It seems obvious that an attack on Americans anywhere in the world represents an attack on us, as Americans. However, over the years, after numerous attacks against Americans abroad, many Americans had become inured by terrorism before September 11. Even to some degree afterward, there is a tendency to dismiss as insignificant some of those terrorist and other attacks by militant Muslims that occurred before then or even afterward if they were not attacks on the homeland of the United States.
Many liberals and isolationists who opposed the Liberation of Iraq claim, for example, that Iraq had “never attacked us.” In addition to Iraq’s nearly daily attacks on Coalition aircraft patrolling the No-Fly Zones for the last three years before the Liberation of Iraq in 2003, Iraqi-sponsored suicide bombings that targeted Americans certainly constituted attacks on us. Two examples are the deadly Palestinian terrorist suicide bombing of the American Sbarro Restaurant in Jerusalem frequented by Americans and a suicide bombing that killed four American soldiers in the Gaza Strip – which occurred after the September 11 Attacks. Therefore, Iraq certainly did attack us. Thus, the distinction made by critics of the Liberation of Iraq between Afghanistan and Iraq that the U.S. was attacked by militants harbored by the former, but not by the latter, is false.
There seems to be an undertone in the dismissal of the significance of Iraq’s terrorism and other militant attacks that the number of Americans killed was not high enough to justify war as much as the September 11 Attacks did, which implies that only large numbers of American lives are worth defending. State-sponsored terrorism is an act of war no matter how many casualties. President Ronald Reagan recognized this point. He was successful in reducing Libyan terrorism after he ordered the bombing of that state in 1986 – after the death of one American from a Libyan-sponsored act.
The tendency among liberals and isolationists to dismiss Iraq’s terrorism is part of a larger pattern, which prevented President Bill Clinton from responding from terrorist or other militant attacks as adequately as Reagan. The Clinton Administration only launched a few missiles against a single target in Iraq for its attempted assassination of former President George H.W. Bush in Kuwait in 1993. It also failed to punish Iran militarily for the Khobar Towers Attack in Saudi Arabia in 1995 it sponsored that killed 19 Americans. The Clinton Administration launched only a few missiles against al-Qaeda targets in 1999 even after the 1998 bombing of American Embassies (which are on American soil!) in Kenya and Tanzania, and did nothing whatsoever after the al-Qaeda bombing of the U.S.S. Cole.
This tolerance of terrorism and other militant attacks is what emboldened al-Qaeda into calculating that a U.S. response to a major attack on its homeland would be weak. Clinton’s cruise missiles strikes against al-Qaeda added to the impression that the U.S. did not consider defending the lives of its citizens worth risking the lives of any of its members of the military. Indeed, the Clinton Administration policy of treating terrorism as a criminal matter instead of as a war suggested that the U.S. did not have the stomach for war and thus would continue to tolerate terrorism. The Democrats’ 2004 presidential nominee, Massachusetts Senator John Kerry, even expressed his wish for terrorism to return to being a “nuisance.” In other words, it would not be worth going to war to defend a few Americans from being killed, injured or taken hostage abroad every year. To this day, many liberals and isolationists regard the overthrow of Saddam Hussein’s terrorist-sponsoring regime as a “war of choice,” suggesting that the U.S. should have chosen to accept terrorism and other militancy that targets Americans even after September 11.
The distinction between and attack on Americans and an attack on the United States homeland is less significant than liberals and isolationists assert. The distinction does not exist legally in regard to attacks on sovereign U.S. territory abroad like embassies or ships. Regardless, American civilians have the right to travel abroad without fear of terrorism. Attacks on American soldiers abroad are acts of war. The lives of Americans who are on foreign soil are equally valued as those on American soil. The distinction between attacking Americans abroad and in the States is mostly a psychological one. After all, the purpose of terrorism is to terrorize, in order to intimidate a populace into acceding to the demands of the terrorists. In this sense, we can be grateful that the U.S. has averted any attack on its homeland since September 11, as well as any attack on Americans abroad as lethal as those attacks, but there have continued to be deadly attacks on Americans since then. It is a sufficient strategy for terrorists to make people feel as if some of their fellow countrymen are targeted, and not usually necessary to make an entire populace feel targeted. Indeed, many Americans did not feel targeted even after September 11, but they recognized more than before that their fellow Americans were targeted.
Attacks on Americans anywhere in the world are attacks on Americans, which are attacks on us, whether or not every American fears being targeted. It is important to minimize distinctions between where Americans have been targeted and to recognize the danger from any terrorists or other militants who target Americans and respond accordingly.