What Can We Do About Terrorism?

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The late
Harry Browne wrote three articles on terrorism, here collected into
one, immediately after 911. At a time when other libertarians stayed
silent or championed the regime, he – as usual – spoke
truth to power.

Ground Rules for Fighting Terrorism

3-part series will propose the actions I believe our government
should take to fight terrorism.

looking at those proposals, however, we need to establish some ground

Isn’t an Option

#1: No solution is going to be perfect.

government has created ill will in many parts of the world. It has
bullied smaller countries, imposed new governments upon people who
didn’t want them, and demanded that other governments do what our
government wants. It’s unrealistic to think that there’s anything
that can be done now to quickly undo all the ill will.

have been criticized for dwelling on what our government has done
that led to the terrorist attacks. But if we don’t understand what
provoked this, we can’t evaluate any response to it – and we
can expect that the faulty policies will continue and provoke more
such attacks against Americans.

Policy Is the Issue

#2: It is American foreign policy that has provoked the attacks,
not anything inherent in Muslim fundamentalism.

are hundreds of millions of Muslims in the world who don’t believe
in killing non-Muslims. In fact, Muslims have been killed in Arab
terrorist attacks, just as non-Muslims have.

an interview conducted by John Miller
for Esquire in
February 1999, Osama bin Laden said: "This is my message to
the American people: to look for a serious government that looks
out for their interests and does not attack others, their lands,
or their honor. And my word to American journalists is not to ask
why we did that but ask what their government has done that forced
us to defend ourselves."

fact that bin Laden uses bad means to achieve his ends doesn’t excuse
our own government’s mistakes; nor does it justify our government
doing the same things he does.

Doesn’t Work

#3: Bombing foreign countries doesn’t end terrorism, it provokes

government has bombed Libya, Iraq, the Sudan, and Afghanistan, among
other countries, supposedly to teach terrorists a lesson. But the
bombings haven’t caused terrorists or foreign governments to change
their policies.

Is a Crime, Not War

#4: The terrorist attacks are a criminal matter, not a war.

is by definition an armed conflict between governments. No government
has claimed responsibility for the September 11 attacks, and no
government has been so accused.

the present situation a war is an excuse to impose wartime policies
against Americans and foreigners – including violations of
the Bill of Rights and killing foreign civilians.

the September attacks were a crime, the government’s job is to locate
and bring to trial any perpetrators who didn’t die in the attacks.
If some of them are located in foreign countries, our government
should request extradition – not threaten to bomb the foreign
country if we don’t get our way.

not all the criminals are found and brought to trial, it doesn’t
mean that bombing innocent people would have brought the criminals
to justice.


#5: If you think you or America is entitled to something, reverse
the positions and see how you’d react.

Afghanistan doesn’t turn bin Laden over to our government, ask yourself
whether you’d want your government to turn you over to the
Iranian government if it accused you of a crime.

you don’t think that American troops in almost a hundred foreign
countries are a source of resentment, ask yourself how you’d feel
if Chinese troops were stationed in your city.

you believe America has a right to bomb foreign countries for the
actions of a few, ask yourself whether you’d want foreign governments
to bomb your city because of something Bill Clinton did. (Haven’t
we already established that the terrorists were wrong to kill innocent
civilians because of their hatred for American foreign policy?)

Is Incompetent

#6: Government does not do anything well – even those functions
delegated to it by the Constitution.

government has the constitutional authority to operate a Post Office.
But if it’s urgent that a package get to the other side of America
by tomorrow morning, will you trust the constitutional Post Office
or will you use Federal Express?

assume that just because the government has the legal authority
to do something that it will actually succeed. So be careful what
you ask for.

Is the Object?

#7: There’s no way to eliminate all terrorism in the world.

have existed since Biblical times. There will always be such criminals
– people who will kill innocent bystanders to make a social
or political statement, or to bring pressure on a government to
change its policies.

that terrorism will be eradicated is not only unrealistic, it is
asinine. It indicates that the speaker shouldn’t be trusted in anything
else he says.

is realistic is the goal of reducing considerably
the threat of terrorism against the U.S.

my next two articles, I’ll present proposals for achieving this.

We Choose Death or Peace?

that’s necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do
the wrong thing."

Lawrence Block, The Evil Men Do          

have been sold a fantasy by their government and by the "experts"
on television.

fantasy is that our government will flex its muscles overseas, make
demands, kill a lot of people, demonstrate that we don’t tolerate
terrorism, "bring the terrorists to justice," and end
terrorism forever.

for decades, our government has been flexing its muscles overseas,
making demands, killing people, and teaching terrorists a lesson.
And what did it achieve?

brought about the deaths of 3,000 Americans on September 11.

policies by our government have brought us to where there now are
only two choices for the future. And you may not like either one
of them.

Choice for War

#1 is to bomb Afghanistan "back to the stone age," and
maybe Iraq, and maybe any other country our government accuses of
harboring terrorists. (Except the U.S., of course, where many of
the terrorists lived safely for several years.)

choice won’t eliminate all the terrorists. It probably won’t eliminate
any of them. But it will make the politicians feel good.
And it will satisfy the understandable lust for vengeance that so
many Americans feel right now.

not only will foreigners die by the thousands, it will feed the
desire for vengeance on the part of the terrorists – and inspire
other people to help them. The result? . . . 

  • We
    will be attacked on planes, in subways, buildings, schools,
    sports arenas – in any place innocent Americans can be
    cornered like lab rats.

  • Our
    economy will sink further and further downward as people become
    more and more afraid to lead normal lives.

  • We
    will see Americans die from bombs, from biological warfare,
    from assassinations, and from causes we can’t even imagine now.

government will react by escalating the violence still further.
And that will cause the terrorists to escalate their violence.
And with every escalation, more of our friends and relatives will
die – and more people around the world will come to hate America.

#1 doesn’t lead to anything very pretty. It will be disastrous for
America. But that’s where our politicians are taking us right now.

Choice for Peace

#2 is for our President to be a man and acknowledge to the world
that our government has made some horrible mistakes in the past
– but that our policy is changing.

must tell the world that our government will no longer impose its
will on places like Iraq, Serbia, Afghanistan, the Middle East,
Panama, Guatemala, Nicaragua, and Colombia. He must say that we’re
returning to the peaceful foreign policy that America followed for
its first century – until President McKinley took the country
into the Spanish-American War and down the road to empire.

are loved all over the world for what they’ve done – producing
low-cost food and medicines, great entertainment, and the kind of
voluntary charity that only free and prosperous people can bestow.

the same time, foreigners hate our government because it uses "foreign
aid" and military muscle to impose its way upon the rest of
the world.

politicians say that most of the world supports the American military
campaign. But what they mean is that our government is bribing foreign
governments to support the military campaign. Meanwhile,
recent Gallup poll
revealed that individual human beings in
35 major countries oppose American military retaliation by
better than 3 to 1.

American leaders would call a halt to the violence, condemn the
terrorist attack, and condemn the killing of innocent foreigners
by previous U.S. administrations, there’s a very good chance the
cycle of death and destruction could end immediately.

at a Crossroads

I guarantee that Choice #2 will lead to peace? Of course not, but
it is very likely to do so. And what terrorism remains will be relatively
minor compared to the awful future we face now.

I can assure you that Choice #1 will lead to the deaths of
many more Americans – most likely, tens of thousands (or hundreds
of thousands) of Americans, in ugly and tragic ways.

very possible the terrorists who weren’t killed in the September
11 attacks will never be caught – whether we pick Choice #1
or Choice #2. So let’s focus instead on ensuring that such a thing
never happens again.

first we must recognize that the fantasy our government is peddling
now – of bringing peace by killing foreigners – is just
that: a fantasy.

have only two choices – death or peace. It’s unfortunate that
it will take far more courage to choose peace.

Preventing Future Terrorism

role shouldn’t be to police the world – or even to win wars.
Government’s role should be to keep us out of wars –
to protect us from foreign enemies, not create them.

fact the main reason most people tolerate high taxes and invasions
of our liberty is because they hope the government will protect
them from domestic criminals and foreign problems. And yet, despite
a $2 trillion budget, our government protects us from neither.

libertarian foreign policy would rest on a simple principle:

always ready to defend ourselves, but we threaten no one.

a foreign policy should have four elements.


government should never interfere in other countries’ disputes,
never arm nor aid foreign governments, and never give terrorists
a reason to pressure our government.

the politicians drag us off to someone else’s war, they offer plenty
of reasons. The reasons usually include: stopping the conflict from
spreading, heading off the emergence of a new Hitler, protecting
our allies, doing the moral thing, and ending violations of human

rarely do they come even close to achieving any of the goals.

American who wants to volunteer to fight for a foreign government
or revolutionary movement, to negotiate its peace, or to send money
to help it should be free to do so. (It is currently illegal for
you to help a foreign government or revolutionary movement.) But
our government should stay out of such battles.

No Foreign Aid or Military Assistance

Constitution grants our government no authority to use your money
for the support of foreign governments.

only is it unconstitutional, it is unfair by almost any standard.
As Fred Smith pointed out, foreign aid taxes poor people in rich
countries for the benefit of rich people in poor countries.

aid originally was justified as a way of arming countries against
Communist aggression. But Cuba, China, and Vietnam all became Communist
after receiving American money and weapons.

so much money and military hardware have been given to Israel’s
enemies that it allows the politicians to say we have to give massive
aid to Israel to keep it from being destroyed.

American should be free to send money or weapons to any government
in the world. But you shouldn’t be taxed for the benefit of any
foreign government.

Security against Attack

could the bad people of the world conquer America?

have to pulverize American cities to the point that we submit to
being occupied – or they’d have to threaten to do that.

1983 Ronald Reagan made the most sensible military suggestion of
the past 50 years – that America should protect itself against
missile attacks. Unfortunately, he gave the job to the Department
of Defense – which is really the Post Office in fatigues. And
so 18 years later we’re no closer to being protected than we were
in 1983.

should rely as little as possible on politics and bureaucracy to
achieve anything. The government should simply post a reward –
say, $25 billion – to go to the first private company that
produces a functioning, fool-proof missile defense. With such an
offer, we’d probably have a missile defense within five years.

that make us perfectly secure? Of course not. Nothing will.

it will make us far safer than we are today and eliminate a principal
excuse for meddling in other countries’ affairs.

Target the Aggressors, Not the Innocent

with a missile defense, suppose America truly were threatened by
a foreign ruler.

Libertarian President would target the aggressor himself. He wouldn’t
order bombers to kill the aggressor’s innocent subjects.

would warn the ruler that an actual attack would trigger the posting
of a reward of, say, $100 million for the person who kills the ruler.
Everyone would be eligible to collect the reward – including
the ruler’s guards and wives.

response would spare both innocent foreigners and innocent Americans.
Only those who try for the reward would be at risk. Americans wouldn’t
be drafted to fight and die invading a foreign country – nor
taxed to pay for volunteers.

isn’t a way to force dictators to change their spots or submit to
U.S. dictation. It’s only a way to discourage a direct attack on
America. If the dictator withdrew his threat, the U.S. would withdraw
the reward.

a libertarian foreign policy, it’s unlikely any foreign ruler would
threaten us. So such a reward probably would never be posted. But
if a foreign ruler were tempted to threaten us, the fear
of assassination would be more of a deterrence than the threat to
bomb his civilian subjects.

you don’t believe assassination is a nice way to handle this, what’s
the alternative? Would you rather kill thousands of innocent foreigners
and innocent Americans?

for All Time

America can defend itself against missile attack, the politicians
will lose their best excuse for butting into the affairs of other
countries and making demands upon you.

when our government no longer interferes in other countries with
military adventures and foreign aid, foreign terrorists will have
little reason to threaten your city.

some foreign leader still tried to make trouble for America, we
should target the leader for assassination, not target innocent
civilians for bombing. But an American government that minded its
own business and had a secure defense isn’t likely to need to resort
to assassination.

policies I’ve outlined are the only ones that will produce a strong
national defense, instead of a strong national offense, and leave
terrorists with no reason to attack us.

they’re in place, we must find a way to keep politicians away from
loaded weapons forever.

a start – a proposed constitutional amendment:

The United States shall be at war only after a declaration
of war, naming the specific enemy nations, is approved by the
President and by a two-thirds vote of the eligible members in
both houses of Congress.

. The only members of the House of Representatives and the
Senate eligible to vote on a declaration of war are those who
are between the ages of 18 and 35, or who have children, grandchildren,
or great-grandchildren between those ages.

. In the absence of a Congressional declaration of war, the
President may deploy the military to repel an invasion of United
States territory, but may not deploy troops or engage in hostilities
outside the United States.

. The United States shall enter into no treaty with any nation
or organization if such treaty could oblige the United States
to be at war without a declaration of war by Congress, and the
United States shall not be bound to engage in war by any action
taken by any organization of which they are a member.

. Except in time of war, as specified in Sections 1 and 2,
the United States will provide no weapons or other resources to
foreign governments, will engage in no military action outside
the borders of the United States, and shall deploy no military
personnel or weapons outside the boundaries of the United States
except that at any one time up to one thousand members of the
military may be outside the United States for no longer than thirty

. Upon any violation of this article by the President, Congress
shall institute impeachment proceedings within 14 days.

3 and 5 don’t preclude a missile defense or any other kind of defense
of this nation. It requires only that the President wait before
attacking a foreign nation until a declaration of war has been issued.
Even if some incapacity prevents Congress from making a declaration
quickly, America could still defend itself. It just couldn’t attack
anyone else.

is too dangerous an enterprise to leave in the hands of people who
routinely lie in their own self-interest.

welcome any suggestions for making the Amendment more precise.

late Harry Browne, the author of Why
Government Doesn’t Work

and many other books, was the Libertarian presidential candidate
in 1996 and 2000. See his website.

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