By Ryan McGreal
Published October 26, 2006
In a recent softball interview with Scott Hennen, a conservative talk radio host, US Vice President Dick Cheney explained why the United States must resist the efforts of terrorists to influence the upcoming Congressional election:
I think [the terrorists are] very much aware of our political calendar here, I really do. And when you see the kinds of things that happened this year, for example, when the Democratic Party in Connecticut purged Joe Lieberman, in effect, drummed him out of the party on the grounds that he had supported the President in the global war on terror, that sends a message to the terrorists overseas that their basic strategy of trying to break the will of the American people may, in fact, work.
Osama bin Laden has talked about it. He believes firmly that we don't have the stomach for the fight long-term, that if you kill enough Americans you can change American policy.
Well, yes - that is the whole point of terrorism. What's missing from Cheney's explanation is the context in which terrorism occurs. When a nominally liberal, democratic country invades and occupies other countries, as the US has done many times either directly or covertly over the past century, terrorists use the only leverage they have, which is to try to raise the cost of occupation until voters are no longer willing to keep paying.
The humane, sensible answer, of course, is not to "stay the course" indefinitely while the terrorists gain traction, sympathy, and support, but to stop invading and occupying other countries, to withdraw existing occupations, and to start respecting international borders.
Cheney claims this will teach bin Laden that terrorism works, but that's nonsense. Bin Laden already knows terrorism works - he's seen it work in Ireland, in South Africa, in Algeria, in Afghanistan (when terrorism against the occupying foreign power was actually organized, funded, and supported by the US government), and elsewhere.
The other big question, of course, is what bin Laden wants: does he want to annihilate the United States, or does he simply want the US to get out of Saudi Arabia, Palestine (via US proxy Israel), Afghanistan, and Iraq?
History and bin Laden's own words suggest he wants the latter, not the former. When the provocation that leads some people to become terrorists ends, those people cease being terrorists. Often, like the IRA, ANC, and Hamas, they enter civil politics. (Note: this is a Good Thing.)
This, of course, would require the US to admit that much of its foreign policy for many decades - under Democratic and Republican governments alike - has been illegal, unethical, inhumane, and unfair. Doing that would do more to restore the world's opinion of the US, drain support for terrorists, and make Americans safer at home and abroad, than any amount of "counter-terrorism".