The tragic events of September 11 have brought out both the best of America and the worst of America. The former is represented by the heroism of the rescuers, the thousands of people lining up to donate blood and the response of the religious community through prayer vigils and memorial services. The latter is represented by the jingoism, militarism and xenophobia exhibited from the street to the talk shows.
Early indications are that U.S. foreign policy in the aftermath of the attacks is going to be most effected by the latter.
It appears there is bipartisan support for dramatically-increased military spending, despite the fact that most of the proposed increases have nothing to do with counter-terrorism. Indeed, it is questionable whether large-scale military responses can even have much impact on a loose network of terrorist cells.
Leading Democrats in Congress have hinted they would drop their opposition for Bush's highly-controversial Nuclear Missile Defense plan and support reneging the SALT I treaty. This comes despite the fact that Tuesday's attack demonstrated that those intent on killing large numbers of Americans have many more effective means at their disposal than launching missiles.
This Thursday, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee -- with bipartisan support -- approved the nomination of John Negroponte as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations. Ironically, Negroponte is known as a strong supporter of terrorism as a political weapon: as U.S. ambassador to Honduras in the 1980s, he actively backed and covered up for the atrocities of U.S.-backed Nicaraguan contras and Honduran death squads.
Today, in the Middle East, the U.S. backs an occupying Israeli army as well as corrupt Arab dictatorships, which kill innocent civilians using weapons provided by the United States. Both the Bush Administration and Congressional Democrats justify supporting these repressive governments in the name of defending our strategic interests in that important region. Ironically, it is just such policies which may have provoked these terrorist attacks, inevitably raising the question as to whether our security interests are really enhanced through such militarization.
Now it appears that, despite this, U.S. support for the Israeli occupation and for the corrupt family dictatorships of the Gulf and other authoritarian Arab regimes will only increase.
We need to re-evaluate our definition of security. The more the U.S. militarizes the Middle East, the less secure we have become. All the sophisticated weaponry, all the brave fighting men and women, and all the talented military leadership we may possess will not stop terrorism as long as our policies cause millions of people to hate us.
President George W. Bush is wrong when he claims we are targeted because we are a "beacon for freedom." We are targeted because the support of freedom is not part of our policy in the Middle East, which has instead been based upon alliances with repressive governments. If the United States supported a policy based more on human rights, international law and sustainable development and less on arms transfers, air strikes and punitive sanctions, we would be a lot safer. However, the bipartisan reaction in Washington in the wake of the terrorist attacks appears to be just the opposite.
Instead of focusing on further militarization, we need to focus upon improved intelligence and interdiction. Instead of lashing out against perceived hostile communities, we need to re-evaluate policies which lead to such anger and resentment. Instead of continuing the cycle of violence, we need to recognize that America's greatest strength is not in our weapons of destruction, but in the fortitude, the caring and the noble values of its people.
Stephen Zunes is an associate professor of politics and chairperson of the Peace & Justice Studies Program at the University of San Francisco. Zunes is also a senior analyst and the Middle East and North Africa editor at Foreign Policy In Focus.