In a recent article, "Sustaining
Our Resolve" (Policy Review, August/September 2006), George
Shultz, former secretary of state under Ronald Reagan and a senior fellow at
the Hoover Institution, argues for keeping up the war on terror. He also argues
that if we are to counter some of the "delusional" conspiracy talk
that goes on in the Middle East, we need to be "candid, open, and factually
correct." Because his argument is lengthy, I won't deal with every aspect
of it. But this should not be taken to imply either agreement or disagreement
with those undealt-with parts. Since Shultz's argument has received so much
attention from those who favor the "war on terror," it warrants a
response. I do so in the spirit that Shultz calls for, the spirit of candidness,
openness, and factual correctness.
One of Shultz's key paragraphs is the following:
"The war we are in started a long time ago, although we did not recognize
its nature until recently. We witnessed the assassination of Israeli athletes
at the Olympic games in Munich in 1972, the assault on our embassy in Tehran
with Americans taken hostage in 1979, the assassination of President Sadat of
Egypt in 1981, the car bomb that killed 243 U.S. Marines in Lebanon in 1983,
the attack on the World Trade Center in 1993, the bombing of our embassies in
Africa, and the attack on the USS Cole in the late 1990s. We made no
serious response to any of these bloody assaults. In the Reagan, Bush 41, and
Clinton years, we hit back once or twice with airstrikes or cruise missiles.
The enemy was not impressed." (p. 4)
This one short paragraph contains so much confusion and misinformation. Notice
that he discusses the "war we are in." What is the first incident
he names in that war? The assassination of Israeli athletes in Munich
in 1972. I do not defend the murderers who did this horrible deed, but how does
it connect with the United States? Shultz's starting with that 1972 event shows
a simple failure to distinguish between the country whose people were attacked – Israel – and
the United States.
The next item on Shultz's list is "the assault on our embassy in Tehran"
in 1979. Here he's getting warm because that was, at least, an assault on the
U.S. government. And he's certainly right that this was one of the first steps
in the terrorist assault against the United States. But Shultz fails to provide
the context for this assault. Did some Iranians just wake up one day and say,
out of the blue, "Gee, let's attack the U.S. embassy?" Or did they
make their decision based on what they had seen in the U.S. government's foreign
policy toward their country?
Let me explain. Imagine that, in 1978, President Jimmy Carter, in response
to a bill passed by the U.S. Congress, had nationalized some major companies
in the United States that were owned by, say, Syrians. Imagine that, two years
later, in 1980, some government officials of Syria's ally, Iran, sent some of
their agents to foment rebellion and help install, say, George H.W. Bush as
the dictator of the United States. Now imagine that, in 2006, another dictator
replaces George H.W. Bush and you, angry at the Iranian government for sabotaging
your democracy 26 years earlier, decide to attack the Iranian embassy in Washington.
Whatever the morality of such an action, how candid would you think a representative
of the Iranian government would be if he criticized your actions as being those
of a terrorist and never even mentioned the actions of his own government 26
Why do I give this hypothetical? For two reasons. First, because the best way
to see how other people might respond to U.S. government actions is to put yourself
in the shoes of these others. Second, because if you change the names and countries
of the players, this is not a hypothetical at all. It actually happened, and
the U.S. government was a key player in making it happen. In 1951, the Iranian
parliament nationalized the British-owned Anglo-Iranian Oil Company, and democratically
elected Prime Minister Mohammed
Mossadegh helped carry out the nationalization. In 1953, newly-elected U.S.
President Dwight Eisenhower, as a favor to the British government, had Norman
Schwarzkopf Sr. and Kermit Roosevelt (the latter a CIA employee and a grandson
of Teddy Roosevelt) use U.S.-taxpayer dollars to help fund anti-Mossadegh riots.
Operation Ajax worked,
and the shah, a U.S. government ally from the start, was installed as the dictator
of Iran. These facts are relevant for someone who wants a "candid, open,
and factually correct discussion." Which raises the question of why Shultz
doesn't even hint at these well-known facts.
Now to Shultz's third fact, the assassination of Egyptian President
Anwar Sadat in 1981. Remember that Shultz is trying to make a case that
we have been under attack by terrorists. So how does he do that? By pointing
to a terrorist attack on a ruthless president of a fairly unfree country. Got
it? As Bob Dylan once said, "Wowee!
With Shultz's fourth example, the 243 Marines killed in Lebanon in 1983, he
is on firmer ground. But not much firmer. Yes, the Marines were U.S. citizens,
but they were essentially at war in Lebanon and were killed by people also at
war. It was a sneak attack, but so are many bombings from the air or from ships
that both sides in many wars engage in. Again, I hold no brief for those who
kill American soldiers – I've spent the last 22 years teaching American soldiers
and being friends with many of them. But a key characteristic of a terrorist
attack – one that even Shultz seems to agree with in most of his article – is that
the attack is typically on civilians, not on soldiers at war.
Shultz's fifth, sixth, and seventh examples – the attack on the U.S. World
Trade Center in 1993, the bombing of the U.S. embassies in Africa, and the attack
on the U.S.S. Cole in 1999 – are all good examples of terrorist attacks
on the United States. They were horrible.
Again, though, as with the case of the 1979 takeover of the U.S. embassy in
Tehran, it's important, if you want to avoid future attacks, to understand why
the attacks occurred. If you stuck your hand in a hornets' nest and got stung,
what would you do next? Would you stick your hand in it again, but this time
more carefully? Wouldn't it reasonable to consider not sticking your
hand in hornets' nests at all? Of course, the analogy here is to U.S. foreign
policy. Granted, it's not a perfect analogy. A particular flaw in the analogy
is that it isn't always an innocent American hand being put in the nest: sometimes
the hand is itself a swarm of hornets, and sometimes, not always, the nest is
occupied by people who start acting like hornets only after being attacked.
The old French saying "Cet animal est très méchant; quand
on l'attaque, il se défend" is relevant here. Translation: "This
animal is very wicked; if you attack it, it defends itself."
But Shultz steadfastly refuses to consider taking the U.S. government hand
out of the hornets' nests around the world. Instead, he advocates that the U.S.
government "do a much better job of communicating with the world of Islam."
Notice something else. Shultz's list of terrorist attacks is highly selective.
He mentions only attacks on Israelis, an Egyptian president, and American military
and non-military targets. Shultz does not mention, for example, Baruch Goldstein,
an Israeli terrorist, who, in 1994, murdered 29 Palestinians while
they prayed at Abraham's Tomb in the Cave
of the Patriarchs. Surely Shultz knows this history. Why doesn't he mention
it? Could it be because it messes up his narrative by showing that Israelis
can be just as vicious as Muslims? I don't know, but I would like to know.
In his article, Shultz refers proudly to a 1984
speech he gave as secretary of state under Ronald Reagan. In that speech,
Shultz anticipated an increase in terrorism and advocated steps against it.
And in this article, Shultz highlights some of these steps, such as "active
prevention, preemption, and retaliation." Interestingly, though, he doesn't
mention some of the other content of his 1984 speech that is also relevant today.
In particular, three highlights of that speech make one wonder what Shultz thinks
of President Bush's actions since 9/11.
The first is Shultz's statement, "If terrorists strike here at home, it
is a matter for police action and domestic law enforcement." Of
course, that's what many people in the antiwar movement have been saying since
(and before) 9/11. Yet, that was not President Bush's chosen course. Bush chose
to attack Afghanistan and, later, to invade Iraq. Yet in his 2006 article, Shultz
doesn't criticize the course Bush took. Which raises the question: was Shultz
wrong in 1984, or is Bush wrong today?
Second, in his 1984 speech, Shultz stated, "Those who truly seek peace
in the Middle East know that war and violence are no answer." Given
that President Bush started a war in the Middle East, would Shultz now be critical
of Bush? He doesn't say in his article, but in other venues he has supported
Bush's war. There are three possible interpretations: (1) Shultz has changed
his mind about his earlier statement; (2) Shultz still believes his earlier
statement but doesn't truly seek peace in the Middle East; or (3) Shultz meant
that war and violence by terrorists in the Middle East are wrong but that war
and violence by governments are fine.
Third, in his 1984 speech, Shultz stated:
"But the terrorist can even be satisfied if a government responds to
terror by clamping down on individual rights and freedoms. Governments that
overreact, even in self-defense, may only undermine their own legitimacy, as
they unwittingly serve the terrorists' goals. The terrorist succeeds if a government
responds to violence with repressive, polarizing behavior that alienates the
government from the people."
Here, the question is whether Shultz thinks, given President Bush's and Congress'
clamping-down on individual rights and freedoms with the USA PATRIOT Act and
NSA spying, that the terrorists have succeeded and that Bush and Congress have
Many people who support Bush's and Congress' war in Iraq make a lot of sloppy
arguments for their case. Among them are Bill O'Reilly, Morton Kondracke, Fred
Barnes, and Sean Hannity, all of Fox News Channel, countless members of Congress,
officials in the Bush administration, and former officials in the Clinton administration.
But George Shultz is a smart man not prone to sloppiness. This should encourage
those of us who oppose the war. After all, if Shultz's case is the best the
pro-war side can offer, then we who oppose the war have already won the debate.
Copyright © 2006 by David R. Henderson. Requests for permission to
reprint should be directed to the author or Antiwar.com.