The Need for a Calculated Response

By Douglas Johnston

An effective response to the terrorist attacks on New York and Washington will require the United States to pursue a dual-track strategy. First is the track of justice and retribution required to settle accounts with the perpetrators. While this track has significant psychological and emotional overtones, it nevertheless presents two opportunities that may not come along again in a great while, opportunities that if seized upon in thoughtful and creative ways could go far to secure our longer term security as a nation. The more obvious opportunity is that of eradicating terrorism with unprecedented international backing. Less obvious is the opportunity to co-opt future terrorism by accepting the offers of cooperation that have been forthcoming from nations that are currently on our list of terrorist states. The country of Sudan, for example, has affirmed its 努illingness to cooperate fully with the U.S. government and the international community to combat all forms of terrorism and bring the perpetrators to justice.・ With eyes open, we should accept such assistance and get those states operating on our side of the divide.

The second track is that of reflection and adjustment. The first question we need to ask ourselves is why 19 well-educated, middle class Muslims in their 30s would opt to commit suicide in order to make a statement against the United States? Why is Usama bin Laden able to recruit these kinds of people to his cause? Why does the United States elicit such resentment and hatred? One reason that is commonly cited is the continuing presence of U.S. troops on Saudi Arabian soil. Beyond any spectre of desecrating Islamic holy ground, there is also the perception of propping up an oppressive regime. In many respects, Saudi Arabia represents almost the exact opposite of what America stands for. Few Saudi nationals believe we are there to protect them. Most believe we are there out of pure self interest to ensure our continued access to their oil and couldn’t care less about them.

The time is past due to ask ourselves if there might be other ways to achieve our goals without engendering such ill will among the populace. Are there other ways to ensure security in the region? Are there further steps we can take to relieve our dependency on Saudi oil? Are there steps we can take in countries like Saudi Arabia and Kuwait to facilitate the kind of democratic change that would give the people a greater voice in their own affairs? Finally, what can we do to improve the cultural image that we project overseas, some aspects of which are as offensive to us as they are to others? These are the kinds of serious questions that deserve creative answers in a situation like the present. Unless we face up to them, we are likely to find ourselves in the same trap in which Israel finds itself, i.e. locked into a never-ending spiral of returning violence for violence. This is a trap that we will not long stomach as a people; nor should we have to, if we are sufficiently thoughtful in our response.



September 19, 2001

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