First Takes on 9/11

Below is the article I wrote for NRO on September 12, 2001. I remember the morning well, I was visiting my in-laws in California. My mother-in-law called us at our hotel and told us to put the TV on because “some planes had crashed into some buildings.”

I told her to stop watching Cartoon Network.

Like everyone we spent the next few days just sitting inside watching TV. My in-laws live on a flight path – so even though we were on the other side of the country we felt some of the silence that my friends back in DC also felt. My mother-in-law, after a not easy life, has been enjoying her golden years watching TV news and telenovelas. She skipped her stories and kept up a vigil monitoring English and Spanish news stations. I plugged my laptop into their phone line (remember those days?) and checked my email twice as often (roughly every fifteen seconds) between scanning news sources.

There was so little any of us could actually do – but as a writer, I could write. So I did.

I still believe in the essential rightness and power of human freedom, our last president was absolutely right when he said “Freedom beats in every human heart.”

But, like so many, my understanding of the depth of the cave and of the cultural barriers that went beyond the merely political was inadequate. As a response and cure for violence, promoting freedom has its limits. But it remains right – though the path may be long and obscure.

Freedom First
The war against terrorism promises to be a long one.

By Aaron Mannes, Washington-based writer & Middle East analyst.
September 12, 2001 10:00 a.m.

While the horrible terrorist attacks yesterday morning seem like something from a movie — the perpetrators are not James Bond villains in secret fortresses. These terrorists have political ideologies that were shaped by a culture that encourages violent radicalism — they do not exist in a vacuum. America’s initial focus, quite properly, will be on developing the appropriate military response and security procedures to prevent future attacks. But ultimately, the political culture that nurtures this monstrous evil must be addressed and this will require an offensive for freedom.

Most analysts have focused on the Middle East in general and Osama bin Laden in particular as the source of this attack. While this assumption is not proven, it is not without foundations. The Middle East has been the source of many major terrorist attacks against American targets, including the 1993 attack on the World Trade Center. The celebrations throughout the Middle East of the attack on America are nothing new, public discourse throughout the region has long been shocking and anti-American.

For example, a Palestinian Sheikh, in a sermon broadcast on Palestinian Authority TV exhorts, “Wherever you are, kill those Jews and those Americans who are like them…”

In Egypt, an ostensible ally, and the recipient of billions of dollars of U.S. aid annually, the United States is frequently accused of plotting against Egypt. For example, when Egypt Air 990 crashed off of Long Island, Egyptian parliamentarians insisted that an American-Zionist conspiracy was the cause.

These examples and many others from the Middle East are available on the website of the Middle East Media Research Institute.

This overheated rhetoric is inextricably linked to the general lack of freedom throughout the Middle East — excepting Israel. As dictatorships always have done, the leaders of the Middle East use an external enemy to distract their people from their oppression. Israel as a free country and the United States as a free country that supports Israel fill the role of external enemy. This combination of repression and incitement is a fertile ground for terrorism. Whatever military action the United States takes, this dangerous political culture must be viewed as an integral part of the problem.

Just as yesterday morning’s horrors revealed failures of American intelligence, the lack of liberty in the Middle East is a failure in American foreign policy — a failure to promote freedom. Nations don’t have to embrace Western-style liberal democracy. But the U.S. should support and promote governments that institute rule of law, protect their citizens, and permit them to lead their lives with minimal interference. For the most part people must achieve freedom for themselves, but the United States does have diplomatic options and sponsors programs that extend liberty around the world.

For example, the Voice of American (VOA) radio network played a crucial role in the Cold War — reminding dissidents that freedom existed in other parts of the world and inspiring many to quietly resist the Soviet regime. Those who suffer under the yoke of tyranny hunger for words of freedom. The demonization of the United States has led to enormous curiosity about it. The VOA introduces Middle Easterners to American culture as a path to promulgating American values. (But VOA programming to the Middle East has been woefully under funded and ineffective. Congress is in the process of authorizing funds to expand the quality, quantity, and range of VOA broadcasting in the Middle East.)

The United States supported dissident groups such as Charter 77 during the Cold War. These groups of intellectuals did not have an immediate impact, but they played a role in crystallizing opposition to the Soviet Union. The United States could begin to sponsor similar groups from the closed regimes of the Middle East, such as Syria, Iran, and Libya.

These are just a few of the options available to the United States to promote freedom — there are many other programs. These important programs are relatively inexpensive — budgets are in the tens of millions of dollars. None of them will bring quick results, but given time they can — combined with a robust and assertive U.S. diplomacy supporting human rights — ameliorate some of the prevailing anti-American ideologies. The war against terrorism promises to be a long one, and expanding freedom is an essential strategy that will undercut terrorism’s base of support. While it cannot replace the necessary military response, an offensive for freedom is a deadly weapon against tyranny and the terrorism it spawns.

Caveat: It remains uncertain what organization or nation was responsible for the terrorist attacks. Regardless of the origin, promoting freedom is the right thing to do and can help counter the growth of terrorism.

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