Reasonable people disagree on how to prosecute the so-called global war on terror. Pick up any newspaper or turn on any news channel and see for yourself the right arguing that we need to do whatever it takes to eliminate this scourge from the planet, even if that means locking up and torturing Americans, and the left arguing that everything we’ve done in the global war on terror is completely wrong and that terrorists are people too.
It might surprise you to learn that I disagree with both of them, and I think they both suffer from the same problem: a lack of vision.
But wait, how can it be that both the left and the right are wrong?
This essay will necessarily be longer than I would like, and shorter than it needs to be, as there is much ground to cover and many issues to address. And this analysis will perhaps criticize the Republicans more than the Democrats, as the Republicans are currently prosecuting the war on terrorism. But there is a common thread which ties these issues together and puts all of them into perspective. So bear with me as we take a whirlwind tour of the global war on terrorism as it is today.
One problem is this: Many people do not realize the extent and danger of the threat that Islamic terrorism poses. They tend to either underestimate the threat, or overestimate the threat.
Terrorists have been planning and executing attacks on America and American interests abroad since at least 1993, and have held enmity toward the U.S. for decades before that. In 2001, they were successful at killing nearly 3,000 people in lower Manhattan. And thousands of our brothers and sisters in the armed forces have died fighting them in the Middle East since then.
This is, by their own admission, clearly an enemy which means us harm, and will do anything it can to cause harm to Americans. It’s equally clear that we must protect ourselves from this threat. President George W. Bush is fond of saying, “We will fight the terrorists overseas so we do not have to face them here at home.”
Even by libertarian standards, this seems an appropriate strategy for dealing with a foreign threat which not only means us harm, but has the capacity to carry out their threats. (To those of you who disagree, I ask you, since they’ve already attacked us, should we not go after them?) The problem is that this isn’t quite exactly what the U.S. has actually done.
Going after Afghanistan in 2001 was perfectly justifiable and sensible in this light, but after Tora Bora, the next logical thing to do would have been to pressure Pakistan — at that time — to stop harboring Osama bin Laden or face invasion. This being not politically expedient at the time, for a variety of reasons, bin Laden escaped, and now nobody knows quite exactly where he is. Only now is political pressure being put on Pakistan to cooperate in the search for bin Laden. And in the meantime, a highly questionable war in Iraq has taken place.
But does the terrorist threat truly justify the crackdowns on civil rights, the increased “security” and the culture of fear which has sprung up in the last five years?
They mean us harm, but they’ve been mostly unsuccessful at striking here at home, thanks only in a very small part to those crackdowns on civil rights. Most of the terrorist aspirants who have been caught here in the U.S. have been caught not through secret national security letters and spying on Americans’ telephone calls, but through old-fashioned pre-9/11 style police detective work. Why, then, do we need to turn the Federal Bureau of Investigation into a secret police? Or put another way, it was too much secrecy which caused our law enforcement and intelligence agencies to fail to connect the dots; how is more secrecy and fewer civil rights going to solve the problem?
On that note, the Department of Homeland Security, with its color-coded threat advisory system, would have us believe that there is a “significant risk of terrorist attacks” here at home. Is there really a terrorist hiding under every rock and behind every tree? My neighbors received a large envelope from CAIR, an Islamic organization with loose ties to terrorist groups, earlier this week. Are they a terrorist sleeper cell, just waiting for some secret order to go out, fill their delivery truck with fertilizer, and bomb a building downtown? Or, as is much more likely, are they just a married couple living out their lives, like the rest of us?
In 68 B.C., the Roman republic suffered a terrorist attack not dissimilar to 9/11. Its response was to crack down on its people and respond with vast military force. Thus was born the Roman Empire.
Instead of coming together as a community, knowing each other, taking care of each other, and being aware of what is going on in our immediate communities, a hallmark of American strength for centuries, we have been driven apart and made to feel suspicious and distrustful of one another. Not that this started in 2001; it’s been going on for years, but has only gotten worse lately.
Another problem is this: Military force is useless against an idea, even when that idea is an “ideology of oppression, violence, and hate.”
All that military force can do against an ideology is to capture and kill everyone who subscribes to that ideology. And even that can never be successful, as many people will hold the ideology without ever making it apparent to military forces. And when they see an opportunity, they will plant a roadside bomb, or strap on a suicide vest, or just start shooting.
The terrorists have been quite successful at spreading their ideology through creative and effective use of the media, even going so far as to get themselves hired as journalists and photographers so as to manipulate the news as it comes out of Middle East war zones. The Associated Press and Reuters have both fallen for terrorists posing as local stringers in Iraq, Lebanon and elsewhere, and have published the terrorists’ doctored photographs and fabricated stories on their newswires, damaging the reputations of those news outlets, as well as news organizations which relied on them for accurate, objective reporting and also got suckered. One terrorist organization has gone so far as to run its own television network.
The U.S. has completely failed to answer the terrorists’ propaganda with better ideas. When it does answer them, those ideas are seen in the Middle East as self-serving and hypocritical. A very on-target but largely ignored Pentagon report (PDF) to Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld on the use of strategic communication puts it plainly:
Today, however, the perception of intimate U.S. support of tyrannies in the Muslim World is perhaps the critical vulnerability in American strategy. It strongly undercuts our message, while strongly promoting that of the enemy. . . .
Muslims do not “hate our freedom,” but rather, they hate our policies. The overwhelming majority voice their objections to what they see as one-sided support in favor of Israel and against Palestinian rights, and the longstanding, even increasing support for what Muslims collectively see as tyrannies, most notably Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Pakistan, and the Gulf states.
Thus when American public diplomacy talks about bringing democracy to Islamic societies, this is seen as no more than self-serving hypocrisy. Moreover, saying that “freedom is the future of the Middle East” is seen as patronizing, suggesting that Arabs are like the enslaved peoples of the old Communist World — but Muslims do not feel this way: they feel oppressed, but not enslaved.
Furthermore, in the eyes of Muslims, American occupation of Afghanistan and Iraq has not led to democracy there, but only more chaos and suffering. U.S. actions appear in contrast to be motivated by ulterior motives, and deliberately controlled in order to best serve American national interests at the expense of truly Muslim self-determination. (Emphasis in original)
Is it any wonder that the terrorists have been so successful in recruiting young, impressionable Muslims into their new decentralized networks?
Ultimately, the war on terrorism boils down to a war of ideologies. Which ideology should come out victorious, the Islamic terrorist caliphate of barbaric Sharia law, or the American hegemonic democracy of mob rule, so long as the mob is friendly to the bureaucrats in charge here this year?
This is why the war on terror has been cast as a “long war.” It would be simple to devise a message which praises the virtues of individual liberty, personal responsibility and the economic prosperity which naturally follows, but that isn’t the message the U.S. is delivering, nor is it the message the U.S. seems to want to deliver, though such a message, followed up by matching actions, would end terrorism virtually overnight. It’s not coincidental that that message is almost never delivered within the U.S. either. (But you’re about to hear it.)
The U.S. is not bringing freedom from oppression to the Middle East, and does not seem to want to do so, and that is why this is a long war. Rather, it wants to bring U.S.-friendly “democracy.” But democracy is not a cure-all for bad governments. Witness Lebanon, where terrorist organization Hezbollah got itself democratically elected last year. Witness also Iraq, where the democratically elected government has begun reinstituting some of the same oppressive laws which existed under Saddam Hussein’s regime, such as crackdowns on the press for offending government officials.
Things are so much better in Iraq, now that the people have been able to vote for their oppressors, just like America. How could anyone in the Middle East not want to choose their own oppressors, just like America?
There are two ways this war on terror can go. The first, and the one currently being prosecuted, is with puppet governments installed, or with the appearance of having been installed, by the U.S., which are friendly to U.S. interests but just as oppressive as the governments they replaced, or even more so. The U.S. has a long history of doing exactly this sort of thing. And under this scenario, terrorism will become a daily fact of life, as it has become in Israel and in Iraq, and we will have lost.
The other way, which would completely take the wind out of the terrorists’ sails, is for the U.S. to stop trying to impose itself on other countries. Thomas Jefferson prescribed our ideal foreign policy, one which would keep us at peace so long as we followed it: “Peace, commerce, and honest friendship with all nations — entangling alliances with none.”
To win the war on terror, we as a country must return to our libertarian roots. First, maintain a strictly neutral foreign policy, entangling ourselves in the internal affairs of no other country. This will perhaps be the hardest to accomplish, even with growing support for it, as the U.S. is entangled in the internal affairs of dozens of countries as a matter of policy. But it is the only right thing to do, and no other course of action will eliminate the enmity that so many feel towards the U.S. and the American people, who most of the world perceive, rightly or wrongly, as having control of their government.
Second, the U.S. must clean house domestically. Over the past century, the government has grown dramatically in size and scope, transforming itself while we weren’t looking from a “dangerous servant” to a “fearful master.” We’ve lost control of this institution which was created to “secure the blessings of liberty for ourselves and our posterity,” and instead of securing our liberty, it violates us at almost every turn.
We have mistakenly entrusted the government to “take care of us,” implementing a vast array of socialist bureaucracies which steal from the productive and give to the lazy, so long as they continue to “vote themselves largesse from the public treasury.” Rather than taking care of each other, as had been our way for so long, so many of us have become uncaring and unsympathetic to those who truly need our help, thinking the government will take care of them. This must end.
We must also turn back the encroaching fascist police state, which in the name of “protecting” us has instead stripped us of many of our rights, under many guises such as the “War on Drugs,” and will strip us of many more in the future should we be so stupid as to allow it. This oncoming police state has not made us truly more secure; indeed, it’s made us less secure. Now people who have never done anything wrong in their lives risk getting killed by roving SWAT teams, who not only won’t even apologize, but are so callous as to require their victims to pay for their random acts of violence, and then if their victims survive, to lock them up in prison. This isn’t the future, unfortunately; it’s now. The War on Drugs, which is really a War on American Freedom, must end.
For these and other reasons, we are on very low moral ground. Before we even think about suggesting ideas to some other country about how to run things, we must restore here the principles of liberty and responsibility which we have, unfortunately, largely forgotten.
One thing you can do is, on November 7, to stand up for these principles and vote a straight Libertarian ticket. Win or lose, every vote sends a clear message. If you vote Republican, you’re sending a clear message that you like perpetual war and you don’t care how much freedom you lose here at home. If you vote Democrat, you’re sending a clear message that you would rather be ruled by terrorists so long as you still get to have your socialist people-control programs, and you don’t care how much freedom you lose here at home. Only by putting your vote in the Libertarian column can you truly tell the politicians that you’ve had enough and it’s time for America to become the shining beacon of liberty she should have been all along.
(This message was paid for by nobody. If you’re from the Federal Election Suppression Commission, please quit your job.)