Strategic Interest and Ideology
This coming week we pause to reflect upon the losses of September 11, 2001, and to honor all those killed or injured that day, as well as the families and friends they left behind. It is also fitting that we should remember the many soldiers killed or wounded in the intervening decade as they fought those identified as being responsible: Al Qaeda and their sympathizers.
Ten years after, we continue to assess responsibility for 9/11 and while Al Qaeda is certainly responsible for the act, the true picture may be more complicated and less precise.
It is accepted and perhaps even inevitable that countries, both democratic and otherwise, will engage in all manner of unseemly alliances as they attempt to protect their strategic interests. These alliances can be uncivil, undemocratic and potentially damaging, but we engage in them none-the-less. That fact, coupled with our very short memory, allows us to repeat our mistakes while engaging in an assessment of responsibility that is often incomplete and sometimes just plain incorrect. (We denied sanctuary to Jews being murdered by the Nazis during World War II and then immediately provided sanctuary to Nazis to aid in the fight against Communism—so much for humanitarianism or the punishment of war crimes.)
Osama bin Laden once served in a strategic alliance with the US as the Afghans fought the Communists over control of their country. We were happy to train, equip and assist bin Laden and his compatriots as it dove-tailed nicely with our needs. Bin Laden was a terrorist then but happily, he was OUR terrorist as he shot down Hind helicopters and plotted the eventual defeat of the Soviets. His was a successful endeavor.
He moved on to more militant religious causes and was furious with one of the world’s least democratic countries, Saudi Arabia, when they invited US troops on to their soil in support of the First Gulf War. America was happy to cozy up to a repressive and tyrannical Saudi government if it secured our supply of oil. It was the presence of the US military in an Islamic country that fanned his hatred of America. We don’t need to like Al Qaeda, we can even hate them if we want, but we need to understand their motivations, whether or not we agree with them.
To paraphrase Britain’s Lord Palmerston, "Nations have no permanent friends, they only have permanent interests." Palmerston is, of course, correct and that fact leads to all sorts of moral and ethical ambiguity where today’s friends are tomorrow’s bitter and deadly enemies. There may not be room for either ethics or morality in foreign policy but that fact alone pre-disposes us to acts of terror and aggression as we selfishly ally ourselves based solely on our interests.
Just days ago the New York Times reported that Libyan documents had been found linking the CIA to Qaddafi and his famously repressive regime. The recovered papers suggest that the US shipped terrorism suspects to Colonel Qaddafi for interrogation. Perhaps in so doing we were only protecting our strategic interests but we should hardly be surprised about future reprisals when we find ourselves in league with Qaddafi, a man whom President Obama said, "had lost the legitimacy to lead." One wonders how the President defines "legitimacy."
The world is a complicated place, indeed.
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