Saturday, May 19, 2007

Buchanan on Ron Paul’s Debate Point

Tibor R. Machan

Shortly after the South Carolina Republican presidential hopefuls’ debate I wrote chiding Ron Paul for suggesting that 9/11 was a blowback in response to the fact that the US government had been in the Middle East for ten years or so. As Paul put the point, “They attack us because we've been over there, we've been bombing Iraq for 10 years. We've been in the Middle East….” My point was that however ill conceived, even evil, US foreign policy in the Middle East may have been, it would not serve to justify the blowback of murdering 3000 innocent working people in the Twin Towers on 9/11.

I showed my column to some Ron Paul supporters and one of them wrote me a very indignant post and said “This is just wrong and grossly unfair to Ron. He suggested no such thing.” And he added, “He never even hinted that what happened on 9/11 was justified. This is a smear.”

In a subsequent column former Republican Presidential candidate Pat Buchanan echoed this criticism of what I said about Representative Paul’s claim (not, however, addressed to my version of the point). He wrote that “When Ron Paul said the 9-11 killers were ‘over here because we are over there,’ he was not excusing the mass murderers of 3,000 Americans. He was explaining the roots of hatred out of which the suicide-killers came.”

What is important to consider in this controversy is just what counts as a justification when we are discussing a terrorist act like 9/11. To say that Paul’s claim during the debate wasn’t a justification and, instead, he “was explaining the roots of hatred out of which the suicide-killers came” fails to appreciate that in explaining human conduct, claiming that “they attack us because we’ve been over there” does amount to saying that it is the conduct of the Americans that serves to make sense of—that is to say, justifies—9/11. Had the Americans not been in the Middle East—or to use Paul’s own wording, had “we not been in the Middle East”—the attack on the 3000 people on 9/11 would not have occurred. Is this implied claim an explanation or a justification?

In human affairs explanations do amount, very often, to justifications. When people act consciously, not reflexively or instinctively, they do so with reasons motivating them. And those reasons serve as their justification for their actions. And if the reasons are true, then they are justified to act as they do. Accordingly, if someone states what Ron Paul stated about bin Laden and his gang, namely, that “They attack us because we've been over there, we've been bombing Iraq for 10 years,” this must mean, like it or not, that bin Laden and his gang acted as they did on 9/11 because “we have been over there.” And that means our having been over there must be seen as a justification for their actions, the reason they believed it right for them to launch the 9/11 attack.

Human beings do not behave mechanically, so saying “because” doesn’t offer an impersonal, causal explanation (as when one explains why, say, a lion devours a zebra or an earthquake happened). When one explains why people do what they do and reference is made to their reasons, and if one considers those reasons to be true, this implies that they are justified to do what they do. In other words, if it is true that America has been over there wrongfully and that is why bin Laden and his gang perpetrated 9/11, this seriously suggests that bin Laden & Co.’s attack was justified.

A far better way to see bin Laden and his gang's conduct is to appreciate that they are part of radical Islam and have been itching to attack America for years, way before the recent American presence in the Middle East. I mentioned the excellent analysis offered by Efraim Karsh in his book, Islamic Imperialism (Yale University Press, 2006), that flatly refutes Representative Paul’s suggestion by showing how hostilities against America and the West in general have been alive for not just decades but centuries and that it is with the new-found power coming from oil that those hostilities could finally issue in 9/11 and other attacks.

None of this is to maintain that US Middle East foreign and military policy has been wise, prudent, or justified, nor that it may not have had contributed to the reasons why bin Laden and others attacked the USA and other Western or Western sympathizing regions of the globe. But since none of this justifies—“explains”—murdering 3000 innocent human beings in New York City on September 11, 2001, it is false that 9/11 is best understood as a response or “blowback” to the way Americans have carried on over the last ten years. To claim such a thing is like claiming that what explains the rape of a woman is that the woman has been wearing provocative garb—something that could well be true and perhaps unwise—rather than that the rapist is someone with corrupt values.

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