Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Rudy the opportunist

Rudy Giuliani scored a rhetorical coup against Ron Paul in the South Carolina Republican debate last night, but it was scored at the expense of intellectual honesty and solid knowledge about foreign affairs (of which Rudy has no experience whatsoever). At one point, Rep. Paul asked: "Have you ever read the reasons they attacked us? They attack us because we've been over there. What would we say here if China was doing this in our countryor in the Gulf of Mexico?" He pointed out that prior to 9/11 the U.S. had been bombing Iraq regularly for 10 years.

Rudy -- going out of turn, demonstrating boldness (and rudeness, which seems to be a positive for Republicans these days) -- pounced. He said Rep. Paul was saying that the U.S. had invited the attack. "I don't think I've ever heard that before, and I've heard some pretty absurd explanations for September 11th," and demanded that Rep Paul withdraw the remark, which he declined to do.

Good for him. Rudy, of course, twisted the comment, from noting that U.S. interventionism was a factor in terrorists' determination to attack the U.S. to saying we had invited it. But it is certainly the case that U.S. intervention is associated with increased terror attacks on U.S. assets and people. As far back as 1998, Ivan Eland, then with the Cato Institute, did a paper documenting the fact -- based on a report from the Pentagon's Defense Science Board and acknowledged by President Clinton. Key sentence: "According to the Defense Science Board, a strong correlation exists between U.S. involvement in international situations and an increase in terrorist attacks against the United States. President Clinton has also acknowledged that link."

Michael Scheuer, the former head of the bin Laden desk at the CIA -- before 9/11 he was probably the single American who had most closely studied bin Laden and al-Qaida -- reinforced the point in his excellent book, "Imperial Hubris." Americans like to think "they hate us because we're free" or because they find the West repulsively decadent. But Scheuer makes it clear that bin Laden and other jihadists are more motivated much more by what we do than what our society is like. Prior to 9/11 bin Laden repeatedly stressed his outrage the U.S. troops were stationed in Saudi Arabia, home of Islam's holiest sites.

Chalmers Johnson also made the point in his fine book, "Blowback," published prior to 9/11, which predicted that the U.S. would face increasing attacks, including terrorist attacks, because of its policy of stationing military troops in almost every country in the world, and meddling in many of those countries.

One can say that such "blowback" -- an old CIA term for unintended negative consequences of actions -- is a price we're willing to pay for bearing any burden and intervening promiscuously overseas. But it's intellectually dishonest and just plain ignorant (gee, when was the last time you heard such terms applied to an ambitious politician?) to deny that America's interventionist policies are a key factor in making the country and its assets overseas a target for terrorists.

This is hardly to say that changing to a policy of non-intervention would eliminate the terrorist threat. The U.S. would still be the most powerful country on earth, and powerful countries tend to attract enmity even when they don't do much of anything to warrant it. And the jihadists do have an iedological agenda that includes hostility to the west. But interventionism defrinitely magnifies the threat and makes it easier for leaders like bin Laden to recruit people.


Mike Brady said...

Yes! You are the first blogger I've run across to mention that Defense Science Board report.

What I don't get is that many conservatives have no problem understanding that government meddling in domestic affairs can cause disastrous unintended consequences. [Drive quickly by any Atlanta housing project and you can understand.]

Why then can't conservatives understand that big government central planning may have disastrous consequences outside of our borders?

The same guys who make a mess of things inside our borders are the same guys meddling in foreign affairs. Except, outside of our borders there is no Constitution to impede them and the victims of their meddling do not have a vote.

The reason for the conservative blind spot is mindless nationalism. From the start I thought the "hate us for our freedoms" explanation was weak. But it has been frightening to see how many have swallowed that hook whole.

Alan Bock said...

Somebody -- and if I ever figure out who did first I'll acknowledge it -- said that patriotism is love of country, while nationalism is hatred of some other country or countries.

The other thing is when the government meddles outside of our borders, its minions are usually even more ignorant of local conditions, history, prejudices, problems and personalities than they are about conditions inside this country. And what you see is like what happens in all kinds of situations, from families to international affairs. The more ignorant one is, though perhaps with a little smattering of knowledge, the more cocksure one is that he or she has just the right solution to the problems that everybody else has somehow failed to solve.

"They hate us for our freedoms" is comforting and makes us feel morally superior. "They hate us for what we do" is much more discomfiting.