Why Do the Terrorists Hate Us?

Speaking before a Joint Session of Congress nine days the 9/11 attacks, President Bush asked, “Why do they hate us?” and answered that “They hate our freedoms – our freedom of religion, our freedom of speech, our freedom to vote and assemble and disagree with each other.” If that were true, our only option for reducing the terrorists’ motivation would be to curtail the freedoms we hold so dear – and, ironically, which have been wounded by the war on terror. Fortunately, there are better options.

The article that led me to write this post was written by Colonel Timothy J. Geraghty, the commander of the Marines who were attacked in the Beirut terrorist bombing of October 1983. While Colonel Geraghty’s article mostly approved of American military operations, there was an important exception:

It is noteworthy that the United States provided direct naval gunfire support—which I strongly opposed for a week – to the Lebanese Army at a mountain village called Suq-al-Garb on 19 September and that the French conducted an air strike on 23 September in the Bekaa Valley. American support removed any lingering doubts of our neutrality, and I stated to my staff at the time that we were going to pay in blood for this decision.

While, of course, Colonel Geraghty does not believe that his troops deserved to die, he recognizes that we could have taken a different approach that would have reduced the risk to their lives. Elsewhere in the article, Geraghty states that Iran played a major role in supporting those terrorists, but his only mention of possible Iranian motivation states:

Looking back today, it is easier to comprehend why Iran moved a contingent of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps into the Syrian-controlled Bekaa Valley during the height of the Iraq-Iran War in 1982-83. Following the 1982 Israeli invasion, and with Syrian complicity, Iran established a base of operations to carry out its strategic goals.

This overlooks additional Iranian motivation in that the US was providing military support to Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein in his war against Iran – a war that Saddam started and in which he used chemical weapons.

Returning to President Bush’s question, there is strong evidence that the 9/11 terrorists were responding more to Muslim deaths caused by American actions than to a philosophical hatred of our way of life. If that is true, our continued operations in Afghanistan and Iraq play a negative as well as a positive role in reducing the terrorist threat to our homeland. It would be wise for us to bring that tradeoff into clearer focus instead of pretending that continued fighting in those theaters only increases homeland security.

These issues relate to Defusing the Nuclear Threat because unrest in any part of the world adds to the risk that a crisis will arise and go nuclear. Iran and Pakistan are particularly dangerous, so unrest in their neighbors – which include Iraq and Afghanistan – is especially dangerous.

Martin Hellman

About Nuclear Risk

I am a professor at Stanford University, best known for my invention of public key cryptography -- the technology that protects your credit card. But, for almost 30 years, my primary interest has been how fallible human beings can survive possessing nuclear weapons, where even one mistake could be catastrophic.
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