am one of many deeply conflicted ex-activists who worked to stop
the war on Vietnam but isnt (at least as of October 10)
quite sure how to act in the current situation.
get the bona fides out of the way first. In the 1960s and early-1970s,
I was involved majorly in the anti-war movement, everything from
Movement journalism, to organizing and addressing rallies and
demos, to running draft dodgers across the border into Canada.
I was threatened with arrest more than once, and I lost my college-teaching
job because of my perceived radicalism.
that was another time, another war. It was clear from the git-go
that the war in Vietnam was immoral and doomed to failure in any
case. (Even Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara admits that he
knew as early as 1967 that the war was unwinnable.) The U.S. government
was ignorant of Vietnamese history and culture, and was fighting
a technological war for a long time against an invisible enemy
of determined guerrillas fighting to expel the invaders. Le plus
changed for all of us on September 11, 2001. The U.S. mainland
itself was under attack from determined, clever, ideologically
resolute guerrillas, eager and willing to die in their religious/political
frenzy. Regardless of what one thinks of their political and policy
complaints and regardless of what one thinks of U.S. foreign
policy over the decades that might have contributed to the climate
that breeds terror their crime against humanity and their
single-minded determination to kill U.S. civilians wherever and
however they can puts them beyond any pale of civilized behavior.
These are very bad and dangerous people. They must be rooted out
and dealt with.
I applaud President Bushs pushing the issue of terrorism
to the top of the worlds agenda, and organizing a coalition
to begin attacking the terror networks in a wide variety of ways:
diplomatically (isolating states that may have harbored terrorists),
financially (trying to dry up their money-laundering accounts),
through police work here and abroad (rounding up suspects, collapsing
cells planning further attacks), waging an educational/propaganda
campaign to drum up moral support for the anti-terrorism campaign.
I, and perhaps many like me, grew more uneasy was with the U.S.
rush to military action. I understand the desire to strike back
relatively quickly to throw the terrorists and their supporters
into a disruption of normal patterns, to debilitate their assets,
to assuage the U.S. populations desire for retaliation,
etc. but I question the thinking behind that approach.
(After all, it was President Bush from the very beginning who
urged patience and said the campaign would take years; why the
rush to the military option first? One can never put the
toothpaste back in the tube.) And I wonder if the U.S. action,
though it may yield short-term dividends, will come back to bite
us badly in the long term.
one thing, not only do we not have an exit strategy for this war,
it appears we didnt even have an entry strategy. We bomb
for three or four days and then, say U.S. spokesmen, well
see what happens. In other words, other than bombing and putting
ground troops in with no clear goals, it doesnt seem as
if we have much of a long-term strategy. We want to find and capture
(or kill) the elusive bin Laden and his lieutenants, and wed
be happy if the Northern Alliance forces would topple the Taliban,
but clearly we have nothing yet that is respectable and institutionally
viable with which to replace the Taliban. And theres no
indication that were prepared for nation-building tasks
in a post-Taliban Afghanistan. Instead, there are rumbles in the
Bush administration about moving on to bombing Iraq and going
after Saddam Hussein and his lieutenants.
are leading a most fragile coalition that is ready to break apart
at any moment. If civilian casualties in Afghanistan begin growing,
and especially if we attack another Muslim country, the coalition
will implode, with potentially horrendous consequences. Bin Laden
and his friends and supporters around the Middle East/South Asia
will have fodder for their fire that this whole U.S.-led operation
is another crusade (Bushs original term, remember)
against Islam. (Remember the Italian prime ministers racist
remarks about Islam and how Christianity is far superior? No wonder
Muslims are nervous.)
leadership may be overthrown, and has anybody emphasized that
Pakistan now has nuclear weapons? Do we want to contemplate what
bin Laden and the Taliban and their allies might do with such
nuclear missiles? Indonesia, the most populous Muslim state in
the world, already politically shaky, could fall to fundamentalist
off the geopolitical radar screen, what is China up to? While
the U.S. is preoccupied with going after terrorists (and there
are reports that China is moving Chinese troops near, or maybe
even into Afghanistan), might China decide to engage in some major
mischief of its own? (Even more disturbing possibility: In exchange
for its anti-terrorism support, the U.S. seems to have given Russia
carte blanche to do what it wants in Chechnya; might we have made
a similiar, under-the-table deal with China in regard to Taiwan?)
the U.S. from top governmental officials to ordinary American
citizens seem utterly focused on the terrorists we know, with
virtually no attention being paid to the next generation of terrorists
we dont now know. In other words, we are forgetting to pay
attention to finding a way to lower tensions in the Middle East.
We know, if we think about it, that U.S. foreign/military policy
has contributed to the growth of anti-U.S. sentiment in that explosive
area of the world, even among Arabs and other Muslims who consider
the terror attacks on the U.S. a major crime of horror. Should
we not be thinking, even a little bit, about re-examining U.S.
foreign policies that bring risk to our country?
seems to me that this would make sense, but were in the
usual American mode of trying to remove the irritant to our system
and then getting back to normal. If we go that route,
we will have to deal not only with the dangerous terrorists from
The Base but with a whole new crop just waiting to join the Islamic
extremists jihad against the U.S. and Western
civilization in general. There is no going back to normal;
wed better get used to it: This IS normal for the foreseeable
future. Bin Laden's network is so extremist/fundamentalist in
its attitude that even if there were a just Israeli/Palestinian
peace, he'd still be on his jihad against the U.S.; they've got
to be stopped.
am I referring to in terms of what the U.S. can do? Well, for
starters, how about the U.S. becoming energizingly engaged in
trying to broker a peace between Israel and the Palestinians
one that takes into account Israels desire for security
and the Palestinians need for a contiguous state? How about
re-thinking whether theres another alternative to basing
our troops in Saudi Arabia? How about weaning our economy and
culture off Mideast oil (and I dont mean opening up ANWAR
in order that we can continue to drive gas-guzzling SUVs)? Etc.
sum, if we truly want to move intelligently beyond this current
war effort assuming we can get through it without the Law of
Unintended Consequences (Pakistan & nuclear weapons, Chinas
machinations, India& Pakistan going to war, something else
unforeseen) bringing havoc to the world weve got as citizens
to become better educated as to history, geopolitics, and learn
how everything ties together. And then let our political leaders
know that we know.
having said all that, what are we conflicted ex-activists to do,
given that we support the idea of closing up terrorist cells around
the world, but are anxious, and have many questions, about U.S.
cant speak for others, but for me, I will continue raising
these questions wherever I can to my senators and congresspeople,
in public dialogue in newspapers and on the internet, with my
friends and colleagues and neighbors. I will try to remind folks
that since the war genie has been let out of the bottle, the Law
of Unintended Consequences dictates that more disasters lie awaiting.
I will emphasize the need to re-examine U.S. foreign policy in
the Mideast and elsewhere that may be creating the conditions
that lead to hatred and resentment of America and Americans. I
will try to ensure that the very civil liberties and freedoms
that distinguish us from so much of the world not be overly compromised
as we move more and more to a martial society. I will keep on
keeping on, praying and working for justice and eventual peace.
Weiner, Ph.D., taught government and international relations
at Western Washington University and at San Diego State University;
he was with the San
for nearly two decades.