Beware of Allies
October 17, 2000
Terror in the Middle East. Sneak Attack.
Act of War. The hysterical headlines were routine. An
American destroyer was the target of a suicide bomber in the Gulf of
Aden, 17 American sailors died, and the media had a big story. How would
the president respond? (And which candidate would
Bill Clinton pledged to find out
who was responsible and hold them accountable. Weve heard
these words so many times, and in this case those who were responsible
seemed to have died in the blast. They made themselves accountable in the
most direct way.
nobody really cared. Ordinary Americans know perfectly well that they
werent the targets. A warship, allegedly their
warship, was. They are vague about why their defense
forces are scattered all over the globe, but they understand that
its none of their business, really. These foreign policy decisions
are made by committees of experts in some Washington office, prattling
of U.S. interests, meaning their own. The rest of us
arent invited to sit in on the meetings. In a democracy, the people
are allowed to vote. They have no say in running an empire.
The bombing of the USS Cole
wasnt a terrorist attack. Thats just the word
Madeleine Albright automatically uses to express her disapproval, in the
apparent belief that she can scold her enemies into behaving themselves.
No, this was an attack on a military target. The bombers the
terrorists probably had no help from or association
with any government.
When governments bomb, it
isnt terrorism. Terrorism is a private-sector affair,
usually employing homemade materials. Part of its essence is that
its officially unauthorized. American and Israeli bombs that fall on
civilian populations arent considered terrorist, but
The devilish thing about private,
unauthorized violence is that the target countrys government
doesnt know whom to retaliate against or, as they say,
respond to. Of course it can pretend it knows and unload a
few bombs to display its resolve and
determination, but this is only a gesture. An empire
cant afford to look helpless.
There are no fleets of Arab destroyers
off the coast of Florida, no Chinese fleets off San Diego. There are
American fleets around the world, and they arent popular. Now and
then an incident reminds us of this. And the usual moral is drawn:
The world is still a dangerous place.
Yes, it is, if you go around asking for
trouble. And that is what the U.S. government does. There is nothing
defensive about its enormous military system, at a time
when we face no military threat whatever. The only enemies we have are
the enemies our government continues to make for us, particularly by
meddling in the Middle East. And even so, those enemies can do little
damage to us at home; for the most part they can only strike our military
and diplomatic targets abroad, though that may change.
Countless people are
anti-American in the sense that they dont want to
be ruled or bullied by this country and its allies and clients; but they
arent anti-American in the sense that they would wish us ill, let
alone try to hurt us, if we minded our own business.
The wisest foreign policy is simply to
avoid making enemies. That should be too obvious to need saying, and it
used to be this countrys policy. It was called
neutrality. But we abandoned it and got into two world wars
that created bigger problems than those that caused them.
After World War I, many Americans
drew the appropriate lesson: stay out of foreign wars. They are now
censured as isolationists. Thats what you get for
having learned from experience.
But isolationism died at Pearl Harbor,
when the foolish Japanese attack gave Franklin Roosevelt his wish by
plunging Americans into a war frenzy. So far, fortunately, the
terrorist attacks havent disturbed our slumbers. Our
enemies are real but puny. But our extravagant military supremacy makes
war seem a more remote possibility than it really is.
Its not so much our enemies as
our allies that we should worry about. Some of them want war, and they
will never rest until they can provoke our enemies into provoking us.
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