Today is Wednesday, June 26, 2019


Fred's Views

As many of us are starting to discover, the terrorist threat is not as simple or as clear-cut as we would like. Part of me, the macho cowboy part, would like nothing better than to see the U.S. (and its allies) mount and carry out a decisive and successful strike against terrorists wherever they may be in the best traditions of our movie heroes. The reality is much more difficult and complex.

Our current problems with terrorists go back more than 20 years. When the Soviet Union moved into Afghanistan to try and prop up the weak communist government there, many Muslims took up arms to throw out the evil "infidel". The United States (for the rest of this piece, I'll will refer to only the United States, although there is enough blame to spread around for all) realized that Afghanistan could become the Soviet Union's "Vietnam", and secretly started providing arms to the rebels. Although it would cost a million Afghanistan casualties, the rebels prevailed and the Soviet Union eventually retreated. It had indeed been the Soviet Union's "Vietnam", a disaster from which Russian Communism could not recover.

Unfortunately, the United States chose this time to abandon the "freedom fighters", who began to suspect that the U.S. had merely used them as a tool to fight Communism - a tool you use and discard. This belief was not/is not entirely unfounded. One of the chief "freedom fighters", who had also used his own personal fortune to support the fight, was Osama bin Laden.

Then came the Gulf War. As successful as "Desert Storm" was, we all knew, even though we did not want to admit it, that part of the reason we fought Iraq was self-interest: oil. Nevertheless, the coalition defeated Iraq and restored Kuwait's borders and system of government. In doing so, the coalition, many considered to be "infidels" by some Muslims, had stationed themselves in Saudi Arabia - the location of Islam's most sacred shrines. Apparently, non-Muslim troops are still stationed there.

To Osama bin Laden and his followers, not only had the United States abandoned them, but it had transgressed on "Holy Ground". I don't know if U.S. leaders ever considered the ramifications of building up a fighting force in Saudi Arabia, but I do hope they now realize the potential problems that building up a force in Pakistan could now create.

Osama bin Laden has some legitimate reasons to be angry with the United States and the "West" in general. But, by and large, at least from our perspective, these were largely either errors in judgment or errors caused by ignorance. Regrettable mistakes that should be redressed, but not a transgression worth going to war over or deserving of the kind of attacks the U.S. and its citizens have endured. At some point, these perceived wrongs became a holy crusade. Osama bin Laden and his followers became fanatical in their hatred of the U.S. They made it their mission to fight wherever they perceived Muslims to be oppressed. Apparently, they were there in Somalia and in Bosnia. And, of course, they are believed to have been involved with the Embassy attacks, the attack on the Cole and the earlier attack on the World Trade Center.

I don't believe any sane person could argue that the perceived wrongs were adequate justification for any of these terrorist attacks. But most sane people would have to agree that this is not a simple fight of "Good verses Evil". To think in that fashion is to possibly become as fanatical as Osama bin Laden. The United States and its government is not infallible. It is made up of human beings. And human beings, individually and collectively, make mistakes. That the majority of U.S. citizens are basically decent, good people could only be questioned by a fanatic such as Osama bin Laden. But the errors and omissions of the past have now come back to haunt us.

In our attempts to rid the world of terrorism, we must be careful not to make the situation worse. We must become more knowledgable about and concerned with the beliefs and customs of those we would want to make friends. At the same time, we must "get into the heads" of the fanatics. The longer the United States and its allies take before initiating action, the better. This is a time to tread extremely carefully lest our actions today come back to haunt us twenty years from now.

It is also a time to start the healing process. Both at home and abroad. Our governments have made mistakes and made enemies. But most enemies can become friends. It may be possible to heal the wounds and soothe the tormented souls. Now would be a good time to start.

Copyright © 2001 by Fred Oldfield. All rights reserved.

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