Research: Commentary

Demand A Full Accounting For Our Policies

South Florida Sun-Sentinel, March 26, 2004 | Article

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The terrorist attacks on Spanish trains are now in the terrorist "hall of infamy" and will ever be referred to as 3-11, 9-11's progeny. International terrorism by nonstate actors has now metastasized as a cancer in the world body. CIA Director George Tenet warned on March 9, "Al-Qaida has infected others with its ideology -- other extremist groups within the movement it influenced have become the next wave of terrorist threat. Dozens of such groups exist."

The 3-11 attack came days before a Spanish election that ended in the surprise ruling-party defeat, though it had led in the polls. The victorious opposition party had opposed Spain's participation in the Iraq war and now threatens to pull Spain's troops out of Iraq by June 30 unless the United Nations takes over its administration.

Many American media pundits reacted by accusing Spaniards in particular and Europeans in general of cowardice and appeasement.

It was soon apparent that Spanish voters, who had been expected to re-elect the incumbent government, had become enraged by its barrage of propaganda blaming the extremist Basque group ETA and for covering up emerging evidence that Moroccan and al-Qaida elements were responsible.

Demonization of the Spanish people -- who prize their freedom and constitutional rule after decades of dictatorship and continued domestic terrorism -- does not speak well for America, which has not suffered similarly. They remember the futility of a civil war that provided a staging ground for Nazi Germany to try out its modern weapons while the world and the United States stood by.

The day before the election, evidence of ETA noninvolvement despite government insistence was pervasive. Demonstrators protested outside the ruling party headquarters, shouting "Liars" and "We want the truth." The electorate voted on the principle that government should not deceive. That they caved in to terrorism is disingenuous.

Things did not get better the following week, when Polish President Aleksander Kwasniewski, our strongest supporter in the "coalition of the willing," stated publicly: "That they [U.S. and Britain] deceived us about the weapons of mass destruction, that's true. We were taken for a ride." Two days before, Honduras announced that it was pulling out its troops in July. The Netherlands Prime Minister, Jan Peter Balkenende, in a face-to-face meeeting with President Bush, has refused to confirm whether Dutch troops would stay in Iraq or when they would leave.

On Sept. 11, 2001, the United States suffered horrendous terrorist attacks, not only on its two symbols of world dominance -- the Pentagon (military power) and the World Trade Center (financial services and globalization) -- but also on its sense of identity as a benevolent leader with a manifest destiny to lead the world to a better place. The rest of the world poured out its support and mourned with us. How do we explain the precipitous turn from admiration to hostility in many Asian and European countries?

Former U.S. Ambassador to Israel and Syria Edward P. Djerejian, in his largely ignored report to Congress, found that the former majority favorable opinion of the United States had plummetted to single digits and that "the bottom had fallen out of support for the United States." The Pew Research Center has found the same viewpoint in countries throughout the world.

The truth is that while Americans are suffused with information, few have knowledge of world affairs -- compared with most world citizens whose eyes are turned toward the United States, the acknowledged world powerhouse. They were fully aware that the Bush administration was deceptive in justifying the Iraqi war and demonstrated in the tens of millions against it.

Americans now know from former Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill that from the first days of the Bush adminstration, the president concentrated U.S. policy on Iraq as the prime threat to U.S. interests.

Terrorism czar Richard A. Clarke, who performed outstanding service in the Reagan, Bush I, Clinton and present Bush administrations, finally resigned in despair over the lack of priority given the spread of al-Qaida terrorism. His devastating words to the American public from vast experience should be read by all in order to understand how we got into this disastrous quagmire. Certainly the rest of the world will -- and judge us accordingly.

To accuse Spain of appeasement of terrorism is counterproductive and obscures the real isssue. We should demand a full accounting for our policies that have done so much harm to our world reputation. Look to history, including that of long-gone empires, for as George Santayana predicted: "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it."

Original article available here

Copyright 2004 South Florida Sun-Sentinel. 

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