After a storm of media attention surrounding Jeremiah Wright, Barack Obama's pastor, Obama has formally denounced Wright's "inflammatory and appalling remarks . . . about our country." Yet, we must be careful here, for those who blindly condemn rational, motivated criticism of their country are not patriotic, but simply foolish.
A number of Wright's claims have been grouped together as equally outrageous and anti-American which actually have quite different status. In particular, consider the claim that HIV was engineered by the US government to eliminate people of color and the claim that US foreign policy was partly to blame for the events of 9/11. To pick some reports at random, these claims can be seen grouped together as of equally outrageous and anti-American status here, here, and here.
Yet, the two claims are quite different. The claim that the US government engineered the AIDs virus is contradictory to the best scientific theories about the origins of HIV. Furthermore, the claim is entirely unconstructive: certainly, if some party did deliberately engineer the HIV virus, they should be brought to justice, but doing so would not help the supposed 42 million AIDs sufferers. The AIDs epidemic will be addressed by finding a cure or at least a vaccine, an entirely different endeavor than bringing conspirators to justice.
Contrast this with the claim that US foreign policy was partly to blame for the events of September 11, 2001. This claim is not "outrageous," or even anti-American, it is a necessary presupposition of a rational response to terrorism. Why? The answer is simple, and comes from Game Theory. Game Theory provides a framework for rational decision making in situations of conflicting interest. Yet, the analysis of strategies depends upon a crucial assumption: the rationality of one's opponent. If one does not assume one's opponent is rational, his behavior must be taken as indistinguishable from chance, and no theory about his motivations or future actions can be constructed. Of course, the actual situation in the Middle East and the quagmire of foreign policy within which the US is ensnared there is far to complex to formulate within the apparatus of Game Theory. Nevertheless, the same principle applies: if we do not consider terrorists rational, we cannot form any theory about their behavior, and thus we will not ourselves be able to combat them rationally.
However, all those associated ideologically with the 9/11 terrorists have repeatedly cited US foreign policy as the motivation for that and similar acts. If we ignore the claims of these groups, we are rejecting valuable information about how to understand and combat them. Furthermore, we are treating them as wholly irrational. The opposing theory seems to be something like this: Muslims are simply motivated by irrational hatred toward the US. Yet, this is not a theory which can guide action constructively. It eliminates the possibility of diplomacy or diplomatic manipulation, our most powerful tools for adjusting the behavior of foreign groups toward the US. It mandates only war, and a war with no success conditions, for there is no enemy to defeat, only forces of nature (random / irrational agents) to be eradicated. Thus, it is a necessary precondition for effectively responding to the dangers of terrorism that we acknowledge the causal role of US foreign policy of the events of 9/11.
Note here that this point is entirely separate from condemnation of that foreign policy. We may decide, for example, that despite the fact that it contributed to causing the events of 9/11, nevertheless the relevant foreign policy was justified, well motivated, and in general efficacious. Condemning the foreign policy and acknowledging its causal role in 9/11 are two entirely different things.
It is of some interest to note here that only one candidate fulfils this necessary precondition for rational foreign policy, furthermore, his assesment that the appropriate response here is to apply the single oldest and most tested moral principle in history was met with general condemnation by his Republican peers.
With Obama's condemnation of Wright, it appears that all viable candidates for presidency have now publicly proclaimed their own irrationality, their refusal to apply the basic precepts of decision making to our foreign policy, and their denial of the most simple and widespread moral principles. Here is where America deserves condemnation; here is where the most insulting and truly anti-American behavior can be found.