Explaining The Reaction To Ron Paulby Doug Mataconis
At TCS Daily, Gregory Scoblete tries to understand why conservatives freaked out so much over Ron Paul’s remarks about the links between American foreign policy and September 11th:
I believe it’s because many conservatives, especially since 9/11, have become increasingly unwilling to internalize the simple maxim that government actions have consequences – many of them unintended, some of them negative. Conservatives are rightly skeptical of grand government initiatives aimed at curing various domestic ills. Yet some have become convinced that the same bureaucrats who cannot balance the budget will nonetheless be able to deftly manage the political outcomes of nations half a world away. The tendency is so acute that it led the libertarian blogger Jim Henley to wryly observe that for some “Hayek stops at the water’s edge.”
Furthermore, understanding why bin Laden struck at America is not the same as excusing the murderers of 9/11 anymore than observing that Hitler desired Lebensraum excuses his invasion of Poland. Knowing your enemy is the all-important first step to defeating him.
Indeed, Paul has done the debate a fundamental service by raising the complex issues of cost and benefit when it comes to America’s Middle East policy. You can argue, as former National Security Advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski did, that a few “stirred up Muslims” was worth the price of driving a defeated Soviet Union out of Afghanistan. You can also argue, as the Bush administration has done, that 9/11 was not a serious enough event to merit a substantial rethinking of our relationship with Saudi Arabia. You can even claim that more, not less, intervention in the Middle East is what is required to bring about needed change.
What you cannot seriously argue is that the world is a “consequence free” zone in which U.S. actions can never catalyze harmful reactions.
For me, this is what I agree with in the remarks that have aroused such controversy here and elsewhere.
It’s simply absurd to argue that the actions that the United States has taken in the Middle East — starting with things such as the overthrow of a democratically elected government in Iran in 1953 in favor of a hereditary monarch who tortured his opponents — have been without consequence. Justifiably or not, these actions have created a not insubstantial portion of the Arab/Muslim population that resents the United States and sees us as a force for evil rather than a force for good.
More recently, we went to war in Iraq for reasons that later turned out to be based on faulty intelligence and did so without a plan for what we would do there after we won. The result was the creation of chaos and the rise of an insurgency that is targeting the Iraqi people as much as it is targeting American soldiers. More importantly, whereas there was no evidence of a link between Iraq and al Qaeda prior to 2003, it is now fairly evidence that Iraq is one of al Qaeda’s primary sources of recruitment and the battlefield on which it has chosen to fight it’s next battle.
That, quite frankly, is our fault.
What’s ironic is that we’ve heard Ron Paul’s argument before, from the neocons who got us into this mess:
In a now famous November 6, 2003 address, President Bush explicitly linked U.S. policy with the rise of Islamic terrorism:
“Sixty years of Western nations excusing and accommodating the lack of freedom in the Middle East did nothing to make us safe — because in the long run, stability cannot be purchased at the expense of liberty. As long as the Middle East remains a place where freedom does not flourish, it will remain a place of stagnation, resentment, and violence ready for export.”
This “accommodation” takes many forms, from the generous subsidies to the Mubarak regime in Egypt to the protection of the Saudi “royal” family and other Gulf potentates, first from Saddam Hussein and now from Iran.
And the chief architect of the Iraq War agreed:
Paul Wolfowitz – hardly a blame-America-firster – defended the removal of Saddam Hussein explicitly on the grounds that it would assuage one of bin Laden’s grievances. In an interview with Vanity Fair the former Assistant Defense Secretary said that U.S. forces stationed in Saudi Arabia had “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.”
The response of Bush and Wolfowitz to this reality, of course, was not to question the level of our entanglement in the Middle East, but to argue that we needed to engage in a new crusade to bring democracy and “freedom” to a part of the world that was barely out of the Industrial Age and had never experienced anything resembling the Renaissance or Enlightenment. And that’s how we got where we are today.
Do I know what the answers are ? No, I’ll admit I don’t. But I do know that repeating the same mistakes over and over again not only doesn’t accomplish anything, it’s the definition of stupidity.