We should not confuse Bush's disasterous military response to terrorism with the existence of terrorism. There really are groups of people who hate the US and would like nothing more than to strike back at us. The question becomes, what should our response to terrorism be? Clearly, the military response, at least as implemented by Bush and company, has been catastrophic to the both the US and to the global community of nations. Instead of working for global peace (does anyone still talk about such objectives?), Bush has created a much more polarized world and badly weakened the US in the process. Our military is weaker; our treasury is weaker; our global prestige is weaker; our alliances are weaker; and our national spirit is weaker. All this weakness has occurred at a time when many countries, especially China, India and Russia, are growing much stronger. The damage Bush and the neo-cons have caused knows no boundaries.
So, if massive military intrusion is not a viable response to terrorism, what is? Democrats have spoken about deploying more military personnel to Afghanistan. Obama has said that diverting troops from Afghanistan and moving them to Iraq greatly weakened our efforts to capture Bin Laden and to stabilize the new Afghani government. Perhaps it is true that "we had Bin Laden and let him get away." But do you believe we could have "built" a stable Afghanistan had we left a massive troop presence in place there? I just don't believe we can "build stable governments" by becoming occupiers.
Any sane response to terrorism has to start with a very deep and honest examination of what motivates terrorists to act. We need to start with the simple maxim: "know thy enemy." Why do they want to attack the US or US interests? Could our own policies have triggered a violent response overseas and were our actions appropriate? Some seem to assert that even beginning such an introspective process is by default "blaming the US." I strongly disagree. No nation should set itself above examining its own conduct. In the history of mankind, few evils have caused more suffering, death and destruction than blind nationalism cheered on by flags a-waving.
The process for determining a response to terrorism should be:
1. Why do they hate us?
2. Are their reasons legitimate?
3. Are their tactics legitimate?
4. How should we respond?
Without great elaboration here, I believe the root causes of terrorism directed at the US are, to a very significant degree, reactions to US conduct in the world. Most of this conduct can be traced back to our government's catering to corporate interests. Corporations in certain industries, with the muscle of the US government and the US military supporting them, have sought to exploit citizens of foreign countries by laying claim to their resources (e.g. oil) or by propping up oppressive governments through the sale of arms and "repressive" technologies. In the case of Middle Eastern terrorism, the strong bond between the US and Israel has been an additional source of anti-US hatred. The solution to the problems caused by that alliance is not to weaken the alliance but rather to use all the leverage possible to help bring about a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The US must become an honest broker for peace and justice. Absent that, our alliance with Israel becomes a magnet for more terrorism. So, in response to the first two questions about determining a response to terrorism, my view is that they hate us because of our conduct in the world and that their reasons are legitimate. The US occupies; it oppresses; it exploits.
And finally, the fourth question on terrorism is how should the US respond? If Bush and the neo-cons are wrong, have the Democrats been right? I don't hear the Democratic candidates talking about US conduct as a cause of global terrorism. I see that as a very, very serious deficiency in the Democratic message. Democratic opposition to Bush has come only in the form of tactics but fails to address the underlying causes of the terrorism directed at the US. I am deeply worried that Democrats will never openly criticize the US contribution to terrorism because that would be seen as un-American or unpatriotic and would be politically damaging to their campaigns. While they are undoubtedly right about the politics, the problem is, that means our system of politics precludes telling the American people the truth and it precludes those seeking high office from leading the country in the right direction.
One thing's for sure, the US cannot sustain its empire without the most dire consequences and someone better start delivering that message and rallying an opposition. We are very rapidly running out of time. As the election process races to the finish line, the silence on this most critical issue has been deafening. The truly tragic truth is that our political institutions put so much emphasis on winning elections that they are unable to do and say what is best for the country. The major parties are seemingly unable and unwilling to stick a knife deep into the back of the corporate beast that promotes its greedy interests at the expense of foreign peoples all over the world. The result will be more and more terrorism directed against the US. Until Americans learn that it's not which party has better answers but whether either party actually has answers, we will face a very dark future indeed.