As Usual, the Wrong Question Is Being Asked

by Harry Browne

April 9, 2004         

Richard Clarke says the Bush administration was too focused on Iraq to see the 9-11 attack coming.

The Bush administration says Clarke is an opportunistic S.O.B. who once praised President Bush, but now criticizes Bush in order to boost sales of Clarke's book.

Which one is correct?

That's the burning question the press focuses on day after day after day. Everyone in radio, TV, or print publications seems to have a very firm answer to the question, one way or the other.

But if you have an answer, you've been snookered — maneuvered into pondering the wrong question.

The Real Issue

The 9-11 Commission is supposedly focusing on all aspects of the attack — all aspects except the one that is by far the most important question: why did the hijackers knowingly give up their lives to destroy the World Trade Center?

President Bush has a ready answer. He tells us it's because they hate American freedoms, American democracy, and American prosperity.

Of course, there are people around the world who are cranks, malcontents, or
Stars-and-Stripes-phobes who simply don't like America — for all kinds of reasons.

But how could any intelligent person believe that there are hundreds — more likely, thousands — of people around the world who would knowingly sacrifice their lives just to protest American freedom, democracy, or prosperity?

As Charley Reese has put it:

It is absurd to suppose that a human being sitting around suddenly stands up and says: "You know, I hate freedom. I think I'll go blow myself up."

The Motive

There was only one possible motive for the 9-11 attackers: they were protesting the way the American government has been using force for half a century to overrule the wishes of people in the Middle East and elsewhere.

Our government has overthrown democratically elected governments, it has supported with money and weapons dictatorial governments that have tortured and killed dissenters (just as George Bush keeps saying Saddam Hussein was doing), it has bribed foreign governments to join in enterprises of the U.S. government (as it did with Spain and tried to do with Turkey before Operation Kill Iraqis).

Because of very little press coverage, most Americans have no idea that our government has been doing these things. How many people know, for example, that Iran had a democratically elected government until the U.S. and British governments engineered a coup to install the tyrannical Shah of Iran in 1953?

Then there was all the U.S. government help to Diem in South Vietnam, Suharto in Indonesia, Somoza in Nicaragua, Batista in Cuba, Trujillo in the Dominican Republic, Stalin during World War II, Lumumba* in the Congo, Saddam Hussein in Iraq (yes, that Saddam Hussein), and dozens more tyrants — all of whom used American taxpayer money to oppress their own citizens.

Americans may not know about the support provided to these tyrants by the U.S. government, but I can assure you that plenty of people in those countries do know what our government has done to them.

Because Americans know so little about the history of our government's adventures of the last 50 years (and the last place anyone's likely to learn about them is in a government school), it's easy for Americans to buy George Bush's logic when he says, "See, these people hate freedom." Consequently, most people believe that the history of violence began on 9-11, when it's actually been building for 50 years.

It isn't even just history. Today George Bush is sending money and other resources to governments in Uzbekistan, Turkminestan, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, and Pakistan — governments that are oppressing their subjects in much the same way Hussein was supposed to have oppressed Iraq.

So if the 9-11 Commission has any interest in preventing future 9-11s, why isn't it discussing the role U.S. foreign policy played in creating 9-11 — and is continuing to play today?

Public Debate

Perhaps you don't agree with me. You may think our government was justified in everything it has done. Or maybe you think I'm overstating the importance of American support of oppressive foreign governments.

Fair enough. But you must admit that this is a legitimate issue to be debated. So why isn't the 9-11 Commission studying it? Why aren't journalists and TV hosts interviewing people on both sides of the question to help form opinions?

Why is there only one question to be debated on any issue? Why, for example, didn't any of the coverage of the Martha Stewart case focus on the question of whether insider trading actually hurts anyone? Why was there a debate about whether a juror's run-in with the police was grounds for a mistrial — when his after-trial statements demonstrated that he found Stewart guilty for something she wasn't even on trial for — a much more significant reason for a mistrial?

The press — including (especially) the TV experts — will usually focus on the wrong aspect of any case or issue. This is probably because reporters, journalists, and TV experts are mostly all big-government people. So the debate is about whether some politician handled something in the best possible way — rather than debating whether the government should have been involved at all.

And we play their game when we allow ourselves to debate the questions they're asking. As Thomas Pynchon said (in Gravity's Rainbow), "If they can get you asking the wrong questions, they don't have to worry about the answers."

In almost all matters, the real question should be: why are we letting government handle this?

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*Patrice Lumumba was a Communist who studied in Moscow, and there's a university there that used to be named after him.  When the Congo received its independence from Belgium in 1960, Lumumba became the Congo's leader. Katanga province, under the leadership of Moise Tshombe, tried to secede from the Congo. A war broke out. The United Nations, with the help of the U.S., sent troops to Katanga to put down the secession. The U.S. help was remarkable (although not that unusual) because Lumumba was pro-USSR and setting up a socialist government — while Tshombe was pro-US and wanting to establish a free market in Katanga. Why the U.S. supported the UN in putting down a pro-US movement, I'll probably never know — but it happened nonetheless.

Of course, as with so many other dictators the U.S. helped (such as Saddam Hussein or Manuel Noriega), the U.S. government eventually turned against Lumumba and may have been responsible for his death. When Mobutu Sésé Séko came to power in 1965, he set up a brutal regime. Of course, the United States government supported him as well.