US Foreign Policy Makes America Less Safe in the War on Terrorism
“And we fight today because terrorists want to attack our country and kill our citizens, and Iraq is where they are making their stand. So we’ll fight them there, we’ll fight them across the world, and we will stay in the fight until the fight is won.” (Applause.) — President George W. Bush
Despite plenty of muscular rhetoric, President Bush’s strategy in the War on Terrorism demonstrates a dangerous ignorance of the unique military, tactical, and political aspects of the terrorist threat, and breeds a dangerous and chaotic foreign policy which has only served to put our nation in greater danger.
Back in the 6th century BC, in his classic, The Art of War, Sun Tsu observed, “Know your enemy, and in a thousand battles you will not be defeated.” Sadly, our current Commander-in-Chief ignores the Chinese grand master’s lesson, and actively eschews the acquisition of useful knowledge about our terrorist enemy. After the 9/11 Commission found that the CIA and FBI could have prevented the attacks of September 11th, had they only more effectively shared and communicated their intelligence to the White House, the Bush Administration could have ensured a dynamic and efficient system of American intelligence simply by reforming and/or streamlining the two agencies. Instead, the Administration did nothing to improve either agency, instead creating an entirely new government agency, the Department of Homeland Security, whose most obvious contribution to homeland security to date is a puerile, and now universally-ignored, color-coded Alert Level system.
Not surprisingly, the enhanced state of perpetual ignorance within America’s intelligence community quickly took its toll, proceeding to deliver terribly flawed pre-war intelligence to the White House, which then spawned an utterly disastrous occupation of Iraq. All of this, of course, was in addition to our continued inability to capture, or even locate, America’s Public Enemy 1, Osama bin Laden. Sun Tsu is rolling in his grave.
The atrocious ignorance continues with the Administration’s inability to grasp the fundamental distinction between fighting terrorists and fighting enemy nation-states. In the wars of yesteryear, an enemy nation had a standing army, a native population, static boundaries, and permanent institutions, all of which helped to create an enemy who could be effectively destroyed with a sustained military campaign. But the problem with terrorists, unlike nationals of a belligerent foreign nation, is that they are not a permanent, distinct class. Terrorists are recruited, shaped, molded and trained by underground organizations, usually working without state sanction, and thus there is no fixed stock of “enemy combatants” capable of comprehensive military liquidation. As William F. Buckley, Jr. brilliantly observed, “Individual terrorists were, only yesterday, engaged in ordinary occupations, shocking friends and family when they struck as terrorists.” Victory, then, will be achieved not with a specific death toll or geographic occupation, but by ensuring that Islamofascism remains a detested minority in every country in which it hopes to gain support. Victory is depriving the Islamofascists the ideological fuel with which they recruit the ordinary citizens to join the ranks of the jihad.
Terrorism itself is only a tactic of violence; it finds its roots in an ideology and thus cannot be defeated by military might alone. The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelan, founded in 1975 in Sri Lanka as the first terrorist organization to make widespread use of suicide bombing, are amazingly still blowing themselves up as part of their independence movement there (talk about dedication!), simply because they are still not independent from Sri Lanka, and thus can still recruit their martyrs with an effective narrative of foreign oppression and victimization. The near-infinite willingness of a people to willingly slaughter themselves in an ideological protest against foreign occupation has been confirmed over and over, from the Algerian resistance to French occupation, to America’s own experience in Vietnam.
Unfortunately, most of the fuel for the global jihad is supplied by current American foreign policy in the Middle East. It is true, as some allege, that Islamists hate nearly every feature of Western society, from our politics to our culture, and as a result, it is easy to say that Islamic terrorism against America is a fait accompli stemming from a fanatical worldview that hates everything we stand for. But while Islamists indeed harbor grand visions of world empire under Allah, their delusions of global theocracy have been swirling around the Middle East ever since Muhammad began claiming his divinity; only recently did Islamic terrorism emerge as a dangerous threat to America. As late as the 1950s, Arab nations still sought out American mediation in their international disputes, respecting our independence and fairness, despite presumably still harboring atavistic religious hatred toward Our American Freedoms. Seven decades later, Uncle Sam is reviled like no one else in the world.
Libertarians, like Ron Paul, rightly point out that the difference between the good ol’ days of respect for America and the current days of Death to America is a U.S. foreign policy of interference in the Middle East. Rudy Giuliani and his supporters would like to believe otherwise. But nothing is more devastating in the obliteration of Rudy G’s arguments than the facts.
Back in 1998, Cato Institute scholar Ivan Eland had already been looking at the facts, and as a result, he had already begun to note the growing trend of America’s terrorist threat, corresponding directly and invariably with American intervention into the Middle East. Unlike both Bush and Clinton, Eland was already keenly aware of al-Qaida, Hezbollah, and their growing threat to American interests. (If only Donald Rumsfeld and Dick Cheney read the Cato Institute.) Here are some partial excerpts of his prescient work, from his 1998 paper Does U.S. Intervention Overseas Breed Terrorism? The Historical Record:
July 2, 1915: The Senate reception room in the U.S. Capitol was damaged by a homemade bomb built by Erich Muenter, a former Harvard professor who was upset by sales of U.S. munitions to the Allies in World War I.
June 5, 1968: Sen. Robert F. Kennedy, former attorney general and senior policy adviser to President John F. Kennedy, was assassinated by Sirhan Sirhan, who had grown up on the West Bank and regarded Kennedy as a collaborator with Israel.
March 1971: A bomb exploded in a U.S. Senate restroom, causing extensive damage. The bombing came at a time of rising opposition to U.S. policies in Vietnam.
November 4, 1979: Supporters of the Ayatollah Khomeini seized the U.S. embassy in Tehran, Iran, capturing hostages that were not freed until January 1981. The embassy was captured as a protest against long-time U.S. support for the unpopular shah of Iran.
July 22, 1980: Ali Akbar Tabatabai, a former press counselor at the Iranian embassy in the United States during the shah’s reign, was assassinated by the Islamic Guerrillas of America (IGA) after he had supplied U.S. officials with a manifesto of the IGA that advocated strategically planned terrorism on U.S. soil and assassinations of U.S. officials, stating, Any American can be targeted… no American is innocent… as long as U.S. foreign policies are to the detriment of the Islamic community.
April 8 and October 23, 1983: Islamic militants, funded by Iran and supported by Syria, suicide bombed the U.S. embassy and U.S. Marine barracks in Beirut, Lebanon, killing 290 people and wounding 200 more. The attack remains the deadliest post-World War II attack on Americans overseas. The Americans were supporting the Christian government in Lebanon against the Muslim militias by training and arming the Lebanese National Army. The U.S. Marines were later withdrawn from Beirut, prompting a Hezbollah spokesman to brag that the $martyrs! had finally forced the Marines out of Lebanon.
April 5, 1986: Libyan leader Moammar Qaddafi sponsored the bombing of the La Belle nightclub in West Berlin, which was frequented by U.S. servicemen. The United States retaliated for the La Belle bombing with air strikes against Tripoli and Benghazi, Libya. In retaliation for the U.S. air strikes on Libya, an American hostage in Lebanon was sold to Libya and executed; Libyans attempted to blow up the U.S. embassy in Lomé, Togo; a Libyan agent, Abu Nidal, hijacked Pan Am Flight 73 in Karachi, Pakistan, killing several Americans; The Japanese Red Army, under contract from Abu Nidal, planted a bomb at the USO military club in Naples, Italy, on the two-year anniversary of the air strikes, killing five; and two Libyan agents bombed Pan Am Flight 103, killing 270 people, 200 of whom were Americans.
March 10, 1989: A pipe bomb exploded beneath a van owned by the commander of the U.S.S. Vincennes, who had shot down an Iranian airliner over the Persian Gulf (killing 290 civilians) during U.S. participation in the $tanker war! against Iran. March 12, 1991: During the Gulf War, a U.S. Air Force sergeant was blown up by a remotecontrolled bomb placed at the entrance of his residence in Athens, Greece. $November 17!, the deadliest terrorist group in Greece, November 17, which attacks U.S. targets because of American imperialism-nationalism!, claimed responsibility for the attack.
February 26, 1993: A group of Islamic terrorists detonated a massive van bomb in the garage of the World Trade Center in New York City. The Egyptian perpetrators were trying to kill 250,000 people by collapsing the towers. Ramzi Yousef, the leader of the terrorists, said the intent was to inflict Hiroshima-like casualties to punish the United States for its foreign policy toward the Middle East. The perpetrators considered augmenting the explosion with radiological or chemical agents that would have increased the casualties.
April 15, 1993: Seventeen Iraqis were arrested as part of government plot to assassinate former president George Bush on a visit to Kuwait, in retaliation for the Gulf War against Iraq.
June 1993: Sheik Omar Abdul Rahman–a militant Egyptian cleric–and other radical Muslims conspired to destroy several New York landmarks on the same day. Funding for the operation apparently came from Iran and was funneled through Sudan, attempting to punish the United States for its policies toward the Middle East.
October 3, 1993: Osama bin Laden’s operatives trained Somali tribesmen who conducted ambushes of U.S. peacekeeping forces in Somalia in support of clan leader Mohamed Farah Aideed, causing the death of 18 American Army Rangers, and the dragging of dead American soldiers through the streets of Mogadishu. An indictment of his followers alleged the United States–an $infidel nation!–had a nefarious plot to occupy Islamic countries, as demonstrated by its involvement in the peacekeeping operation in Somalia and the Persian Gulf War. The incident led to the withdrawal of U.S. forces from Somalia, which bin Laden called his group’s greatest triumph.
November 13, 1995: A car bombing of a military complex in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia–which housed a U.S. military advisory group–killed 7 people (including 5 Americans) and wounded 42 others. Muslim militants seeking to topple the Saudi monarchy and push the infidel United States out of Saudi Arabia carried out the bombings. Three groups, including the Islamic Movement for Change, claimed responsibility. U.S. officials suspect that Osama bin Laden was involved….
We can fill in the rest. Years later, 9/11 ushered in the modern War on Terrorism, and Mr. Bush, with characteristic ignorance of the documented connection between American aggression in the Middle East and Islamic terrorism against America, only further augmented interventionist U.S. foreign policy. That the Bush Doctrine’s geopolitical social engineering, especially in Iraq, has been such an unqualified failure is not a surprise to anyone who has read this article thus far.
Another obvious problem with the Bush Doctrine and its exportation of Democracy is that nearly every Arab Muslim lives in a Non- Democracy, and thus America’s grand experiment looks, from the perspective of the common man, to simply be imperialist meddling with his local government. The Bush Doctrine, even if it somehow succeeded (i.e. when the “fight is won,” perhaps), would only guarantee a Pyrrhic victory at best. With every terrorist mastermind captured in Iraq, dozens of martyrs sign up to avenge his death and battle the American Empire. Iraq itself wasn’t even a haven for al-Qaida operatives until after America invaded it. While bin Laden, confirmed murderer of American civilians, roams the globe free, Mr. Bush is pleased that we’ve killed terrorist al- Zarqawi, whose horrific and disgusting attacks were all against America’s presence in Iraq, never threatening continental America itself. The Bush Administration, it seems, is really only successful at capturing terrorists of its own creation. Sadly, U.S. interventionism Iraq itself wasn’t even a haven for al-Qaida operatives until after America invaded it. The Bush Administration, it seems, is really only successful at capturing terrorists of its own creation.
Sadly, U.S. interventionism (Operation Terrorist Creation) is not limited to the occupation of Iraq. The CIA and NSA continue to interfere in the political affairs of various nations the world over, funding, training and assisting various anti-Islamic movements and governments, from the Caspian Sea to the Horn of Africa.
While such action may excite the intellectual tribalists in the neoconservative movement, the problem with such meddling is that the CIA-backed alternatives to Islamism, just like the CIAbacked alternatives to Communism, tend to usually be brutal nationalist dictators or military juntas, and are just as bad, or worse, than Islamism for the people we are supposedly “liberating.” As a result, our intervention only enhances political oppression, civil unrest and poverty, which, studies show, then only serves as a breeding ground for Islamic extremism. The whole nasty process only further convinces the Islamic diaspora that America is waging a war on Islam. This is not how to win the hearts and minds of the world’s people.
Our current policy, in its blind aggression and geopolitical ignorance, purports to fight terrorists “where they are making their stand,” but it only serves to make them more effective and numerous. Thanks to the Bush Doctrine, radical clerics, government bankrollers, and their potential recruits can now all observe a visible military and political occupation to justify their ongoing resistance against the Great Satan. In these backward societies deprived of freedom of information and thought, radical Islamofascist rhetoric, combined with clear evidence of American global occupation, is sadly enough for terrorists to gain alarming popular traction, financial support, and willing martyrs. This mobilization of terrorists, potentially creating hundreds of thousands of jihadists, if America’s belligerent foreign policy continues apace, is becoming the greatest threat the United States of America faces.
In intelligent recognition of this reality, America should immediately repudiate the Bush Doctrine and pursue a policy of intelligent disengagement. First, those terrorists and organizations which have committed or planned acts of aggression against the United States, such as al-Qaida, should be pursued with vigor; this is our most important mission and should be treated as such. Second, America must cease all nation-building, internal interference, and general military interventionism in the Middle East, Africa and Latin America, in order to deprive terrorists of their fuel for jihad. Regimes, organizations and groups who do not threaten direct harm to the United States should not be the target of any U.S. military campaign. As we’ve repeatedly argued, the occupation of Iraq should immediately end.
As Americans, we all desire to win the war and to enjoy permanent security. But like Vietnam, Quebec, and Somalia, not all battles our government chooses to fight are winning ones; and like My Lai, Manzanar, and the Bay of Pigs, not all tactics our military prefers are desirable. An extension of that nugget of common sense dictates that as long as U.S. foreign policy glorifies the imperialist fallacies of neoconservatism, we libertarians will continue to rightly inveigh against it.
The Bush Administration’s blind allegiance to aggression over knowledge perverts not only the lessons of Sun Tsu, but also the American Founders’ original vision of a nation seeking only peaceful trading ties, the avoidance of entangling political alliances, and a national defense to respond powerfully only when directly provoked. The authentic patriot believes in these true American principles of intelligent self-defense, and knows that they alone can safely guide our nation through these troubled and dangerous times.
The author of The American Evolution, Matt Harrison is the founder and executive director of The Prometheus Institute, Los Angeles, CA, a nonprofit public policy institute. He has authored more than 200 articles and has been a guest on several talk radio shows and a guest blogger for CNN.