Posts Tagged ‘War on Terror’

Ron Paul has often been referred to as the ‘Grandfather of the Tea Party’, yet despite the demographic’s ostensible devotion to his ideals of free market and free trade, empowered local government, sustainable spending, etc, it is all too often these very same people who find fault with him, and on some of his most respectable positions. This was the case during the CNN Tea Party Debate when Ron Paul was booed by the audience over his comments regarding 9/11.

First off, I will grant that these debates are not Dr Paul’s strong point. It is unfortunate that the whole affair has been boiled down over the years into a glib exchange of rehearsed, 30-second-soundbite talking points, and especially so for him. With such unpopular and relatively complex ideas to put forth, he sometimes must resort to unintelligibly stringing together seemingly unrelated points as fast as he can in order to squeeze in the quickest possible version of what he’d like to say, abridged to the point of incoherence. In cases such as this, I can understand being baffled and more than a bit put off, and I encourage the curious to seek out his relevant statements online. More often than not he will intelligently and soundly defend positions which many unfairly write off as ‘extremist’ or ‘crazy’.

This, however, is no case of Dr Paul trying to say too much with too little. In this case he is saying something very simple and straightforward, that being that our foreign policy directly affects other people around the world and that these people may resent us based on this. Combined with religious fervor, with the belief in a higher power that gives its blessing to righteous retribution, could this resentment not be sufficient to drive one to sacrifice one’s life in an attempt revisit upon us some small part of the suffering we’ve visited on others? Our foreign policy involves American military bases spread throughout the middle east (and world). It has involved us propping up repressive and unpopular regimes to further our interests. It has involved us standing beside and providing advanced weaponry for a nation established by Westerners, in their infinite wisdom, atop the bulldozed ruins of Palestinian homes. Since 9/11 it has involved us invading two sovereign nations in the area and bombing various others. Even with our advanced technology, bombs are going to kill civillians. War, conflict, occupation, call it what you will, inevitably involves collateral damage. To be beneath the heel of a foreign power, even if that power is ostensibly present for one’s own benefit, is surely a most painful, suffocating and degrading thing! Certainly it is understandable to at least question whether or not our foreign policy, being carried out at least in part to protect us, is creating more enemies than it could ever defeat.

Yet Paul’s explanation of his 9/11 theory was in response to the claim of another candidate, Rick Santorum, that his ‘parroting Osama bin Laden’ was irresponsible. Santorum believes that we are hated because the muslim world is ideologically opposed to our message of freedom, but that notion isn’t even what I write to protest. For the sake of argument let’s assume that Paul is wrong, and that terrorists hate us because we are free and prosperous. Fair enough, but that’s not what Santorum was discussing. He didn’t attack Paul’s idea that our foreign policy resulted in terrorist threats to our nation, explaining why the theory was flawed and inaccurate, he attacked Paul’s very act of suggesting that idea, the act of introspection, just as Giuliani did in the last election. Unfortunately, this only makes his statement all the more sad and absurd. We Americans have long been possessed of a certain sense of exceptionalism, believing ourselves capable of policing the world, righting other people’s wrongs, and molding other nations in our image. This outright hostility to Paul’s message, however, takes the game to a new level. It’s not just that the likes of Santorum and Giuliani disagree with him, it’s that they attack Paul himself for daring to voice such an idea. It’s the idea that Paul is irresponsible or insensitive for wondering if blowback resulting from our intervention in foreign affairs may have caused resentment which at least contributed to the attacks of 9/11. It’s the idea that ‘we are good’ and ‘they are bad’ and to say anything different is to betray this country and the memory of those who perished in 9/11 and those who have died since, which I never believed anybody took seriously until I heard the audience reactions from these debates. Could our heads be any deeper in the sand?

It’s as simple as ‘actions have consequences’. The idea of foreign intervention involving varied and unintended consequences is sound, reasonable, and supported by empirical evidence, but sadly I here defend the very act of expressing the idea. Santorum, Giuliani, audience, whether or not you agree that it is so, it is not irresponsible to consider that one’s own actions may have been part of a problem. In fact, to look at oneself first when seeking fault has long been considered great wisdom. We are but men, after all, and for all of our advances we are frustratingly prone to making even basic mistakes. Just look at us! As a nation we have literally reached the moon, yet for all that we are hamstrung by financial irresponsibility. If one truly wishes to know the truth of a matter one must objectively seek that truth as the primary goal. It cannot be second to some belief which one holds sacred, especially such a belief as in the infallibility of oneself or one’s nation. Much greater historical tragedies than 9/11, such as China’s Cultural Revolution, have taken place through such refusal to challenge popular dogma and self-examine. (We are starving. Clearly it’s not because communism has failed and our great leader Mao has no clue what he’s doing, so it must be due to the continued presence of such bourgeoisie counter-revolutionaries as ‘doctors’ and ‘professors’ and ‘engineers’). If the War on Terror continues to create a political atmosphere in which it is frowned upon or even dangerous to question the wisdom of our own actions, then we will continue to make the same mistakes and create more enemies while chasing shadows. (Terrorists attacked us. Clearly it’s not because our foreign policy is aggressive and otherwise voiceless peoples resent our often violent meddling in their affairs, so it must be due to the muslim world’s hatred of freedom and our need for a stronger military presence abroad to quell such evil). It’s the same, sad pattern, and while it’s just the sort of thing one might have expected from Maoist China, it’s hardly becoming of the United States.

Surreal as it is that I must conclude thus, introspection and questioning of one’s own actions are in fact quite healthy and responsible. It is through such action that one may experience personal growth, or a nation reform counterproductive policy. Such introspection may also reveal that the problem is indeed external, that one’s personal conduct or a nation’s policy is sound, and people will surely disagree. The examination itself, however, is neither dangerous, irresponsible, nor insensitive, and to attack it as such is to promote an incredibly backwards and counterproductive mentality.

Oh, and you can stop assuming that terrorists hate us because we’re free and prosperous now.


Imam Anwar al-Awlaki

The systematic stripping of basic protections and constant, shameless circumventing of the US Constitution in the name of the intentionally-vague ‘War on Terror’ reached a new low with the assassination of Anwar al-Awlaki by US forces in Yemen. This headline doesn’t scream ‘destruction of basic safeguards granted by the Constitution’ except for one detail: Mr. Awlaki was a citizen of the United States who was not only denied a trial, but who had no charges filed against him. Had he been killed while violently resisting arrest this would be an entirely different beast. However, the US government never had any intention of taking our countryman alive, as evidenced by the nature of his execution, (airstrike), and the inclusion last year of his name on a list of men targeted for assassination by the US government.

There do exist slim criteria for the execution of a US citizen without due process. The government must demonstrate conclusively that targeting the citizen for assassination is the only possible means of deterring some attack or greater loss of life. It helps a lot if the case in question takes place in the context of warfare. When Awlaki’s father challenged the Obama administration in court seeking to have his American son’s name removed from a list of targets for assassination, however, the DOJ claimed its reasoning for targeting him was a matter of state secrecy and thus above judicial review. The court dutifully swallowed this and sent the plaintiff on his way. To say that this is worrisome is a gross understatement, as the system of checks and balances is absolutely crucial to the design of our system of government. Corruption is inherent to any human institution which has ever been or ever will be, so three branches were created which would each oversee one another’s actions in order to safeguard against abuses of power. Yet it is now commonplace for the Executive branch to declare itself immune to the review of the Judicial branch.

This sort of behavior isn’t particular to Obama, of course. This man is merely continuing a disturbing trend which exploded during the Bush administration (though it by no means began so late as that): the aggressive expansion of Executive power at the expense of the Legislative and Judicial, and in defiance of the US Constitution. The difference is that Bush wore his contempt for the Constitution on his sleeves. He never claimed to be anything more than a trigger-happy buffoon who played dress-up and offered comfort to frightened Americans through his willingness to kill lots and lots of brown people at any (and high) cost while wildly expanding his powers and those of security agencies. Obama, however, ran on a campaign of reform. Obama promised reform of our foreign policy, yet the War on Terror continues, our Middle East policy is largely unchanged, and we’re still giving Cuba the silent treatment like a nation of incensed children. He promised to bring our troops home, yet it is only now, on the precipice of the next election season, that he begins to discuss such action, and there is absolutely no mention of our expensive military network spread across the globe. He promised increased transparency in government, yet even here his track record is abominable. Both Laurence Tribe, a prominent legal scholar in his justice department, and PJ Crowley, the spokesman for the State Department, resigned in protest over the administration’s treatment of Bradley Manning, a soldier alleged to have leaked a video of a US helicopter firing on Iraqi civilians. (After months of incarceration, Manning has finally been charged with aiding the enemy, punishable by death). And now he has ordered the assassination of a US citizen with neither charges nor trial, and successfully brow-beat our docile Judicial branch to avoid oversight. The insidious detail is his ability to somehow remain the icon of reform, compassion, and reason. Those same liberals who cried out against republicans cheering Texan execution statistics now remain largely silent. True, that was one of the more unsettling moments of any debate I’ve seen, but at least those 234 were charged with crimes, tried, and found guilty before they were killed. What wasn’t executed in Texas was the 5th amendment of our Constitution.

Sadder yet, our leadership has also remained mostly silent on this issue. When good old Ron Paul, characteristically unconcerned with the political ramifications of his statements, came out and condemned this assassination as unconstitutional and frightening, he was attacked as ‘crazy’, ‘cowardly’, ‘weak’, and ‘traitorous’. Others, leaders and non, have received like treatment, and perhaps one reading this now may harbor similar feelings against me. Such reactionary outbursts are unfortunately commonplace when discussing issues related to US foreign policy or national security. Reading this article, one might easily cast me as a recalcitrant radical, desiring so strongly to resist and expose the government as to leap to the defense of terrorists at the expense of our national security, and in this way one might easily marginalize and ignore my message. I am, however, quite conservative in this concern, seeking only to defend the Constitution which is the cornerstone of our society. If  Mr. Awlaki indeed had a hand in terrorist plots against our nation, as an official claimed to the New York Times under condition of anonymity, then he should have been charged, captured, and tried before a jury of his peers. If found guilty, an appointed judge could have decided on the appropriate punishment. What a testament it would have been to our dedication to the rule of law! What happened instead was that a citizen of the United States was assassinated by his government based on vague, unverified and anonymous allegations which our courts agreed not to review, establishing a precedent by which any US citizen can be declared an enemy of the State and a target for assassination by the Executive branch, being neither charged with nor tried for a crime. Those willing to justify this as an acceptable cost of the War on Terror would do well to consider the saying that ‘a stick used to beat the black dog can just as easily be used to beat the white.’ This is a dangerous and frightening new precedent for the erosion of our basic, Constitutional safeguards.

If, as some would have us believe, the terrorists do indeed hate us for our freedom and prosperity, then it seems as though we as a nation have wasted no time in bumbling straight into their hands. We have sacrificed and continue to sacrifice our highest ideals in the name of striking at shadows and fighting an endless war. We are not only losing our most basic rights as American citizens, but we are cheering as we hand them away.