Both Vice President Dick Cheney and FBI Director Robert Mueller have asserted that another terrorist attack is inevitable. They are right. There are too many targets and too many ways that an individual bent on suicide can wreak havoc. Like the war on drugs, the war on terrorism cannot be won.
In his September address to Congress, President Bush declared: Our war on terror begins with Al-Qaida, but it does not end there. It will not end until every terrorist group of global reach has been found, stopped and defeated.
Our desire for revenge is natural, but the presidents end cannot be achieved. We are the strongest power the world has ever seen, not only in absolute terms but also relative to the rest of the globe. Our overwhelming success in the Persian Gulf War, with only 148 American deaths, our victory in Kosovo without any fatalities, and our conquering of Afghanistan with only a handful of casualties have given the impression that our military is invincible.
But our military, no matter how invincible, cannot eliminate the suicide bomber, the terrorist who will die for his cause. As long as people hate us, we will always be vulnerable.
While we cannot eliminate terrorism, we can reduce its frequency and violence. We should consider its roots. If we understand why people hate us and are willing to die to attack us, it does not mean we are justifying their actions. If our policies are leading to more terrorism, however, we should understand that.
Osama bin Laden has told us why he is attacking us: because wehave troops in the holy territory of Saudi Arabia. In his first tape after Sept. 11 he promised: I swear to God that America will not live in peace before all the army of infidels depart the land of the prophet Muhammad. Not only does he feel this way, but so do many millions in the Islamic world.
Sept. 11, we have deployed troops in Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Kyrgystan and Georgia. Also in the Philippines and Colombia. We are talking about stationing our soldiers in Sudan and Yemen. In each of these countries, the local populace resents our presence. In Muslim countries, the opposition is particularly hostile since it believes Christianity is on another Crusade to invade Islam.
Wherever we have bases, the local population resents those troops. In Okinawa, the locals strongly oppose the U.S. soldiers stationed on their island. Many of the South Korean population hate the American military in their midst.
American troops abroad furnish both a motivation for terrorism and a target. If we brought our men and women home, would we be safer or less safe? The answer is clear: We would reduce the motivation to attack us. Americans would be seen more as we think we are, peaceful people who wish good things for the world.
This goes against the grain; it could be seen as giving in to Osama bin Laden. But if our object is to reduce terrorism, it is the most practical and probably the only solution.
A misguided machismo must not stand in the way of protecting our people and reducing violence in the world. No one will believe we are weak, especially after seeing our military in action over the last decade, simply because we stop trying to police the rest of the world.
Bringing our troops homewhy do we have soldiers in Germany and Okinawa?would increase our security, not decrease it. Even before Sept. 11, more than 60,000 U.S. troops were operating in more than 100 countries. No wonder people consider America an imperial power.
If we also reduced our unseemly favoritism for Israel by taking a more neutral stance, our credibility in the world and especially in the Arab countries would increase immensely. That too would help reduce the hatred that many feel toward the United States.
President Bush explained to Congress why the terrorists hate America. He said: They hate what we see right here in this chambera democratically elected government. They hate our freedomsour freedom of religion, our freedom of speech, our freedom to vote and assemble and disagree with each other.
The President is wrong. According to a Zogby International Poll released on April 11, a majority of people in the five Arab countries and three non-Arab Muslim states view our freedom and our democracy with favor.
But overwhelmingly, they disapprove of our policies toward Arab nations and the Palestinians. Kuwait, for example, which we rescued from Iraq, liked our freedom and democracy by 58 percent to 39 percent, but only 6 percent viewed our policies favorably and a huge 88 percent disapproved of our policies in the Middle East.
Other Muslim countries had almost identical views. And this poll was taken before Israel sent its military into the West Bank!
Finally, attacking Iraq or any other Middle Eastern country will only increase the number of terrorists who will seek to get revenge. Let us reduce terrorism, not increase it. The policies currently being followed and those being talked about will only produce more 9/11s. Security cannot come from violence.
We should follow Thomas Jeffersons advice from his first inaugural: Peace, commerce, and honest friendship with all nationsentangling alliances with none.