Back during a much less terrifying crisis less than a year ago- the presidential election mess in the State of Florida during November into December 2000- I received a lot of e-mails from people who would take it upon themselves to opine upon the issues involved (in some cases, at least, in direct responses to my own Commentaries on this website) but whose e-mails could not be published in the "Vox Populi" section of TheGreenPapers.com because they either specifically did not want their comments published or never even responded when I asked them via return e-mail for such permission (as per the policy of this website)... yet they brought up some things that I thought deserved to be addressed, even though I could not respond directly to a specific e-mail published as a "Vox Populi", and so I ended up writing a generic "responsive Commentary" instead.
The same thing has now happened again in relation to my three, so far, Commentaries on the likely response to the terrorist attacks of 11 September. Therefore, I have decided to again write a "responsive Commentary" to address a number of e-mails that have brought up a number of issues relating to my September 2001 Commentaries- even though the people who have sent me these e-mails have not given me permission to publish them in our "Vox Populi" section.
Blaming the Victims
One of the e-mails I received basically said (I'm, for the most part, paraphrasing here) that Ralph Nader, the Green Party candidate for President of the United States in the last few Presidential Elections, as well as the entire Green Party USA could "go to hell" and then went on to score one Mitchel Cohen, a media coordinator for that Party, for stating that the terrorism of 11 September were "chickens come home to roost". Apparently, Mr. Cohen had also stated that the attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon were "profoundly related to the suffering that the US government and multinational corporations inflict on the rest of the world every day" and the e-mailer found "the notion that Osama bin Laden's terrorists are morally equivalent to any U.S institution" one that "affronts this Nation". The e-mailer then went on to opine that "the argument that America shouldn't fight back after more than 6000 innocents have been killed on our own soil is beneath contempt!" and that Mr. Cohen's comments (and, I presume- based on the first portion of the previous quote, those of the minority that would- in general- argue against a military response to the events of 11 September) "are a reflection on our failed and inept higher educational system".
First of all, I assume the e-mailer sent his rant to me under the mistaken impression that TheGreenPapers.com is, somehow, associated with Mr. Nader's Green Party; once again, we are not: we are a non-partisan site that covers all important political parties in the United States (for your information, we have defined "important political parties" as the two Major Parties- Democrat and Republican, of course-plus those we have defined as "Major Third Parties" [using a purely mathematical analysis of past Presidential Election returns], including the Green Party). Second, the e-mailer's quotes of Mr. Cohen's remarks are, indeed, accurate and can be seen at the URL http://www.greenparty.org/911.html
Frankly, I find Mr. Cohen's remarks unnecessarily provocative, where not reprehensible; using Malcolm X's (in)famous "chickens coming home to roost" line in this context was needless and those who read Mr. Cohen's comments on the above link might very well find- as I did- that the way he ended his piece undermined whatever validity his overall position (a position with which I most strongly disagree, as will be seen shortly) might otherwise have had. But the e-mailer's own comments in response were just as unnecessarily provocative: the link of Mr. Cohen's comments to a "failed and inept higher educational system" is- beside the silliness of its inherent hyperbole- an attack on my own education, for I dare say that the Boston University I attended in the mid-1970s might have well been the very icon for the type of institution of higher education the e-mailer here decries. What you-all read in my Commentaries is largely the product of my own education at B.U., where I took courses in- among other things- Islam as well as Constitutional Law; in fact, I regularly draw upon my college education in order to well do the work I am required to do forTheGreenPapers.com and I, for one, will never apologize for being educated in an institution of higher learning. If someone wants to strongly- where not harshly- disagree with a Mr. Cohen, fine!- for I also so strongly disagree; but then wildly speculating on just how Mr. Cohen's education fueled his views is, at best, mixing apples and oranges!!
The fact remains that the United States has supported- and still does support- any number of repressive (where not oppressive) regimes all around this third planet from the Sun. Our Nation regularly portrays itself as a beacon of Freedom and Liberty to the rest of the World (President Bush even evoked elements of this imagery in his speech before the Joint Session of Congress two weeks ago) and yet- through its foreign policy- ends up only snuffing out the torchbearers of said beacon in many parts of the Globe; the Middle East seems to be a particular hotbed of America's rather Machiavellian diplomacy (an unfortunate inheritance from the failures of the so-called "Great Powers" prior to the mid-20th Century, reinforced by the necessities of the Cold War of the latter portion of that same century).
We Americans- through the actions of our politicians (in a Democracy governing with the consent of the governed, one cannot totally separate the actions of those who act in our names from we ourselves)- have decided to support less-than-democratic (when not outright anti-democratic) "friends" in this region in order to keep the oil flowing and, while doing so, our leaders (of both Major Parties) and their minions allow themselves to get sweet-talked (if not horn-swoggled) by these so-called "moderate" regimes into looking the other way while Freedom and Liberty is stifled, where not suppressed, by these same regimes. The lame argument in favor of this practice is usually that, if these countries were to become more democratic (Heaven Forfend!), we might not then get a government we are comfortable dealing with: of course, it is all just a vicious circle, a continuous self-fulfilling prophecy; the more we allow our alleged "friends" to clamp down, the more radicalized the educated professional intelligentsia (necessary to any viable democratic government) becomes, the more the clampdown is then justified by the powers-that-be (with U.S. acquiescence), the further the radicalization of the educated professional classes, etc., etc., etc. ad infinitum, ad nauseam... OF COURSE the time comes when we wouldn't then get an elected government we would be comfortable with!
We only have to look to our own history (c. 1763-1788) in order to name that particular tune: very few American colonists would have, at the time of the Stamp Act crisis , seriously contemplated independence from Great Britain; the more radical elements of the Sons of Liberty were a decided minority- the majority simply wanted the nascent British Empire to accord them the "Rights of Englishmen" which the Stamp Act seemed to violate. One John Adams of Braintree, Mass. is probably a pretty good archetype of the "bell-curve" of colonist opinion: a rather conservative middle-class attorney, he despised the Caucus Club- a hotbed of Sons of Liberty activity during the Stamp Act crisis- which dominated local Boston area politics; after the so-called "Boston Massacre" , John Adams was even a defense attorney for the British soldiers involved! But then came the Boston Tea Party, the closing of the Port of Boston, the Regulating Acts (which, among other things, placed Massachusetts Bay Province under what was, for all intents and purposes, Martial Law), the battles of Lexington and Concord, Bunker Hill... by 1776, only 11 years after the Stamp Act crisis, conservative middle-class educated professional John Adams was openly pledging his life, his fortune and his sacred honor by signing the Declaration of Independence... 13 years after that , he was taking the Oath of Office as the first Vice President under the new Federal System created by the recently drafted and ratified U.S. Constitution: he would become the second President under that Constitution within 8 years... what a difference a quarter century makes (219,150 little hours)!
The British and French who fought the greatly weakened Ottoman Empire in the Middle East during World War I, as the British played the Wahabis (led by ibn Sa'ud- the eponymous founder of what would soon become Sa'udi Arabia) off the Hashemites (the sharifs of Mecca- of whom a descendant currently sits on the throne of Jordan) as to who was to be the "Kings of the Arabs"- very like the much earlier Romans once played the Hasmonaeans off the Herodians as to who should be the "Kings of the Jews", used an argument- quite acceptable to Europeans (as well as Americans) of that era- that these tribal Arabs were "not yet ready for Democracy" to justify their diplomacy... regardless of the accuracy, let alone the efficacy, of that argument at the time, this is- in this age of advanced communications and computer technology (as well as a Sa'udi prince having flown aboard the Space Shuttle)- surely not an argument the United States today can itself still use!
Thus, while I myself find the presentation- as well as much of the content- of Mitchel Cohen's argument rather reprehensible, one has to take note of the fact that there are people- educated people, intelligent people- throughout the Middle East who, while they admire our concepts of Freedom and Liberty and Equal Justice Under Law, despise our foreign policy as it applies to these concepts having been squelched in their own homelands and, thus, they hold us accountable as hypocrites who are responsible for this: they like our political/legal system but they don't like our society and culture and they don't like us. It is this very feeling that often proves fertile ground for the incubation of yet another generation of terrorists.
To sit back on this side of the "pond" and try to pretend that no one should ever have any complaint whatsoever against the United States of America is blatant ignorance of the problems at the core of much of our foreign relations with the countries of the Middle East. We may not like the fact that there are educated professionals in Arab and other Muslim countries who view us the way we ourselves view the Taliban, but they do exist-- and, while these views certainly DO NOT justify the horrendous slaughter of innocents that took place on 11 September, we Americans getting on our high horse and acting as if there is absolutely no justification for many of these feelings among many in the Muslim World is the sheerest of follies on our part as we go about carrying on a war against international terrorism. To once again quote ol' Abe Lincoln: "We shall nobly save or meanly lose the last, best hope of earth": piling abject ignorance atop hubris and haughtiness is the surest way of so "meanly losing", no matter how many battles- in the military sense- are yet to be won!
Giving Peace a chance?
One of the other things I recently received in the ol' Inbox was a petition signed by a couple hundred people all over the world urging us to "give peace a chance" as a nobler response to the 11 September terrorist attacks. Besides the fact that I can't possibly fathom just what good such a petition would do in the first place, even had I supported it, the plain truth is that I cannot support such a cause to begin with.
My country, the United States of America, was attacked on 11 September- pure and simple; this is, in kind as well as degree, no different from the attack on Pearl Harbor by the naval and air forces of the then-Empire of Japan nearly 60 years ago. It matters not that the attacks were not carried out by a foreign government- that is, a widely recognized independent Nation-State with a capital, a military, etc.- but, rather, by a kind of "quasi-government" (as I would describe the bin Laden terrorist network): albeit one that is succored by- and which, in the case of the Taliban regime, uses- such recognized foreign governments; what occurred back on 11 September on my country's home turf is, by every definition of every relevant Convention I can find, a clear "act of war" as that term of art is used in International Law.
Thus, a.) we- that is, the USofA- have every right to defend ourselves through responding to this act of war by whatever means we might feel necessary (subject to the aforementioned Conventions, if- at least for the most part- we want to stay on the moral high ground: though, as I have already pointed out in previous Commentaries on this subject, we will have to- often enough- get into the gutter to root out these terrorists); b.) we are already in a state of war- not only with the bin Laden terrorist network itself, but with a bona fide independent Nation-State, Afghanistan- or at least its de facto (where not de jure) government, the Taliban regime, which continues to harbor and protect bin Laden and his network. I cannot see how one can possibly "give peace a chance" where the peace has already been breached- and through no direct fault of our own!
Having said all this, however, let me address those who have been harshly scoring the obvious minority who do not wish to see the United States- with or without its allies and other friends around the globe- use its military in response to the atrocities of 11 September. We Americans live in a Democracy- to be sure, a Republican Democracy (both terms here used not in the sense of the two Major Parties of our political system- but, instead, together in this way to describe a representative democracy [as opposed to the pure democracy of, say, traditional New England Town Meeting] of laws and not of persons), but a Democracy nonetheless. As a result, every person under the jurisdiction of this Republican Democracy has an inherent, fundamental right to voice his or her opinion on the issue of whether or not to use force (and, if so, just how to do so) as at least part of our Nation's response to these acts of war of 11 September.
Therefore, I think I can speak on behalf of this website- TheGreenPapers.com- as an institution (this website is, after all, as stated in its original Mission Statement, "an exercise in Free Speech. We certainly support the notion that you have the same right of Free Speech we are here exercising ourselves") when I say that it is our strong opinion (however humble) that those who wish the USofA to "give peace a chance" have the same right to state their position as I have to state what I have stated- and have yet to state- in this very Commentary; reasonable and peaceful dissent should not be stifled by the barking dogs of war- for, if we do so, the terrorists will have won a significant part of the battle.
I have watched such people as former Marine officer Oliver North declaim on national television that those who are protesting against American military action to seek out and stop the bin Laden terrorist network in Afghanistan- or, perhaps, elsewhere- were engaging in behavior offensive to the memories of the victims of the 11 September terrorism as well as their friends and families: when I saw Mr. North's obviously heartfelt reaction, I nearly wanted to- nevertheless- toss my lunch at that point. I see absolutely NO criticism from Mr. North- or, for that matter, others who have shared his view- of those who strongly wish to wage war on the terrorists; no one seems to be suggesting that those who don't want to "give peace a chance" are, somehow, so offensive to the victims and their surviving loved ones! Mr. North's position- while most likely evocative of the esprit d'corps of the U.S. Military that once was his career of choice- is, nonetheless, a rather silly one: the very Constitution Mr. North himself once, as a military officer, swore to defend gives those opposed to military intervention in response to the events of 11 September the same right to say so as is given to those- including myself- who favor such military intervention.
Going back to the first e-mailer (the one who scored the Green Party's Mitchel Cohen), who wrote: "the argument that America shouldn't fight back after more than 6000 innocents have been killed on our own soil is beneath contempt!": while he is- of course- entitled to his opinion, the lumping of all who oppose military intervention in response to 11 September with the attitude expressed by Mitchel Cohen at http://www.greenparty.org/911.html is unfair at worst and, at best, makes little sense- for basically the same reasons I have outlined in my own scoring of Oliver North above.
Not much aid nor a whole lot of comfort
Appropos of these lines is another e-mail I received which criticized, albeit rather mildly, my feeling- as expressed in my 25 September Commentary- that the U.S. and its allies and other coalition members had better not take on Saddam Hussein, at least in this early phase of a war against international terrorism, unless and until we had strong, incontrovertible evidence that Iraq was directly involved in financing or planning the terrorist attacks of 11 September; the author of this particular e-mail suggested that so openly talking about what the United States and any coalition it puts together might or might not do "aids and comforts" our potential enemies in this new kind of war.
I'm sorry, but I hardly think Saddam Hussein lies in bed in Baghdad saying to himself, before he nods off to sleep, 'Heh, heh, heh!: Richard E. Berg-Andersson of TheGreenPapers.com wrote that the U.S. shouldn't come after me yet; I'll get a good night's sleep tonight!'... nor do I think that the men and women of our Nation's armed forces are, in any way, going to be distracted from carrying out whatever missions they are ordered to conduct by whatever means they were trained to use in order to achieve the goals of those missions by anything I have written- or will, in future, write- about our response to the tragedies of 11 September. In fact, I have an unyielding faith that the soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines wearing our country's flag will not at all fail to do their respective duties in this war against international terrorism to the utmost of their ability despite my own exercise of Free Speech here at home!
At the same time, while the men and women in uniform who will, no doubt, courageously do what needs be done have all my best hopes and prayers as well as my support as merely one citizen of the United States of America, I will not at all shirk my responsibility to make certain that, where I write what is seen in any of my Commentaries, it is- in fact- the truth: at least the truth as I see it; that is, whatever you read under my byline reflects my true opinion on a given matter and is not simply stated for mere purposes of engendering controversy and, thereby, more "hits" for the website (and, true to this website's commitment to Free Speech, anyone reading this is as free to comment, disagree, rip my head off-- whatever!- via e-mail to as those to whose e-mail I am herein responding themselves did). I am, therefore, not going to sugar-coat the difficulties any military operation in support of the apprehension- or, where necessary, the extermination- of Osama bin Laden and his cohorts will face: nor will I fear criticizing certain aspects of our response where I honestly feel such criticism justified.
Minefields of the mind
Just as there are minefields on the ground in Afghanistan left over from the nearly a decade of the Soviet occupation there- followed by the now over a decade of civil war in that desparate land, there are- likewise- other less tangible "minefields" in the offing. One such "minefield" is the role of the Northern Alliance which has been fighting the Taliban regime in the coalition being arrayed against bin Laden and his Taliban henchmen: I don't really think it is all that wise to tie ourselves too closely to- that is, to "get into bed", if one will pardon the vernacular, with- the Northern Alliance. If the Taliban are so closely interlocked with bin Laden and his terror network as to virtually be inseparable, then- I suppose- we will have no choice but to take the Taliban out and, in so doing, remove them from power: in this endeavor, the Northern Alliance would clearly prove to be most useful in such a capacity ancillary to our own efforts.
But we should not allow ourselves to get too directly involved in another Nation's civil war: this is what the United States did in Vietnam, this is what the Soviet Union did in Afghanistan; in both cases, global superpowers were hamstrung by too close association with regimes that were not- in terms of morality, putting aside politicoeconomic system- particularly desirable examples of fair governance and, at the same time, being forced to fight indigenous, native guerilla elements who had- for lack of a better term- "home field advantage". The focus of our military operations in and around Afghanistan must be more similar to (while- at the same time, of course- avoiding the, unfortunately, sometimes genocidal nature of) the American military's role during the so-called "Indian Wars" in the Old West of the late 19th Century; in other words, our military operations in Afghanistan have to be, in essence, a military version of the quintessential posse comitatus in which we're going after the bad guys, the perpetrators of a horrible crime against Humanity. We should not let our legitimate focus be diverted by being put into the position of too much assisting those who have the narrower agenda of merely trying to overthrow an admittedly repressive regime where so doing does not directly contribute to that focus.
Likewise, re: the Americans and others currently being placed on trial for violating the Taliban's laws against preaching Christianity to Muslims in Afghanistan: doubtless, the manner in which the Taliban treat the women of the country (by not allowing them to go about unaccompanied by men and not allowing them to be formally educated) and those who seek pleasurable diversions which we in the West take for granted (such as, say, watching television or taking photographs with a camera) is, indeed, repressive and the laws which these Christian foreign aid-workers are accused of violating might very well come under this heading as well; it is also right and fair to decry the Taliban's methods of recruiting new warriors (as in "join up or have your house burned or even be killed") and their use of summary execution of those they have arbitrarily deemed to be a threat and use these as proof of Taliban oppression.
By the same token, however, the fact remains that- to take one such obvious example- the Kingdom of Sa'udi Arabia, which will be an important element, on a number of levels, in any anti-terrorism coalition led by the U.S., is an absolute monarchy with a legal system largely governed by Shari'ah, Islamic law- at least as the Sa'udi Royal Family interprets it: there is no freedom of religion, as we understand the term, in Sa'udi Arabia (for example, our own armed forces radio stations during "Desert Shield"/"Desert Storm" were forbidden to play Christian- or even Christmas- music by agreement between our Military and the host country) and penalties for certain crimes are, by our own legal standards, quite harsh (stoning as a punishment for adultery, for example, is still on the books there).
The point of all this is that, as much as one reading this might dislike- or even despise- the laws of the Taliban under which the Christian foreign aid-workers were arrested and are now being tried, the fact remains that- when one visits a foreign country and violates its laws- one must then accept the potential ramifications of such violation. Lest one think the Taliban are alone among Afghani authority in this regard, the 1931/33 Constitution of Afghanistan under which its ex-King-in-exile, Muhammad Zahir Shah (whom many now see as a possible lynchpin for a post-Taliban government in that country), once ruled stated- in its Article 21- that [i]n Afghanistan, instruction in the knowledge of Islam is unrestricted. Every Afghan subject is permitted to impart Islamic religious instruction. Foreigners, however, with the exception of those engaged to teach arts, industries and foreign languages, are not permitted to open and conduct schools in the Kingdom of Afghanistan. While, unlike under Taliban rule, women could go to school under the country's one-time Constitution, it can easily be seen that the accusations against the Christian foreign aid-workers currently in captivity could have been brought against them even under the constitutional monarchy of 1931-1973.
One cannot, therefore, assume that a newly re-established Kingdom of Afghanistan- supported by the Northern Alliance- would necessarily allow significantly more religious freedom than Sa'udi Arabia currently does. It then follows that we cannot let the fact that the Taliban regime is holding and trying these foreign aid-workers, including two American women, on charges of what would be considered to be- for lack of a better term- a "religious crime" divert us from our primary mission of bringing to Justice those in Afghanistan who backed, supported, harbored, succored, aided, abetted and ordered about those who carried out the horrific acts of terrorism almost all of us witnessed on television this past 11 September.