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Big Picture U.S. Politics

Guest Column
Dan Feldman

Robert F. Eaton says that we are right. Former New York City Mayor Rudy Guiliani also said, “We’re right and they’re wrong, it’s as simple as that.” The Bush Administration, in particular, adheres to and propagates the message of self-righteousness. “We’re right and you’re wrong ... oh, and by the way, we have deadlier toys than you do.” And yet many left-leaning groups would say that the United States is wrong in prosecuting the war. It seems to me a little bit odd in our (supposedly) enlightened era to declare that because one has more fire-power, one is inherently right.

I would propose that Americans actually step back and view the bigger picture and not be caught up in this righteousness nonsense. Before we jump head-first into war, we need to ask ourselves a few serious questions to evaluate the War on Terrorism. First, what are the true objectives of our campaign in Afghanistan? From what I’ve read, it appears that our primary objective is to avenge the Sept. 11 attacks. I can’t think of any other reason why we would start a war with a country halfway around the world whose government is a sympathizer and enabler of Osama bin Laden who, in turn, can only be loosely connected to the actual attacks.

I believe that our secondary objective is to demonstrate to the Islamic fundamentalists and the rest of the world that America will not sit back and turn the other cheek; rather, we will retaliate with excessive wrath to deter such attacks from happening again. Thus the removal of the Taliban, the prosecution of further campaigns against other Middle Eastern countries, and rest of the brouhaha is meant as a lesson in how to convince everyone that you’re the most powerful.

A more fundamental question that Americans should ask themselves is this: what exactly is a war on terrorism? Are we engaged with a war on those who commit terrorist acts, or on those who commit terrorist acts against the United States? This is a key distinction because a cursory look at the United States’ historical record will show that our past is completely besmirched by terrorist acts committed on behalf of the government (if one uses the FBI’s definition of terrorism). If we as Americans are only interested in a war with those who commit terrorist acts against America, then so be it, but we should realize that our actions will, at the very least, be the root of terrorism for non-Americans.

This leads me to the final and much more difficult question. Freed from the ubiquitous cloud of righteousness, we must ask ourselves if our war and the way we conduct ourselves will lead to an international political landscape that is more conducive to the ideals of democracy and freedom (a.k.a. civil liberties) and is peaceful enough to guarantee some longevity to these ideals. It can be reasonably argued that certain campaigns do indeed achieve this goal. In the campaign against fascism, for example, there was a clear threat to democracy worldwide, yet it is hard for me to see the attacks of Sept. 11 as a threat to worldwide democracy and freedom of a magnitude comparable to fascism in the 1930s and 1940s. Even the most paranoid person would not argue that there is even a remote possibility that the individuals of al Qaida will overthrow the United States. What happened six months ago was an unquestionably tragic event which upset our sense of security, but by getting the patriotic machine fired up, steamrolling civil liberties, abandoning the Geneva Convention, and scorning the careful balance of nuclear power, we are threatening worldwide democracy and freedom. Perhaps we are not acting as roguishly as other states would have in similar situations, but to be a stalwart for democracy and freedom, we must be the paragon, not just slightly better than the rest.

I sincerely hope that we Americans can ask ourselves these tough questions so that by our actions, we can achieve democracy, freedom, and most importantly, peace.

Dan Feldman is a member of the Class of 2002.