Richard Myers, the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, told America's Fox television yesterday: "There is no doubt, from all the intelligence we pick up from al-Qaida, that they want to do away with our way of life.
"And if they could cause another catastrophic event, a tragedy like 9/11, if they could do that again, if they could get their hands on weapons of mass destruction and make it 10,000, not 3,000, they would do that, and not just in the United States but in any of the free world or any peoples that treasure their freedom. So we take all these intelligence tips very, very seriously."
I get very annoyed when I hear this. There is much more to our quarrel with Bin Laden and Al Qaeda than "hatred of our freedom". Of the free world. This kind of simplification does noone credit, and only serves to infantilize the American people.
We are being targeted by these groups not because we are free, but because by the exercise of our freedom we have become dependent on foreign oil. Our economy needs oil. We were in Saudi Arabia to secure oil. We got hit on 9/11 because we were in Saudi Arabia, where Bin Laden cannot bear our presence, because we needed to secure oil.
Saudi Arabia is not free. Neither we or Bin Laden have any intentions of forcing Saudi Arabia to truly become a freer land. If we exercised wisdom along with our freedom, we would hardly even care, since we would have long ago invested in energy independence, and be giving Saudi Arabia about as much thought as Burma.
Instead, our poor choices and faulty leadership have led us to where we stand today. Our material interests are forcing us to become the world's policeman, in order to secure the supply lines of oil, upon which the economy depends, and the job is near high impossible. These interests have also put us in conflict with Islamicists, who have differing visions of who should be controlling Islamic lands. As different as they may be from us, and our values, it's not our freedom, in and of itself, that has brought us to conflict. It's our presence and undue influence in their (perceived) territory.
We should never forget our own responsibility in this matter either. By adventuring around the world getting rich off of resources from other peoples' lands, and in the process supporting brutal elites who assured these resources were delivered undisturbed while the vast majority of the people did not enjoy the benefits, we have made enemies we didn't have to make, and given freedom a bad name. It's hearts and minds we have to win, and it's not clear how we do that now, given the limits of what we actually can do and contribute, and the damage we've already done to our brand (freedom).
History we cannot undo, however, or what was done on 9/11, and the threat of WMD and radicals ready to use them is a terrible reality that cannot be ignored. We share responsibility for this development as well, at the very least for hastening it, both by our actions and inaction, including irresponsible promotion of weaponry, nuclear power, biological and chemical munitions, corrupt authoritarian leaders, and globally unsustainable standards of living.
Regardless of responsibility, we must go forward and face the challenge before us, which is to defeat Bin Laden, Al Qaeda, and suicidal Islamic terrorism. To do this, we must ultimately win the battle for hearts and minds. This means acknowledging that our enemies, and their sympathizers, do not hate freedom, per se, they hate us. Somehow, we need to turn the tide, and win the hearts and minds of those who would sympathize with them over to the universal benefits of freedom, democracy and capitalism, or at the very least to an image of a reformed and benevolent America that doesn't walk all over them and their dreams of the good life.
This effort to win hearts and minds is an acknowledgement that we can only win by minimizing terrorist sympathizers and their recruitment base. With this in mind, we must remember that they hate us for what we're doing with our freedom, for what we've done with it, and this is what our enemies are promoting over there. They're claiming that the Islamicist way is better, more righteous and just. We need to be able to counter this with more than military might, and with honest acknowledgement of our choices in the past, and whether they are wise enough to continue into the future. There is no reason for us to be locked in. If our way of life isn't working in our best interest, we can fine tune it, irrespective of whether we are currently defending it. We are free to do both.
In the end, if we don't honestly examine the real costs of our energy dependence, and at least acknowledge that, being imperfect, changes may be in order and beneficial for all parties, then we will likely fall victim to the infantilism that goes for dishonest analysis and retrenchment in the mainstream media cited at the beginning of this essay.
Defending ourselves against aggression we must do, but the wisest strategy is not always the one focused on the sword. We must not limit our vision, and thus our available choices. We must win the hearts and minds of Islamic peoples to our way of life, or at least to an image of us that is not in conflict with their sense of the good life. It's that simple.
jd: (the alternatives - violence, repression, and the like - are quite frankly not worthy of our name, our values, our brand, or our way of life, and never have been)