In the war against terrorism, well-meaning Americans of diverse political leanings can disagree about the tactics used. A vigorous national debate among individuals acting in good faith but with different perspectives can only strengthen the American effort. Not all Americans, however, act with the goal of defeating terrorism foremost in their minds. Some elected officials and political activists either do not realize or deliberately ignore the severity of the terrorist threat. Some believe that attacks on American targets, either at home or abroad, will help discredit current leaders and policies. Others think American policies abroad are unjust and believe acquiescence to terrorist demands would help purify American motivations and behavior. Some look at domestic problems, such as poverty and poor education, and believe these are simply more pressing issues. All of these individuals may believe they are acting in America's best interest and, in fact, many advocate legitimate and worthwhile policy objectives. However, if the United States is under attack, no other policies or programs can be carried out. Our priority must be to secure America first so we then have the time and ability to improve it, for we cannot achieve our goals in reverse.
Anti-war movements in the United States have always relied heavily upon demonstrations. The freedom to assemble is one of America's most important rights, protected by the Bill of Rights. But because very few restrictions are placed upon demonstrating groups, it is important to investigate the organization and objectives that motivate such events to help prevent social and political manipulation by hostile forces. For example, many of the anti-war demonstrations in the United States and abroad have been organized by International ANSWER and International Action, two groups with shared leadership and international organization capabilities. Together, they promote political action concerning a variety of issues, demonstrating against the World Trade Organization, capital punishment, and the Israeli "occupation" of Palestine, as well as organizing large demonstrations against the war in Iraq. They ally themselves with countries such as Cuba and Venezuela, led by notorious dictators, because of their high-profile opposition to American involvement in global affairs, and founder Ramsey Clark has been a public supporter of Slobodan Milosovic, imprisoned in the Hague for committing war crimes and crimes against humanity. The organizational and ideological ties between these groups and traditional anti-American, pro-Communist organizations should alert the American public to the ultimate intention behind their demonstrations. While many participants in these events are certainly motivated by an honest belief that American policies abroad are misguided, the driving forces behind them have a history of promoting policies that would lead to the ultimate demise of the American way of life and the erosion of American prominence worldwide.
2. Partisan Politics
When faced with an immediate crisis, the elected officials of the United States tend to put aside their differences to form a collective front against adversity. Without such an external threat, however, they often revert to their instinctive tendency to jockey for position and influence with the American electorate. The struggle against Islamist terrorism is no different. Following 9/11, both members of Congress and the American public strongly supported their President, but this initial solidarity quickly eroded as debate began over the best way to fight the new war on terror. Once again, honest and well-intentioned disagreement over policy choices will generally lead to more successful policy selection and implementation. But when this debate devolves into partisan bickering rather than intellectual discussion, American policy suffers. If terrorists will not distinguish between civilians or soldiers, Christians or Muslims, adults or children in their attacks, they certainly will not distinguish between Democrats and Republicans. We are all vulnerable and we must all hold ourselves and our legislators to a higher standard. Lawmakers should debate and they should learn from one another's ideas, but when faced with important decisions they must not allow a petty desire for revenge, a self-centered attempt to win the next election, or a vindictive assault upon a past or potential rival to derail the quest to make America safer. In turn, we as citizens must demand such noble behavior from our lawmakers and, in absence of contrary evidence, assume the best intentions for even those with whom we may disagree.
3. Political Action Groups
Running for office in the United States is expensive. There is simply no way to avoid the high costs of travel, of paying staff, and of spreading a candidate's message. To cover these expenses, most candidates accept the support of political action groups, organizations developed to support candidates and policy initiatives that correspond with a group's particular objectives. Generally, these groups focus on only a handful, or even only one, policy goal and when their candidate gets elected, they expect to see progress made toward that goal. Adhering to campaign promises and remaining in touch with constituents' needs and wants are two key elements to being a successful legislator. However, large-scale support from groups with powerful financial resources may distort a legislator's broader policy goals. We see in the United States the difficulty in passing energy legislation, because both oil companies and environmental groups contribute so much money to senators and representatives. Similar debates exist on nearly all subjects, including defense and homeland security. The American Civil Liberties Union, for example, may strongly advocate against the Patriot Act while police and security groups may support it wholeheartedly. Political action groups may disrupt the war on terror in other ways beyond simply holding up or watering down specific legislation. In some cases, they may be so powerful financially or organizationally that their single-minded focus on issues other than defense may simply not leave adequate money or time for lawmakers to devote to security issues. In other instances, they may file lawsuits prohibiting the implementation of certain legislation or compelling certain action on the part of the government, such as the legal challenges to the detention at Guantanamo Bay of prisoners of war that ultimately resulted in the mandatory access of these individuals to legal council. Political action is an important element of freedom of speech in the United States, but when wielded unwisely or given too much deference by lawmakers, it can interfere with essential government policies.
4. The United Nations
In the modern world, the consequences of war or ill-advised policy decisions can have an unparalleled impact upon people and resources. The United Nations offers a venue for the international community to discuss problems and find solutions that give consideration to the rights of all and help avoid rash decision-making. Unfortunately, its noble intentions have been largely destroyed by corrupt bureaucrats and a pervasive perception that it is merely a vehicle for less powerful nations to repay a history of perceived bullying. In an attempt at egalitarianism, all members of the United Nations General Assembly are given a single vote, regardless of resources or population. Many use this as a platform to rail against perceived injustices and to promote ideologically questionable worldviews. Far fewer than half of its members are democracies, giving substantial influence to dictators, despots, and rogue states. In the Security Council, the five permanent members (the United States, China, Russia, Great Britain, and France) are each given veto power over proposed resolutions, a means through which disagreeable states can prevent any action whatsoever. No respect whatsoever is accorded to the type of government, as democracies and autocracies are given equivalent moral standing.
Beyond the structural flaws in the United Nations lies a deep-rooted corruption of personnel. Many nations use UN appointments as nepotistic rewards for family and friends of the leader who want an easy job, rather than filling these positions with idealistic and dedicated staffers committed to a better vision of the world. With the addition of widespread lack of oversight, the result is corruption at all levels from UN soldiers in the field who have been regularly accused of rape and theft to the highest levels of management. The recent Oil for Food scandal uncovered in the wake of the war in Iraq is but one example. In the most financially costly corruption scheme in the history of the world, a program designed to feed the Iraqi people while preventing the use of their oil revenue for nefarious purposes served only to enrich Saddam Hussein and UN bureaucrats. With these examples, it is clear that the purpose of the UN as a forum where disagreements can be resolved and decisions can be made is not being realized and it is instead all too often a tool by which corrupt leaders and diplomats enrich themselves at the expense of others.