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.

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.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Brooke Shield Doesn’t Need Congress

Tibor R. Machan

When Tom Cruise belittled Brooke Shields some time ago for resorting to medication, in her effort to cope with her postpartum depression, it was one celebrity’s meddling in another’s affairs. Shields may well needed some help but, in any case, it wasn’t Cruise’s business. Such matters are not easily generalized and who can tell whether what ailed Shields ought to be dealt with by way of medication. Was Cruise qualified to advise Shields? I doubt it.

Now it is Shields, however, who is doing some meddling herself, asking that the United States Congress provide “an easy gift to give to women everywhere” by way of legislation that would, as one report has it, “address post-partum depression education, detection and treatment.” The lady seems to think that it is Congress’s task to come to the aid of those who are finding it difficult to cope after having given birth. All this following thousands of years of women managing quite well at this task on their own, with help from family and friends instead of politicians and bureaucrats.

What are the sort of problems Congress ought to address in a free country? They have to do with crime—with some people violating the rights of other people. Even there it isn’t the federal government that needs to step in. Rather, it is the business of local law-enforcement to address such problems.

In any case, coping with post-partum depression certainly does not qualify as a problem that politicians and bureaucrats should address. For one, the Constitution doesn’t authorize them to enter this area of concern. More importantly, the Constitution is right about this—a political body has no business meddling in medical matters unless they involve public health concerns, such as might be the case with contagious diseases. Post-partum depression is by no stretch of the imagination some kind of general medical malaise. It is rare and highly individual, differing significantly from one case to another.

What is especially annoying about Ms. Shields’ call for Congressional action is that she herself could do plenty to help those whom she seems to care about. She has experienced this malady and she is a pretty well-to-do citizen with the resources needed to, say, launch a campaign in support of others who are facing the problem. She has connections in the publishing industry, having penned a book or two herself, and could easily write and publish something about the problem that could be read by those afflicted with the malady. Why bother getting all of us involved when the target audience is relatively small? Why promulgate the notion that when some folks need help, they cannot get it from their fellows but must run to the Nanny State for help?

It is specially worrisome that a rich and famous individual like Brooke Shields hasn’t the fortitude to address a problem she knows about with her own ample resources. It must be that she takes it for grated that in our society whenever there is some problem, turning to politicians and bureaucrats is the most natural way to seek a solution. If such a prominent, sophisticated individual doesn’t even consider seeking non-political solutions to such problems, no wonder that millions of others with far less clout will turn to government with every problem they have.

The approach Ms. Shields is taking to this matter is also inconsistent with how so many people in her industry quickly yell “censorship” when others want the government to regulate the content of TV programs and movies, content that they believe contributes to undermining the quality of life in this country. Somehow it is nasty censorship to want government to remedy matters in one area but public service to want to remedy matters in another. In fact, of course, in both kinds of cases citizens in this country have all the opportunities to help themselves and their fellows without bringing in the government.

Ms. Shields could set a fine example to all her fans and others who keep on eye on her by addressing the phenomenon of post-partum depression on her own initiative. Not only would this be a more informed approach but it would also leave those not involved in the problem of post-partum depression free to address issues that they are facing.