Friday, May 18, 2007

Ron Paul on “Blowback”

Tibor R. Machan

During the Republican presidential candidate debates Ron Paul insisted that 9/11 can best be understood as an instance of “blowback,” meaning the expected reaction of those in the Middle East to the US government’s interventionist foreign policy. To this Rudi Giuliani said he has never heard anything so ridiculous.

In fact, of course, al Qaeda stated virtually the same thing Representative Paul said, namely, that 9/11 was the result of US foreign policy. So on that score former Mayor Giuliani was being disingenuous.

Nevertheless, Ron Paul had it wrong, too. As many have noted, the hostility toward the West in the Middle East has been brewing for many decades, even centuries. One need only read Islamic Imperialism, by Efraim Karsh (Yale, 2006), to appreciate how deep seated is the radical Islamist hatred of West and America. Not that this hatred explains it all, anymore than US Middle Eastern policy can do so. One dimensional explanations rarely if ever work in an attempt to understand geopolitical events—or, indeed, most human behavior.

The most important matter, though, that the exchange between Giuliani and Paul involved, is the claim that 9/11 was the responsibility of the US government’s foreign policy over the past several decades—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. I think Reagan was right. We don't understand the irrationality of Middle Eastern politics.” What about this?

9/11 was the murder of some 3000 human beings by suicide pilots from Saudi Arabia, guided by Osama bin Laden, a radical Islamic leader. The 3000 human beings were not part of the American government, even less the American military, but men and women who were working for a living on mostly peaceful projects. There is no justification for murdering them, regardless of what the American government has done wrong in the Middle East over the last ten or twenty or three hundred years.

So Representative Ron Paul was mistaken in ascribing responsibility for 9/11 to American foreign policy. The responsibility lies with the perverse thinking of Osama bin Laden and his cohorts, people who are willing to inflict death upon innocent human beings because they disapprove of the conduct of the government of those human beings, as if they had personally perpetrated unjustified foreign policy measures upon them. Not only does the crime of 9/11 fail to be justified by any alleged unjust US foreign policy measures. There is then also the question of whether all those measures had in fact been unjust—for example, the US government’s support of Israel.

It is one thing to claim that American foreign policy in the Middle East has been unwise, unjust, even morally wrong. It is another thing entirely to claim that that policy justified 9/11. And that is just what Representative Ron Paul’s claim suggests.

There are problems with Ron Paul’s comment. “They attack us because we’ve been over there,” is too loose—who are the “us” he is referring to? In fact, bin Laden and his cohorts—the “they” in representative Paul’s claim—attacked specific human beings, those who were working in the Twin Towers back on September 11, 2001. Does representative Paul mean that the bin Laden’s gang’s murder of these individuals, even if the American government has been acting unjustly in the Middle East, amounted to just retaliation? If so, he is clearly wrong. And that is how many understood him during the debates.

It might be plausible to say what Ron Paul said, had bin Laden assassinated President Bush or those involved in forging American foreign policy. Even then, this assumes that the policies that had been forged were unjust, which then brings up many issues about just who has been involved in forging this policy, including many other governments around the globe who have fashioned UN resolutions and other measures that were aimed at the various governments in the Middle East. But let us set that aside here.

Representative Ron Paul may well be right to criticize the American government’s Middle East policies but he is clearly wrong to suggest that what bin Laden and his gang did to the 3000 or so individuals who were working in the Twin Towers on September 11, 2001, amounted to a proper, justified “blowback.” No, it was murder, period.

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