Dr. Mark Finney
Assistant Professor of Mass Communication
On Monday night the Republican presidential field faced each other in the first, ever CNN/Tea Party debate. Most of the arguments were what you’d expect to hear. We got the talking points on Social Security from Governor Perry, the anti-tax tirade from Michelle Bachmann, etc.
One notable exception though happened when Libertarian cum Republican Congressman Ron Paul was asked a question about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Paul made a very sophisticated argument about the causes of terrorism (and by corollary, the potential for future terrorist acts) when he stated, “we’re there, occupying their land. And if we think that we can do that and not have retaliation, we’re kidding ourselves. We have to be honest with ourselves. What would we do if another country, say China, did to us what we do to all those countries over there?”
As a scholar of international conflict, who just presented a talk last week about the pro-war agenda of CNN’s coverage of the conflict with Iraq, it was refreshing to hear a candidate for president openly challenging the orthodoxy about the causes of the attack and engaging with it critically by discussing the idea that U.S. foreign policy may have negative effects in the world.
Predictably, Mr. Paul was immediately contradicted by another candidate, Rick Santorum, who thumped his chest (metaphorically), stating “we are not being attacked, and we were not attacked because of our actions. We were attacked… because we have a civilization that is antithetical to the civilization of the Jihadists. And they want to kill us because of who we are and what we stand for, and we stand for American exceptionalism, we stand for freedom and opportunity for everybody around the world.”
Things got a little ugly next, when Paul got booed for the following remark: “As long as this country follows that idea, we’re going to be under a lot of danger. This idea that the whole Muslim world is responsible for this and they’re attacking us because we’re free and prosperous, that is just not true. Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda have been explicit, and they wrote and said that ‘we attacked America because you had bases on our holy land in Saudi Arabia, you do not give Palestinians a fair treatment, and you have been bombing…at the same time you have been bombing and killing hundreds of thousands of Iraqis for ten years…’”
Santorum’s theory (and that of the booers in the audience) is akin to burying one’s head in the sand. Santorum’s argument exemplifies American exceptionalism and demonstrates why it is a problem.
If we really hope to have a positive role in the world, if we hope to avert future terrorist attacks, we need to have a more honest appraisal of our role in the world and the consequences of our actions than many of our leaders seem willing to do. We cannot expect to act in the world without consequences. In this case, on Paul got it right.