Monday, May 17, 2010

Opinion: Do Terrorists Hate Us, or What We're Doing?

Taken from here.

(May 17) -- Flying menacingly over northwest Pakistan, U.S. unmanned drones have become the deadliest tool in America's war on terror. While wreaking havoc on al-Qaida's leadership, they have extended the anti-terrorism fight to include al-Qaida's nominal Pakistani Taliban allies, the TTP. So it should come as little surprise that the TTP is now targeting the U.S.

According to Attorney General Eric Holder, the group is suspected of hatching the recently bungled Times Square bombing plot. Suspect Faisal Shahzad has allegedly cited the drone strikes against the Pakistani Taliban as his motivation.

Have U.S. military actions in Pakistan -- including the reported assassination of the TTP leader Baitullah Mehsud last year -- helped to increase the threat of terrorism on American soil?

It's an important question, but there's a good chance it won't be asked. Since Sept. 11, 2001, those who have sought to kill innocent Americans have been portrayed as "evildoers" or "haters of freedom." In the immediate aftermath of 9/11, for example, President George W. Bush spoke to a joint session of Congress and declared that those who attacked America "hate what they see right here in this chamber: a democratically elected government. They hate our freedoms: our freedom of religion, our freedom of speech, our freedom to vote and assemble and disagree with each other."

While there's no question that al-Qaida resents Western influence in the Muslim world -- and has yet to make peace with the forces of modernity -- many of its grievances are more specific. It resents the presence of U.S. soldiers near Islamic holy places in Saudi Arabia. It is angered by U.S. support not only for Israel but also for corrupt Arab regimes in Egypt, Saudi Arabia and elsewhere. And it seeks to weaken U.S. influence throughout the Middle East.

It's not that terrorists simply hate American values -- they hate America's foreign policy and its impact on the Muslim world.

This is not to suggest that America's policy choices have been necessarily wrong. There's plenty of justification for them. But there's been very little discussion in the U.S. as to whether these policy choices continue to serve America's interests -- and may in fact be doing more harm than good.

Does unwavering support for Israel hurt our image, particularly in the Arab world? Should the U.S. be pushing countries like Egypt, Jordan or Saudi Arabia toward greater political openness, even if it risks strengthening Islamic political movements? Has the use of military force in Iraq and Afghanistan, to paraphrase former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, helped to create more, not fewer, terrorists? Finally, would changing any of America's behavior on the world stage leave our country safer?

The tendency among policymakers, legislators and journalists is to not even broach these questions. But only focusing on the inherent "evil" of terrorists provides Americans with an incomplete understanding of the threats they pose.

Along these same lines, current U.S. military efforts in Afghanistan have focused on the importance of weeding out Taliban militants from the Afghan population. Military officials boast about the reduced number of civilians being killed by American arms, ignoring the fact that our very presence in southern Afghanistan helps to inflame the insurgency, plays into the Taliban's anti-occupation rhetoric and almost certainly leads to more civilian casualties.

If, in fact, the Pakistani Taliban is actually responsible for Times Square attack, it raises the question: If the U.S. were not dropping bombs on TTP leaders in northwest Pakistan, what would be the rationale for Pakistani militants -- whose main grievance is with their own government -- to kill New Yorkers?

Earlier this year, an Afghan national named Najibullah Zazi was arrested for plotting to attack the New York subway system. Is it so incomprehensible to imagine that U.S. military actions in Afghanistan may have prompted Zazi to act?

Again, this is not to say that American actions in Afghanistan and Pakistan are necessarily wrong. Attacking al-Qaida leaders who are plotting to kill Americans is certainly appropriate. But if broadening those attacks creates new and greater terrorist threats to the U.S., then perhaps the ends don't justify the means. At the very least, it is a matter worthy of public debate.

When it comes to the war on terrorism, the U.S. likes to portray itself as a benign force in the world: We're innocent bystanders being attacked by terrorists for who we are, not what we do. In that plot line, terrorists are fundamentally irrational and "evil." In reality, they're often rational political actors using what they believe to be their most effective weapon: terror.

A more honest national discussion about terrorism would recognize that America's policies and its broad definition of national interests -- for better or for worse -- can have direct, and often deadly, consequences for the American people. In other words, what we do -- rather than what we are -- matters.


  1. That's not the point... the point is that we can prevent terrorists by having a more moral foreign policy.