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Commentary

“War on Terrorism”: Does the U.S. Government Really Have Our Best Interests In Mind?


     
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Theoretically, at least, the American people established the U.S. government to secure their liberties and provide for the common defense. During the last two centuries of American history, however, the government—made up of politicians and bureaucrats—has regularly hijacked policy for its own ends. No better example of the divergence between the interests of the government and the people can be had than post-September 11 U.S. policies toward Iraq and Saudi Arabia.

Statements during the Bush administration’s post-September 11 internal meetings, leaked to the media, clearly show that administration hawks were prepared to use increased public support in the wake of the horrendous terrorist strikes to settle old scores with Saddam Hussein—a man with no demonstrated link to the attacks. That policy satisfied the neo-conservative desire to bask in the afterglow of invading and crushing a relatively poor nation that spends annually only one-thirtieth of what the United States spends on “defense.” The hardliners also wanted the perceived international prestige (although any of this may be fleeting as Iraq begins to look more like the Russian quagmire in Chechnya everyday) derived from United States being a muscular, nation-building globocop. That’s all well and good for those in Washington, but the American people—of whose security the powers-that-be are supposed to be stewards—get left holding the bag of diminished safety and liberty. Invading a sovereign Islamic nation without a sound “self-defense” rationale has already led to an increase in terrorism (recent bombings in Saudi Arabia and Indonesia) and makes terrorist strikes against the U.S. homeland more likely. More attacks on the homeland will undoubtedly lead to a renewed assault on civil liberties that makes the draconian post-September 11 restrictions in the USA PATRIOT Act look mild.

In short, the U.S. government is now behaving much as the nation’s founders feared. When the U.S. Constitution was written, the founders wanted most to avoid what befell the citizens of European monarchies of the day. Their governments took their countries to war for glory and aggrandizement, but the people themselves bore the tremendous costs—the casualties and tax burdens needed to carry out such overseas adventures.

And as the U.S. government attacked a nation that had no demonstrated involvement in the September 11 attacks, it coddled a “friendly” government that most likely did—Saudi Arabia. From the beginning, Saudi Arabia provided only grudging cooperation into the U.S. government’s investigation of the September 11 plot, even though the vast preponderance of the hijackers were Saudis. Recently, according to leaks from people who have read classified sections of a congressional report on the September 11 attacks, the report accuses senior Saudi government officials approving hundreds of millions of dollars for charities and other organizations that may have financed terrorist strikes, including the September 11 conspiracy. The report also notes that a man in the United States believed to be a Saudi intelligence official assisted the hijackers and received an increase in money from the Saudi government after the hijackers arrived in America. The Bush administration has allowed the congressional report to be made public, except for 28 pages—which include the allegations against Saudi Arabia.

In addition, the administration reneged on a Treasury Department official’s promise to release the names of Saudi individuals and organizations under investigation by the federal government for possibly financing al Qaeda and other terrorist groups. That same Treasury official told congressional staff members that the State Department had repeatedly asked the Treasury Department not to include certain Saudi entities on its terrorism watchlist.

Even if the administration is covering the Saudi government’s tracks to preserve a political relationship with an important oil producer (the need for which economists on both the right and left would likely find questionable) to get cheap crude, can that goal be more important than bringing people to justice who are linked to a horrific attack on American soil and stopping the money flow to the group that perpetrated it and are a continuing threat? A government truly concerned about the security of its people would find the answer to this question obvious and pressure the Saudi government to come clean—rather than sheltering the despotic regime.

So we must come to the startling conclusion that the U.S. government does not always have the best interests of its citizens at heart. Regrettably, a government “of the people, by the people and for the people” may have already perished from the Earth.


Ivan Eland is Senior Fellow and Director of the Center on Peace & Liberty at The Independent Institute. Dr. Eland is a graduate of Iowa State University and received an M.B.A. in applied economics and Ph.D. in national security policy from George Washington University. He has been Director of Defense Policy Studies at the Cato Institute, and he spent 15 years working for Congress on national security issues, including stints as an investigator for the House Foreign Affairs Committee and Principal Defense Analyst at the Congressional Budget Office. He is author of the books Partitioning for Peace: An Exit Strategy for Iraq, and Recarving Rushmore.


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