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Troubled in Paradise

Maybe it's the fact that we are headed back to the United States from the Bahamas, or more likely just because I've been talking with a rather outspoken cruiser in the past few days, but I've been thinking more about Iraq recently. Forty years ago the cruiser in question was riding in helicopters in Vietnam and getting shot down pretty regularly, so I respect his opinions about the realities of war. Still, I was somewhat surprised when he told me that he thought the war in Vietnam was unjustified, but he couldn't be sure about Iraq. If he were President and had it all to do over again, he just might invade Iraq just as Bush did. Boy, that comment left me stumped. With what we know today, I was sure that George W. Bush would be remembered in history as the man who was personally responsible for spending half a trillion dollars, killing thousands of American soldiers and at least 100,000 Iraqis to achieve at best nothing and at worst a humiliating defeat for the United States that encouraged the very terrorism it was alleged to fight.
tab Unfortunately, I never got to finish that conversation with my cruiser friend, and I suspect there was much more to learn from him. Still, that experience has left me thinking perhaps I should explain my own "foreign policies" so that some of my other ranting and ravings might begin to make sense. In that spirit, here is what I have come to believe about the counter-productive nature of the "War on Terrorism."

Terrorists attack America because of our foreign policy.
One of the dumbest statements ever made in the history of America has to be George W. Bush's often repeated refrain that terrorists hate America because they can't stand freedom and democracy. No wonder we are losing the war on terror--we won't even admit why we're fighting it. I understand this: there are people who dislike the American lifestyle and morals, but hardly enough to mount a suicide attack. There are plenty of countries with more freedom, nude beaches, even legal drugs or prostitution and they aren't being bombed. Terrorism always has a specific political purpose. The terrorists hate us because of our meddling, usually for the purpose of commerce but also for defensive and political reasons, in the affairs of other countries--especially in regard to Israel. Now, I'm not about to say that America should abandon Israel even for a second, and Israel is not the only reason we're in the limelight, but let's at least be honest about why we're a target.

We Have Done Exactly What Al Qaeda Wanted
Bin Laden has said that he enjoyed seeing Americans punished in the September 11 attack. It seemed fitting to him for Americans to suffer and die because they had done the same to many other people around the world (I'm not agreeing with him, just restating his point of view). However, I believe the primary purpose of Sept. 11 was to provoke a strong military response from the United States, to lead us into quagmires such as Iraq (some would also include Afghanistan) that would cost us billions of dollars and incite the world against us. Of course, it was human nature for us to fall right into that trap. As Bin Laden noted, he could stage simple attacks around the world costing him almost nothing and we would spend millions on a response. He calls the tune, we dance. After all, you can't have a worldwide war against America if America doesn't show up. Bin Laden "awakened the sleeping giant," all right, but instead of running in fear as we liked to imagine, he was probably smiling as he stayed two steps ahead of us.
tab You know, as I think of all that's gone wrong from Gitmo to the prisoner abuse to the daily bombings in Iraq, it seems that Bin Laden couldn't have asked for a better patsy than the ever resolute George W. Bush. Our stubborn leader doesn't just refuse to change horses in the middle of the stream, he drowns the horse, then starts dragging it up the river behind him.

Invading Iraq Threw Gasoline on the Fires of Terrorism
This one is so obvious that shouldn't have to elaborate. Our invasion was justified by lies and logic so backwards that I'm ashamed even to mention them again. I do have one new thought. Ask this of anyone who believes that we were justified in embarking on a course of "pre-emptive attack": why did we make such a fuss (and still do) about Japan attacking Pearl Harbor in 1942? Clearly, the Japanese knew they would be forced to fight us sooner or later, so it would be best to launch a pre-emptive attack. Just like us, they chose only military targets, so what were we crying about? The difference is that they had a lot to gain by attacking America in 1942. Actually, I suppose if Japan had launched a pre-emptive attack on China instead, senselessly dragging them into the war, that would be something like America and Iraq.
tab By the way, I do not believe we can withdraw from Iraq. Once committed, we are stuck there, perhaps for the rest of my lifetime. This is one of the reasons so many of us thought going there in the first place was a really, really, really bad idea. Of course, it's a little embarrassing for America that none of the reasons we cited for the invasion turned out to be valid. Why, exactly, are we in Iraq? Am I the only one who finds it a little frightening that Bin Laden's reasons for Sept. 11 (again, I'm not endorsing them!) make sense, while our own President's reasons for invading Iraq defy logic?

You Can't Fight Terrorism with Guns and Bombs
Again, it's as if we simply don't understand the rules of the game. Hurt us, we say, and we will hurt you, as if that somehow achieves parity. At best, that attitude leads to a feud that never ends. More frightening, the terrorists could eventually win because their resources (people and cheap explosives) are essentially unlimited while the military options are incredibly expensive. You'd think we would have learned this by now, but every time you kill a terrorist, more are created. Worse, in killing terrorists you inevitably kill a few innocent people by mistake, thereby giving even neutral people a reason to hate you. As my friend the cruiser noted, you can't just kill the enemy, you have to kill his entire family. Even then, you've got parents, cousins, neighbors, not to mention millions of fundamentalists around the world who will take all of it personally, so you've got to kill...well, basically everybody in the world. Come to think of it, military action could work. Nuke the entire world so that we all die, and terrorism will come to an end.
tab Seriously: the measures required to curb terrorism using force alone (our current simplistic strategy) are so extreme that words such as "freedom," "democracy," and "human rights" would become obsolete. Military despots have been doing it that way for years, and unfortunately it seems to work pretty well.

Hate is a Bottomless Pit
One of the most depressing arguments I have heard justifying our actions in Iraq is this: "They all hate us anyway, and there's nothing we can do to make them hate us more." If you truly believe that, then we might as well just nuke North Korea, Iran, and anyone else we don't like. On the contrary, I believe that there is no limit to emotions such as hatred. Certainly, there are millions of people in the world "on the fence" who have formed negative opinions about America thanks to our reckless actions.
tab Unfortunately, it's tough to make people love you, but all too easy to get them to hate you. The sad fact is that even if you are doing the right things, if people think you are doing them for the wrong reasons, they will despise you for it.

Killing People is Wrong
I was reading a transcript from the cockpits of two American A-10 jets that attacked a British convoy in Iraq, killing several soldiers, when they mistook them for Iraqis. The pilots are calm and professional as they identify their targets and launch their attack. When they realize what they've done, they almost lose it. Now the pilots are swearing and unbelieving, aghast at killing their allies and clearly dreading what's to come when they land. Finally, realizing they are being recorded, they "run out of tape" and the transcript ends.
tab You know, I felt some sympathy for these pilots. Theirs was an honest mistake. But what, really, is the difference between killing a Brit and an Iraqi? They look the same from the air because they are the same: human beings. They just happened to be born in different countries. The only real difference is in our minds. We were "at war" with the Iraqis (although I should add that technically the Iraqis were defending their country against our invasion and had not, to my knowledge, declared war on us). The A-10 pilots could hardly see the vehicles on the ground, must less judge their intentions, and the convoy represented no real threat to their aircraft. It was another "pre-emptive strike" of the sort that is all too common and necessary in any war.
tab I understand that the distinction that it's "okay" or "not okay" to kill someone is often arbitrary in this way, a treacherous sea of gray. Terrorists who knowingly kill innocent people are just one step further down this same line of reasoning. Now, I don't know about you, but I don't much care for the idea that terrorists and America in general aren't so different in our thinking. Why are we sharing the same philosophical road with them? If killing people is wrong, why do we join them in doing so?

Patriots Speak Out
Nothing makes me sadder than those who say that people who don't support the current administration and its policies don't support America or our troops deployed around the world. In fact, the truth is the exact opposite. The people we should really worry about are those who don't say anything because they aren't even paying attention. If I didn't care about America, I'd have been watching TV like most people are right now instead of sitting here thinking these thoughts. When something is wrong (and with the Bush White House it's more like everything), a patriotic American will speak up loudly and often.

So, dear reader, now you know some of my core beliefs and how I think we've gone wrong. No doubt you'll notice I not have proposed any solutions, mostly because I don't have any, not really. I could propose that if we want to spend a billion dollars a week, we could probably make more friends sending people butter than bullets. I could propose we try something we used to swear we wouldn't do, and actually negotiate. Anyone remember a word called "diplomacy"? But honestly, there are people far smarter than me who are trained in this sort of thing. Where in God's name have they been for the last few years?
tab Back before the Iraq invasion, when some of us would stand on the street corner with signs that said things like "Honk for Peace," we got all kinds of reactions. Sometimes people would yell things, pro or con, as they drove past. I'll never forget one woman--somehow it's those young Republican women with the new car and nice hair who always get to me--who simply yelled, "You just don't get it!"
tab You know--and I'm a little proud to say this--I think she was right.

Written in one sitting while at anchor near Nassau, Bahamas
March 28, 2007

Copyright © 2003 by Rodger Ling.
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