An Analysis of President Bush’s Terrorism Speech

by Warren Ross

Dear HOS Member,

I thought there were many good aspects of President Bush’s speech on terrorism the other night. He took an uncompromising moral stand, refused to negotiate with the terrorist countries, and identified how we could win the war against terrorism. I think that for the most part he reassured the country about the Administration’s commitment to fight this war, while still emphasizing the grim urgency of the situation. And most importantly, he emphasized the moral right in our cause. For all these virtues, I applaud his speech.

However, there were a number of troubling passages in his speech, some representing or based on ideas accepted and not even discussed today, that cause me to worry about the long-term success of this war. I will cover these issues in three parts: 1) no mention of communism, 2) “Islam isn’t at fault,” 3) humanitarian aid.

No Mention of Communism
In one section of his speech, President Bush referred to the terrorists as “the heirs of all the murderous ideologies of the 20th century.” (a wonderful start) He continued, “By sacrificing human life to serve their radical visions, by abandoning every value except the will to power, they follow in the path of fascism, Nazism and totalitarianism.” Consider the fact that this sentence mixes levels, putting totalitarianism, the broader category, on a level with fascism and Nazism, the narrower concretes under this category. Fascism and Nazism lasted for 20 years and were responsible for the deaths of 12 million people. What about the major, and most murderous brand of totalitarianism, communism? It lasted 70 years in its Soviet variety, has been responsible for 100 million murders, and it still has a death-grip on Communist China, Cuba and North Korea. This omission cannot be accidental. I believe this was a deliberate attempt to soft-pedal communism’s characterization as a “murderous ideology,” for whatever motive (rapprochement with the Chinese?) Bush thought important enough to have such a glaring omission.

This omission is not only an act of moral cowardice, it is a massive distortion of the record with respect to terrorism itself. This latter needs explanation because it seems to be totally forgotten in even the better analysts’ blame of the terror on Arab states. Yes, the terrorists are funded and given succor by Iran, Iraq, Syria, Sudan and Yemen (to mention only a few). But what made it all possible? Yes, they stole our oil and we let them, and that gives them the financial means to support terror. A major contributing factor, though, was the support of the Soviet Union. And the locus of its support for two decades was the PLO. The Soviets funded and trained Yasser Arafat’s organization. Now viewed as “respectable” and given moral sanction as a legitimate “liberation” group opposing Israel occupation of the territories won in the June 6 War, the PLO was committing terror before the June 6 War even occurred. Its goal was to destroy Israel and the West, and with Soviet money it not only carried out its own terror but it also trained all the other terrorist groups (Arab and European). The complicity and enormous involvement of the Soviets was proven by statements from Soviet and Czech defectors, and from documents captured when Israel went into Lebanon in 1982. It was also openly acknowledged by PLO leaders, who stated that thousands of fedayeen were trained in the USSR. The Soviets provided not only small arms, money and training, but also B-21 rocket launchers and T-34 and T-54 tanks, turning Arafat from a local gangster into the head of a real army.

The Soviets also gave the PLO moral sanction and safe haven. It was the UN Security Council, at the urging of the Soviets, that first began to call the PLO a “national liberation” group, legitimizing it morally. The Soviets also let the terrorists travel throughout Eastern Europe freely, sometimes to escape being hunted down after terrorist incidents (as after the Achille Lauro hijacking).

We now seek friendship and help in fighting terrorism from the former Soviet states, and I have no problem with a limited cooperation if help is really forthcoming and is accompanied by the proper moral stance on the part of Russia (I’m very suspicious, though, since recent news stories characterize Russia’s support as tepid and temporizing). But to evade the huge responsibility the USSR had for terrorism is morally criminal. If we are afraid of “insulting” the Soviets then that is proof that we don’t think they have changed – if they’d rejected their former methods wouldn’t they themselves be denouncing the Soviet Union and publicly apologizing for creating terrorism as a global force?

“Islam isn’t at Fault”
President Bush in his speech said, “The terrorists practice a fringe form of Islamic extremism that has been rejected by Muslim scholars and the vast majority of Muslim clerics. A fringe movement that perverts the peaceful teaching of Islam. The terrorists’ directive commands them to kill Christians and Jews, to kill all Americans and make no distinctions among military and civilians, including women and children.”

In another speech recently, the President called Islam “one of the world’s great religions.”

While it is true that all religions have implicit in them the impetus to terror and violence (one need only look at the history of Christianity in the Middle Ages for an example), and all have their absurd rituals (diet, etc.), the three major religions have different focuses, and have been influenced to different degrees by the growth of secularism and reason from the Renaissance on. Judaism emphasizes law, and follows the Old Testament (the better part of the two subsections of the Bible). Christianity emphasizes humility and turning the other cheek. Both Judaism and Christianity as they are practiced in a large part of the world today are Sunday- (or Saturday)-only religions. Islam today is unreconstructed in this way. Islam emphasizes submission to God’s word in everything, requires prayer five times a day and fasting for an entire month out of the year. Islam is the most religious of the three religions today, equivalent to Christianity 10-12 centuries ago.

Islam also emphasizes “struggle,” which is denoted by the word “jihad.” One reference on Islam highlights the ambiguous character of the word “jihad.” On the one hand, it means “holy war” against infidels, and on the other hand it means “striving in the way of the faith,” i.e. trying to live up to Islam’s requirements. It is of fundamental importance that there is only this one word to denote these two different concepts. It represents an epistemological booby-trap at the foundation of the religion, which can easily explain how the practitioners of this religion can move from peaceful to terroristic, and how this religion can produce so many willing to sacrifice their lives for their religion.

We’ve all read about the dancing in the streets of the Palestinians and other Muslims after the World Trade Center calamity. This illustrates an important point – for everyone who lives and dies as a terrorist, there must be 10,000 others who are ideologically in agreement and supportive, either financially or morally. But we’ve also heard protestations of horror and shock from many in the Muslim world, and support for us in our fight with the terrorists. What about them? Many of them may be sincere in their opposition to terrorism, but some are more complicit in unleashing the terrorists than they admit.

The Saudis, for example, are viewed as from the more moderate wing of Islam, even though they are very strict religiously. They, no doubt, will be our “allies” in this fight against the terrorists. However, they were among the pack of thieves who stole Western oil, once it was clear no one would fight to defend Western property rights. Dr. Peikoff has emphasized how this was just one link in the chain of depriving Americans of their rights (first property, then liberty – the threats against writers like Salmon Rushdie and his American publisher, then our lives). However, one thing not highlighted to date is that this massive theft was not only an act of violating rights itself, but was also the financial means of violating rights further, and radicalizing the Muslim world. Osama Bin Laden is the heir to a construction company fortune made by his father. What was this construction company constructing? The buildings, infrastructure and other developments stemming from the new money injected into the Saudi economy by the recently stolen oil properties!

Among others, the Saudi royal family made billions from the oil they expropriated. One of the things they did with it (according to Paul Johnson in Modern Times) was arrange for planeloads of people to make the journey to Mecca, a journey required by the Muslim faith but one which represents an economic hardship to most people. This new crop of Islamic faithful, full of zeal at having achieved what they had never expected in a lifetime to achieve, and convinced by this that Islam was on the resurgence and favored by God, became the fertile ground for the clerics to manipulate into uprisings against the more moderate rulers. In effect, this historical development is an application of the principle that the more consistent in any intellectual battle between those who profess the same views will always win. The tragedy and shame is that the West, by not retaliating against the original oil expropriations, not only emboldened the thieves to move to the next level but also paid the bill for the inevitable costs required to move to that next level.

Humanitarian Aid
One statement President Bush made caused my blood to run cold: “The United States respects the people of Afghanistan. After all, we are currently its largest source of humanitarian aid.” Leave aside the issue of how innocent such people are, or what we should do if terrorists hide behind them while we’re bombing. People are confused about these two issues but they have been adequately discussed by Ayn Rand (see the quotes from her on the “actofwar” website at and others (Benjamin Netanyahu is especially good on this point in his book Terrorism: How the West can Win). But what depth of naïveté and self-sacrifice has a nation stooped to if it sends money over to the “people” of a totalitarian regime? Bush did not say this like a guilty admission. He did not vow to stop it immediately. He said it proudly, in an attempt to make a distinction between Afghani citizens and their oppressors.

The key point here is that no matter what distinction one can make between the moral status of victims and oppressors, one can never make a distinction between the money sent to victims vs. oppressors. The very fact that the government is oppressive means that there is no distinction. If the money is not simply stolen and used by the government, it frees up other money that the government would otherwise have to use to feed its people. Although rulers are completely brutal and callous when it comes to the starvation of their citizens (Iraq’s Saddam Hussein and North Korea are examples), they know that they can only let it get to a certain point before they have rioting in the streets, a dead and un-draftable populace, or a massive exodus over the border to the slightly less oppressive regime nearby. They must spend money on people that they would prefer to use on military exploits. Therefore sending “humanitarian” aid only stuffs the coffers of the government, by helping them avoid such expenditures.

Only altruism can explain such suicidal policies. Bush is not blind. Most of his speech was a courageous attempt, long overdue, to stand up for America against evil. But altruism has so distorted the thinking of him and his policymakers that he cannot say “no” to “humanitarian” aid. That one word – “humanitarian” – is like a magical incantation causing altruists to forget history, logic and common sense.

In summary, despite good things in his speech, these are the three things – the cowardly omission of moral blame for communism, the attempt to deflect blame from Islam, and the financial support of the terrorists themselves – that give me doubts that this war will be fully prosecuted, or prosecuted with the moral certainty and clarity it needs to be prosecuted with. I hope I am wrong, and that Bush holds to his statement that “our resolve must not pass.”

Certainly, if anything could shake a country into philosophical enlightenment, it could be an event like this one – IF WE HELP EXPLAIN TO THE COUNTRY WHERE IT WENT WRONG. Each and every one of us is more critical in the intellectual battle now than ever before. We must continually over the next few years reinforce the knowledge that has led to the resolve to fight terrorism. That resolve is strong now because events are recent in our memories. No one will soon forget September 11. But over time, memories do fade, and the strength of ingrained philosophical premises erodes the determination that gives us all such hope right now for a better foreign policy. Use this critical time to get a voice, making your voice more clear, more logical and more morally certain than the voices of others. And support organizations, like the Ayn Rand Institute, who are injecting the right ideas into the culture when that culture just might be predisposed to listen. A full page ad in the Washington Post – like the one in which Dr. Peikoff brilliantly analyzed what went wrong and recommended what to do now – costs thousands of dollars for each insertion. Our help, at a stepped up level, can make more such insertions possible, and give a platform for the professional philosophers who are out there every day, saving our lives and our futures.

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