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Policy considerations for limiting terrorism

by Ted Lewis, Global Exchange Wednesday, Oct. 10, 2001 at 2:30 PM

If we had a foreign policy program to truly end terrorism it might look a little different that what we are doing now. The US's political, military and economic policies have bred a seething resentment of the US around the world. It is imperative that Americans come to understand how the current policy will only exacerbate our vulnerability.

Ted Lewis, Global Exchange

October 8, 2001

The September 11 attacks made Americans painfully aware of our own

vulnerability. The recognition of how exposed we are to attacks has led to a

great amount of understandable fear. But recognizing our vulnerability is not a

bad thing. If we are to make the world safe from terrorism -- and safety and

security are clearly the most important challenges we face -- then we must

acknowledge and grapple with our weaknesses and susceptibilities.

For most of humanity, vulnerability is a way of life. Poverty, hunger, civil war

and ethnic strife force billions of people to live at the whims of forces beyond

their control. Before September 11 most Americans, buffered by privilege,

had never felt that sort of insecurity. But now we do. Suddenly we know the

frailty of our place in the world just like those billions of people for whom

frailty is all-too-familiar. The hope is that our newfound sense of vulnerability

will lead to a kind of international empathy and solidarity. Such empathy could

be the cornerstone of a new spirit of international cooperation -- a cooperation

that provides the only way to ensure global security.

Future terrorist attacks will only be eliminated when all the peoples of the

world work together to isolate suicidal fanatics. Unfortunately, current US

policies are an obstacle to collaboration. The US's political, military and

economic policies have bred a seething resentment of the US around the

world. That resentment presents a very real barrier to international

cooperation. It is important, then, that we take our just-discovered sense of

vulnerability and use it to reflect on who we are as a people and how we want

to relate to the rest of the world.

The widespread, and in some places very deep, bitterness toward the US has

arisen not because of our values, but because we have abandoned so many of

our values when it comes to our foreign policy. We are a country founded on

the ideal of justice, and yet our policy makers have resisted calls to establish

an international criminal court. We pledge ourselves to freedom, yet one

administration after another has supported brutal dictatorships around the

world. And even as we talk about opportunity and the "pursuit of happiness,"

our economic policies propagate sweatshops and our national leaders refuse

meaningful debt cancellation that would create the opportunities for other

countries to pursue happiness.

The status quo has created a vast distrust of the US. Until we embrace

policies that truly reflect our values, we won't be able to disarm that distrust.

If we want the world to work with us to isolate terrorism, then we will have to

work with the rest of the world. For too long parochial self-interest has driven

our national policies. Now more than ever we need foreign policies informed

by enlightened self-interest. The requisite for global security is global justice.

How can we win the lasting goodwill of the world's peoples? It may not be

easy, but a few immediate steps come to mind. First, we should commit

ourselves to working collaboratively with other countries. That would mean

ratifying treaties like the Convention on the Rights of the Child, the Kyoto

Protocol on global warming, and the international land mines agreement,

among others. Unconditional debt cancellation would be another way of

proving our commitment to real justice. Thousands of people in Africa are

dying of AIDS every day because their countries, which suffer under massive

debt burdens, can't afford the drugs or the medical services to treat them.

Canceling third world debt and showing that we care about such suffering

would win us many new friends. Finally, the US should promise not to support

any country, including allies such as Turkey and Israel, which violates

international human rights standards.

No country, not even one as powerful as the US, can go it alone in eliminating

terrorism. As September 11 showed, when it comes to the terror of suicide

attacks, we are all equally vulnerable, all equally human. Only by recognizing

that, and by working together, will we become safe.

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