Truth or Consequences
Will this approach succeed? We don't know how each would-be terrorist or sponsor will respond. It's an open question. But that's the point. As long as we view it the other way around—ourselves as the actors, and our enemies as the imposers of consequences—the question is closed. Our enemies' reactions, and therefore our options, are rigidly defined. We can have troops in Saudi Arabia, or we can have peace at home, but we can't have both.
Challenging the false objectivity of these dilemmas doesn't require us to ignore the potential consequences of our acts. Some of our Middle East policies do anger many Arabs or Muslims. We ought to worry when others don't like our behavior. But just as surely, they ought to worry when we don't like theirs.
Two years ago, when President Clinton waged war against ethnic cleansing in Kosovo, consequentialists on the American right blamed him for the bloodshed. His aggression, they argued, had provoked the Serbs to violence. Now that President Bush is girding for war, consequentialism has broken out on the left. To his credit, Bush is defying it with equal vigor. The terrorists who struck the Pentagon and the World Trade Center "are clearly determined to try to force the United States of America and our values to withdraw from the world," Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld observed yesterday. "We have a choice: either to change the way we live, which is unacceptable; or to change the way that they live. And we chose the latter." Amen.
Will Saletan covers science, technology, and politics for Slate and says a lot of things that get him in trouble.
Photograph of Osama Bin Laden on Slate's Table of Contents by Ho/Reuters.