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Arrogance Is Humility

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Taking a step back from all the particulars, the lesson of 9/11 is that for more than 50 years the U.S. government has put the American people in harm’s way by its heavy-handed intervention in bitter disputes throughout the Middle East. Then, despite hundreds of billions spent each year on “national security” and countless signals of the coming threat, it was unable to protect us from the “blowback.”

So the government went to war against al-Qaeda and the Taliban, proclaiming success all the way, even if it could not bag the top men.

But then last week, the head of the CIA, George Tenet, went to Congress and said, “The threat environment we find ourselves in today is as bad as it was last summer, the summer before September 11. It is serious; they’ve reconstituted; they are coming after us, they want to execute attacks.”

This has not stopped our national misleaders from insisting that they are our ticket to security. But for that assertion there has been as little evidence offered as there has been for the claims that Saddam Hussein is a threat to Americans or that he had anything to do with al-Qaeda. “We don’t need no stinkin’ evidence” is the attitude that oozes from President Bush and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld.

The objective indications all run the other way. It is indisputable that the U.S. government picked fights where it did not belong. This created resentment against the government. How would you feel if missiles and bombs with the words “Made in the U.S.A.” came crashing into your home, killing your children? Fortunately, most people in the Middle East distinguish the American government from the American people. The polls done by John Zogby confirm this routinely. They don’t hate us. They hate our government’s policies.

Unfortunately, a small number of fanatics don’t make that distinction. Hence, events like the World Trade Center terrorism. It must be pointed out that the U.S. government itself is less than thorough about distinguishing between governments and private citizens when it conducts its bombing campaigns in northern and southern Iraq and in Afghanistan.

Mr. Tenet, in describing the continuing threat, apparently paid no heed to the latest tape alleged to feature the voice of Osama bin Laden. On that tape released a few weeks ago, bin Laden said, “[Whether] America increases or reduces tensions, we will surely answer back in the same manner.” For some reason this was not worthy of discussion on the endless cable programs about the war on terrorism and the coming intensification of the decade-long conflict with Iraq. Nor did the congressional committees take it up. I may be wrong, but it sounded as though bin Laden was saying that if the United States reduced tensions, so would al-Qaeda.

This is interesting because if that is what he means, then those of us who said the terrorist attacks were retaliation for U.S. intervention in the Middle East are right. And those who said bin Laden hates us because we are rich, free, and democratic are wrong. I think it shows that the Islamic radicals aren’t against American business. They just want America to mind its own and leave the people in the Middle East alone. That’s not an unreasonable request. Some of us have been making it for years.

Could that be why bin Laden’s remark went by without discussion?

Notice, however, that the U.S. is not reducing tensions. On the contrary, it is still starving Iraqis with an embargo as it plans to attack Baghdad; it still has troops near the Islamic holy sites in Saudi Arabia; and it still enables Israeli oppression of the Palestinians.

Dangerous days lie ahead, thanks to Mr. Bush and his new strategic doctrine of global preventive war. Things were supposed to be different. Does anyone remember that day ages ago when then-candidate Bush promised a “humble” foreign policy? I guess to Orwell’s “War is Peace” and “Freedom is Slavery” we may now add Bush’s “Arrogance is Humility.”

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    Sheldon Richman is vice president of The Future of Freedom Foundation and editor of FFF's monthly journal, Future of Freedom. For 15 years he was editor of The Freeman, published by the Foundation for Economic Education in Irvington, New York. He is the author of FFF's award-winning book Separating School & State: How to Liberate America's Families; Your Money or Your Life: Why We Must Abolish the Income Tax; and Tethered Citizens: Time to Repeal the Welfare State. Calling for the abolition, not the reform, of public schooling. Separating School & State has become a landmark book in both libertarian and educational circles. In his column in the Financial Times, Michael Prowse wrote: "I recommend a subversive tract, Separating School & State by Sheldon Richman of the Cato Institute, a Washington think tank... . I also think that Mr. Richman is right to fear that state education undermines personal responsibility..." Sheldon's articles on economic policy, education, civil liberties, American history, foreign policy, and the Middle East have appeared in the Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, American Scholar, Chicago Tribune, USA Today, Washington Times, The American Conservative, Insight, Cato Policy Report, Journal of Economic Development, The Freeman, The World & I, Reason, Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, Middle East Policy, Liberty magazine, and other publications. He is a contributor to the The Concise Encyclopedia of Economics. A former newspaper reporter and senior editor at the Cato Institute and the Institute for Humane Studies, Sheldon is a graduate of Temple University in Philadelphia. He blogs at Free Association. Send him e-mail.