Islamists, say Lindsey Graham, “want to drive the West out of the Mideast … and if we ever take the bait and try to come home and create fortress America, there will be another 9/11.”
An Obama Republican, Senator Graham is not normally one to make thought-provoking statements. Yet I find the two metaphors he used here to be genuinely fascinating.
The first, “take the bait,” reminds me of a remark made by Osama bin Laden’s estranged son Omar. During a 2010 interview with Rolling Stone, Omar was asked if his father would conduct more terrorist attacks in the United States.
“I don’t think so,” said Omar. “He doesn’t need to. As soon as America went to Afghanistan, his plan worked. He has already won.”
After 9/11, Omar – who expected the United States to respond by raining down cruise missiles – “was surprised the Americans took the bait” by invading Afghanistan like “a bull that runs after the red scarf.” Emphasis added.
Omar explained: “My father’s dream was to bring the Americans to Afghanistan. He would do the same thing he did to the Russians.”
The young bin Laden is referring, of course, to the collapse of the Soviet Union. The late USSR imploded after it overextended its power, exhausted its military, and drained its treasury in a futile land war against Afghan guerrillas, of whom Osama bin Laden was a chief financier.
Graham, apparently, thinks this is a coincidence; we’re to believe that the man who orchestrated “the worst international terrorist attack ever” had a poorer grasp of international politics than Joe Biden.
In Graham’s mind, bin Laden did not anticipate any parallels between the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan and our own; instead, he thought America would react to 9/11 by “coming home” and was dismayed when we did the opposite.
Graham must imagine that bin Laden was the stupidest man ever to lead a global terror network or a construction company.
Secondly, I’m intrigued by Graham’s use of the phrase “fortress America.” After poking around a bit, I’ve concluded that this is either a phrase of Graham’s own coinage or the name of a 1986 Milton Bradley board game. Since the 58-year-old Senator has never married or had children, I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt and assume the former.
While Graham likely intended the term as a derogatory jab at “isolationists,” I find it oddly agreeable. A fortress, after all, is:
2. a place or source of refuge or support …
2. any place of exceptional security; stronghold.
— vb 3.
( tr ) to protect with or as if with a fortress
Moreover, consider the most famous of Martin Luther’s hymns:
1. A mighty fortress is our God,
a bulwark never failing;
our helper he amid the flood
of mortal ills prevailing.
To turn such a glowing metaphor into a term of derision is truly a remarkable feat. A fortress possesses strength, vigor and power over mortal ills: all qualities that – with one third of the U.S. population now on welfare – even Lindsey Graham ought to agree we could use more of.
Yet it’s easy to see why Graham would rather America not become one. A fortress is effective rather than wasteful and stalwart rather than crumbling to the ground. Its stones are stacked high rather than scattered. Becoming a fortress would take us away from the Soviet footsteps in which Graham would have us follow. The Senator’s liberal internationalism is reflected in his language as well as his positions.
I support a fortress America. Here are some ways in which such an America might differ from today’s.
- It would not station contingents of 10,000 troops in Italy and the United Kingdom.
- It would not provide for economic powerhouses like Germany and Japan with 45,000 troops apiece.
- It would not have 6,000 more soldiers in South Korea than agents employed by its own border patrol.
- It would not spend more on “overseas contingency operations” alone than the entire military budget of Russia.
A fortress America might also be the preferred model of our own soldiers, who are rightly “suspicious of grand proposals for creating world peace,” unlike, say, Samantha Power.
To Graham’s credit, his motives are perhaps measurably less immoral than Power’s (though his policies are irredeemably horrible). Graham does not want the US to be a heavily armed global charity organization so much as he imagines that policing the world leaves the taxpayers who foot the bill with a grander country.
Graham may really think he wants a greater America – but he is certainly confused about what greatness is. The sheer landmass controlled by a nation cannot be equated with its greatness. Anyone who says otherwise has never compared Kazakhstan to the United Arab Emirates or Greenland to Vatican City.
While an empire may be larger than a fortress, the former inevitably crumbles. And through empire after fallen empire, a fortress can remain standing. Americans should take Lindsey Graham’s inadvertent advice: gather together the nation’s scattered stones, and build one.
Fortress America—I’ve heard that one from Neocons and talk show hosts before. Let’s not overestimate Mr. Graham. A great hymn, by the way, one my church uses in its liturgy fairly often.
Maybe they play the board game with Graham.
I think most politicians and intellectuals get their foreign policies out of board games.
I feel like the term “fortress America” doesn’t do justice to its meaning, but as a neo-isolationist, I’m all about it. Really great read, Ian.
Much appreciated Rachel.