Think tanks wrap-up II

Sept. 11, 2002 at 11:41 PM
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WASHINGTON, Sept. 11 (UPI) -- The UPI think tank wrap-up is a daily digest covering brief opinion pieces, reactions to recent news events and position statements released by various think tanks. This is the second of two wrap-ups for Sept. 11.

The Reason Foundation

LOS ANGELES -- Bin Fadin': Why forgetting Sept. 11 is good for America

by Jeremy Lott

An almost wicked thought for the anniversary of Sept. 11: Has there ever been a more un-American mantra than "We shall never forget"?

A year ago, America's many radio stations became a sort of echo chamber for the people's voices. They played plenty of fun, near-Jingoistic jingles ("I Won't Back Down"), instant reactions ("Let's Roll"), and patriotic thumbsuckers ("Proud To Be An American"), but, for my money, the most overplayed song was U2's "Stuck In A Moment."

Though not written in response to Sept. 11, it's easy to see why it was used for that purpose. The song was simultaneously consoling and challenging, with the lead singer telling the audience that he empathized with them ("I know it's tough") but that, really, they needed to "get yourself together." Else, they would end up in an inescapable purgatory of their own making ("you can't get out of it").

The most eerie line of the song ("I wasn't jumping ... for me it was a fall/ It's a long way down to nothing at all") inadvertently reminded listeners of the now-banished network footage of people in the towers of the World Trade Center who jumped to their deaths to escape being roasted alive.

Of these jumpers, Bush cousin John Ellis has memorably written what amounts to a prose poem:

Hanging on the ledge.

Heat from the fire burning their backs.

The last 10 seconds before the last 10 seconds of free fall.

... (T)he sound of the dead weight of one jumper and then the next,

hitting the roof over the entrance.

A dreadful thud.

And another.

And another.

Osama did that.

Yes he did, and if recent media coverage is any indication we are still very much stuck in the moments of that sad, sad day. The commemorative issue of Time, for instance, features 20 covers occupied with the event and its aftermath, the War on Terrorism, that graced newsstands and grocery store checkout lines last year.

Time also carries an essay by Andrew Sullivan. In it, the ubiquitous pundit compares the events of Sept. 11 to a disorienting family tragedy for which there can be no consolation.

Worse, abruptly switching metaphors, Sullivan tells us that the threat of fundamentalist Islamic violence on America is so unpredictable and so all pervasive ("more like a virus than a host") that the illusions of "isolationism," "appeasement," and "American exceptionalism" were all destroyed by three loud thuds.

In fact, the whole idea of America as a New World -- as "a place where you could safely leave the Old World and its resentments behind" -- was done away with as well. A younger generation, which knows that "neutrality is no longer an option," will look to Sept. 11 as its formative experience.

I am not an isolationist, and I am vengeful enough that seeing Osama bin Laden's body displayed in a pine box would give me great pleasure. But I think I speak for many when I dearly hope that Sullivan is wrong on this one. That Americans score poorly on history tests may in part be a reflection on our educational system, but I've always thought it had something to do with the American character itself.

Despite countless attempts to improve us, Americans are not a "serious" people. Our entertainment is low, our religion is personal and radically ahistoric, and our politics mystify outside observers. We have little patience for geopolitics and when we are dragged in to foreign struggles, our instincts have been to get the job done, extract ourselves, and come home as soon as possible, hopefully leaving the world a better place.

(This, at any rate, is the nation's character as defined by its people; the high-handed, largely unaccountable wizards of U.S. statecraft -- and their British-born apologists in the media -- think and act otherwise.)

The idea of a New World, where old grievances gradually fade into the mists of time, may be a myth; but it's one that, before Sept. 11, we devoutly believed in. George W. Bush was elected on a platform that included a "more humble foreign policy" than that of his predecessor, who had placed American troops and American prestige at the center of various ethnic cauldrons, often with less than ideal results.

With the Cold War well behind us and few enemies in sight, America was pulling back -- and many of us were glad of it.

Then Sept. 11 happened. A man who was the very embodiment of Old World grievances (in his 1996 fatwa, bin Laden held the United States responsible for the anti-Muslim violence of the Crusades) brought the New World to a screeching halt, and provoked justified red hot rage on the part of Americans.

According to Bush and Sullivan, the resulting war does not yet have a terminal point in view. Spurred on by the memory of Sept. 11, the United States will do as it wishes to whomever it believes to be a threat. In the process, we will, of course, generate many new resentments, and we may have to jettison cherished old ideas about necessary restraint. An empire, by definition, is eternally at war.

The thing that will make this possible is not the capricious whim of a cowboy president, but the rage of a people who continue to want justice for their fallen fellow citizens as well as the assurance that this sort of thing will not happen again -- ever.

If it is held with any fervency, the oft-repeated phrase "We shall (or will) never forget" could mean that Sullivan is right, that Americans are abandoning the idea of a New World as unworkable.

I hope not. As bad as Sept. 11 was, it does not seem desirable that this terrible event should so radically change the ideals of a unique people. In many ways, America is about forgetting the past, or at least it used to be. From the Japan to Germany to Vietnam to former slaves and slave owners: the grudges slowly fade away, making America vastly different than so many other strife-ridden clans and nations. This is a lesson we forget (or remember) at our peril.

(Jeremy Lott is senior editor of the online magazine Spintech.)

The Cato Institute

WASHINGTON -- Why attack Iraq?

by Ivan Eland

Vice President Dick Cheney has joined Bush administration hawks in calling for war with Iraq. He has asserted, without providing evidence, that Saddam Hussein is amassing weapons of mass destruction (WMD) to use against the United States and its allies. But the hawks' rage against Hussein is based on emotions, not on sound analysis. The ever-changing reasons given for an invasion should lead one to be suspicious about the need for a war against the leader of a small, relatively poor nation. A deeper analysis of the hawks' reasons for war show that they ring hollow:

-- Hussein has links to the Sept. 11 attacks and harbors al Qaida. Alleged meetings in Prague between the ringleader of the Sept. 11 attacks and an Iraqi intelligence agent have proven hard to substantiate. Even if true, they do not necessarily implicate Hussein in the planning or financing of the attacks. Some al Qaida terrorists apparently are in Iraq today.

Yet one senior U.S. intelligence official -- presumably with a more disinterested view than that of administration officials -- noted that it had not been shown that Hussein was harboring such terrorists; they could be in transit. The administration also says that al Qaida members are in Iran and 43 other nations, but there is no talk of removing the governments of those countries.

-- Iraq is a state sponsor of terrorism. True. But Iran is the most active state sponsor of terrorism and has more resources from which to finance such activities. Yet there has been no suggestion of a ground invasion of Iran. In addition, the terrorist groups that Iraq supports focus their activities in the Middle East rather than against the United States.

-- Iraq is a threat to the Middle East. The Iraqi armed forces were devastated by the Gulf War and have been unable to rebuild. A decade of international sanctions has prevented new weapons purchases and impeded efforts to get military spare parts. The United States, a half a world away, sees a bigger threat from Iraq than its neighbors do. For example, the autocratic rulers of Saudi Arabia are less concerned with the threat from Iraq than they are about animosity stirred up among Islamists by U.S. forces protecting the Saudi monarchy from Iraq.

-- Iraq has weapons of mass destruction and will attack the United States. Cheney seems alarmed that time is running out before Saddam will use his WMD against the United States. But Iraq had biological and chemical weapons at the time of the Gulf War (and probably ever since) and has been deterred from using them against the United States by America's nuclear arsenal.

In the worst case, Cheney also fears that Iraq will soon get nuclear weapons, although he admitted that no one knows how quickly. But the United States did not attack the Soviet Union or Maoist China to prevent them from getting nuclear weapons. If the United States has contained and deterred such great powers with its massive nuclear arsenal, it should be able to contain and deter a nuclear Iraq. Containment and deterrence will fail only if Hussein is irrational.

But Saddam has demonstrated more rationality than the erratic Kim Jong Il of North Korea or the radical theocrats running Iran. Besides, North Korea and Iran also have nuclear programs and are closer than Iraq to developing long-range nuclear missiles. Pakistan, a nuclear nation in which Islamists could take power, is probably a more dangerous source of nuclear proliferation than Iraq.

Why, then, the obsession with the (purely hypothetical) threat of a nuclear Iraq?

According to the U.S. Department of Defense, threats to the United States and its allies include 12 nations that have nuclear weapons programs, 13 countries that have biological weapons, 16 nations that have chemical weapons, and 28 countries that have ballistic missiles.

How is Iraq worse than the rest of those nations with WMD, including the other "rogue states," such as Iran, Libya, Syria, and North Korea?

-- Iraq has invaded its neighbors and has used WMD in the past. Yes, but Iraq isn't alone. Syria, North Korea, and Libya have invaded their neighbors, and Libya used chemical weapons in its intervention in Chad.

-- Hussein will give WMD to al Qaida. More ideological affinity exists between al Qaida and Iran than between the terrorist group and Iraq. Al Qaida is a fundamentalist Islamic group that wants to overthrow corrupt secular regimes in the Middle East. Hussein would have to be leery that such weapons could be used against him.

The administration has failed to show why Iraq is any worse than other repressive states with WMD. Even less has the administration proven that Iraq is a threat to the United States.

Administration hardliners should not use the Sept. 11 tragedy to settle old scores with Saddam Hussein.

(Ivan Eland is director of defense policy studies at the Cato Institute.)

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