Blame America Second

Jim Henley believes a recent post of mine was too dismissive of Andy Rooney‘s foreign policy analysis.

Joyner: “Andy Rooney explains why the [9/11] tragedy was really our fault:”

Americans are puzzled over why so many people in the world hate us. We seem so nice to ourselves. They do hate us though. We know that and we’re trying to protect ourselves with more weapons.

We have to do it I suppose but it might be better if we figured out how to behave as a nation in a way that wouldn’t make so many people in the world want to kill us.


James, in typical Republican fashion, simply notes that this constitutes “blaming America” and moves on, without pausing to consider whether, maybe, five years constitutes a decent interval after which some introspection is in order. Because, really, what are the odds that, if most of the world’s attitudes toward your nation ranges from passive resentment to active hostility, that it’s because your country is just too good for this awful, fallen world?

First, by definition, saying that the reason people attack America is because we have earned their anger constitutes “blaming America.” Second, I’ve never argued that our enemies attack us because we’re “too good” or even the trite nonsense about how they “hate us because we are free.”

While most of the world likes the United States and most of its people would instantly leave their present circumstances for a chance to live here, many nonetheless resent our policies. To some extent, that’s an inevitable fact of being The World’s Sole Remaining SuperpowerTM but it’s also a consequence of our asserting the right to intervene anywhere, anytime we deem our interests to be served by so doing. Unlike traditional Great Powers, we do not seek merely to dominate a natural geographic sphere of influence but to shape events around the world.

As I noted in a September 2004 review Imperial Hubris, Michael Scheuer points out that the grievances that led al Qaeda to hate us do not require us to engage in any Roonian contemplation. Their goals have been frequently enumerated by our enemy since their first declaration of jihad against us in 1996:

· The end of U.S. aid to Israel and the ultimate elimination of that state;
· The removal of U.S. and Western forces from the Arabian peninsula;
· The removal of U.S. and Western military forces from Iraq, Afghanistan, and other Muslim lands;
· The end of U.S. support for the oppression of Muslims by Russia, China, and India;
· The end of U.S. protection for repressive, apostate Muslim regimes in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Egypt, Jordan, et cetera;
· The conservation of the Muslim world’s energy resource and their sale at higher prices. (Scheuer, 210)

Essentially, we should abandon Israel and stop trying to influence events in the globe’s eastern hemisphere. Is that a reasonable price to pay to appease al Qaeda? And would doing so at this point earn further enmity, given that they might reasonably think we’d backed down? Those are questions we can debate, I guess.

President Bush argues that, if we take bin Laden at his word, he’s unappeasable:

Osama bin Laden has called the 9/11 attacks, “A great step towards the unity of Muslims and establishing the righteous [Caliphate].” Al Qaeda and its allies reject any possibility of coexistence with those they call “infidels.” Hear the words of Osama bin Laden: “Death is better than living on this earth with the unbelievers amongst us.” We must take the words of these extremists seriously, and we must act decisively to stop them from achieving their evil aims.

Matt Yglesias says that, while bin Laden might say that, he doesn’t really mean it. Or, at least, while he’d like that outcome, he’s reasonable enough to see it as a dream rather than a short-term goal around which to organize. That may well be. For that matter, as I argued yesterday, I don’t see the establishment of a new Caliphate as viable regardless of their intention.

Still, while Rooney, Henley, Yglesias, Bush, and I would all agree that we can do a better job of both explaining our actions to others and thinking through their big picture implications beforehand, that’s a very different thing than saying that we essentially had the 9/11 attacks coming because we were such busybodies.

Henley again:

Where I’d disagree with Rooney is just who “us” and “we” and “the nation” are that matter. It’s not me and Andy and James Joyner: it’s the people in power. It’s the US government.

Actually, it is Andy, Jim, and me–along with about 300 million other folks. While I often don’t agree with our elected representatives, even those for whom I voted, they operate, as the anti-war bumper sticker put it, in my name. Those four planes that hit five years and two days ago weren’t aimed at President Bush but at America.

FILED UNDER: Uncategorized, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Tano says:

    Why is that only Republicans get to blame America? Bush himself has made the claim that our previous policies of support for authoritarian regimes is one of the factors that has contriubted to our present circumstance, and should be changed. In this he seems to accept bin Laden’s point #5, as you list them in your post.

    Is this appeasment? Why is Bush not lambasted for this to the same extent as, say, Chomsky is, when he makes the same argument?

    Are we to be so cowered by the appeasement charge as to not consider that perhaps there is a valid point there? (Unless we are Republicans of course)

    And what about this “asserting the right to intervene anywhere, anytime we deem our interests to be served by so doing”. Is that a legitimate position for a nation to take, in light of our own values? We seem to have some history in terms of expressing ourselves on the question of whether the British Empire had the right to intervene in pursuit of its interests in its North American colonies.

    To what extent do soverign nations have the right (under our principles) to resist a superpower pursuing its interests in their lands?

  2. madmatt says:

    Maybe so many of them long to the US because we support political scum that are no better than criminals to run their home country. Any of the ‘stans fit this description, the saudi royal family, various african despots….if you are willing to oppress your people and let us drill for oil we will pay you well and help you repress your citizens.

  3. madmatt says:

    By the way…why exactly do we support israel in the first place…what exactly do we get out of the deal…this isn’t snark this is a real question…I have never met anybody who could explain why we give them several BILLION dollars a year…and why we provide welfare in a foreign country, but not in our own?

  4. Dave Schuler says:

    What I think that many Americans and virtually everybody who isn’t an American seems to be missing in the concern about our policies with respect to the Middle East is that they are consequences. We didn’t set out to have thousands of our troops and dozens of military bases in the Middle East. That wasn’t our first choice and it wasn’t our second choice.

    Our first choice was isolationism. When first the nationalization of the oil industry under Mossadegh in Iran and then the Suez Canal crisis made it obvious that we could not remain completely disengaged from the region and still protect our legitimate interests, we changed course.

    Our second choice was a policy created by the Eisenhower administration referred to as the “pillars of defense” policy. Under this policy we supported regional powers (Saudi Arabia and Iran) to enable them to maintain stability in the region. This policy is now referred to as “supporting repressive regimes”.

    In the 1970’s this policy received two severe shocks: first there was the oil embargo, strongly abetted by our presumed allies, the Saudis, and then there was the overthrow of the Shah in Iran and his replacement with the present Iranian regime. When, during the Iran-Iraq War, the Iranians began to interfere with shipping in the Gulf, it was obvious that the “pillars of defense” policy was dead.

    That’s when we began to maintain a presence in earnest in the region. Now we have hundreds of thousands of troops and dozens of military bases. This is now being called “occcupation of Muslim lands”.

    But the key factors are:

    1. We have legitimate interests in the region.
    2. We have a right to look after those interests.
    3. The area is unstable.
    4. The regional powers aren’t able or willing to maintain stability and are themselves causes of instability.

    I think we need to respect the regional powers’ legitimate interests in their own area considerably more than we do. But they need to respect our interests, too. And that ain’t happening.

  5. Dave Schuler says:

    madmatt, our support of Israel began after the 1967 war. Previous to that we weren’t their main supplier of arms (the French were). We support Israel because without our support Israel’s neighbors kept attacking Israel and Israel kept pinning their ears back and creating ever-larger buffers. Ensuring that Israel had the strength to fend off any conceivable attack was seen as introducing more stability in the region.

    Since conventional military means are obvious non-starter now they’ve got terrorism instead.

    All that having been said I think that it’s probably time we start reconsidering our aid.

  6. michael says:

    Our interest seems to be oppressing people to feed our engines while they slowly starve under an oppressive regime we support…and you wonder why the people hate us?
    Why don’t we give a couple billion dollars to some of these countries and buy some good will instead of funding dictators swiss bank accounts?

  7. madmatt says:

    Thanks Dave!

  8. Bandit says:

    ‘why we provide welfare in a foreign country, but not in our own? ‘

    There’s some real critical thinking there.

  9. Dave Schuler says:

    I suppose that’s one way to look at it, michael. But I see it as maintaining the supply of oil so that hospitals can keep operating in Zambia and trucks can move food around in Indonesia. Instability in the Midddle East will have much worse effects on poor countries than it will on us.

  10. Perhaps we should reappraise our rape and anti-lynch laws to see if those who are raped or lynched don’t deserve at least some of what they get. Surely it makes more sense to blame the victims than the rapist or lynch mob.

  11. Ray says:

    Why don’t we give a couple billion dollars to some of these countries and buy some good will instead of funding dictators swiss bank accounts?

    We have, in the form of economical and humanitarian aid including federal and charitable donations and low interest loans that have totaled tens of billions of dollars over the decades, and it hasn’t worked. Most of the money donated was used by the dictators to further their own goals and and not to help their repressed people.

  12. Tano says:


    How do you get from Mossadegh nationalizing Irans oil industry to us thereby having a right to intervene? By what rationale is it our “legitimate” right to decide that Iran’s oil industry must be in the private sector? Is that not a question for the Iranians to decide (it was a democracy then)?

    No doubt, as our economy is currently structured, we have a need for middle-eastern oil (if we are to avoid economic dislocations). But you seem to equate our need with a right to use force to maintain that supply on terms that are acceptable to us. Do other countries also have the right to assure access to their needs (as they define them) by use of force, if necessary?

    I don’t think we are hated just because we are big. It is because we are big and we go get what we need (and want), but do not recognize such a right for others. In fact we try to structure the “international community” in such as way that our own position is assured, and the positions of other nations are derivative.

    The promise that America seemed to give to the world after WWII was of a rule-bound level playing field. Respect for the legitimate rights (whatever that means) of all countries, and mechanisms of dispute resolution, bound by international law, for areas of conflict. But too often we make use of our own force to assure that the dispute is resolved in our favor, and the result is a sense of betrayal.

    In short, they love our ideals. And they love us to the extent that we abide by those ideals. But when we don’t, the bitterness is compounded by a sense of betrayal.

  13. Dave Schuler says:

    I don’t think I made that precise connection, Tano. What I was trying to say was that various different upheavals in the region including the 1948 Arab-Israeli War, the Mossadegh regime’s nationalization of the oil industry, and the Suez Crisis made it clear that we needed to look after our interests in the region and that it wasn’t going to happen by itself.

    I’ve posted pretty extensively about the Mossadegh regime. I recognize that I’m in the minority in rejecting the standard narrative and believing that in colluding in his overthrow we took the best of several unpalatable alternatives.

  14. boinkie says:

    Yup…it’s America’s fault…
    But then why has AlQuada targeted the Philippines since the late 1980’s?
    Or Hindus in India?
    Or Buddhists in Thailand?
    Or Christians in the Indo area of NewGuinea?
    Or Christians in Sulawesi?

  15. Ray says:

    In short, they love our ideals. And they love us to the extent that we abide by those ideals. But when we don’t, the bitterness is compounded by a sense of betrayal.

    Name any country, community, group, or person that ever based all their actions according to an ideal and has not, at times, be forced to act in opposition to that ideal. Ideals are guidelines for our actions but reality has a way to interfere with our ideals and influence our actions. The real world changes and we need to adapt to those changes. Sometime this means that ideals can not be fully realised and that our actions will seem to be in opposition to those ideals. Most people understand this.

  16. Tano says:


    Sorry but I havent run across your postings re. Mossadegh. I am sure it would be of interest. My opinion is that it was one of the most grevious errors of the post-war period. It gave lie (in the eyes of many) to our promise of being a different kind of superpower, it established the paradigm of US foreign involvement being readily explained by being “about the oil”, it represented the absurd position of America (the original anti-colonialist nation) replacing a democracy with a monarchy, and it established in Iran a repressive authoritarian regime that became, in the space of a generation, so hated by its people, that they were primed to embrace an utterly rejectionist opposition – the consequences of which we live with today.

    It also had the terrible consequence of inspiring the construction of absurdly long run-on sentences.

  17. Tano says:


    I understand that too.

    Its always a struggle, a fine line, between making necessary compromises of your ideals, given the nature of reality, and going too far into a corruption or abandonment of the ideals, in favor of pure self-interest.

    That is why the solution is eternal vigilance, and self-criticism. Applying constant pressure to keep ones eyes on the ideals. If you do that, I think most people will understand the balance you attempt to achieve. Deep anger comes with the perception that the corruption has set in.

  18. In my experience, it’s pretty much impossible to be too dismissive of Andy Rooney.

  19. jpe says:

    The thing I don’t care for is that one can say “you’re blaming America,” and no more, as if that ends the debate. Surely if we did something reprehensible, blame is in order. The response to a blamer is to explain why the blaming is wrong rather than simply pointing out the fact of blaming.

  20. Ray says:

    Deep anger comes with the perception that the corruption has set in.

    And that’s the biggest problem. Most people believe that perception trumps reality, especially in the middle east. Most people in the middle east are taught from birth that the USA and it’s allies are the source of all evil in the world. Nothing will change in the middle east until that perception changes. That change will not occur until the people of the middle east actually experience what our type of government allows as per individual achievements, as opposed to what their current governments are telling them. Until the governments in the middle east change and allow their people to see what reality is, as opposed to the propaganda as presented by their government, peace will no be possible.

    If those governments will not change on their own, and the evidence tells me that they won’t, then those governments must be forced to change or millions of people will continue to live in fear and intimidation and many will die without knowing what is possible for them and their descendants. Should we condemn so many to misery and death simply because the ideal is not to interfere?

    These governments will be resistance to a change in the balance of power within their own countries and will do anything to maintain their power including attacking anyone that opposes them. Witness the oppression that occurs in these countries. Why do you think it took an invasion in Iraq to force a change? Because dictators care more for their power than for any individual life. That makes them extremely dangerous to every one and not just those within their sphere of influence, as history has shown us time and time again.

    We, as human beings, should not allow tyrannical governments to exit both as a humanitarian concern and as a security concern as it is inevitable that a tyrannical government always uses fear and intimidation to increase their power and will attempt to spread that power and influence throughout the world at the cost of millions and millions of people’s lives. It much better to remove tyrants and dictators before they are allowed to gain that much power and acquire weapons, especially weapons of mass destruction, and attack us. If we wait until these governments directly attack us, as many have said about Iraq, then the human costs of war will be greatly increased and many more will perish than would occur if we act quicker.

    I’m only 45 years old, yet experience has taught me that sometime force is necessary to introduce change which will, in the long run, prove to be beneficial to everyone involved. It may be undesirable to fight a war as the cost of war is so great, but in a lot of circumstances there is no other choice. Let not wait until millions have perished before we act, for that is truly the worst choice.

  21. anjin-san says:


    I am curious about this statement:

    >Most people in the middle east are taught from birth that the USA and it’s allies are the source of all evil in the world.

    Where is this coming from?

    Have you lived in the middle east? Do you speak arabic or farsi? Do you have close friends in the middle east whom you speak to often?

  22. LJD says:

    So many false and idiotic liberal assuptions:

    Everybody hates us?
    The country is just too good for this awful, fallen world?
    meeting Al Qaeda’s demands?
    Bin Laden doesn’t really mean what he says?.
    Ahmadinejad probably doesn’t either, right?

    This is insanity. The posts here are a frightening testomonail to the fact that ‘you people’ still just don’t get it. You will understand nothing less than a painful, grisly death, which is likely where your world view is taking you.

    Unfortuinately, the following comment doesn;t help to clear the waters much:

    To some extent, that’s an inevitable fact of being The World’s Sole Remaining SuperpowerTM but it’s also a consequence of our asserting the right to intervene anywhere, anytime we deem our interests to be served by so doing.

    This is exactly the type of comment that makes the libs scream. Unfortunately for their politics, it just doesn’t happen as much as they would like to think.

    Of course, ANY country has the ‘right’ to intervene, anywhere, anytime. There are also consequences. Just because our motives are genuine does not mean there will not be negative consequences. But that wasn’t the point I wanted to make.

    The point is, everywhere we act, it is in support of a defunct U.N. The world body has actually agreed that we are correct, just not the means of dealing with the problem.

    It is not really productive to fan the flames for the likes of madmatt and Tano by saying we act unilaterally. Because we don’t.

  23. LaurenceB says:

    jpe hit it on the head. Scroll up and read his post.

  24. Ray says:


    I am curious about this statement:

    >Most people in the middle east are taught from birth that the USA and it’s allies are the source of all evil in the world.

    Where is this coming from?

    Listen for a moment to the statements of the leaders (both political and religious) in Iran and other countries when they state IN PUBLIC that America (and Israel) is evil. Listen to the leaders of Hamas and Hezbollah when they say the same. Witness the schools in Pakistan that teach militarism against America and it’s allies. Do a google search of Arabic web sites that state the same. All the information is out there, if your only willing to open your eyes and see it.

    The truth is, the main message to most of the middle east is that America and it’s form of government is evil. Even some our own citizens repeat that mantra over and over again. That’s the main point of this thread.

    I suggest that you try the following web site for further information, it provides English translations of Arabic speeches that you may find interesting.