Monday, Apr 23, 2018
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Op-Ed Columns

Principles forsaken by U.S. in misguided quest for security


Dan Simpson, a retired diplomat, is a member of the editorial boards of The Blade and Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.


IT IS hard to figure out what the United States is trying to do, at home and abroad.

It is easy enough to see the results, but more difficult to understand what provides the motivation. It does seem to turn for the most part on a quest for security. That, in turn, seems to rise from concerns prompted by the Sept. 11, 2001 attack. At the same time, what the United States has done subsequently is disproportionate to what was done to us by the attackers.

Abroad, the general propensity of the United States post-9/11 has been to interfere in the affairs of other countries. We, in effect, gave ourselves the right to do this in the name of dealing with potential threats to our security springing from certain foreign countries. There was some logic to this approach in Afghanistan, al-Qaeda's principal base, where the organization was hosted by the Taliban.

That basis for U.S. intervention falls apart when applied to Iraq. The Bush Administration still has not found a satisfactory explanation for having gone in and turned the place upside down, possibly irrevocably. The logic falls apart entirely when it is applied to Somalia or the Palestinian territories, where the logic of U.S. intervention is abstruse to say the least.

The result in all four places has been to produce vigorous civil wars. That is not to say that the people of those countries did not have tendencies in that direction already, but it is very clear that the involvement of the United States has exacerbated the murderous splits that existed already.

Enough said about Iraq.

In Afghanistan the Taliban went down but is now coming back up with a vengeance.

In Somalia, the United States provided support to the Ethiopian invasion to bring about regime change. Armed Somali resistance to the Ethiopians, the United States, and the regime they installed is now resurgent in the streets of Mogadishu and across the country.

In the Palestinian territories, the United States and Israel have tried to deny the results of last year's election victory by Hamas and support the defeated Fatah. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice recently informed Fatah that America will provide $90 million to build up its military forces to fight Hamas.

Why do we want to spark and maintain civil war in these places? The argument of Americans such as Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R., Ky.) is that we are fighting the terrorists in these places so we won't have to fight them in the United States. He cites, as evidence, that there haven't been any more attacks on the United States since 9/11. The lack of logic in this non-sequitur recalls the observation that, if chickens thought, they might think that their pecking the ground was what made the rain fall. For me, a better parallel to America's current situation is an injured dog that cannot resist licking its own wound, thus preventing it from healing.

We also have done damage to ourselves at home in response to the post-9/11 obsession with security. Last week we learned that President Bush had approved opening Americans' mail without the required court order. That followed his taking the same position with regard to the National Security Agency's intercepting Americans' telephone and e-mail communications, in direct violation of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.

Last weekend his administration took the position that the Pentagon and the CIA could obtain Americans' financial and banking records and store them in a Defense Department database, again without court order.

The United States is trashing its system of justice, the approach to freedoms and rights that is at the core of its principles, principles that have made our country different from the Iraqs, Afghanistans, and Somalias of this world.

The prime example is the general treatment of the hundreds of prisoners held at the U.S. naval base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. The latest horror in that regard is a public statement made by Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense Charles D. Stimson last week that U.S. law firms providing staff to help with the defense of the Guantanamo prisoners should be afraid that their corporate clients will end their relationships with them in retaliation.

Pro bono work is at the heart of the education of young lawyers. It is particularly important to their professional development. The right of an accused person to a competent defense is at the core of the U.S. system of justice. Mr. Stimson, in his words, is an enemy of the American adversarial system of justice.

Trying to grasp all this led me to the Sunday comic strips for relief. A "Classic Peanuts" by the late, great Charles M. Schulz, had Linus observing after a fight to the death with Snoopy over his blanket, "The struggle for security knows no season!"

At this time, there is reason to believe that a misguided struggle for security is in the process of destroying not only our position and our reputation abroad but also the building blocks of our own society.

That must simply not be allowed to happen.

Dan Simpson, a retired diplomat, is a member of the editorial boards of The Blade and Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

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