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How Oppression Abroad Means Repression at Home

by Bill Christison

Two questions that people too often divorce from each other have dominated the Bush administration’s actions since September 11. One involves foreign policy–how should the U.S. government respond abroad to the events of that date? The other involves domestic policy–to what degree should civil liberties inside the U.S. be cut back to meet the threat to internal security that became obvious on that date? The divorce between the two is understandable. Over the years, different bureaucracies and different groups of experts in this country have always dealt with these questions. One of the dangers we face today, however, is that those of us who oppose both the foreign and domestic policies of the present U.S. government will accept this divorce and will split, rather than coordinate, our efforts to bring about policy changes in both areas.

Specifically, I think those who are making major efforts to preserve civil liberties in the United States will be more successful if at the same time they strive, with equal fervor, to bring about changes in U.S. foreign policies. My concern is that quite a few people, who are extraordinarily knowledgeable on civil rights issues, argue that they cannot broaden the subjects they deal with, that they have more on their plate than they can easily handle even if they limit themselves to the domestic problems of civil liberties. This argument is not only foolish and wrong; it is based at least in part on ulterior motives.

The most important reason behind the Bush administration’s introduction of the recent restrictions on civil liberties–and why it is pressing for the formation of a new Department of Homeland Security–is the hatred of United States foreign policies in much of the world. This hatred is rising almost daily as the U.S. not only continues but intensifies its arrogant and unilateral international policies There are direct cause-and-effect relationships between this hatred, which started over 50 years ago, and the terrorism against the U.S. of last September 11; and there are other direct cause-and-effect relationships between the terrorism and the cutbacks of civil liberties in this country since that time.

The Bush administration refuses even to examine the possibility that changing certain U.S. foreign policies might allay this hatred at least to some degree and reduce the likelihood of future terrorism. The argument against this administration attitude is not that changes in 50-year-old foreign policies can immediately eliminate the possibility of more terrorism against the U.S. It won’t happen that way. But changes in foreign policies almost certainly would reduce the likelihood of future terrorism. With such changes, I think real evidence would soon appear that hatred of the U.S. was diminishing, and such evidence would strengthen the case that the extreme internal security measures now being introduced are both wrong and unnecessary. Furthermore, all the internal security measures in the world, and all the cutbacks in civil liberties that Bush and Ashcroft are now pressing for, are unlikely to prevent future terrorism unless at the same time the U.S. changes many of its major foreign policies.

President Bush justifies his war on terrorism on the basis that those who attacked this country did so simply because they are “evil,” and the existence of this evil is why, he says, we must accept all these new restrictions on civil liberties. In my opinion, however, we automatically lose half the battle if we do not insist on the close connection between what is happening domestically in this country, and our foreign policies.

Some of the foreign policies I’m talking about are (1), the U.S. drive to dominate the world–militarily, politically, and economically–for the indefinite future; (2), the U.S. drive to militarize our own nation to such a degree that we can wage successful preemptive wars against any nations or groups that refuse to accept U.S. dominance; (3), the U.S. support for “regime change,” that is, the ouster, through military or covert means, of several unfriendly governments starting with Iraq; and (4), the extremely controversial issue–in U.S. domestic politics at least–of the almost total U.S. support for Israel’s policies on Palestine.

As already mentioned, some argue that it would be better, at least tactically, to avoid controversy by dodging some or all of these issues, and to concentrate exclusively on the domestic, civil-liberties issue. This is exactly what the Sharon government in Israel, the most vocal American supporters of Israel, and the Bush administration itself want to see happen. They have all worked intensely since September 11 to make people fearful of criticizing the U.S. role in supporting Israel. (If you do criticize, you’re often charged with anti-Semitism.) In a more general sense, if we ignore foreign policies, we’ll be seen as accepting the administration’s view that there really are no legitimate grounds for hatred of these U.S. policies–and that there simply exists aberrational evil, against which we must wage war abroad, while introducing extreme police powers here at home and profiling all potentially “evil” groups.

Taking that road truly does, in my view, increase the likelihood of perpetual preemptive wars in future decades. It also reduces the likelihood that we will win the civil-liberties battle. But if we accept the need to change U.S. foreign policies at the same time that we oppose the new domestic internal security policies, I think the odds change. We would have a better chance of both reducing hatreds in the world and giving people in the U.S. more hope than they can possibly have now for a reasonably peaceful and stable next few decades, and for retaining most of the civil liberties they now enjoy.

Bill Christison joined the CIA in 1950, and served on the analysis side of the Agency for 28 years. From the early 1970s he served as National Intelligence Officer (principal adviser to the Director of Central Intelligence on certain areas) for, at various times, Southeast Asia, South Asia and Africa. Before he retired in 1979 he was Director of the CIA’s Office of Regional and Political Analysis, a 250-person unit. His wife Kathy also worked in the CIA, retiring in 1979. Since then she has been mainly preoccupied by the issue of Palestine.

Bill Christison was a senior official of the CIA. Kathleen Christison is the author of Perceptions of Palestine and The Wound of Dispossession.

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