It seems this author has a good grasp of the big picture. I would like to add something that he didn’t touch on directly, though. When he refers to the U.S. public’s potential support for overarching military response, he doesn’t mention a major selling point that the Bush administration didn’t have even have to verbalize when announcing its plans to attack Afghanistan and Iraq: bigotry.
Call it racism, ethnocentrism, or whatever you want, most U.S. citizens, in my opinion, won’t lose any sleep over the bombing of some Middle Eastern or Asian country to rubble. Why not? Because to most U.S. citizens, the brown people living in those places aren’t as human as we are. I am reminded of a huge pickup truck (the kind with the double rear wheels) I saw careening down a South Side street in Chicago one day soon after 9/11. Drawn in soap on the rear window were the following phrases: BOMB AFGHANISTAN. KILL ALL RAGHEADS.
Now, you may be thinking that the aforementioned vitriol was the expression of a rare, extremely excitable dimwit; you might be correct about everything except the “rare” part. I have heard so many people, especially at work, voice related sentiments about our (sometimes) darker-skinned brothers in Arab and Muslim lands. Usually the language is more polite– to varying degrees, of course– but the basic principle doesn’t change: “Not only are we better than ‘them,’ but violence is the only thing ‘they’ understand. If we kill a few ‘innocents’ along the way, then at worst we’ve taken out a terrorist before he/she had the chance to attack us. We should waste no time bombing the whole region and turning it into a parking lot/oil field.”
Who recalls such ideas being vocalized when the Clinton administration was bombing Serbia? I don’t. It is my belief that the racism and bigotry that lie in the heart of our culture are responsible for so many people being eager to believe the fantastical lies about Saddam Hussein’s Iraq possessing WMD. It is much easier for a government to justify massive crimes against humanity– even in ‘open democracy’– when the victims are already demonized in the public view. (For more on this, I suggest you read Michael Zezima’s Saving Private Power, particularly the chapter on the nuking of two Japanese cities at the end of WWII; for now, let’s just say that it would have taken a hell of a propaganda campaign to justify the use of such horrid weapons against German [read: white] civilians.)
On an integrally related note, this is why it will be very difficult for any U.S. administration, Democratic or Republican, to ever present the idea of dealing fairly with the Palestinian people. In addition to the strength of the pro-Zionist lobby, there is the unspoken, culturally embedded notion that as a nation of civilized ‘white’ settlers, the Jewish state of Israel has the God-given right to do as it pleases to the brown heathen savages in the region (as long as it doesn’t disrupt the efficacious flow of oil, that is). Since the Israel/Palestine issue is close to the heart of Muslim and Arab discontent with the U.S. and its allies, we will not cease to be the Great Satan (and rightfully so) until we assist in brokering a just resolution to that conflict. (I suggest reading Mahmood Mamdani’s Good Muslim, Bad Muslim— the book would be best, but this essay is fine for starters.)
This same principle largely applies to our foreign policy in general. We as U.S. citizens claim to love freedom and democracy, and the spread of these lofty ideals are often included in the stated goals of our foreign military interventions (direct or by proxy). However, if we do not value the humanity of our fellow persons in other lands– be they brown-skinned or not– then we will not bother to demand that respect for justice and human rights be the first and foremost concern in our government’s foreign adventures; this would be especially important if our first impulse were an understandably human urge to retaliate violently for an attack on our soil.