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Gothic Foreign Policy

by Tim O'Brien
October 2, 2001

The search for who was behind the horrifying terrorist attack on our country a few weeks ago is actually more problematic than the current thirst for retribution will long tolerate.

Osama bin Laden, Saudi expatriate, late of Afghanistan, is the most popular candidate. But this is primarily because he is our most recent villain. Supported and supplied by the CIA back in the days when his Mujahadeen was taking on the Soviets, bin Laden is less enamored of our more recent foreign policy. And he is known to favor "sending a message" with bombs (a means of expression, incidentally, not infrequently employed by our own government).

But since the end of the Second World War we have actually racked up a substantial list of enemies with both the willingness and the wherewithal to have perpetrated this outrage.

Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein, another former client thug -- back when Iran and America more actively regarded one another as "the Great Satan" -- has been pounded relentlessly by our military. This has been going on ever since President George Bush I decided that keeping gasoline cheap for American consumers was a "vital national interest" worth killing a few thousand people here and there (until now, mostly there).

Speaking of the Iranians, they have resented US beneficence ever since our CIA overthrew the first democratic government they ever had in 1953. When new Prime Minister Mossadeq was not sufficiently accommodating of US interests the nascent democracy was toppled and the more cooperative Shah put back on his throne.

Then there is Libya's Muammar Qaddafi. President Reagan, acting upon information that the Colonel was behind the 1986 bombing of a German nightclub popular with American servicemen, ordered our military to "send a message" via air mail special delivery -- destroying the dictator's home and killing his daughter. Qaddafi is reputed to have retaliated to our retaliation two years later by blowing up a commercial airliner over Scotland. But who knows if he then considered the matter closed? People tend to take killing their children pretty personally.

And those are just the more obvious candidates. Syria is not exactly a big fan. Neither are Pakistan or the PLO (their current posturing notwithstanding). And it's just possible that Sudan never found sufficient solace in our shrugging non-apology after President Clinton -- sending yet another message -- ordered the obliteration of what turned out to be a civilian aspirin factory there by Tomahawk cruise missiles.

Nor can we overlook other possible culprits simply because the hijackers were all of a particular ethnic group. It was only a few years ago that the president between the Bushes also had the Chinese embassy in Belgrade bombed to rubble (another accident). The "usual suspects" could be mere surrogates.

This whole exercise is academic in any event. Whoever engineered the carefully planned, impeccably timed September 11 attack is surely not sitting around casually waiting for US retaliation to rain down from the heavens. We can only hope that the cycle will not be perpetuated by the slaughter of more civilian bystanders instead.

With all the punditry over exactly who did this and how to retaliate one would think at least some thought might be given to the question: Why?

It seems not to occur to anyone to ask what could have provoked such blinding hatred that anyone would go to suicidal lengths to do us this unspeakable harm?

The assertion by President George Bush II in his address to the nation the night of this heinous attack that it was "...because we're the brightest beacon for freedom and opportunity in the world" is, not to put too fine a point on it, implausible.

In any case, whoever the perpetrators, whatever the incitement, we are now being harangued into balancing freedom with security.

This is misdirection. For most of our history we had both. Until our political leaders decided that these weren't enough and that it was our manifest destiny to bring Pax Americana to the world.

The real problem is not that we can't have both freedom and security. It's that we can't have both while maintaining an empire. One of the three -- freedom, security, or empire -- will have to be sacrificed to the other two.

Sadly, it's pretty clear which of them our politicians consider the most important. Our government is already making overtures to yet another ragtag band in the area called the Northern Alliance -- based on nothing more than the fact that they oppose the ruling Taliban.

Experience does not make one sanguine about the long-term prospects for our relationship with the Northern Alliance.

Maybe we should make Mary Shelley's Frankenstein required reading on Capitol Hill.

Tim O'Brien is the Executive Director of the Libertarian Party of Michigan.

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