Editor’s note: The following article is a response to Thomas Qualtere of The Heritage Foundation’s recent article “Hawks we are, hawks we must remain,” published on this site.
I rarely become truly angry when reading the opinion of a fellow human being. As should be obvious from my libertarian associations, I understand that free speech is inextricably linked with freedom. However, while I would never advocate for the silencing of one whose opinion I find little to no common ground with, I can still say that Thomas Qualtere of the Heritage Foundation’s recent article concerning the future of both foreign policy and conservatism in our nation deeply saddens me, and reinforces in my mind the importance of helping my fellow Americans gain an accurate understanding of the misguided foreign policy that has led our country into a cycle of perpetual war and violence from which it often seems there is no escape.
Qualtere attempts to address the question of where the youth of today should commit themselves in terms of creating the American foreign policy of tomorrow. “We are the 9/11 generation,” he writes. Qualtere states that we are a generation that should understand the cost of not confronting our enemies overseas, and that the lessons of 9/11 should be our call to fight for an American foreign policy that deals with our enemies where they live, rather than lets them come to strike us at home.
According to Qualtere, we are children of the ’80s and ’90s, the ’80s being “harmonious, optimistic, and thriving,” and the ’90s being “a time of peace and prosperity that neither our parents nor grandparents ever knew.” It seems that Qualtere believes that the most important things to remember about the ’80s and ’90s are that “the music was great, the movies were fun, the new cellular telephones were neat and the World Wide Web was even cooler.” Then, 9/11 came, ending America’s party.
I at least give Qualtere credit for admitting his own ignorance. Indeed, one would have to selectively remember only certain aspects of ’80s and ’90s to have as flawed an understanding of the modern Middle East as he does.
Let’s not remember the fact that the CIA in the 1980s taught the fighters who would one day be the Taliban how to build and employ suicide bombs. Let’s not remember that during the Iraq-Iran war, the United States supplied Saddam Hussein with many of the weapons that he would use to kill American soldiers just a few years later. Let’s not remember that it was the official policy of both Presidents Carter and Reagan to give the Afghani freedom fighters who were attempting to keep the USSR at bay just enough aid to perpetuate the Russian invasion for the sake of draining the Soviets, but not nearly enough to aid to bring an end to the conflict in order to give the Soviets “their Vietnam War,” resulting in massive Afghani casualties.
Let’s certainly not remember that during the ’80s and much of the ’90s, Osama bin Laden was receiving a nice fat paycheck from Uncle Sam. Let’s not remember that during the ’80s, the CIA provided the most extremist Muslim groups with weapons, support, training and thousands of Korans as methods of support and recruitment. Let’s not remember that the majority of the Islamic extremists we are fighting today are the result of a network of recruitment that was conceptualized, financed, and maintained with American taxpayer money.
Let’s not remember that it was the Pakistani Inter-Services Intelligence that, with American backing, organized the Taliban in the brutal Afghani civil war that followed Soviet withdrawal from the region. And, if we are going to maintain our simple image of the people we are fighting in the Middle East as “bad” and ourselves as “good,” then it is certainly important not to remember that the Taliban was receiving US foreign aid up to the very moment that American forces were crossing into their territory.
So yes, Mr. Qualtere, if you forget this entire history of American involvement in the Middle East, cite 9/11 as the beginning of our war in the region, and simplify your enemy as “bad guys” and yourself as the “good guy,” I suppose your argument makes sense.
However, suppose that young American don’t forget our nation’s history in this tumultuous region. Suppose that young Americans look to facts instead of political opportunists basing their arguments in false presuppositions and scare tactics.
Here’s a radical idea: suppose that young Americans consider the fact that the people of the Middle East are human beings just like us, and that the majority of them want nothing more than to live according to their own values. Suppose that a constant American military presence in the Middle East is recruitment fuel for Islamic extremists. Suppose that consistently killing exponentially more civilians than militants in Afghanistan makes the Afghani people increasingly hostile towards the United States. Suppose rigging elections and calling them free and democratic damages the United States’ credibility as a bastion of freedom.
However, does my rhetoric not prove Qualtere’s analysis of libertarians to be correct? He writes that his concern is “capital-L ‘Libertarians’ – the anti-government, anti-war, ‘we provoked 9/11,’ ‘Lincoln was a tyrant,’ conspiracy-minded squad of ideologues who’ve gotten louder, prouder, and increasingly self-righteous over the past several years.”
In fact, no, I do not prove him correct, for I am not arguing that we provoked 9/11. I am arguing that the American government has engaged in a secretive, imperialistic, war-mongering foreign policy for over 20 years before 9/11 occurred at the cost of the peoples of both the United States and the Middle East.
Our government took a region that was already a hornet’s nest and threw rocks at it, hoping to be able to control the angry inhabitants that would inevitably emerge. I mourn every day for the innocent people that died in the World Trade Center on 9/11, but I equally mourn for the men, women, and children of the Middle East who have endured horrible fates due to what Qualtere refers to as “the Good War of a new century,” a war of aggression being cleverly disguised as a war of defense.
Tell me, Mr. Qualtere, if an American bomb meant to target terrorists dropped on your home, killing everyone you love, and the next day an extremist recruiter attempted to capitalize on your situation by handing you a gun and giving you the chance for revenge, would you not be tempted take it? Are you that blind to the fact that the people you simplify as the “bad guys” share your desire to defend your home, family, and country?
Finally, Mr. Qualtere, if you truly care for the soldiers who you attempt to honor, then I implore you to take a second look at the foreign policy you advocate. Through a series of misconceptions, false presuppositions, and missed history lessons, you are signing the death warrants of thousands of American soldiers and residents of the Middle East, both dead and still to die.
You state that the “9/11 generation” needs to “fully embrace and defend the role that history has bestowed upon us and wear our hawk feathers more proudly than ever.”
Well, Mr. Qualtere, I respectfully disagree. I do not define our generation by our greatest national disaster, but by our greatest national hope – liberty. And where you have hope that the 9/11 generation will wear its hawk feathers proudly, I have hope that the liberty generation will wear the eagle feathers of our founders, and remember that the greatest enemies of our freedom are not hiding in caves overseas, but sitting in decadent halls right here at home.
Our war will be a war of words, and unlike your perpetual cycle of violence in the Middle East, our war will be won.
Elliot Engstrom is a senior French major at Wake Forest University, and aside from his schoolwork blogs for Young Americans for Liberty and writes at his own Web site, Rethinking the State. This article originally ran here.