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May 31, 2002

National Defense & National Offense


by Harry Browne

You might think I never advocate an expansion of any government function.

Not so. I'd like to see a greater national defense. In fact, I'd like to see a national defense period.

Today our government spends virtually nothing on defense. Instead, it spends over $300 billion per year on offense the most intimidating national offense in the history of the world.

The U.S. has the ability to destroy any country in the world or even the entire world. But it can't defend us from any two-bit dictator who gets his hands on a nuclear missile or from a dozen amateurs with box-cutters.

Isn't there something wrong with this picture?

The Constitution authorizes Congress to "provide for the common defense." But it says nothing about running the world.

Method to the Madness

Because the country is virtually defenseless against "terrorist states" and terrorist individuals, the politicians have a ready excuse for depriving us of our civil liberties.

They have to monitor our bank accounts. After all, one of us might be helping to finance terrorism.

They have to tap our telephones. After all, two of us might be plotting the next attack.

They have to monitor our email. After all, three of us might be terrorists conspiring to overthrow the government.

And since the country is virtually defenseless against such attacks, the only recourse is to impose police-state measures right out of George Orwell's 1984.

How convenient.

But it's even worse than that. Because we can't defend ourselves, the politicians feel justified in launching "preemptive" attacks against Iraq, Panama, Libya, Grenada, Afghanistan, the Sudan, Serbia, and just about any other country run by someone our President of the moment doesn't happen to like.

What Did the President Know?

The big issue currently is the question of how much the government knew in advance of September 11.

But that's almost irrelevant.

If some people in the government did have advance warnings, the government was too bureaucratic to respond. On the other hand, if no one knew anything, you have to wonder what they do with our money.

Either way we're paying the government $2 trillion a year and getting nothing in return. With all that money, the government should have been able to defend us from the box-cutter terrorists.

And after all the new invasions of our civil liberties and all the bombs dropped on Afghanistan and all the people killed by our military and all the bullying George Bush has done to make other governments join the crusade against terrorism, Vice-President Cheney says another terrorist attack is "almost certain."

So what are we getting for our $2 trillion, for our lost civil liberties, and for the ill will being created worldwide?

With $2 trillion the government ought to be able to come up with a better approach than by conducting military invasions that will just provoke more terrorist attacks.

For $2 trillion someone in government could at least explore the possibility that American foreign policy has made America an unsafe country.

Not a chance. We're expected to pay our taxes, wave the flag, and keep our mouths shut.

Defending the Country

When will America have a real national defense? It shouldn't cost more than $50 billion a year.

It requires only two essential elements.

The first is the ability to repel foreign missiles.

Ronald Reagan proposed such a missile defense in 1983. But he gave the job to the Defense Department, a bureaucratic government agency, and 19 years later we're not one step closer to the protection we need.

The government should simply post a reward say, $25 billion to be given to the first private company that produces an actual functioning, fool-proof missile defense. Not a prototype, not a plan, not a cost-plus contract but a demonstration of the actual system bringing down missiles. If such an offer were made, we'd probably have a missile defense within five years.

Remember all the reasons given in 1997 that the Y2K computer problem couldn't possibly be solved by 2000? Even computer experts said there wasn't enough time, there weren't enough programmers, and there were too many lines of computer code to be examined, altered, and tested. But somehow, people in search of profits found ways to overcome all the barriers that stymie bureaucrats, and they reduced the problem to a minor inconvenience.

In the same way, private firms competing to win a huge reward will achieve missile-defense goals that bureaucrats (and even scientists) working for the government might consider impossible.

And then the politicians would no longer have an excuse to intimidate anyone foreign or American.

The second essential element is to get the U.S. government out of the affairs of other nations. No more troops stationed in other countries. No more foreign aid military or financial to other governments. No more demanding that foreign countries change their ways.

If you want to be the world's policeman, telling everyone else how to run their lives, expect to be hated and even attacked.

But if we restore America to the peaceful beacon of liberty that once provided light and hope and inspiration to the entire world, we can expect to be loved again as America once was.

All we really want from the government is to be defended against missiles, bombers, and terrorists.

For $2 trillion, is that too much to ask?

 

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

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