How Could Forgiveness Play a Role in Foreign Policy? Does There Need to Be a Congruent Worldview?
The question posed itself acutely on September 11, 2001. People in the United States had experienced the outrage of terrorist attacks on sites of important symbolic value, deaths by the thousands, assault on national honor, ruthless brutality. How were we to respond?
Government clearly had a duty to protect its citizens. Such things could not be allowed. There was not much more could be done to the nineteen individuals who had thrown away their own lives to carry them out. But who had enabled or supported them? Their costs were small. The hijackers had needed only airplane tickets and box cutters to turn the instruments and technology of the powerful against them. Those who had responsibility, though, for providing the minimal expense or for moral and ideological support had to be held accountable, in proportion to their responsibility.
Yet there was a third element besides the perpetrators and their backers. Americans faced a sea of anger, not only from within the Arab or Muslim world but from the countless deprived and dispossessed masses throughout the two-thirds world. Although many nations responded to the attacks with condolences to the United States and condemnation of the attacks, there was no doubt that the attacks indicated that Americans already faced that anger on many accounts. This was a novel situation for us. The United States had been viewed for most of our history, when we deserved it and when we did not, as the great beacon of hope for the world, of justice, of liberty. Now this was not so. We were seen instead as the monopolists of the world’s good, as exploiters, coercive in our dealings with weaker countries, manipulators of their interests in favor of our own. If we did not address the grievances of those who saw themselves as oppressed we would be unfaithful to our own highest principles.
I expressed this on the very night of 9/11, sitting on a television panel discussing the traumas of the day. Another member of the panel, a professor, responded: “If anyone feels that way about us, we must make them fear us!” Without much thought I retorted: “I believe those 19 blokes were trying to do that to us today. Do you care to join them?”
This of course did not please the man who had so suddenly become my adversary. He replied: “For all these years they have told us we should respond to these things by diplomatic means, and look where it got us!” My return: “Our diplomacy must not have been very good.”
Our national response was in fact an effort to make them - all those of whom we asked: “Why do they hate us?” - to make them fear us. Over the years since, it has cost us many more deaths, vast wealth and indebtedness, tremendous limitations of our freedoms, loss of respect even from our allies and the confirmed enmity of much of the deprived world. Many people had hoped that the new Administration might definitively change that, but the world has been much disappointed by us even since.