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It is now almost three years since
the World Trade Center attack. During this period we have invaded
two Muslim countries and moved far closer to the apartheid regime
of Ariel Sharon. We have not taken a single important step to
reduce hatred of the U.S., respond to justified complaints of
the Muslim world, or create forums where current conflicts can
be explored instead of explode.
In short, with psychotic consistency,
our leaders have made matter worse, more dangerous, and more
complicated to resolve.
To reduce the constituency of the
most extreme one must respond to the concerns of the most rational.
Our refusal to do so has left us in grave and unnecessary danger.
This is not poor policy, it is madness.
It is criminally reckless and negligent and threatens not only
those we blame but those we profess to protect.
Our leaders in both parties have
condemned Americans to live in perpetual fear in no small part
because they are unwilling to make amends for a foreign policy
that for more half a century has regarded Arabs and other Muslims
much as our south once regarded black Americans.
In the end there are two primary
ways to deal with conflict: fight about it or talk about it.
It is long past time for the latter. If you fight about it you
are going to win, lose, just keep fighting, or grow tired of
the whole business. There is no chance, given our current policies,
that we can win the war we have chosen to fight and while we
may not lose it, we have, in our reaction to 9/11, already lost
much of what we are or strove to be as Americans.
The most likely outcome is that
we will continue the war at ever increasing cost until we just
can't take it any more. At which point, as in Vietnam, we will
do what we should have done years earlier, namely to talk and
work our way of the situation.
Some might call such a result appeasement,
but was it appeasement when Henry Kissinger negotiated with the
Vietcong? Today's appeasement is tomorrow's settlement.
Howard Zinn has pointed out that
despite all the talk about Muslims hating America for its belief
in democracy, Osama bin Laden managed to tolerate it well enough
as long as he was getting American funds for his battle against
the Soviet Union. It was the change in our foreign policy he
Usually in a hostage situation -
and we are the hostage in this situation - there is considerable
curiosity as to the hostage-takers' demands. In this case, however,
the media and politicians have blithely ignored the issue almost
entirely. Thus many have forgotten what Al-Queda's early anger
was about, most prominently, the Israeli-Palestine situation,
the American presence in Saudi Arabia, and the brutal sanctions
against Iraq that had cost somewhere in the neighborhood of one
Looked at out of the context of
9/11 but within the context of the history of international disputes,
these are not insurmountable crises. What was insurmountable
was the unwillingness of either side to sit down honestly and
deal with them.
The cost of our reaction since 9/11,
including planetary endangerment as well as damage to our constitution,
safety, and economy, bears little relationship to the underlying
disputes. What gives them their awesome power is not their intrinsic
nature but what they have perversely nurtured in the souls of
the antagonists. This includes, in the case of bin Laden, seeing
oneself no longer as a mere guerilla but as a holy emperor in
Shibley Telhami, who teaches peace
and development at the University of Maryland, wrote in the Baltimore
"It's true that many in the
Middle East have often criticized US foreign policy in the past
30 years. But in general, their notion of US aims has been largely
focused not on profound animosity but on a sense of conflict
in strategic interests and domestic politics over oil and Israel.
Today, an increasing number of Muslims and Arabs believe that
the United States is simply aiming to attack Muslims."
America is not only destroying itself
but is destroying its ability to work its way out of the situation.
The contempt that the elite, including the media, have for this
country's anti-war minority - despite its concordance with the
views of much of the rest of the world - illustrates the miasma
into which America's leaders have fallen.
Finding the right forums and solutions
will be extremely difficult but the choice is either to discover
some way to reduce the hatred of others in the world or to live
in fear and danger all our lives.