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October 5, 2001

What Can We Do About Terrorism?


by Harry Browne

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

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

Perfection isn't an option

Rule #1: No solution is going to be perfect.

Our 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.

I 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.

Foreign policy is the issue

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

There 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.

In 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."

The 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.

Bombing doesn't work

Rule #3: Bombing foreign countries doesn't end terrorism, it provokes it.

Our 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.

This is a crime, not a war

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

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

Calling 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.

Because 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.

If 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.

Reverse positions

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

If 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.

If 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 America.

If 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 act upon their hatred for American foreign policy by killing innocent civilians?)

Government is incompetent

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

The 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?

Don't 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.

What is the objective?

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

Terrorists 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.

Saying 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.

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

In my next two articles, I will present proposals for achieving this.

 

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Harry Browne is a best-selling author and two-time Libertarian Party nominee for president.

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