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Making America Truly Safe

27 May 2002

Dots are getting a lot of press these days. White House spokesman Ari Fleischer recently was besieged by reporters asking him why the White House failed to "connect the dots" of intelligence data preceding the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

The New York Times reported the FBI also had information about terrorists flying planes into buildings but that it "failed to share its findings and to connect the dots."

Other congressional critics of the FBI and the CIA cite those failures for the security lapses that allowed the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks to occur. Sen. Bob Graham (D-Fla.), chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, who is investigating why those dots were not connected, charged last week that the Justice Department and the CIA are not cooperating with the probe.

Most of these new dot-spotters seem to be concerned only with developing contingency plans to thwart terrorists who have already decided to kill Americans.

The connections that count, however, are those that would prevent potential terrorists from making that decision in the first place. That's a harder job and an even harder sell. But the only way to minimize future terrorism is to address grievances before they become movements.

People willing to die for a cause are unlikely to be stopped by ramped-up security measures. Attempts to harden our defensive shell may foster a feeling of safety, but they can do nothing to prevent someone from strolling into the middle of a shopping mall and exploding themselves.

The only way to completely eliminate that possibility would be to implement security measures so intrusive that they would amount to abrogating sections of the U.S. Constitution.

We would be better served by connecting some other dots.

Determining what the Bush administration knew and when did it know it may help us get a better handle of our intelligence lapses, but it skirts the issue of how we can reduce terrorism. That issue is best addressed by considering how U.S. policies have affected the regions that are spawning terrorists.

I can hear readers reacting, "Who cares why they hate us? The real question is, why don't they fear us?"

That reaction is understandable. We were frightened and angered by the Sept. 11 attacks. But we must ask ourselves: Do we want revenge or security? We can't have both.

Globalization has eroded the geographical and economic barriers that once shielded the U.S. from the consequences of its foreign policy. Our new vulnerability was most vividly revealed by the events of Sept. 11, but we are likely to get occasional reminders in the days ahead.

When we are hit, we predictably will strike back in revenge. If we haven't already set up bivouacs in Baghdad, we likely will use any terrorist attack as a pretext to invade Iraq and who knows what other nations.

But in all this there will be little opportunity to debate the implications of our foreign policy.

The U.S. has thwarted democracy, inserted puppet dictators, smothered human rights and stifled freedom in many of these countries. Is it any wonder that the seeds of those policies are bearing fruit?

Instead of addressing these legitimate historical grievances, the U.S. seems concerned simply with protecting its "turf." This "turf" is the myth that the U.S. always acts for the good of humanity. Much like an inner-city gangbanger, this nation endangers lives for the sake of defending a turf that is an imaginary construct, built on deception and self-delusion.

At the same time, we're complicit in one of history's most glaring injustices, the denial of Palestinian self-determination. Palestinian people have been denied self-determination and a homeland ever since a group of Europeans and Americans decided to superimpose another group of Europeans onto the land they had called their own for centuries.

This manifest denial of justice is the Muslim world's primary grievance against the U.S., and by refusing to address it, we are seeding vast fields of future antagonists. Nothing we have in our high-tech arsenal can stem that hostile tide. There are other historical grievances the U.S. must attend to.

One of the most consistent themes of history is how powerful nations have failed to connect the dots that link present disorders to past injustices.

Yet those are precisely the connections that determine a nation's survival.

Salim Muwakkil
Published in the Chicago Tribune © 2002, Chicago Tribune

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