With recent anti-American protests in the Middle East starting with an attack on the U.S. Consulate in the Libyan city of Benghazi this week and continuing in numerous other nations,
the debate over U.S. foreign policy, the threat of Islam, foreign aid and military intervention is center stage again. At a time when we are entering the final stages of a presidential election where it was presumed the economy would trounce all other concerns, the instability in the region and threats to U.S. security will now have to be seriously addressed right now. The current situation seems to be a symptom of numerous ticking time bombs and at any given time it’s a strong possibility one or more will go off.
With ongoing wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and instability in Syria, Libya, Egypt and elsewhere, as well as the threat of Iran becoming a nuclear power, American foreign policy has never been under greater scrutiny or our leaders under greater pressure. What happens in the region and with terrorism at home dating back to 9/11 and beyond is no longer just a matter of dealing with ideology or just a fight against radical religious fervor; it’s also a matter of being pragmatic and the current situation is a testament to how our efforts to do so have failed.
While some have been quick to blame the film “The Innocence of Muslims” for the recent attacks, other indications have pointed to their being planned and regardless, it seems angry Anti-American mobs in the Middle East and terrorists don’t require a great deal of motivation to attack Americans who have nothing to do with Anti-Islamic sentiment or innocent people who have nothing to do with policy. In an ongoing display of violence that is unprecedented in recent history, the reaction to insults to Islam rises to levels incomparable to defending the honor of any other religion.
Without endorsing propaganda that deliberately mocks Islam, as Americans we champion free speech and as such, the right of people to express their views no matter how offensive they may be. This is not a tenet of Middle Eastern governments and is likely also true that those living under an autocratic rule might well infer than anti-Islamic sentiment expressed by an individual is somehow endorsed by the U.S. government rather than simply being allowed by our Constitution.
Regardless of their perception, the reaction is not justified and the question remains, how do you address this powder keg going forward? In the short term, failing to take appropriate measures only perpetuates the situation. Simply put, yes, the world needs to be afraid of attacking the USA. Not taking appropriate action only facilitates more of the same in the future. Since moderate Muslims around the world largely fail to condemn these attacks in any meaningful way either because of sympathy or fear, the only ones who can deal with anti-American violence are Americans.
In the long term, we are once again let with the eternally accurate adage that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. The ongoing volatility in the Middle East and continued preponderance of anti-American sentiment seem to be a testament that we can’t win for losing.
Evaluating our foreign policy does not equate to apologizing for America. It is time for America to seriously question the philosophy of choosing the lesser of two evils when both literally ARE evil and historically our choices rarely pan out. Supporting dictators and oppressive regimes who happen to be willing to pretend to be our friend as long as we line their pockets has not been a effective strategy, especially when the way they rule tends to engender hatred from thousands if not millions of citizens who only want to overthrow the government and punish us for our role in propping them up. It seems clear that these are also not the kind of citizens who are likely to relegate their protests to peaceful demonstrations in the tradition of Gandhi, Nelson Mandela and Martin Luther King.
Supporting the Shah, Saddam Hussein, the Taliban against the Soviets and others may have had some goals that seemed worthy at the time but the strategy has proven to be shortsighted. It is one thing to lend assistance to true allies such as NATO countries, Japan and Israel who are democratic nations that share our basic values. It is altogether different to presume there will be any lasting benefit by supporting minority factions which not only are only a genuine ally but also are so despised they are doomed to eventual failure, leaving an angry majority steeped in anti-Western hatred.
It is of course, not a good strategy to be unprepared for unpredictable actions by countries whose goals are entirely different than ours. Those most likely to present a serious short-term danger to our security are not even in the Middle East. Surely the lives and money we’ve poured into supporting one faction or another or nation-building in Arab countries could be better spent on military technology, working with our genuine allies and most importantly, improving our economy and our own nation so that whatever the challenge is in the future, we will be able to afford it.
Right now we have a huge financial crisis looming as we are $16 trillion in debt and counting. It is more difficult to turn things around when the economy is strong so cutting spending can’t be relegated to entitlements alone. It’s time to stop sending billions in foreign aid to countries that are only using us and use those resources to get our own house in order.
There is something to be said for keeping your friends close and your enemies closer but if attempts to keep them closer involve spending money we don’t have for relationships that are destined to be irrelevant down the road, it’s time to find better ways to invest.