The squabbling and finger
pointing surrounding the 9/11 commission only serve to obscure
the fundamental lesson of that horrific day. Whatever errors
or incompetence on the part of a particular individual or intelligence
agency, what made September 11 possible was a failure of policy.
Our government, whether controlled by Democrat or Republican,
had for decades conducted an accommodating, range-of-the-moment,
unprincipled foreign policy.
September 11 was not the first time America was attacked by
Islamic fundamentalists engaged in a “holy war” against us.
In 1979 theocratic Iran—which has spearheaded the “Islamic
Revolution”—stormed the U.S. embassy in Tehran and
held 54 Americans hostage for over a year. In 1983 the Syrian-
and Iranian-backed group Hezbollah bombed a U.S. marine barracks
in Lebanon, killing 241 servicemen while they slept; the explosives
came from Yasser Arafat’s Fatah movement. In 1998 al-Qaeda
blew up the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, killing 224
individuals. In 2000 al-Qaeda bombed the USS Cole in Yemen, killing
So we already knew that al-Qaeda was actively engaged in attacking
Americans. We even had evidence that agents connected to al-Qaeda
had been responsible for the 1993 bombing of the World Trade
Center. And we knew in 1996 that bin Laden had made an overt
declaration of war against the “Satan” America.
But how did America react? Did our government adopt a principled
approach and identify the fact that we were faced with a deadly
threat from an ideological foe? Did we launch systematic counterattacks
to wipe out such enemy organizations as al-Qaeda, Hezbollah,
and Fatah? Did we seek to eliminate enemy states like Iran? No—our
responses were short sighted and self-contradictory. To cite
only a few of depressingly many examples:
We initially expelled Iranian diplomats—but later sought
an appeasing “rapprochement” with the ayatollah-led
We intermittently cut off trade with Iran—but secretly
negotiated weapons-for-hostages deals.
When Israel had the courage to enter Lebanon in 1982 to destroy
the PLO, we refused to uncompromisingly support our ally and
instead, brokered the killers’ release.
We dropped a perfunctory bomb or two on one of al-Qaeda’s
suspected camps, and waited for its terrorist attacks to fade
from the headlines.
At home we treated our attackers as if they were isolated
criminals rather than soldiers engaged in battle against
us. In 1941
we did not attempt to indict the Japanese pilots who
Harbor. We declared war on the source. Yet we have spent
millions trying to indict specific terrorists while we
Despite emphatic pronouncements from Islamic leaders
about a “jihad” against
America, our political leaders failed to grasp the ideology that
seeks our destruction. This left them unable to target that enemy’s
armed combatants—in Palestine, Iran, Iraq, Syria, and Saudi
Arabia—and the governments that assist them.
Is it any wonder then, that even though our intelligence
agencies prevented many planned attacks, they could not
Tragically, little has changed since September 11. Our
actions remain hopelessly unprincipled. Despite the Bush administration’s
rhetoric about ending states that sponsor terrorism, President
Bush has left the most dangerous of these—Iran—untouched,
and his officials periodically seek “rapprochement” and
work with Iranian officials to foster “religious values” at
The attack on Iraq, though capable of justification,
was hardly a priority in our war against militant Islam.
war was waged with no view to the long term, Iraq is
in danger of slipping into the hands of Shiite clerics
Islamic leaders, and thus of becoming even more of a
threat than it was.
Moreover, when Bush does strike at a militant Islamic
regime, he does so only haltingly. He stresses that the
is not ideological. Morally unsure of his right to protect
lives by force, he cowers before any sign of world disapproval
over civilian casualties. As a result he reined in the
military forces in Afghanistan and allowed numerous Taliban
fighters to escape.
Elsewhere in the Middle East, Bush continues to play
by a double standard. His administration scolds Israel
own bin Laden, Sheikh Ahmed Yassin. Bush himself pretends
Palestinians and Islamic militants attacking Israel—and
who have attacked Americans in the past and will no doubt try
again in the future—are, somehow, different from al-Qaeda
and deserving of a “peace” plan.
And now, both Republicans and Democrats wage a domestic
war, senselessly and desperately trying to find a fall
September 11. Too unprincipled to identify the enemy
and wage all-out
war, but not yet completely blind to their own ineffectualness,
from both parties resignedly admit that we’re in for a “long
war” and that there will be more terrorists attacks on
The lesson to learn from September 11 is this: We must
root out the amoral, pragmatic expediency that dominates
foreign policy and replace it with the principles of self-interest.
Onkar Ghate, Ph.D. in philosophy, is a senior fellow
at the Ayn Rand Institute in Irvine, Calif. The Institute
of Ayn Rand, author of Atlas Shrugged and The Fountainhead.
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