This morning I caught a little of Donald Rumsfeld's speach. He opened his remarks at the Pentagon ceremony by saying something along the lines of, "Five years ago today, our country was dragged into a war not of its making..." (or words to that effect).
Now five years ago was a very, very bad day. As a nation, we have had worse. However, on a day when the politicians in this country want us to think about something, it would be very self-deceiving for us as a nation to believe that we had no hand in the world we live.
As a nation, we made choices over the past eighty years or so. Between 1916 and 1940, we sought to make as small presence on the world stage as possible, despite the fact that virtually all of the Great Powers recognized that we were becoming a Great Power. When we did emerge, for a brief period from 1971 through 1919, we did so almost reluctantly. By refusing to engage in the world stage, we abdicated our position and our power and enabled the rise of facist militaries because we wanted to isolate ourselves from what we viewed as the Old World's Problems.
That did not work. From 1940 to 1945, we first supplied the democratic powers as they fought facism, fought as the junior partner, and then took over as the senior partner of an alliance to end facism.
From 1945 until 1991, we were one of two superpowers locked in a long cold war which threatened to become a shooting war that could end the planet. As part of the Cold War, we elected leaders who made decisions to back certain regimes. Instead of demanding that democratically elected governments stand, we allowed them to be, and in some cases assisted in them being, toppled and replaced by dictatorships. Our view was simple in a way, if you were our client, we would tolerate your indescretions to a point. If you were the Soviet Union's client, even if you were a democratic society, we would work to convert you by any means.
These decisions were right at the time. Virtually no one could foretell how the Cold War would end. It did not end, as many exepected with nuclear weapons and an encounter between NATO and Warsaw Pact in Central Europe, but quietly as the Soviet Union imploded.
In the wake of the Soviet Union's demise, the majority of the nation demanded that there be a "Peace Dividend". For nearly ten years, we drew down our military, eschewed agressive diplomacy and voted in favor of those who would want to cut our foreign expenditures. And they did. When interned at the State Department in 1998, foreign subsidies and the money available for the U.S. to use overseas to promote its interests was dropping towards what was then an all time low.
Currently, we are last in percentage of GDP expended on foreign aid (.2 percent), even though the total amount is the most (a little over $27 billion). Apparently, that was too much for the budget cutters of the 1990s on both sides of the aisle. Neither number is that far off from where it was five years ago, or even ten years ago, when it roughly .1 percent of the GDP.
Instead of stepping up and doing something about creating a world where the threat of war or weapons of mass destruction was diminished, we rested on our laurels. And in the process allowed Yugoslavia to go up in flames, Hati to continue to be a disgrace to the Monroe Doctrine, Somalia and others to fester. We made deals with authoritarian governments of countries where we knew, or should have if we had been willing to pay attention, that terrorist groups were operating from. Places like Egypt, Afghanistan, and Saudi Arabia.
The great short-lived triumph of the Clinton foreign policy was the Good Friday Agreement in Northern Ireland. In virtually everything else, the Clinton administration failed. It did not remove the threat of nuclear weapons from North Korea. It failed to resolve the Somalia situation. It failed to bring about a lasting solution to the problem faced by Israel. Only after squandering the U.S.' credibility in futile gestures which did not address the reality of the situation, was his administration able to broker peace in the former Yugoslavia.
But it was not all Clinton's fault. The nation during the 1990s did not want to be all that bothered with a major foreign policy matter. It wanted to make money, lots of money. Even though Republicans pressed for increase military spending, the mood of the national leaders was that the Powell Doctrine was the only way to ensure victory. We chose the easy way to live. and exist. Therefore, the U.S. did not engage in small wars.
What this meant in practice was bombing from high altitude in Yugoslavia and Iraq. It also meant withdrawing from Somalia the first time an American unit was bloodied in Mogadishu. It made our policy look inept, our leaders and our national resolve weak. And people were watching.
Begining in 1993, Al-Qaeda attempted its first U.S. attack. Ramzi Yousef master minded an attack on the World Trade Center which shook the towers, but failed to do the damage hoped. In 1998, after building strength and watching us, they made their next moves. They attacked the U.S. Embassies in Tanzania and Kenya. Our response was not exactly earth-shattering. We launched some cruise missiles at targets in the Sudan and Afghanistan, hoping that we would kill someone involved in the attacks. There still remains doubt that we came even close at either location.
So at first we ignored the world. Then we dealt with it in ways that did nothing to help our cause or enhance our standing. We looked like a wounded cyclops, lashing out ineffectively. And Al Qaeda struck again, holing the destroyer U.S.S. Cole. This time, we did not even bother with a barrage of cruise missiles. Instead, a report was issued stating that we needed to change our procedures.
And then we elected a president who ran stating that he wanted to disengage from the world. That he wanted to significantly cut back on our involvement in peace keeping activities. He abdicated the U.S.'s position in the negotiations between the Arabs and Israel. He refused to enter into international agreements, including the Kyoto Accords. He announced our intention to withdraw from the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty and the International Criminal Court, and he withdrew the United States from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty. He also stated in his 2000 campaign that he wanted to withdraw troops from the Balkans and Hati, find ways to cut the military budget and decrease intervention abroad. He also stated that the U.S. should be more "humble". Maybe it is not what he intended, but looking at those quotes again, it seems as though he was signalling that his administration wanted to retreat from the burdens of being the world's superpower.
This only encouraged Al Qaeda and others to act. And they did, striking the World Trade Center for a second time. This time, instead of a van full of explosives, they flew two planes into each of the main towers.
Did we deserve what happened on September 11, 2006? Of course not. Did we create the climate that allowed it to happen? Yes. We failed to act with strength when we needed to, resolve when it was called for, and generosity when it was needed. We supported the wrong people, people who oppresed their own and then blamed the U.S. and Israel for all their ills.
I know its not realistic to expect a political leader of in this day and age to say it, but I think it would have been more accurate had Rumsfeld stated something like, "and we visit all of our sins upon our children. We refuse to take responsibility for what we've done... Sooner or later, the day comes when you can't hide from the things that you've done anymore."
We chose to save when we should have spent the extra penny. And in the end, it came back to haunt us. Failing to realize how we got to this place only sets ourselves up to repeat it down the line. Supporting to cause of liberty and justice by actually supporting those who subscribe to it, and not those who use it as a propaganda line, by not running when things become difficult, and by leading instead of politicking.
Anyways, those are my thoughts.