Response to: War and Hatred Not the Answer [Archives:2002/02/Focus]

January 7 2002

Daniel Larison
[email protected]
With regard to Mr. Scott Diehl’s War and Hatred Not the Answer article, and in considering my country’s retaliation for the unprovoked, barbarous attacks of September 11, it escapes me how any conscientious American can honestly believe that retaliation was not the appropriate response. The mess that has been in Afghanistan, for which we are supposedly to blame, is only now being restored to some semblance of order and stability because of American-led retaliation against the Taliban and al’Qaeda. The source of that mess is the Russian invasion and the power game of Afghanistan’s neighbors. America ought to have assisted Afghanistan before, it is true, and we are now making good on that failure. But, to blame us for radical Wahhabism infecting poor Saudis and fueling the Taliban in Afghanistan is irrational. Contrary to legend, the United States does not affect the entire world in every detail, and we should neither boast with pride that America is all-powerful nor should we believe with contempt that America is at fault for all things.
Afghanistan would have continued to labor under unjust rulers and perpetual strife without our intervention. Manipulation from outside powers has dominated Afghan history for centuries, but now Afghanistan stands at least an even chance of reestablishing its independence in fact. It is not certain that the interim government of Mr. Karzai will unite Afghanistan, but for the first time in a generation there is a real hope of such unity. All of these things are to the good, though they were never directly sought as objectives of our war. They are happy, unintended consequences, but they serve to highlight what is nonetheless a just cause.
This is not to forget that American policy in the Near and Middle East has been atrociously short-sighted and foolish for the past fifty years, but especially for the last ten. Our embargo of Iraq, and the economic strangling of Yemen since the Gulf War, our indefensible defense of Israel and our perpetual garrison in Saudi Arabia are all irksome burdens to not only the peoples of the Middle East but also to many of the people of the United States. Before the attacks on our soil, there was a growing desire to overthrow the evil policies of embargo against Iraq, unequivocal support for Israel and an ongoing presence in Saudi Arabia, but the attacks have seemed to give carte blanche to those who would continue such blind and mad policies in perpetuity. There are many who strongly desire to pull the United States away from its imperialistic ways, but there are relatively few who believe that exercising our right of self-defense is imperialism.
September 11 was a bitter harvest of past imperialist adventures that brought down unintended, unprovoked, but foreseeable, consequences on the peoples effected and upon our own country. But to imagine that the United States could do anything other than retaliate in force to such monstrous acts is to expect something completely unreasonable. In future, it is my hope that America will adopt the “humble” foreign policy of which President Bush once spoke, but the United States will not cease until all those responsible for the attacks are caught or killed. We would expect no less of any other country if such a vicious attack had been levelled against it.
However, the doomsayers were incorrect in their predictions when the war began. The alienation of the Arab and Islamic nations of the world that was supposed to follow upon our war has not come about in any real way. The starvation of the Afghan people is being averted, the war has been nearly brought to a conclusion in a swift and decisive manner and all of this has been done with as much concern for avoiding the loss of innocent life as possible. All of this has been done in accordance with the right under international law to retaliate against an aggressor.
Pacifism, to which so many naive Americans subscribe, is an incitation to attack and an utterly foolhardy policy; it is the distinctly immoral approach to international affairs, as it deals out opprobrium to aggressors but offers no practical remedy to aggressive war. Pacifism teaches that surrender to immoral aggressors strengthens morality, when it clearly implies that the attacked must commit suicide or submit to subjugation if they are to retain their integrity.
The Bible, when it speaks of war, often praises war if done in the name of the Lord, for the sake of righteousness and justice in the earth. The Qur’an teaches that aggression is worse than killing. Al’Qaeda and others like them claim their moral justification from such an idea, and I do not reject the idea itself but their application of it. To massacre civilians by sneak attack is more ignoble, dishonorable and pernicious than any of the worst deeds committed in the name of the United States in the last fifty years. It violates Islamic conceptions of just war, honor and manliness, just as it offends the Western code of chivalry.
Many Americans are well aware of the failures and errors of the last century in Latin America, Europe and Asia, but these same people will never agree that it is America that is wicked. The policies of the American government may be wicked in spite of the intentions of the people in the country and in spite of the traditions of nonaggression, non-intervention and peaceful relations with the nations of the world. If our government has gone awry abroad, it is because it has stepped away from its own founding principles and because it has abandoned its compact with the American people. By all means be critical of the American government when you think it errs, but do not confuse the bad foreign policy of the United States with the character of Americans and America. Furthermore, consider that a great deal of our foreign policy is developed quite honestly with a high-minded, if misguided, intent to bring freedom to other nations. There is no doubt that this is arrogant presumption and should be stopped, but it should be kept in mind that the number of actual American imperialists for power’s sake is quite small and unfortunately concentrated in the halls of power.
While the recent efforts of your President Saleh to cooperate in the war were disastrously unsuccessful and flawed, as the Times itself has pointed out, Yemen is gaining respect in the United States for taking the right side in this fight. It is my hope that, as a result of Yemen’s assistance in the war, the unjustifiable economic sanctions against your country will soon be lifted. Yemen was the needless victim of heavy-handed tactics and Saudi prejudice in the prosecution of the Gulf War, and in this century the United States has frequently had cordial and good relations with the government in Sana’a. There is no reason why this cordial and beneficial relationship should not grow ever stronger. The United States should recognize that Yemen has proved that representative government and deep respect for traditional Islam can coexist and flourish in the same country, which is precisely the sort of development that America hopes to see emulated throughout the Arab world.