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David Danbom, Published August 01 2010

Danbom: The leak obscures realities

The publication by whistle-blower website WikiLeaks of more than 90,000 heretofore classified documents on the war in Afghanistan has stimulated widespread questioning of that ill-starred enterprise.

Most of the questions are good ones. Can we succeed in controlling a country no other power has ever been able to control? Should

we be partnered with a corrupt and duplicitous regime? Is Pakistan an even less trustworthy ally than we thought? Can we win the hearts and minds of people who hate us and most of what we stand for, and whom we accidently kill at an alarming rate? Can we defeat an insurgency deeply rooted in such a populace? And can we afford to add to our rapidly growing national debt and to threaten the lives of thousands of young Americans by fighting a war the purposes of which are unclear and the outcome of which is unpromising?

These are all good questions that need to be asked, but it is important to recognize that Afghanistan is merely a symptom of our problems in the Middle East, not our main problem.

When we were attacked on 9/11, President George W. Bush famously stated that Islamic terrorists “hate us because we are free.” He was correct. America’s secularism, materialism, gender equality and permissive personal behavior are among the reasons why many in the Islamic world see us as representing most of what is wrong on the planet.

But they didn’t attack us because we are free. They attacked us for three reasons that Osama bin Laden delineated, but to which few Americans paid attention. Specifically, bin Laden noted the presence of American military forces on the Arabian Peninsula, the American-led embargo on trade with Iraq, and American support for Israel, which most Muslims – and many of the world’s non-Muslims – believe oppresses the Palestinians.

And where are we now, nearly a decade later? We still have military forces on the Arabian Peninsula. We don’t embargo Iraq any more, but we occupy it, and Afghanistan, too. And we continue to support Israel in its ongoing conflict with the Palestinians.

Now, I’m not saying we should reverse all – or even any – of these policies and commitments.

We may need to maintain a presence on the Arabian Peninsula, not least because of its significance to a petroleum-based economy we are clearly unwilling to change.

And perhaps we need to stay in Iraq and Afghanistan, to encourage liberty and democracy, free women and girls from oppression, and do all of the other good things we say we’re doing.

But we shouldn’t deceive ourselves. As long as the basic realities that stimulated terrorism in the first place remain in effect, we will continue to be threatened, and that fact won’t be changed because we put another 10,000 soldiers in Afghanistan or kill another No. 3 man in al-Qaida with a drone strike.

That is the melancholy reality obscured by the excitement over the WikiLeaks revelations.


Danbom, a contributor to The Forum’s commentary page, is a retired university history professor.