack lies with the individuals who actually carried it out.

I also believe that the motivation for the attack stems from U.S. foreign policy, not from Islam per se. Islam is largely a red herring invoked by those who wish to ignore the recklessness of recent US foreign policy (that includes the politically staffed 9/11 Commission).

I'll briefly summarize the facts on which this conclusion is based:

1) Osama bin Laden has publicly explained why he engineered the 9/11 tragedy. He cited specific U.S. government interventions in the Middle East in the last couple of decades.

2) Every poll of foreigners I've seen has pointed to U.S. foreign policy as the source of anti-American sentiment. In no poll has America's wealth, freedom, or secularism been identified.

3) Militant Muslims and air travel existed prior to the 1960s, yet anti-American terrorism wasn't a serious concern then. It was only after the US government started heavily intervening in Middle Eastern affairs that it became a problem. I have yet to hear anyone counter this point.

Similarly, Saddam Hussein may be blamed for harming certain U.S. citizens. But that would have stopped if the U.S. had simply ceased dropping bombs and imposing sanctions on Iraq, destroying tens of thousands of people and a lot of property. Sacrificing many billions of dollars and hundreds of Americans in order to forcibly depose Hussein was entirely unnecessary.

None of the above comments is an endorsement of Middle Eastern culture. That region is a haven for irrationality and oppression, and Objectivists should call attention to the ideas that dominate the region and condemn them.

However, I think distinguishing between blame and motivation would resolve a lot of the conflict between rational people regarding terrorism. It would also help create a foreign policy that promotes American security instead of jeopardizing it by encouraging future attacks.

In Liberty,
Jonathan Trager

Ari Armstrong Replies

I do not doubt that U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East generally has been a disaster. I also question the decision to attack Iraq, especially given that Iran and Syria pose a greater threat to American lives. Various leaders of the Objectivist movement share these views. However, military action in Afghanistan was both justified and prudent. Military action in Iraq was justified, given Hussein's history of terrorism and brutal oppression, but probably not a prudent use of limited military resources. That said, the action in Iraq has been more successful than I anticipated, and it is having some success in furthering the Bush administration's stated goal of establishing a relatively free region in the heart of the Middle East. The fact that U.S. foreign policy often has been terrible in the past does not imply that the U.S. should take no action outside its borders; it should do so in order to protect Americans.

If the Islamic terrorists are motivated solely by animosity toward U.S. policies, then what explains the attacks of Islamic terrorists on other Muslims in the Middle East, including officials elected by the local populace? The 9/11 Commission Report finds the goal of those terrorists is "to destroy America and bring the world to Islam," and this claim cannot be dismissed simply because the authors of the report were "politically staffed." Militant Islamists state outright they wish to murder Jews and eliminate Israel, a country justly regarded as an ally of the U.S.

Polls of people who are not Islamic terrorists are irrelevant in evaluating the motives of Islamic terrorists, and, besides, polls generally reveal information selectively. (Many foreigners, and many Americans, indeed condemn the U.S. for its wealth.) Militant Islamists in fact condemn "America's wealth, freedom, [and] secularism." And is it not possible that an insane mass murderer might list pretexts, and not always actual reasons, for his actions? Similarly, many common criminals list various "reasons" for why they acted criminally.

The notion that Hussein, the brutal tyrant who slaughtered and tortured his own people and promoted terrorism abroad, merely responds predictably to external incentives, is a ludicrous product of rationalism.

I agree that a more sensible foreign policy would limit destruction in various places around the world. But this does not change the fact that militant Islamism is the overriding cause of terrorism within and emanating from the Middle East.

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