by Richard Prior
The rest of the world is having to reconsider its opinion of the United States now that the nation has thrown away the “kick me” sign it has worn for the past quarter century.
After watching Americans be attacked with impunity for years, “many people would say they were stunned at our reaction to the events of Sept. 11,” said U.S. Rep. Ander Crenshaw. “I don’t think we asked for it, but we got it.”
Crenshaw, first elected to Congress in 2000, presented a “Report from Washington” on Monday at the Florida Coastal School of Law.
He serves on the House Appropriations Committee and sits on the Military Construction Subcommittee, which oversees military bases around the world. That makes his subcommittee responsible for 40,000 square miles of property and a half trillion dollars in assets.
He also serves on the Foreign Operations Subcommittee, through which the $87 billion for the war on Iraq was passed.
“Right now, we’re in the middle of an interesting kind of conflict that is really unprecedented,” said Crenshaw. “How do you deal with this war on terrorism, domestically and internationally?
“When this country was being formed, we didn’t think about fighting a war on terrorism. Our whole country was created based on openness and accessibility and freedom.”
This new sort of warfare already has politicians and other officials searching for ways to provide security without violating basic rights, he said.
“You study the Bill of Rights; how do you balance that when you’re trying to change the way you do business?” asked Crenshaw. “You’ve got oil refineries, and you’ve got nuclear power plants and airports. You’ve got 50,000 containers coming in every day across our open borders.
“Somehow you’ve got to balance all that. And that’s not easy. That may be the toughest thing we do.”
The events of Sept. 11 introduced the United States to a war that actually had been going on at least since 1979, when the mullahs in Iran took over the country and took Americans hostage.
“What did we do?” Crenshaw asked. “We tied yellow ribbons around trees. We attempted a rescue. But our helicopters crashed in the desert, partly because they didn’t have adequate parts.”
The history of the 1980s is filled with episodes of no response or little response to acts of terror, said Crenshaw. Including destruction of the U.S. embassy in Beirut, the attack on the Marine barracks, the first bombing of the World Trade Center, Mogadishu, the first Gulf War, the bombing of the USS Cole and Saddam Hussein’s attempt to assassinate President George Bush.
“We sent investigators and prosecutors,” said Crenshaw. “We’re great at litigating. We saw those as individual criminal acts, and we were going to get to the bottom of that and figure it out.”
The United States faces three enemies, he said. Radical mullahs; Arabs, such as members of the Baath Party, who have fashioned themselves after the fascists of World War II; and “fundamental, radical Sunni Islamists, such as Osama bin Laden.”
“They’re probably the most dangerous,” said Crenshaw. “They’re anti-Western, anti-American, anti-Semitic. They just don’t like people in the West.”
One of Crenshaw’s “political advisers” is an airport baggage handler named Caesar.
“Caesar said, ‘I think they hate us, not because of what we do wrong, but for what we do right,’” Crenshaw told his audience. “If you stop and think about what America stands for, it’s very different from what they stand for, in terms of freedom of association, freedom of religion, economic freedom, equality of women.”
The war against radical Muslims could last as long as 40 years, Crenshaw said. But already there are favorable signs of progress.
“The scariest part is the Osama bin Laden types have oil money,” he said. “They’re funded. They’ve got a presence in 50 or 60 countries around the world. We’re going to be at war with them a long time.
“But the good news, we can see in Iraq today. The Baathists are kind of making their last stand. They see freedom and democracy coming their way. I think it’s going to be even more intense as we talk about the transition of power.”