It has only been a little more than a year since September 11 and already therapeutic voices are back, suggesting that we are somehow culpable for our own calamity because we did not give away enough money to the Middle East. Not long ago the well-meaning and sincere Senator Murray of Washington contrasted the purported civic philanthropy of Osama bin Laden with the supposed failure of the United States to help those impoverished in the Middle East. She was apparently perplexed over why so many Islamic countries hate us — and perhaps thinks that instead of warring with Iraq we should spend the projected billions in war costs on more foreign aid to convince the Arab masses to like us rather than him.
Would that the senator’s trust in human nature be true! Then, armed with her logic of the Enlightenment and Christian notions of peace and goodwill, we might abandon deterrence, write big checks, and so make the world anew on more utopian and moral principles.
But unfortunately Senator Murray’s musings are not merely infantile, but quite dangerous and for a variety of reasons — besides her very wrong inference that a few million dollars of bin Laden’s cynical largess can be compared to the multibillions of past United States aid and private American philanthropy.
First of all, all dictators and thugs — compare Hitler’s autobahns, Mussolini’s trains, or Mao’s anti-opium campaigns — invest in public works as useful social capital to be weighed against their more-nefarious acts. In the graveyard of post-Taliban Afghanistan, skeletons of Soviet dams, highways, tunnels, and schools loom everywhere — the legacy of manipulative Communists who sought to extend the carrot of material improvement even as they brandished the stick of tyrannical killing.
Like all cynical mass murderers, bin Laden did not run his public works by a Senate oversight committee. Instead he calculated his rent for terrorist camps and outlaw sanctuary with the vouchers of a few roads and madrassas.
Senator Murray also assumes that a hostile people’s anger is either logical or justified. But just as frequently as genuine grievances over poverty, wars break out over perceived hurts. In the mindset of a Patty Murray, Hitler’s Germans or Tojo’s Japanese might have gone to war because Britain and the United States were stingy with their aid or praise, not because we appeared both affluent and weak, without will or power to stop initial aggression. The specter of the humiliation and defeat of supposed “decadent” democracies — if done on the cheap — is a powerful narcotic that offers thugs the conceit of status and a sense of national accomplishment.
True, the so-called masses of the Middle East have grounds for redress — who wouldn’t without elections, free speech, sexual equality, religious tolerance, or the rule of law? But their want arises largely from self-created failures and runs the gamut of tribalism, corruption, fanaticism, and frequent apartheid of women and non-Muslims — not a lack of dollars and euros. The depressing ruins that are now a large part of Kabul, Beirut, and Cairo or the moral black holes of Teheran, Riyadh, Damascus, and Baghdad were the dividends of indigenous Middle Eastern genius, not of outside Western machinations. Promoting democracy, not handing out food, practicing appeasement, or tolerating suicide bombing, will do far more for the disenfranchised on the West Bank.
Instead in the therapeutic thinking of Senator Murray war arises only from material need. Thus, lend a helping hand and offer a few billion, and — presto! — logically millions should love us. Stalin’s ruined postwar Russia, however, did not appreciate American forbearance in Eastern Europe or offers of billions of dollars in Marshall Plan money. Just as likely, it saw such conciliatory outreach as either stupidity or weakness — if not the laxity of a Western power overly worried about its own sense of morality.
Tragically, evil states and cabals always exist; and they sometimes have only contempt for more moral peoples who choose not to use their superior power that might entail messy wars. Had we offered still more charity, the Arab street might have appreciated such generosity about as much as the Jordanians and Egyptians now show gratitude for billions in American debt relief, grain, and military assets — or our past salvation of Islamic Afghans, Kuwaitis, Somalis, Kosovars, and Bosnians.
In war, clarity of purpose — which is not a relative construct — counts for everything, being liked by one’s enemies very little at all. When one examines the moral universe of bin Laden and the vast majority of Arab governments — whether Iraq, Libya, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Yemen, or Lebanon — then why wouldn’t they dislike the United States?
And in a war fought over fundamental differences, enemy displeasure is not always discernable — and when it is, rarely regrettable. We do not know precisely what the Iranian, Syrian, or Iraqi people think of the United States because any who voice their heartfelt views would be either jailed or killed. But at least we are finally learning that dictatorships who claim our alliance (various kings, sheiks, and “presidents”) foster anti-Americanism; while overt enemies (for example, the mullahs, Taliban, and Saddam Hussein) prompt either popular indifference or good will toward the United States. Personally, I would be pleased that the Taliban, Saddam Hussein, most of the mobs cheering Pakistani assassins, and others writing anti-Semitic editorials did not like America — and would be shocked and ashamed if they did.
Humans are also fickle. By nature they are prone to gravitate toward conventional rather than real wisdom. Most feel comfortable with consensus and victory, and become dejected in shame and defeat. Read of the contrasting opinions that Germans held about the United States between 1941 and 1947: we were the same; they were not. Millions of pro-Hitler Germans did not disappear in 1945, but they professed to us that their ideas had. They liked us far better after they were poor and beaten than when they were rich and unconquered.
Why the change? Because the wages of their pride and cynical calculation led to the ruin of the Third Reich and a realization that Nazism was as impotent as its values were bankrupt. So if the United States wins in Iraq, and if it establishes with justice and humility a consensual government under international auspices, most Middle Easterners will either grow mute — or once more, as in 1991, a few will start naming their children after an American President. Indeed, I imagine right now in Kuwait there are a few families with teen-age George Bushes changing the diapers of their toddler bin Ladens — while an embryonic George W. Bush awaits birth.
The suburban soccer fields of Seattle are not quite the same type of places as the wilds of Yemen, the palaces of Riyadh, or the barracks of the Republican Guard. Senator Murray in her own life talks as though she has never bumped into anybody quite like Osama bin Laden. But our terrorist nemesis thinks he has seen quite a few Senator Murrays in the last two decades of impotent American responses to his campaign of terror — guilt-ridden, naïve, and ultimately either too “moral” or too worried to crush him. And so far, Mr. Bin Laden has proved the more astute since he really would understand a Patty Murray far better than she him.
Sadly, prosperous Westerners never seem to learn of the folly of honoring appeasement and naiveté — the awarding of Nobel Peace Prizes to the likes of a Le Duc Tho and Yasser Arafat, as if global praise might make them statesmen rather than murderers, to a Kim Dae Jung as if his demonstrable kindness would pacify rather than embolden North Korea, or to ex-President Carter as if his well-meaning parleys with tyrants could bring peace. As chief executive emeritus, his saintliness now plays well; but we forget in the rough and tumble of his presidency that Mr. Carter’s brag that he had no “inordinate fear of Communism” was followed by the brutal Russian invasion of Afghanistan, that sending Ramsay Clark to apologize to the Iranians did not win the release of the American hostages in 1980, and that U.N. Ambassador Andrew Young’s praise of Cuban troops in Africa and his clenched-fist, black-power salutes to African leaders did not stop Communist intervention and bloodletting abroad.
The United States cannot lose the struggle on the battlefield, as we did not lose the Vietnam conflict in the strict military sense either. But we most surely can fail in this war if our citizens and leaders reach for their checkbooks as the fundamentalists reach for their guns — or convince themselves that our enemies fight because of something we, rather than they, did.