American athletes at the heavily fortified Olympic games in Athens have been assigned bodyguards by the U.S. State Department and have practically had to assume secret identities in an attempt to remain safe. Fearful of a terrorist attack, American spectators have stayed away from the games in droves. Both the Republicans and the Democrats seem to be throwing up their hands and capitulating to the notion that the world has simply become more dangerous. But this more dangerous world is very much one of the U.S. government's making.
At an international event where pride of origin is usually encouraged, U.S. athletes are apparently being told not to wear t-shirts that would identify them as Americans. In a great understatement, one Olympic coach was quoted in the San Francisco Chronicle as saying, "How the world is now, America isn't the favorite country." One might ask how the "Home of the Free and the Land of the Brave" a model of political and economic freedom geographically removed from most centers of conflict-has put its citizens in mortal danger by becoming so generally despised.
The answer is simple. Although the U.S. government repeatedly warns its citizens of imminent terrorist attacks and takes draconian measures-both at home and abroad-in the name of "national security," it really does not have many incentives to actually make those citizens safer. According to an anonymous active intelligence official, who has almost two decades of experience in the fields of terrorism, militant Islam, and South Asia and who is the author of Imperial Hubris: Why the West Is Losing the War on Terror, "One of the greatest dangers for Americans in deciding how to confront the Islamist threat lies in continuing to believe-at the urging of senior U.S. leaders-that Muslims hate and attack us for what we are and think, rather than for what we do." Yet President Bush continues to tell the American public that the terrorists "hate us for our freedoms." The president's statements fly in the face of the opinions of experts on Osama bin Laden's motivations-such as the aforementioned author and Peter Bergen, one of the few Western reporters who have interviewed the head of al Qaeda. President Bush's rhetoric also contradicts poll after poll in Islamic countries (and much of the world), which indicate that those populations don't hate U.S. culture, freedoms, wealth, or technology, but U.S. foreign policy. So why does the president keep making such statements?
Like the Bush administration's misleading statements concerning a collaborative relationship between al Qaeda and Saddam Hussein, such deception hides what really drives U.S. government policy. But no wacky conspiracy theories need be conjured up. Research by political scientists and public choice economists indicate that in the absence of adequate public scrutiny, highly organized and well-connected vested interests-both inside and outside of the government-drive government policies. Because such policies concentrate their benefits on those interests, the pressure groups care greatly about them and lobby the U.S. government for their implementation. Unfortunately, the policies' costs are less noticeable because they are distributed widely among taxpayers and the general public. Also, the smokescreen thrown up by politicians masks what is really going on. So even though the U.S. government is more often concerned with defending vested interests than with protecting the bulk of its citizenry, only rarely is there a public uproar.
For example, in the case of the invasion of Iraq, vested interests benefited from destroying an enemy of Israel and getting new U.S. military bases on the oil-rich Persian Gulf to replace those being lost in Saudi Arabia. The Bush administration rhetorically exaggerated the threat from Iraqi "weapons of mass destruction" and implied a false connection between al Qaeda and Saddam Hussein to hide the real reasons for the invasion. Unfortunately, the common citizen is left with the bill: $200 billion and counting, the unnecessary deaths of many U.S. servicemen and Iraqis, and inflamed world opinion against the United States that will very likely lead to more-not less-terrorism against American citizens at home and abroad.
More generally, special interests, such as the oil companies, lobby the U.S. government for intervention overseas to serve their interests. When this results in blowback terrorism against American citizens-for example, the September 11 attacks-something has to be done to hide the government's own generation of demand for its provision of "security." The intense anti-U.S. hatred of al Qaeda has to be ascribed to American freedom, culture, wealth, or technology, all of which cannot be changed desirably or easily. By contrast, American citizens-including U.S. athletes and spectators at future Olympics-could be made much safer by rapidly making a meddling U.S. foreign policy overseas more humble. But then the latter change would be a new form of terror-striking fear into the hearts of the U.S. foreign policy elite and the interests they represent.
Ivan Eland is the Director of the Center on Peace and Liberty at the Independent Institute in Oakland, California and author of the book, Putting "Defense" Back into U.S. Defense Policy: Rethinking U.S. Security in the Post-Cold War World.
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