Earlier this month, while discussing his country’s nuclear deal with the U.S., Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamanei raised eyebrows with a series of tweets calling the U.S. the “Great Satan,” and claiming that Israel would cease to exist within the next 25 years. While this bombastic, fear-mongering type of speech should not be validated, it does provide our country yet another chance to own up for it’s actions, because although Khamanei’s speech may be over-the-top, he does have a point when it comes to our foreign policy.
According to the FBI, “international terrorism” is loosely defined in the U.S. Security Code as “any activity that involves violent acts that are intended to intimidate or coerce a civilian population or influence the policy of a government by intimidation or coercion that occur outside the territorial jurisdiction of the U.S. or transcend national boundaries in term of the means of how they are accomplished or the people they appear intended to intimidate or coerce.” Though this does not justify petty labels like the “Great Satan,” it is true that under this United States definition, the biggest practitioner of international terrorism in the world is the United States government.
With a country that enjoys great wealth and power like ours, it is easy to get caught up in the throes of nationalism and assume that every military action taken by Congress and the Pentagon is indeed for the defense of our country, but an objective view of our country’s military use over the past several decades, specifically in the Middle East, paints a picture quite the opposite and requires validation. These are people we have severely harmed, and the first step to atoning for our wrongdoings is admitting to them.
In terms of national defense, the U.S. has been engaged in military conflicts seemingly endlessly since World War II — but when was the last time we faced attack on our own soil (i.e. the last time we defended our country)? Aside from Pearl Harbor, the U.S. has not actually had to defend itself from attack from another country since 1918, when a border dispute with Mexico led to the Battle of Ambos Nogales.
Since that skirmish and our involvement in World War II, none of our military action has been to defend encroachment on our home soil, and most of it, including our dealings with Middle Eastern regions, can be defined as terrorism. Some people may believe that national defense applies to our invasion of regions like Iraq and Afghanistan, but going back to the U.S. Security Code, international terrorism also includes violent acts intended to affect the conduct of a government by mass destruction, assassination or kidnapping. Whether a ruling body like Sadam Hussein’s was unjust to its people does not exempt its obliteration from this definition.
Furthermore, this justification for our involvement in these areas also ignores the fact that we have driven and funded many of the conflicts, as most of the terror groups fought by our forces have been creations of our own government. The Taliban was created by the U.S. and Pakistan in 1979 to counter Soviet forces in Afghanistan during the ridiculous Cold War, much like Al Qaeda, which was created and funded by the CIA in the 1980s. Current evidence linking the U.S. to the creation of ISIS is questionable, but can you blame the Iranian government for thinking we did? ISIS has still managed to obtain American weapons, but they will have to continue fighting for several years to have any hope of matching the sheer amount of death and displacement carved through the region by American-led forces. Even our initial invasion of Iraq alone accounted for over 3.5 million of its people becoming refugees.
The American government and media have and will continue to commonly justify these atrocities by arguing that the violence is meant to counter terrorist activity by jihadis that hunt American targets, but this explanation would not be legitimate even if it were true. Studies show that domestically, attacks on Americans are more than twice as likely to come from white supremacists and extremists than jihadi groups, yet we have seen no such effort to counter those groups here at home as we have to counter jihadis abroad. Even if officials in Washington were organizing this mass violence in the Middle East to counter terrorism, it still does not justify their actions in the name of our country, because they themselves are engaging in mass, global terrorism to achieve their goals. No matter their intent, be it in the interest of spreading democracy, freedom or, far more likely, the American influence over trade, the fact that lawmakers in Washington are orchestrating violent coercion and intimidation as a means to further their agenda on foreign populations makes them, by our own definitions, the biggest propagators of international terrorism on the planet.
Collegian Senior Columnist Sean Kennedy can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @seanskenn.