What I’ve Been Trying to Say for Four Years

Many people subscribe to this blog, but only a fraction read every post. Well, today’s isn’t optional. All of you: Watch this video. The whole thing. And then pass it along.

For what it’s worth, here was the first op-ed column where I tried to explain this dynamic (in July 2007), though I didn’t do it nearly as well as Sam Richards:

“The ultimate weakness of violence is that it is a descending spiral… Returning violence for violence multiplies violence, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars.” — Martin Luther King, Jr.

Were Dr. King alive today, I imagine he would have no trouble understanding the descending spiral that triggered a narrowly averted bombing attempt in Great Britain a couple weeks ago. For all of Scotland Yard’s success in rounding up the perpetrators, though, it seems that we often fail to recognize the causes at the root of this vicious spiral.

It should be noted that today’s column reports only the facts. Distressing as it may be, this is our history.

With that said, we begin in 1958 when the Iraqi army overthrew the British-supported monarchy. Not to be outdone, President Kennedy ordered the CIA to aid the popular Ba’ath party in taking back the reins of government.

And thus began the regime of Saddam Hussein.

Yes, the murderous tyrant who brutally oppressed thousands of innocent citizens came to power with the aid of the United States.

But to students of American history, this should come as no surprise. After all, the United States once funneled money and support to one Osama bin Laden. When the United States decided to push Soviet forces out of Afghanistan in the 1980s, bin Laden and his jihadist organization entered the conflict with the backing of Uncle Sam.

You see, since our alliance with Joseph Stalin to defeat Nazi Germany, American foreign policy has taken a “lesser of two evils” stance. In conflicts across the globe, “better the devil you know” has been Washington’s rallying cry.

To paraphrase [the TV show The West Wing], the United States spent the better part of the 20th century trying to play God with the Middle East, and the regimes they anointed are the ones that haunt us today.

Take Iraq, for instance. In 1991, the world realized its mistake in anointing Saddam Hussein, and so, Washington received an intriguing offer from an old ally. Osama bin Laden implored the United States to join the attack against Saddam Hussein. Ever leery of “the devil you don’t know,” Bush the Elder instead supported Saddam as he crushed the Shiites’ attempted coup.
It was a mortal miscalculation.

From that day on, bin Laden became an enemy of the United States. At this point, it becomes relevant to step back and ask exactly why bin Laden and his terrorist network vowed to destroy America — and perhaps why a few doctors tried to bring London to its knees a couple weeks ago.

If anyone could answer that question, it’s Michael Scheuer. A senior CIA analyst, Scheuer has been tracking Osama bin Laden since 1996.

“Bin Laden has been precise in telling America the reasons he is waging war on us,” Scheuer explains. “None of the reasons have anything to do with our freedom, liberty, and democracy, but have everything to do with U.S. policies and actions in the Muslim world…”

As management guru Peter Senge explains, “From the American viewpoint, terrorist networks like Al Qaeda have been the aggressor, and U.S. military expansion has been a defensive response to the threat. From the terrorist viewpoint, the United States, both economically and militarily, has been the aggressor, and the expansion of recruits bears evidence that many share this view.” Gives new meaning to the chicken or egg dilemma.

Of course, this diagnosis does not absolve Al Qaeda of its monstrous acts of terror, but it does give a better understanding of the motivation behind Islamic extremists from 9/11 to Glasgow Airport. As Pat Buchanan says, “We do not excuse, but we must understand.”

It isn’t because we’re good and they’re evil. It’s not a one-word answer like freedom or Islam. It is American military bases in their holy land and years of oppressive sanctions. It is bombs dropped on their reactors and support of Israeli policies that have injured Palestinians.

It is, I’m afraid, a by-product of reckless foreign policy.

Obviously, culture and religion play strong roles in this conflict, but a reform effort opposed to radical Islam is growing within the Middle East. Here, Washington must tread carefully.

Americans will recall that reformists once considered removing Saddam Hussein from power, only to be stymied when UN sanctions forced the population to rely on their dictator for survival. Similarly, immediately after 9/11, the Arab world widely shunned Al Qaeda as dangerous extremists; today, they enjoy much greater strength due to American presence in Iraq.

Historians will debate America’s policies in the Middle East endlessly, but one thing is for sure: A new path is necessary to end this vicious spiral, and it does not come from more king-making or violence.

I’ve been advocating a “more empathetic foreign policy” (yes, I used those exact words over and over) ever since. After watching that video, I hope you see why.