I'm more of a policy wonk, so I don't like to wade too deeply into politics, but I feel the need to defend my fellow libertarian, Congressman Ron Paul (R-TX). He made a seemingly controversial statement in the May 15, 2007 Republican primary debate and Rudy Giuliani scored some cheap points off of it. Conservative blogs are predicting that the statement will cost him his chance at the Republican nomination, which is too bad because the congressman's point was not insigniciant to the U.S. Near East policy debate. In fact, the whole exchange with Giuliani was indicate of an important failure of U.S. strategy:
MR. GOLER: Congressman, you don't think that changed with the 9/11 attacks, sir?
REP. PAUL: What changed?
MR. GOLER: The non-interventionist policies.
REP. PAUL: No. Non-intervention was a major contributing factor. Have you ever read the reasons they attacked us? They attack us because we've been over there; we've been bombing Iraq for 10 years. We've been in the Middle East -- I think Reagan was right.
We don't understand the irrationality of Middle Eastern politics. So right now we're building an embassy in Iraq that's bigger than the Vatican. We're building 14 permanent bases. What would we say here if China was doing this in our country or in the Gulf of Mexico? We would be objecting. We need to look at what we do from the perspective of what would happen if somebody else did it to us. (Applause.)
MR. GOLER: Are you suggesting we invited the 9/11 attack, sir?
REP. PAUL: I'm suggesting that we listen to the people who attacked us and the reason they did it, and they are delighted that we're over there because Osama bin Laden has said, "I am glad you're over on our sand because we can target you so much easier." They have already now since that time -- (bell rings) -- have killed 3,400 of our men, and I don't think it was necessary.
MR. GIULIANI: Wendell, may I comment on that? That's really an extraordinary statement. That's an extraordinary statement, as someone who lived through the attack of September 11, that we invited the attack because we were attacking Iraq. I don't think I've heard that before, and I've heard some pretty absurd explanations for September 11th. (Applause, cheers.)
And I would ask the congressman to withdraw that comment and tell us that he didn't really mean that. (Applause.)
MR. GOLER: Congressman?
REP. PAUL: I believe very sincerely that the CIA is correct when they teach and talk about blowback. When we went into Iran in 1953 and installed the shah, yes, there was blowback. A reaction to that was the taking of our hostages and that persists. And if we ignore that, we ignore that at our own risk. If we think that we can do what we want around the world and not incite hatred, then we have a problem.
They don't come here to attack us because we're rich and we're free. They come and they attack us because we're over there. I mean, what would we think if we were -- if other foreign countries were doing that to us?
The Congressman's statement about al Qaeda's motivations leading up to the September 11, 2001 attacks is only slightly wrong. Ron Paul suggests that our 10-year enforcement of no-fly zones over northern and southern Iraq was a motivating factor for al Qaeda when in fact, it was the UN sanctions placed on Iraq. I direct your attention to the August 1996 fatwa issued by Osama bin Laden and published in the London-based Al Quds Al Arabi newspaper:
The youths hold you responsible for all of the killings and evictions of the Muslims and the violation of the sanctities, carried out by your Zionist brothers in Lebanon; you openly supplied them with arms and finance. More than 600,000 Iraqi children have died due to lack of food and medicine and as a result of the unjustifiable aggression (sanction) imposed on Iraq and its nation. The children of Iraq are our children. You, the USA, together with the Saudi regime are responsible for the shedding of the blood of these innocent children. Due to all of that, what ever treaty you have with our country is now null and void.
Iraq is mentioned again in second fatwa he and Ayman al-Zawahiri published on February 23, 1998:
If some people have in the past argued about the fact of the occupation, all the people of the Peninsula have now acknowledged it. The best proof of this is the Americans' continuing aggression against the Iraqi people using the Peninsula as a staging post, even though all its rulers are against their territories being used to that end, but they are helpless.
Second, despite the great devastation inflicted on the Iraqi people by the crusader-Zionist alliance, and despite the huge number of those killed, which has exceeded 1 million... despite all this, the Americans are once against trying to repeat the horrific massacres, as though they are not content with the protracted blockade imposed after the ferocious war or the fragmentation and devastation.
So here they come to annihilate what is left of this people and to humiliate their Muslim neighbors. Third, if the Americans' aims behind these wars are religious and economic, the aim is also to serve the Jews' petty state and divert attention from its occupation of Jerusalem and murder of Muslims there. The best proof of this is their eagerness to destroy Iraq, the strongest neighboring Arab state, and their endeavor to fragment all the states of the region such as Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Sudan into paper statelets and through their disunion and weakness to guarantee Israel's survival and the continuation of the brutal crusade occupation of the Peninsula.
The 9/11 Commission Report even mentions the subject in Chapter 2 "The Foundations of New Terrorism" (split across pages 48 and 49):
The history, culture, and body of beliefs from which Bin Ladin has shaped and spread his message are largely unknown to many Americans. Seizing on symbols of Islam's past greatness, he promises to restore pride to people who consider themselves the victims of successive foreign masters. He uses cultural and religious allusions to the holy Qur'an and some of its interpreters. He appeals to people disoriented by cyclonic change as they confront modernity and globalization. His rhetoric selectively draws from multiple sources-Islam, history, and the region's political and economic malaise. He also stresses grievances against the United States widely shared in the Muslim world. He inveighed against the presence of U.S. troops in Saudi Arabia, the home of Islam's holiest sites. He spoke of the suffering of the Iraqi people as a result of sanctions imposed after the Gulf War, and he protested U.S. support of Israel.
I am not endorsing Osama bin Laden's view. Nor am I saying that the 9/11 attacks were invited or justified. My point is that when Osama bin Laden declared war on the United States, he included his rationale and that rationale obviously appealed to some in the Near East.
It is true that Congressman Paul was inarticulate in making his point, but Rudy Giuliani's dismissive response indicated a foreign policy myopia that could be potentially dangerous for the United States. We may see Osama bin Laden's view as morally wrong, but the 19 hijackers on 9/11 clearly disagreed, so much so that they were willing to sacrifice their lives for it. This tendency to dismiss what it disbelieves will only continue to impose a heavy opportunity cost on U.S. strategy. If Rudy wins the election, we can only hope that he reads some Sun Tzu before moving into the White House. I'm thinking specifically about a passage from the Art of War at the end Chapter 3:
So it is said that if you know your enemies and know yourself, you will win hundred times in hundred battles. If you only know yourself, but not your opponent, you win one and lose the next. If you do not know yourself or your enemy, you will always lose.
Hey, at least we understand ourselves... right?