When America goes to war, Americans ask a historical question: How did we get ourselves into this? Doves usually answer: imperialism. If we didn't do such nasty things around the world, we wouldn't be attacked. But as I tried to show last week, the connection between our misdeeds and their attacks can be rather tenuous. And so more sophisticated doves offer a more sophisticated answer: "blowback." Our foreign policy doesn't just create enemies in a general sense, it creates them in a very specific sense: We fund and train the people who later attack us.
Two weeks after George W. Bush's declaration of war against terrorism, a battle plan is taking shape. We are putting the screws to Pakistan to end its history of mentoring terrorists. We will now treat Afghanistan like the rogue state that it is. The Treasury Department will try to choke off Osama bin Laden's financing. Intelligence agencies, at long last, will share information with one another. And if the Bush administration has its way, the CIA will revert to its pre-1995 guidelines, which allowed operatives to recruit informants with sketchy human rights records. All sensible moves.
What do Osama bin Laden, Saddam Hussein, and Susan Sontag have in common? All acknowledge a truth that most Americans would rather not: that what took place last week was, as Sontag put it, "[not an] attack on 'civilization' or 'liberty' or 'humanity' or 'the free world' but an attack on the world's self-proclaimed superpower, undertaken as a consequence of specific American alliances and actions." That those actions should be a source of pride and not a cause for selfflagellation is beside the point. Terrorist grievances aren't with America. They're with America's global power.
Beyond Belief: Islamic Excursions Among the Converted Peoples By V.S. Naipaul (Random House, 408 pp. $27.95) Some years ago, in Finding the Centre, V.S. Naipaul wrote of the impulse that sent him on the road to remote places.
He looked like an old man—perhaps seventy, although we had learned during our journey that age comes quickly in Afghanistan. He squatted across the room from us, holding a rifle that had seen other wars. We had traveled ten thousand miles to find out about the war in Afghanistan and the people who fought it. But the old man, learning we were Americans, decided that our own country was to be the subject of discussion. "Why do Americans claim they are friends of the Afghan nation?" he demanded through our translator.