Opinion: Treat the cause, not the symptoms

Matt Vroom

Matt Vroom

By David Johnson

A historical anomaly, the only technical mastery displayed by the enemy in the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks was the ability to hijack and fly jumbo jets into skyscrapers – neither of which they were capable of designing or constructing themselves. Shortly after 9-11, there was the realization that somehow, global issues such as terrorism and Saddam Hussein’s rogue Iraq were connected. With a week left before our presidential election, this idea is all but forgotten.

We’ve gone back to thinking about these issues in obsolete terms – that is, assuming that our adversaries are guided by the same rules of engagement we are. However, if our opponents followed the rules, al-Qaida would not exist and Saddam’s Iraq wouldn’t have become a crisis.

One thing that both Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden had in common was that they became wealthy through unearned oil wealth. Much like a spoiled child who is unable to understand that wealth is created by creativity and hard work, the tyrants of the Middle East – and many of its inhabitants – live in a fantasy world filled with unearned material goods.

The problem originates from the West, which gave the Arab world fabulous sums for resources that could have been taken at will. This has led to the irrational self-contradictions of people like bin Laden and Hussein, who have vowed to destroy the source of their existence – Western liberalism. The threats we face from much of the Islamic world stem directly from the fact that for almost 50 years, they have lived detached from reality. Because the dilemma was created by Western shortsightedness, it is the West’s responsibility to intervene and fix the problem.

When critics like Sen. John Kerry complain that U.S. intervention overseas has transformed more foreigners into disgruntled anti-American terrorists, they aren’t considering that it is impossible to rationally explain terrorism or international aggression. Our enemies wrongly believe these actions are winning moves, and that’s the key problem.

To protect our country, we must convince our enemies that attacking or threatening the United States will not further their causes. If we achieve this goal, then it’s irrelevant if some people still despise the United States. We shouldn’t be overly concerned about what people think of us; after all, what does it say about me if Mohammed Atta or Jacques Chirac thinks I’m a swell guy?

How, then, should we apply these ideas to our upcoming presidential election? Have President Bush’s actions dissuaded our foes from applying dead-end strategies like terrorism?

Without a doubt, the removal of the Taliban from Afghanistan and the subsequent marginalization of Osama bin Laden were successes. What the United States faced in Iraq was the unacceptable possibility of Middle Eastern delusions combined with the brutal reality of weapons of mass destruction – a threat that had to be pre-empted. It is debatable, however, whether our actions in Iraq helped or worsened the situation.

While Saddam should face justice for his crimes, is it wise to spend billions of taxpayer dollars to build infrastructure in a nation that glances angrily at its watch while standing idly by to receive democracy? Is it effective to name our conflict the “War on Terrorism,” when we’re not launching all-out offensives (nor should we) against groups like the IRA?

Based on the premise that success in this war is measured by whether we convince terrorists of the futility of their efforts, the impending choice for president isn’t clear. While President Bush might talk a tough game, post-war Iraq leaves many troubling questions. Kerry justifiably criticizes Bush, but are his ideas any better?

As we consider the next four years, it is important to remember that the threats of Saddam Hussein and al-Qaida were linked to the same root cause. Protecting the United States should focus on eliminating the disease at its source, not merely treating its symptoms.

David Johnson is a senior in business. His column runs alternate Mondays. He can be reached at [email protected]