The Anniversary of September 11, 2001

Click here for a .doc version of this file with annotations by Taylor Conant ( and my comments back

As of the 5th anniversary of 9/11 there have been no major terrorist acts in America, the Taliban no longer rules Afghanistan, Sadaam Hussein no longer rules Iraq, and the U.S. has lost fewer than 3000 troops. All in all, I would say that Bush has been successful in what he set out to do. However, in the fun house mirror world of government, nothing fails like success. Bush’s approval ratings continue to be very low and anti-Americanism is at a historical high point. Bush may point to the lack of attacks on the U.S. as a triumph but this achievement has given the general population a sense of security. The last thing that any administration wants is for the people to feel secure. People in government want the population in a perpetual state of fear so that they will turn to government for protection.

The world’s leaders and intellectuals have spent the last 3 years decrying American policies and vilifying Bush. Such condemnations of America were common during the Cold War. In World War II, America waited until much of Europe was occupied and so avoided the opprobrium of the university class. Once more America has taken upon itself to defend foreigners from a violent threat.

I believe that such altruism goes against the implicit deal the people have made with their government. Let me be clear. The individual cedes his right to commit violence to a governmental monopoly on approved violence so that the government can protect him better. If a president or king is faced with the decision of killing a million foreigners or one of his own citizens, he must kill the foreigners or renege on his contract. The leader is required to be immoral by his agreement with the people in the same way that a corporation president is required to be selfish by his contract with the stockholder. Those in government often say that their actions are necessary for the long-run good of the people. I don’t believe that any ruler is capable of understanding anything but the obvious and immediate interest of his people; most can not or will not see even that much.

The administration claims that the struggle against Islamic radicals is an American fight. This theme was sounded by Netanyahu in the first week after 9/11. He pointed out that the terrorists called Israel the “little Satan” and America the “great Satan.” I thought that his remark was in bad taste. However, the administration echoed his sentiment by saying that the radicals hated us “not for what we did but what we were.”

They may hate America for what we are or, more properly, for the Hollywood version of what we are. This distaste for America is rather strange when you consider that surveys show that America is the second most religious country in the world; only the people of India are more religious. American foreign policy is much more important. Some things that America tried to achieve in the Muslim world during the Cold War may have offended radicals; some obviously pleased them. Since the Cold War the U.S. has simply tried to establish stability in the region and promote a little democracy. These modest aims collided with the radicals’ ambitions.

They want neither stability nor democracy. Sunni and Shiite radicals want to unite the Muslim world under a theocracy; they only disagree about who should be God’s voice on Earth. The Shiites favor the Shiites but the Sunnis have another group in mind. What if America didn’t exist? What are the likely consequences? First of all, there would be a very unstable area from Morocco to Indonesia. There would also be increased terrorism in the Muslim areas of Africa, the old Soviet Union, and Europe. European socialism demands workers as the native population declines and those imported workers are generally Muslim. If current trends continue, Muslims would be a majority in some European countries within three generations.

It seems logical to conclude that the Russians and Europeans (maybe even the Chinese) would welcome U.S. help against the looming threat of radicalism. However, we should remember that chronic welfare recipients are seldom grateful to their benefactors and that U.S. foreign policy is essentially international welfarism.

You have to consider the motives of European leaders for criticizing American foreign policy. If these leaders were to take the “War on Terror” seriously, they would have to commit the resources of their own countries to the fight. They would be forced to ask their own people to sacrifice and would probably experience the same fate as Tony Blair. When they act as though Islamic terrorism is the problem only of the United States, they make it a United States problem, specifically a Republican problem. They can tsk, tsk at Bush while American soldiers give their lives to keep the radicals under control.

I say that the radicals hate us for what we are doing: thwarting radical ambitions and guaranteeing the existence of Israel. Take America out of the fight and someone else will have to oppose the terrorists; either that, or the terrorists will start taking over countries. The only real American interest in the Muslim world is oil. If that part of the world had no oil, the U.S. would show no more concern than it does for the Sudan or Rwanda. I’ve addressed the question of oil elsewhere, but I’ll just note that the seller is always at the mercy of the buyer. Even if the oil stopped flowing, Americans are smart and industrious enough to figure out how to get from point A to point B, that is, if the economy were free enough.

The public’s increasing doubts about the Iraq war are caused by its instinctive knowledge that the radicals are not a threat to the U.S. After all, America could destroy any nation on Earth; nation building is more difficult, as Bush noted in 2000. Americans favor antiterrorism measures but have become disenchanted with remaking the Muslim world.

Democrats have picked up on this disenchantment if not the general approval for antiterrorism measures. By the way, I have no problem with expanding the powers of the police. My problem is with a state in which virtually everything is either illegal or mandatory. If the government were libertarian, I would favor enforcement tactics that are now considered decidely “nonlibertarian.”

I’ve read many critiques of antiwar liberals as traitors and such liberals probably do encourage the Islamic radicals. What are we to make of the Supreme Court then? The court extended the protections of the Geneva Convention to the terrorists. In the first place the Geneva Convention is an evil agreement. Its purpose is to make war palatable. Imagine a similar document to make slavery palatable. Applying the Geneva Convention to the terrorists is madness. Remember the picture of that South Vietnamese police chief shooting a North Vietnamese rebel in the head on the street? It appalled America. The victim of that police chief had just killed a local official and his family. The police chief was carrying out a “summary execution.” We think it barbaric but American soldiers had done the same thing 20 years previously during the occupation of Germany. A nonuniformed combatant is a spy and spies have always been subject to execution. Islamic terrorists fit that definition. The extension of Geneva Convention protection to nonuniformed combatants is encouragment to terrorism, perhaps even an encitement. Why would a sane combatant identify his intentions by wearing a uniform?

Bush has assumed the position of being “tough on terror.” He has thereby created a dichotomy: Bush = tough on terror; liberals = soft on terror. See “What the Hell Is a Dialectic?” for more on this tactic. A television docudrama chronicled Clinton’s refusal to kill Osama Bin Laden when he had chances to do so. A day after the show aired, so did a picture of 190 Al Qaeda members at a funeral. The Americans refused to attack them because they were in a graveyard. Clinton may not have attacked Bin Laden in 1999 for a number of petty reasons, but the persistence of such thinking in 2006 is certainly a far greater mistake. One could even make the case that such niceties amount to treason. Many probably would make the case if the incident happened under Kerry’s watch.

What are we to make of Bush’s negotiations with the Iranians concerning their ambition to create a nuclear weapon? We are constantly told that Iran is the world’s biggest sponsor of state terrorism. Bush wants to reward them for not making an a-bomb, give them money and goods. Commentators talk of a “carrot and a stick” as though giving such rewards to our enemies is the most natural thing in the world. Has no one heard of Neville Chamberlain? Has no one heard of Ethelred the Unready?

Everyone seems to agree, on some level, that this is not America’s fight and that the Muslim world is not a real threat to America. The rest of the world wants to make Islamic radicalism America’s problem so that it can arrange to be defended by American lives and dollars. I suggest that America should make this fight the problem of those most in danger. In particular, the U.S. should resume normal relations with Iran; let other people worry about their nuclear ambitions.

I say we are going down the road at 65 miles per hour the wrong way. It would be a mistake to throw the car into reverse. It makes sense to find the next exit, get off the road and turn around. After 9/11 I suggested that the U.S. invade Afghanistan and jerk around Iraq a little in preparation to leaving the Muslim world. I didn’t have nation building in mind. Now, I suppose that America has to stay in Iraq for a while, at least long enough to remove its troops from other Islamic areas where the radicals would be encouraged by a withdrawal from Iraq.

I am suggesting the reversal of a 100-year-old, essentially bipartisan foreign policy. America has troops in 120 countries. Bush has merely followed the logic of his predecessors. I advocate a different policy: friendly relations with all, entangling alliances with none. That’s what George Washington advocated and he was very patriotic.