Tuesday, September 25, 2001

Our Responsibility for 9/11

This was a response to Lori on the Christ Talk board not long after 9/11.

I am no pacifist or socialist. As a CIA analyst, I spent seven years as a professional anti-communist cold warrior. As an economist, I am a professional apologist for the market and the American way. If I were in the same room with Osama bin Laden, I might very well kill him with my bare hands and not feel very guilty about it. But I think Mr. Ghandi is more right than you are, and I think some of your criticisms of him are unfair, and others are un-Christian.

To acknowledge our responsibility for these evil acts in no way absolves the terrorists, as you seem to think it would. But neither does their guilt absolve us.

In the Liturgies of Holy Week, we take responsibility for Christ's death. The fact that the Pharisees and the Romans crucified him two millennia ago does not absolve us. We are not without sin. We must never imagine, just because we can find someone else to blame, that we are innocent.

As Christians, we must always try to assume the point of view of our enemies. The Golden Rule is not suspended just because we are at war. We must ask honestly what motivates our enemies. Only in this way can we get past self-serving propaganda and hope to discover the root causes of the problem and truly resolve it. And only in this way can we fulfill our Lord's command.

How might we be to blame in the recent terrorist acts? Most obviously and directly, we created the Taliban. The U.S. government provided massive funding to the Mujahedin who were fighting the Soviet-backed regime in Afghanistan. But we did not control where any of the money or arms went. The Pakistani military and intelligence services directed the arms to their favored factions of the Mujahedin – and they favored the radical Islamic factions we now know as the Taliban. We knew what they were doing (I remember reading about it in National Review at the time), but we thought ousting the Soviets was more important than the fate of Afghanistan. When the Soviets pulled out, we declared victory and walked away, leaving the country to the mercies of the victors. As always happens in the wake of revolutions, the most violent, amoral faction defeated its former allies to take control.

In the righteous cause of the war against communism, we often used and abused poor countries, discarding them when they were no longer of use to us. In the name of democracy, freedom, and prosperity, we supported governments that deprived their people of these things. In some places, we still do. It is not hard to understand why some citizens of those countries consider us hypocrites.

In other places, where our strategic interests are not at stake, we have tried to impose Western liberal values on countries that were not ready for them. Much of the suffering in Russia these days has resulted from attempts to impose a market economy prematurely, without first creating the cultural and institutional infrastructure required to make it work. We, through the IMF, essentially imposed a kleptocracy (government by criminals) on Russia.

We should not wallow in guilt over our mistakes of the past. But we should repent of them and stop making the same mistakes again. And we should try to clean up some of the messes we have made. Otherwise, new resentment will continue to create more terrorists, and we will never win the war against terrorism.


Trevor said...

As always happens in the wake of revolutions, the most violent, amoral faction defeated its former allies to take control.

So I'm curious--if this result "always happens in the wake of revolutions," where would you place the takeover in American history? My first stab at a date would be somewhere around 1865, though I'm sure there are other reasonable options. This question isn't entirely off-topic, since it may point to a fundamental contradiction in this whole strategy of military intervention. If our own government was formed and continues to be run by the victorious thugs of an earlier revolution, how can we possibly expect to spread high ideals like freedom and democracy through military force, whether those peoples are "ready" for Western-style government and economics or not?

Roland said...

First, I'm not sure the so-called American Revolution really qualifies as a revolution. Our founding fathers were fighting reluctantly to maintain their rights as Englishmen ("No taxation without representation"), not to establish a utopia ("Liberte, egalite, fraternite").

Second, if it was a revolution it was unique, thanks largely to George Washington. He steadfastly resisted every attempt to make him king. If Washington would not take the crown, then no one had the moral authority to claim it. That precluded violent post-revolutionary stuggles. Instead, the struggles took the form of ideological debates among Hamilton, Adams, Jefferson, and Madison. Even when violence did erupt (Hamilton and Burr), it was kept to the individual level and did not erupt into feuds between militias.

Perhaps another advantage was that most of His Majesty's law-abiding subjects fled to Canada, leaving the U.S. more uniform in its political beliefs and attitudes. At the same time, the threat of renewed war with Britain forced the Americans to live in peace with each other.