One year ago today, the misery in which certain parts of the world live was brought to America's doorstep, and the world will never be the same again.
Israel, Spain, Greece, and the United Kingdom, among other nations, have been struggling to contain terrorist activity within their borders for decades. The despicable idea of killing innocent civilians for a 'cause' is, sadly, neither new nor unique to 9-11. The United States, though, had only dealt with a small number of cases (and most on a much smaller scale) before last year.
What so many still fail to realize is that the covert and overt actions of American governments, and to a lesser extent of the former imperial powers, have contributed much to the situation in which we find ourselves. The West has fed the view that it looks down upon non-Westerners and only deals with them when absolutely necessary and only at a distinct advantage to itself. And the U.S.' relationships with some of those nations has flip-flopped. Is George W. Bush unaware that, during the Reagan administration (of which his father was a part), American arms were knowingly sold to Iran, a nation considered even more hostile to us then? Is he not aware that, during that same time period, Saddam Hussein was something of a hero to our government for fighting Iran and preventing the spread of the Islamic Revolution? While we were selling conventional weapons to the Iranians, we were selling the Iraqis some of the same biochemical weapons they're now accused of possessing or trying to possess, and providing them intelligence besides. At this point, I wouldn't be surprised if it is learned that the United States sold North Korea, the other leg of Dubya's "axis of evil," some of its missile technology, too.
If America hadn't embraced the Iranian shah, who was getting rich from oil sales but didn't share that wealth with his people when they needed it, the Revolution might never have happened, or at least it might not have been so openly hostile. If America hadn't encouraged Saddam Hussein to wage war against Iran and turned a blind eye while banned weapons were used (by both sides), maybe he wouldn't have been emboldened to invade Kuwait in the first place, and he probably would never have started stockpiling weapons. If America hadn't shown such strong support of undemocratic and despotic monarchies such as Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, Osama bin Laden's hatred of them might never have morphed into hatred for us. If America hadn't armed the Afghans (and the mujahideen like bin Laden who came to their aid) against the Soviet invasion and then abandoned them after the occupation ended, the country might not have been quite the heap of rubble it is today, and the Taliban might never have come to power.
And these are just the situations that have come back to haunt us recently. Of course, these things happened in the past, and there's no use in crying over spilt blood. And of course they don't justify or excuse attacks on civilians, any more than Israel's reprehensible policies towards the Palestinians justify or excuse suicide bombings. But we owe it to ourselves and to the rest of the world to ensure that we as a nation deal fairly with all other nations and peoples henceforth. Let this day be, in addition to a memorial to the innocent dead from many nations, a chance to reaffirm that life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness are the inalienable rights of all humans, and all should be allowed the opportunity to live their lives and govern themselves without undue outside influence. No, Saddam shouldn't be allowed to gas Kurds, or Milosevic to round up and shoot Albanians, or Putin to orphan Chechens, but the United States was never elected the supreme judge, jury, and executioner for the rest of the world. It's up to the world to determine what's best for the world; that's the point of having a United Nations. Which is not to say that the UN is infallible, but it stands a much better chance of being impartial and fair than any one nation, whether that nation is China or Brazil or Switzerland or the U.S.
It's been stated plainly that America has the strength to do whatever it wants, and it is true that we could attack Iraq single-handedly and defeat it. That would cost us numerous American lives, however, and doubtless convince the European Union, Russia, and others that they need to build viable military forces to prevent the United States from imposing its will on anyone, anytime. Arab sentiment would be pretty unanimously galvanized against the U.S. as well, and it's entirely possible that some extremist groups, if not some extremist governments, would in fact declare war, conventional or terrorist, upon America. And, looking at the big picture, how can we afford to alienate the rest of the world?
The days of empire are over. For one nation, one government, or one man to dictate terms to a people halfway around the globe is unacceptable and undemocratic. For the world to do so with one voice is a different story. It's time we raised the standards for everyone and insisted on fair deals from now on. We've seen how some can react when they feel they've been swindled...