American athletes at the heavily fortified Olympic Games in Athens have been assigned bodyguards by the U.S. State Department and have practically had to assume secret identities in an attempt to remain safe. Fearful of a terrorist attack, American spectators have stayed away from the games in droves.
Both the Republicans and the Democrats seem to be throwing up their hands and capitulating to the notion that the world has simply become more dangerous. But this more dangerous world is very much one of our governments making.
At an international event where pride of origin is usually encouraged, U.S. athletes are apparently being told not to wear T-shirts that would identify them as Americans. In a great understatement, one Olympic coach was quoted in The San Francisco Chronicle as saying, How the world is now, America isnt the favorite country. One might ask how the Land of the Free, Home of the Bravea model of political and economic freedom geographically removed from most centers of conflicthas put its citizens in mortal danger by becoming so generally despised.
The answer is simple. Although the U.S. government repeatedly warns its citizens of imminent terrorist attacks and takes Draconian measuresboth at home and abroadin the name of national security, it really does not have many incentives to actually make those citizens safer.
According to an anonymous active intelligence official, who has almost two decades of experience in the fields of terrorism, militant Islam and South Asia and who is the author of Imperial Hubris: Why the West Is Losing the War on Terror, One of the greatest dangers for Americans in deciding how to confront the Islamist threat lies in continuing to believeat the urging of senior U.S. leadersthat Muslims hate and attack us for what we are and think, rather than for what we do.
Yet President Bush continues to tell the American public that the terrorists hate us for our freedoms. The presidents statements fly in the face of the opinions of experts on Osama bin Ladens motivationssuch as the aforementioned author and Peter Bergen, one of the few Western reporters who have interviewed the head of al-Qaeda.
President Bushs rhetoric also contradicts poll after poll in Islamic countries (and much of the world), which indicate that those populations dont hate U.S. culture, freedoms, wealth or technology, but U.S. foreign policy.
So why does the president keep making such statements?
Like the Bush administrations misleading statements concerning a collaborative relationship between al-Qaeda and Saddam Hussein, such deception hides what really drives U.S. government policy. But no wacky conspiracy theories need be conjured up.
Research by political scientists and economists indicate that in the absence of adequate public scrutiny, highly organized and well-connected vested interestsboth inside and outside of the governmentdrive government policies. Because such policies concentrate their benefits on those interests, the pressure groups care greatly about them and lobby the U.S. government for their implementation. Unfortunately, the policies costs are less noticeable because they are distributed widely among taxpayers and the public.
Also, the smoke screen thrown up by politicians masks what is really going on. So even though the U.S. government is more often concerned with defending vested interests than with protecting the bulk of its citizenry, only rarely is there a public uproar.
For example, in the case of the invasion of Iraq, vested interests benefited from destroying an enemy of Israel and getting new U.S. military bases on the oil-rich Persian Gulf to replace those being lost in Saudi Arabia. The Bush administration rhetorically exaggerated the threat from Iraqi weapons of mass destruction and implied a false connection between al-Qaeda and Saddam Hussein to hide the real reasons for the invasion. Unfortunately, the common citizen is left with the bill: $200 billion and counting, the unnecessary deaths of many U.S. servicemen and Iraqis, and inflamed world opinion against the United States that will very likely lead to morenot lessterrorism against American citizens at home and abroad.
More generally, special interests, such as the oil companies, lobby the U.S. government for intervention overseas to serve their interests. When this results in blowback terrorism against American citizens, something has to be done to hide the governments own generation of demand for its provision of security.
Al-Qaedas intense hatred of America has to be ascribed to American freedom, culture, wealth or technology, all of which cannot be changed desirably or easily. By contrast, American citizensincluding U.S. athletes and spectators at future Olympicscould be made much safer by rapidly making a meddling U.S. foreign policy overseas more humble. But then the latter change would be a new form of terrorstriking fear into the hearts of the U.S. foreign policy elite and the interests they represent.