Repugnant commentaries place blame on America

Jonah Goldberg

9/19/2001 12:00:00 AM - Jonah Goldberg
The voice is tinny now because the wound from September 11 is so fresh. But soon enough it will be a chorus, and it will say: This is all America's fault. Edward Said, a professor at Columbia University and perhaps the world's most influential anti-Israel intellectual, wrote in the London Observer Sunday, "Anti-Americanism in this context is not based on a hatred of modernity or technology-envy: It is based on a narrative of concrete interventions, specific depredations" and America's hostility to Iraq and support for Israel. "Political rhetoric in the US," Said announces, "has overridden these things by flinging about words like 'terrorism' and 'freedom' whereas, of course, such large abstractions have mostly hidden sordid material interests, the influence of the oil, defense and Zionist lobbies now consolidating their hold on the entire Middle East, and an age-old religious hostility to (and ignorance of) 'Islam' that takes new forms every day." Patrick Buchanan, always brilliant at crafting lovely prose around unlovely ideas, suggests in a Los Angeles Times op-ed entitled "U.S. Pays the High Price of Empire" that America has brought this attack on herself by playing the role of global policeman, "night-sticking troublemakers" around the world and hence inviting payback. Because Buchanan never shirks from a fight, he rightly wants to wallop whoever did this and then close the gates around America. "There is no vital American interest at risk in all these religious, territorial and tribal wars from Algeria to Afghanistan. Let us pay back those who did this, then let us extricate ourselves. Either America finds an exit strategy from empire, or we lose our republic." Most repugnant of them all is Susan Sontag, writing in The New Yorker. She sneers at the idea that this was anything but the result of America's presumably bone-headed policies. She asks sarcastically, "Where is the acknowledgment that this was not a 'cowardly' attack on 'civilization' or 'liberty' or 'humanity' or 'the free world' but an attack on the world's self-proclaimed superpower, undertaken as a consequence of specific American alliances and actions?" Sontag believes that American pilots in Iraq are more worthy of contempt than the brave skyjackers of September 11. All of these critics, to one extent or another, fall into the trap of thinking that "freedom" needs quotation marks. Sadly, Said and Sontag read too much Marx, and now their brains are ossified and arthritic with so much left-wing sociological cant. They don't believe freedom really exists at all. "Freedom" is merely so much propaganda used to conceal America's greedy or imperialist schemes - what Edward Said calls our "sordid material interests." Buchanan sees things a little different. He believes freedom exists, but that it is a fragile crop unique to American soil and unpalatable to most other peoples of the world. Moreover, he believes we dare not let outsiders into our country for fear they will bring foreign weeds with them or, worse, deliberately trample on our way of life. "The enemy is already inside the gates," Buchanan writes. "How many others among our 11 million 'undocumented' immigrants are ready to carry out truck bombings, assassinations, sabotage, skyjackings?" Similarly, Buchanan & co. believe we dare not venture abroad, for if we do, we will be dragged down into the muck and mire of alien cultures. Despite their differences, Sontag, Said and Buchanan do agree on one essential point: We brought this on ourselves. By saying these attacks were the direct result of American policy, they want to discredit these policies. At best, this is simply an overly verbose version of the battered wife syndrome: "It must be something we did!" At worst, it is a dishonest attempt to exploit a tragedy in order to defame the United States of America. The truth is simple. And as inarticulate as George W. Bush can be in speaking it, he's nailed it. This is a battle between freedom and barbarity, between the good guys and the bad guys, and no quotation marks are required. Sure, our policies may have contributed to this attack, but that doesn't make our policies wrong. To the extent our support for Israel contributed to the hatred behind this assault, that's a tragic consequence of the fact that America supports her allies and free nations - and Israel is both. As the scholar Michael Ledeen has written, "Our support for Israel is not a tactical maneuver, subject to regular reconsideration. We support free democracies, and since Israel is the only democracy in the Middle East, our support is automatic and obligatory." To the extent that the attack was the result of Saddam Hussein's anger at being thwarted in his dastardly aims, and our continued attempts to keep him from developing weapons for more mass murder, that's the price we pay for vigilance. Just because the bad guys hate us for being the good guys doesn't mean we did anything wrong. That may be simplistic, but it also happens to be true. And, to the extent that the success of our open, free and democratic society causes various criminals and tyrants to resent the United States, that's fine. That is, until you murder Americans. And once you do that, you invite the thunder.