I asked the question precisely because it gets to the heart of the issues raised in the Klein-Paul exchange. Ron Paul’s argument on this, like on a wide range of other points, including immigration and Israel, is plausible and important but so outside the partisan box that we have to be extra patient in sorting out the story. It’s critical that we do so because these are critical issues, and papering over them with Guilty America or Kill the Heathens rhetoric will doom us either way. So it was extra refreshing to see this get aired this morning in a serious way.
That said I want to try to summarize the lay of the land as I see it. Paul’s position, best stated, holds that (a) suicide bombing is the result of occupation, demonstrated academically by Robert Pape, and (b) once the US clears its army out of Arab Muslim land, the incentive to throw away your life, travel to America, and annihilate yourself in a crowded area will clear out, too.
Now, I’ve gutted Pape’s book for IR class, and I can’t say I’m convinced that if Israel pulled out of the Occupied Territories then suicide bombing against Israel would cease. But that’s not the issue. Pape himself put it this way in AmCon two years ago, suggesting that the chance of a catastrophic act of terror on US soil
depends not exclusively, but heavily, on how long our combat forces remain in the Persian Gulf. The central motive for anti-American terrorism, suicide terrorism, and catastrophic terrorism is response to foreign occupation, the presence of our troops. The longer our forces stay on the ground in the Arabian Peninsula, the greater the risk of the next 9/11, whether that is a suicide attack, a nuclear attack, or a biological attack.
This is not a silly or irrational train of thought, and ought to be discussed on the merits. The merits include a conversation about whether or not jihadery is likely to continue because Western soldiers still prop up the Karzai regime in Afghanistan. If so, getting out of “the holy land” or “the Arabian Peninsula” may not be good enough. On the flipside, things have changed so much since 9/11 in the Middle East itself that I’m not persuaded that we can project onto today’s would-be terrorists a posture that terrorists of 1998-2001 maintained. It seems obvious to me that removing US soldiers from theater, with the exception of Afghanistan, will significantly lessen regional hatred for the US. Sure, all you need is a handful of guys, but why pump that handful up to a legion? This is an eminently fair foreign policy question.
The broader point I want to make, however, is that no one is arguing that we should exit Iraq “ASAP” (however defined) because we need to give “the terrorists” (however defined) “exactly what they want” as a matter of national security or global justice. All the main arguments for leaving Iraq were laid out pretty cogently by Paul — (a) waste of money, (b) massive debt burden, (c) mission actually is accomplished, (d) needless casualties, etc. These can and should all be hashed out, but none of them have to do with the opinion, ire, or threat potential of other countries and other people. So the “follow us home question,” as I put it this morning, is sort of a last hurdle in the argument. “Even if you are right — isn’t preventing a 9/11 redux worth any effort, particularly one we’re already in?” Paul opened himself up to critique by suggesting it’s nuts for soldiers to serve as “decoys” for the rest of us — when in fact this is precisely the purpose of having a military: you send out the decoys, armed to the teeth. The point as it boiled down from where I was sitting was not whether Pape was right that all suicide attacks are the result of occupations but whether we’re likely to lower, not increase, the risk of catastrophic terror attacks on the US by exiting Iraq with all deliberate speed and in an orderly fashion.
In that respect, it’s careless to say “They hate our freedoms, so they hate us enough to kill us (along with themselves)” insofar as what “they” really hate has precious little to do with the political freedoms of American citizens but the cultural freedom that the US exports and the military freedom that the US has been able to exercise. It’s quite fair to say “We shouldn’t have let Saddam keep Kuwait,” but that fair point doesn’t detract or contradict the more accurate and nuanced portrayal of what drives hatred for America. Nor does that nuanced portrayal have anything to do with being “soft” on people who rally to destroy the Great Satan. It simply distinguishes between those people angry enough to kill us in their neighborhood from those angry enough to kill us anywhere, at any time, at their own bodily expense. That’s an important difference.