To see how our foreign policy creates enemies we can look at bin Laden himself. Osama wasn't the threat he was just because he could motivate a few religious kooks against us. He was dangerous because, in his heyday, he was able to strike a chord with a large segment of the mainstream Muslim world. And what was he saying that was resonating with rank-and-file Muslims?
Michael F. Scheuer (who, as chief of the Osama bin Laden tracking unit of the CIA's Counterterrorist Center, was studying Bin Laden before most Americans had even heard of him) summed up the case that bin Laden presented to his fellow Muslims against the U.S. in his 2004 book Imperial Hubris. "Bin Laden has been precise in telling America the reasons he is waging war on us," Scheuer wrote. "None of the reasons have anything to do with our freedom, liberty, and democracy, but have everything to do with U.S. policies and actions in the Muslim world. [...] He could not have his current -and increasing- level of success if Muslims did not believe their faith, brethren, resources, and lands to be under attack by the United States and, more generally, the West. Indeed, the United States, and its policies and actions, are bin Laden's only indispensable allies."
Scheuer says that we are not "misunderstood" in the Muslim world, as our politicians often claim. Rather, we are hated because of "how easy it is for Muslims to see, hear, experience, and hate the six U.S. policies bin Laden repeatedly refers to as anti-Muslim:
- U.S. support for Israel that keeps Palestinians in the Israelis' thrall.
- U.S. and other Western troops on the Arabian Peninsula.
- U.S. occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan.
- U.S. support for Russia, India, and China against their Muslim militants.
- U.S. pressure on Arab energy producers to keep oil prices low.
- U.S. support for apostate, corrupt, and tyrannical Muslim governments."
And that's just one culture. Rest assured that your federal government is enraging people of many cultures all around the world (in your name). When foreigners become incensed with our government's meddling in their affairs they sometimes lash out. The CIA casually calls that "blowback." As 9-11 demonstrated, blowback can be disastrous.
In order to guard its empire of intervention, the U.S. maintains an archipelago of some 507 to 1,180 foreign military bases (even the government is unsure of the actual number). To put that in perspective, our nearest competitors, Russia and Great Britain only have a few such bases. China, Iran, North Korea, Libya, and any other nation on our "naughty list" all have zero. It's unclear how much these overseas bases cost the U.S. taxpayers, but in 2010 the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform estimated that cutting U.S. garrisons in Europe and Asia by one-third would save about $8.5 billion in 2015 alone.
The total U.S. defense budget is about $700 billion, or 20% of the total federal budget. This figure represents about half of all military spending in the world. This doesn't include related expenses such as care of disabled vets, pensions, or "homeland security" costs. Since the federal government borrows about 40 cents of every dollar it spends, that means the government will borrow billions per year (often from the likes of the Red Chinese) to fund defense programs supposedly to defend us from the likes of the Red Chinese. This when both the Secretary of Defense and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff have publicly stated that the national debt, not some foreign power, represents the single biggest threat to U.S. security.
In conjunction with its massive military, the U.S. maintains "alliances" with hundreds of much weaker nations that threaten to drag us into any war that breaks out anywhere in the world. Our "allies," who expect our protection from their menacing neighbors, often spend a smaller percentage of their national wealth on defense than we do. Why should they waste their blood and treasure to defend their own country when starry-eyed Americans will do it for them?
Since many neo-conservatives try to dismiss any criticism of aggressive foreign policy as unpatriotic piffle from the "blame America first crowd," perhaps I should pause here to clarify a few things.
First, I have nothing but profound respect for our brave men and women in uniform, who don't set our foreign policy but whose lives are often risked by it. I wore the uniform in peacetime and served with some of the Iowa Guardsmen who are in Afghanistan right now. They're a great bunch of guys. Nor am I some pacifist who thinks that war is always wrong. It' a rough world and nations, like individuals, have a responsibility to defend themselves. Lastly, I don't think America or her people are "bad." On the contrary, she is a great nation populated by brave, honest and industrious people. It's just that our country has a convoluted, self-destructive foreign policy. Again, that's not because we are bad but because foreign policy is a product of the federal government and our government could screw up a cheese sandwich.
So what is the alternative to the current quasi-imperialist foreign policy? Perhaps a return to the peaceful, noninterventionist foreign policy that the founders of our country envisioned. Thomas Jefferson famously advised "peace, commerce, and honest friendship with all nations-entangling alliances with none." In his farewell address, George Washington stated, "It is our true policy to steer clear of permanent alliance with any portion of the foreign world."
I believe the most elequent statement of traditional American noninterventionism, however, comes from John Quincy Adams' speech delivered on July 4, 1821: "America, in the assembly of nations, since her admission among them, has invariably, though often fruitlessly, held forth to them the hand of honest friendship, of equal freedom, of generous reciprocity.
"She has uniformly spoken among them, though often to heedless and often to disdainful ears, the language of equal liberty, of equal justice, and of equal rights.
"She has, in the lapse of nearly half a century, without a single exception, respected the independence of other nations while asserting and maintaining her own.
"She has abstained from interference in the concerns of others, even when conflict has been for principles to which she clings, as to the last vital drop that visits the heart. [...]
"Wherever the standard of freedom and Independence has been or shall be unfurled, there will her heart, her benedictions and her prayers be.
"But she goes not abroad, in search of monsters to destroy.
"She is the well-wisher to the freedom and independence of all.
"She is the champion and vindicator only of her own. [...]
"She well knows that by once enlisting under other banners than her own, were they even the banners of foreign independence, she would involve herself beyond the power of extrication, in all the wars of interest and intrigue, of individual avarice, envy, and ambition, which assume the colors and usurp the standard of freedom.
"The fundamental maxims of her policy would insensibly change from liberty to force....
"She might become the dictatress of the world. She would be no longer the ruler of her own spirit...."
As we look at the state of our great nation at home and abroad, she is beginning to look like that "dictatress of the world" that Adams warned of, whose principles are changing "from liberty to force." Perhaps now is the time to correct that. Our great enemy Osama bin Laden is at the bottom of the sea and our nation is sinking in a sea of red ink. If we can't honestly reexamine our foreign policy now, then when can we?