Ron Paul: American Foreign Policy Is The Primary Motivation For Terrorism

Ron Paul is again making the argument that American foreign policy has contributed to terrorism. He's more right than wrong.

During a campaign appearance Sunday in Iowa, Ron Paul returned to a theme that earned him attention, and no small degree of scorn, during the 2008 campaign when he made the assertion that American policy in the Middle East was in at least some sense responsible for stirring up the passions that terrorists have exploited:

Two weeks away from the tenth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, presidential candidate and Texas Rep. Ron Paul says that U.S. intervention in the Middle East is a main motivation behind terrorist hostilities toward America, and that Islam is not a threat to the nation.

At a campaign stop on Saturday in Winterset, one man asked Paul how terrorist groups would react if the U.S. removed its military presence in Middle Eastern nations, a move the candidate advocates.

“Which enemy are you worried that will attack our national security?” Paul asked.

“If you’re looking for specifics, I’m talking about Islam. Radical Islam,” the man answered.

“I don’t see Islam as our enemy,” Paul said. “I see that motivation is occupation and those who hate us and would like to kill us, they are motivated by our invasion of their land, the support of their dictators that they hate.”

Regarding 9/11, Paul said that attacks against the U.S. from Middle Eastern groups at home and abroad can be traced to the foreign presence of U.S. troops, as well as America’s relationships with dictator regimes.

Paul referred to a military base in Saudi Arabia, the birthplace of Islam, as a key motivator in the Sept. 11th attacks. Osama bin Laden viewed it as an American desecration of holy land.

“After 9/11, (people said) ‘Oh yeah, it’s those very bad people who hate us,’ but 15 of (the hijackers) came from Saudi Arabia,” said Paul. “One of the reasons they attacked us, is we propped up this Sharia government and the fundamentalists hated us for it.”

This isn’t a new area for Paul to trod upon. In fact, it was the catalyst for a rather memorable exchange between him and Rudy Giuliani during a debate in South Carolina in May 2007:

On Iraq, Rep. Ron Paul of Texas, the Libertarian candidate for president in 1988, stood alone in railing against the decision to go to war, comparing it to a quagmire he said engulfed U.S. troops in Vietnam a generation ago. “We don’t go to war like we did in Vietnam and Korea, because the wars never end,” he said.

When Paul later suggested that terrorists attacked on Sept. 11, 2001, because of what he described as America’s 10-year campaign of bombing in Iraq, an angry Giuliani demanded that he retract the statement.

“I don’t think I’ve ever heard that before, and I’ve heard some pretty absurd explanations for September 11,” Giuliani said.

Paul refused to give in, saying that terrorists react to the United States’ actions in the world. “If we ignore that, we ignore that at our risk,” Paul said.

Here’s video of that exchange from nearly three years ago:

As Jesse Walker noted at the time, Giuliani’s comment that he’d never heard the blowback argument before is either an indication that he knows little about foreign policy, or that he just doesn’t pay attention to it. In either case, whether you agree with it or not, the fact remains that the presence of American troops in the Middle East, and specifically in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia was cited by Osama bin Laden as one of the grievances against the United States. And it’s also true that America’s history of intervention in the Middle East — whether in Iran, Lebanon, Iraq, or the Israeli-Palestinian conflict — has, more often than not, been fraught with mis-steps that have led to the loss of American lives.

And Andrew Sullivan made the point that Giuliani openly lied about what Paul said:

Giuliani, interestingly, openly lied about Ron Paul’s position on 9/11. Paul specifically did not make a statement, as Giuliani immediately claimed, that the U.S. invited 9/11. I rewound to double-check. It was the Fox questioner who ratcheted up the stakes on that question, not Paul. Paul demurred on a specific answer and switched the question to the general issue of blowback. As to who’s right, the answer is both. Bin Laden – still at large and operating within the territory of Pakistan, an alleged ally which Cheney recently visited – both justified the 9/11 attack on those grounds but has a theology that doesn’t require such a casus belli. But now he doesn’t even need the theology. We have, alas, made more terrorists by our bungling in Iraq than Bin Laden could have dreamed of just six years ago.

That, I think, is the point that Congressman Paul, somewhat inarticulately, was making, both last night and during his campaign appearance in Iowa this week. American intervention and adventurism in the Middle East, which has been marked mostly by a history of bungling and backing the wrong guy 9 times out of 10, has helped the al Qaeda’s of the world recruit from among the Arab masses. Add to that the fact that we are perceived, whether incorrectly or not, as being biased on the one issue that unites the Arab world, the Israeli-Palestinian crisis, and you’ve got the makings for resentment.

Moreover, as James Joyner noted when he wrote about that May 2007 exchange here at OTB, al-Qaeda has cited American policy has one of its grievances against the United States:

Al Qaeda has listed its grievances against us many times. This list, compiled from their 1998 declaration of jihad, is a good summary of their demands:

  • 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.

(…)

The reason the United States rather than Denmark or Holland or Canada was at the center of the jihadist threat was our foreign policy. We’re the number one supporter of Israel on the international scene, often standing alone among major powers in that regard. We sell modern military equipment to Arab dictators that the jihadis view as apostate. We do everything in our power to keep oil prices down. Our footprint in the Middle East is huge and our policy objectives are diametrically opposed to those of the Islamist fanatics.

None of this means to insinuate that 9/11 was our fault, clearly it was not. Nor is it a call to completely disengage from the Middle East, to do that at this point would be to invite chaos. To the extent that he’s saying this, Congressman Paul is both wrong and incredibly naive in his estimation of how the Muslim world would react to American disengagement from the Middle east. However, it strikes me that it’s important to understand why people are attacking you, even if it’s clear that their perceptions are incorrect (point #4 above, for example. is completely false). It’s certainly a more useful way of looking at the issue that the simplistic view of those who assert that groups like al Qaeda simply “hate us for our freedom.” Certainly, the more libertine culture of western nations in anathema to people such as these, and its cited in their propaganda, but they haven’t spent the past decade or so blowing things up because people can buy Playboy and watch soft-core porn on Cinemax. There’s something more going on, and it’s worth understanding what something that is.

Would al Qaeda still exist if we had acted differently ? Probably, people like that don’t need a justification for their murderous philosophy. But, because we’ve handed them one on a silver platter (and also because we’ve backed and propped up governments that have paid little respect to individual rights), it’s made it much easier for them to recruit followers from the Arab street.

FILED UNDER: Campaign 2012, National Security, Terrorism, US Politics, , ,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010. Before joining OTB, he wrote at Below The BeltwayThe Liberty Papers, and United Liberty Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. ponce says:

    Would al Qaeda still exist if we had acted differently ?

    T.A. Lawrence said outbreaks of radical Islam have been happening about once every century in the Middle East.

  2. Ben Wolf says:

    @ponce: T.E. Lawrence is hardly the right source for understanding of the Arab world. Our meddlesome behavior in the Middle East and wholesale slaughter of innocents in the effort to kill our enemies add fuel to to what was once only a pile of embers: the more violence we initiate, the more terrorists we create.

    Paul is speaking wisdom which has effectively ceased to exist in American foreign policy.

  3. Dave Schuler says:

    That, I think, is the point that Congressman Paul, somewhat inarticulately, was making, both last night and during his campaign appearance in Iowa this week. American intervention and adventurism in the Middle East, which has been marked mostly by a history of bungling and backing the wrong guy 9 times out of 10, has helped the al Qaeda’s of the world recruit from among the Arab masses. Add to that the fact that we are perceived, whether incorrectly or not, as being biased on the one issue that unites the Arab world, the Israeli-Palestinian crisis, and you’ve got the makings for resentment.

    How would one go about quantifying the degree to which our foreign policy has resulted in increased terrorism against American and American interests? I really don’t know the answer.

    IMO that our policies have been a factor is unquestionable. However, I’m not sure that had we taken the opposite position or just a different position that the outcome would have been a great deal different. Let me give two examples.

    The popular view is that we overthrew the Mossadegh government in Iran nearly sixty years ago. I think a more accurate characterization is that we meddled in internal Iranian affairs, the Mossadegh government had lost the confidence of most of its supports, particularly the Tudeh, Mossadegh was overthrown by a putsch, and we supported the government that came about as a result. Had we not meddled would resentment been any less? Our involvement was actually pretty minor, Kermit Roosevelt’s claims notwithstanding. Britain’s involvement was actually much more substantial. What would have happened if we had not supported the Shah? Would a Soviet-dominated Iran been better for us or for Iran? Resulted in fewer resentments? That, after all, was clearly the Soviet Union’s objective and they came darned close to realizing it.

    Prior to the 1967 War, we were not Israel’s major patron. Indeed, at that point Israel got most of its weapons from France. Had we not supported Israel would the Middle East been more or less stable? The Mitrokhin archives confirm that the Soviets were meddling very actively in the governments of most Middle Eastern states, building support against us. Is our support for Israel the core reason for the antipathy we’ve experienced or is it just a pretext? I honestly don’t know and, in particular, I don’t know if a Middle East that had experienced several more major shooting wars between Israelis and Arabs would have been better off than the Middle East of today.

  4. ponce says:

    T.E. Lawrence is hardly the right source for understanding of the Arab world.

    Here’s his exact quote from Seven Pillars of Wisdom

    The Wahabis, followers on a fanatical Moslem heresy, had imposed their strict rules on easy and civilized Kasim. In Kasim there was but little coffee-hospitality, much prayer and fasting, no tobacco, no artistic dalliance with women, no silk clothes, no gold and silver head-ropes or ornaments. Everything was forcibly pious or forcibly puritanical.

    It was a natural phenomenon, this periodic rise at intervals of little more than a century, of ascetic creeds in Central Arabia. Always the votaries found their neighbors’ beliefs cluttered with inessential things, which became impious in the hot imagination of their preachers. Again and again they had arisen, had taken possession, soul and body, of the tribes, and had dashed themselves to pieces on the urban Semites, merchants and concupiscent men of the world. About their comfortable possessions the new creeds ebbed and flowed like the tides or the changing seasons, each movement with the seeds of early death in its excess of rightness.

  5. Ron Beasley says:

    For once Paul gets it right. Osama himself said the reason for 911 was there were infidel US troops on Saudi soil – the Islamic holy land.

  6. Part of the problem here is a weakness in the english language, as our words for talking about causality tend to contain a connotation of moral culpability. This make it hard to distinguish between the argument ‘If we do A, B is likely to result, and since B is bad, we should avoid doing A’ and the argument ‘if we do A, we deserve to have B happen to us’.

  7. @Dave Schuler:

    Would a Soviet-dominated Iran been better for us or for Iran? Resulted in fewer resentments?

    We allowed Eastern Europe to be dominated by the Soviets, while we meddled all over the Middle East to prevent it.

    Which of the two resents us more?

  8. PD Shaw says:

    Reason 705 that Ron Paul is not a serious candidate, let alone a serious person. He’s Newt Gingrich with rabid followers, looking for attention.

  9. PD Shaw says:

    BTW/ My father-in-law was stationed in Saudi Arabia in the 50s. Bin Laden’s stated motivations have to be read in light of his ultimate goal of recreating a repressive, fundamentalist Caliphate,* something he saw the U.S. not permitting unless they became disgusted enough to write off the region.

    * More repressive and fundamentalist than existing.

  10. Ben Wolf says:

    @ponce: The quote illustrates the problem with Lawrence. There’s absolutely no objective reason to believe historical events happen on a schedule. His assertion they do specifically for the Arab world is akin to suggesting the brown people just can’t help themselves. It’s reminiscent of Kissinger’s racist screed insisting the killing fields of Cambodia are the result of something inherent in the Cambodian psyche: unable to understand why these things happen, both men throw up their hands up and say, “Oh, you know how those people are.

  11. WR says:

    @PD Shaw: I agree he’s a fringe candidate — too bad it’s the only sensible thing he’s ever said that renders him one.

  12. ponce says:

    The quote illustrates the problem with Lawrence.

    Ben,

    I think Lawrence was saying:

    1. Outbreaks of radical Islam happen regularly in the Middle East
    2. They end when the people of the Middle East get sick of the radicals

    I don’t see any racism or “those people”ism in his statement.

    Could any American thinker explain why the Republican Party has been taken over by morons without sounding condescending to Southerners?

  13. Jay Tea says:

    I see Doug is cycling through his arsenal of “let’s burnish my Republican, conservative credentials by singling out and trashing Republicans” tactics.

    As I said on his previous Paul thread (if Doug can recycle, so can I), Paul has several very good ideas. Sadly, they’re buried under 3.5 metric assloads of crazy ideas. And his followers break down in roughly the same percentage.

    This is why Paul has never been entrusted with any position of authority within the Republican party.

    Meanwhile, the Democrats seem to single out and reward their corrupt ones and incompetent ones and crazies with positions of authority. Tim Geithner, Charlie Rangel, Nancy Pelosi, Barney Frank, Chris Dodd, etc. etc. etc.

    J.

  14. @Jay Tea:

    In what ways are Ron Paul’s ideas 3.5 metric assloads more crazy than Michele Bachman’s?

  15. Terrye says:

    No, he is not more right than wrong. Ron Paul is a lunatic. There is not a hair brained conspiracy theory out there that he has not latched onto.

    The idea that if we just let those poor people alone, they would not feel the need to kill us is not only crap, it is simplistic crap.

    Time and again I have heard this silly man yammer on about the 1953 coup in Iran…he says that is why they hate us, poor babies. That was more than a half century ago..It was the cold war. Since then the Iranians have taken our embassy, killed our people, mined the Persian Gulf, aided in terrorism all over the world and still we hear about 1953. I mean come on..that was back when the communists were killing tens of millions in China. The Soviets were threatening Europe and yet, it is okay for Iran to hate us and just about everyone else forever because of something that happened in 1953. Stupid.

    As for AlQaida, who don’t they hate? It is not as if we are their only target. They have killed people in Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Algeria, Spain, Indonesia, Mumbai, the Philippines, Russia, Nigeria, Somalia, just to mention a few. In fact, they were killing people before Iraq and before we went to Afghanistan. Ron Paul’s isolationist philosophy reminds me of the American Firsters who were so sure that Hitler was not a bad guy…no it was just the Jews.

    I know that some people think that if we just build a big wall around the United States and shut down all our bases and ignore the world..well everything will be all right. But it won’t.

  16. Jay Tea says:

    @Stormy Dragon: Paul’s had decades of experience. I met him when he ran in 1988, and even then he was nuts.

    Apart from that… Doug’s the soi-disant expert on kicking around Republicans. I wouldn’t want to step on his toes.

    How would you compare Paul with, say, Kucinich? Or Maxine Waters? Or Sheila Jackson-Lee?

    J.

  17. Jay Tea says:

    @Terrye: Hear, hear.

    J.

  18. michael reynolds says:

    Dave Schuler has it right: it’s a silly game to play, “what if,” especially in the nuthouse of the middle east.

    The reason terrorists single out the US is not solely because they have a beef over policy (of course there’s some of that) or our various involvements, it’s because we’re the only game in town. We are the status quo power.

    American foreign policy, boiled down to its basics is: Everyone calm down, don’t start shooting, let’s just do some business. There are off-shoots that don’t fit that scheme, such as our close relationship with Israel, but basically we’re in the business of stability. Stability is good when you’re a rich superpower.

    So we are automatically on the sh-t list of anyone who wants radical change, and they are automatically on ours. Why don’t we have problems with Europe, China, India? Because, like us, they just want to do some business. Why do we get along with Saudi Arabia? Because they, too, just want to do some business.

    It’s a big global money-making machine and we are the Chairman of the Board. (For now.)

    Obviously that’s an oversimplification and exceptions occur. But basically if you’re a potentate who wants to do business, and you can manage not to appall the conscience of the American voter with your particular brand of tyranny, we’re okay with you. If you don’t want to do business, and actually want to obstruct business — let’s say, by overthrowing the Saudi monarchy and replacing it with some even-more-medieval caliphate — well then, we have an issue with that.

    That’s not because we’re the bad guys, but because we’re the status quo guys. Rich, happy, powerful countries generally enjoy the status quo of being rich, happy and powerful. Poor, miserable and weak people do not enjoy the status quo. Which by the way explains why we are also pro-democracy and favor human rights when possible: because we think if countries would get their heads out of their asses they, too, could be rich and happy like us, if not powerful, and then we’d have an even more stable status quo.

  19. Tsar Nicholas II says:

    Ron Paul??

  20. An Interested Party says:

    Meanwhile, the Democrats seem to single out and reward their corrupt ones and incompetent ones and crazies with positions of authority. Tim Geithner, Charlie Rangel, Nancy Pelosi, Barney Frank, Chris Dodd, etc. etc. etc.

    *COUGH* Tom Delay, Newt Gingrich, Jim Inhofe, Michelle Bachmann, Eric Cantor, David Vitter *COUGH*

    Time and again I have heard this silly man yammer on about the 1953 coup in Iran…he says that is why they hate us, poor babies. That was more than a half century ago..It was the cold war.

    And yet those actions in 1953 led to the Shah taking power and instituting a repressive regime that gave birth to the mullahs who have done all those nasty things since they came to power…funny how something like this is ancient history but we still talk about events dealing with the founding fathers or the Civil War like they happened yesterday…

  21. Ben Wolf says:

    And yet those actions in 1953 led to the Shah taking power and instituting a repressive regime that gave birth to the mullahs who have done all those nasty things since they came to power…funny how something like this is ancient history but we still talk about events dealing with the founding fathers or the Civil War like they happened yesterday…

    You don’t seem to understand that when we inflict harm on another people they should just get over it. Holding a grudge against the United States for more than five minutes, even when we overthrow your government and install a dictator who tortures and murders you for twenty years, well that’s just immature. And when we continue to threaten to bomb you for thirty years, attack you with computer worms, shoot down your airliners, provide intelligence and material aid to Saddam Hussein when he’s using chemical weapons against you and sink your navy because Saddam told us you would be bad; hey, you deserve it.

    I mean, so what if tens of thousands of you Iranians are dead directly because of American actions. So what if hundreds of thousands are injured. You guys had it coming, and we want an apology for your refusal to remain a puppet state.

  22. PD Shaw says:

    And yet those actions in 1953 led to the Shah taking power . . .

    And yet, they didn’t. The Shah was already in power in 1953 and had the Constitutional authority to remove the Prime Minister. And the claims that the U.S. was instrumental when there were a million factors in play involve a conscience effort to ignore the details.

    Sometimes its not about U.S.

  23. ponce says:

    Sometimes its not about U.S.

    Um, the C.I.A. already admitted to overthrowing the Iranian government…

  24. Ben Wolf says:

    And yet, they didn’t. The Shah was already in power in 1953 and had the Constitutional authority to remove the Prime Minister. And the claims that the U.S. was instrumental when there were a million factors in play involve a conscience effort to ignore the details.

    Sometimes its not about U.S.

    The Shah was a constitutional monarch, so yes, the coup brought him to power by making him a dictator. Oh, and the U.S. systematically bribed government officials, military officers and street thugs to carry it out and also selected Mossadegh’s replacement before the man was even out of office. The incident was a CIA staged and managed op, with the assistance of the British. I suggest reading Daniel Yergin’s account recorded in The Prize.

    Sometimes, it is about the United States.

  25. Ron Beasley says:

    @PD Shaw: Yes the Shah was the head of a constitutional monarchy in 1953 but the CIA was involved in the over through of the Democratically elected PM because he was threatening to nationalize the countries oil. It was also the CIA that set up the Shah’s secret police that helped to make him so hated. It’s not so much foreign policy but blow back from CIA operations that are responsible for terrorism and US wars.

  26. Jay Tea says:

    @michael reynolds: michael, I almost said that that was the closest thing to reasonable I’ve ever seen you write.

    Then I had to take it back. It was the most reasonable thing I’ve ever seen you write, and I was letting our past disagreements color my words. And it has a hell of a lot of truth in it. It’s a bit cynical for my taste, but that’s only the style — the substance is fairly dead on. I would add in a bit of altruistic pragmatism — we try to make things better when we believe we have a reasonable chance of succeeding — but you expressed it pretty accurately.

    I just might have to save that, perhaps quote it and build a posting of my own off it. Thank you.

    J.

  27. Tom says:

    I can’t believe anyone is unaware of why people in the middle east hate us. Are some of you serious? I think anyone of us can look at the history of US involvement over there and find actions that are immoral and outrageous; if someone did them to us we would be seriously pissed.

    Go read some of scott atrans work to start.