The American foreign policy elite, Democrats and Republicans alike, regularly boast that the United States is the worlds only superpowerunrivaled in its ability and willingness to project military power and influence around the globe. Yet what does this swaggering global dominance have to do with ensuring the security and safety of the republic and its citizens? If the U.S. governments recent warnings to its citizensboth at home and abroadto essentially duck and cover when the millennium turns are any indication, the answer is nothing. In the post-Cold War security environment, profligate U.S. interference in the business of other nations and groups may, in fact, reduce the security of Americans.
For all of its global power, the U.S. government fails in the most basic task that a government must performensuring the protection of its own citizens. According to the State Departments own report on global terrorism, the United States alone is the target for 40 percent of the worlds terrorism. That hefty share is unusual for a nation that has no civil war, domestic insurgency, nor unfriendly neighbors.
The important question that is hardly ever asked and never adequately answered is: What motivates terrorists to single out Americans? Using the underlying and unquestioned assumption that the United States wears the white hat and the terrorists wear the black hats, the foreign policy establishment focuses mainly on the modus operandi of terrorists and how to combat them. Although many supporters of an interventionist U.S. policy claim that terrorism is directed at the United States because of who it isthe largest capitalist nation and mass exporter of cultureboth President Clinton and the Defense Science Board have admitted that the United States is targeted because of its unique leadership responsibilities and involvement in international situations (euphemisms for meddling unnecessarily in the affairs of other nations).
The foreign policy apparatus inside the Washington beltwaywhich looks at the world as if it were a chessboardis reluctant to curb its voracious appetite for American military escapades (for example, bombing Serbia even though that nation in no way threatened the United States and continuing to bounce the economic rubble that is Iraq). The U.S. foreign policy elitediplomats, the military brass, members of Congress, and even U.S. academicsgain from Americas role as the global leader. In international circles, they have enormous prestige and an eager world audience that salivates for their analyses and prediction of the global hegemons foreign policy.
But what does the average American get from U.S. meddling in far flung corners of the world that do not remotely affect U.S. vital interests?: A much lighter wallet and increasingly an uneasiness when traveling abroad or even participating in large public celebrations at home.
As the new millennium rapidly approaches, the American public has a reason to be uneasy. The bombings of the World Trade Center and the American embassies in Kenya and Tanzania indicate that terrorists are now more willing than ever to inflict mass slaughter to retaliate against an interventionist U.S. foreign policy. Also, terrorists now have access to nuclear, biological, and chemical weapons that could cause massive casualties. In a little known incident in 1995, the Japanese religious cult that attacked the Tokyo subway with poison gas was planning to release nerve gas at Disneyland in California during a fireworks celebrationwhen attendance at the park would reach maximum capacity. Fortunately, U.S. authorities apprehended the group members before they could launch the attack.
It is chilling that the foreign policy elite seems resigned to such catastrophic acts of terrorism. High officials speak of when and not if such an attack will occur on U.S. soil. The recent conclusion by a commission formed to advise the administration and Congress on the vulnerability of the United States to catastrophic terrorism shows the mindset of the experts:
As serious and potentially catastrophic as a domestic terrorist attack might prove, it is highly unlikely that it could ever completely undermine the national security, much less threaten the survival, of the United States as a nation.
An average person might wonder about leaders who fail to regard tens or hundreds of thousands of casualties on American territory as a complete breech of the nations security. The United Statesin all of its historyhas never suffered casualties of such magnitude on its soil at the hands of a foreign attacker.
The foreign policy establishment will arrogantly reply that the worlds only superpower should not appease terrorists. By this definition, any person who refused to burn down the house of a difficult neighbor could be accused of being guilty of appeasement. Most disagreeable terrorists and the rogue states who sponsor them are far from U.S. shores and would not bother the United States if it did not constantly meddle in their regions. It is unfortunate that Americans must duck and cover on the eve of the new millennium when a more restrained U.S. foreign policy would have greatly reduced the chances of terrorist attacks.
Ivan Eland is Senior Fellow and Director of the Center on Peace & Liberty at The Independent Institute. Dr. Eland is a graduate of Iowa State University and received an M.B.A. in applied economics and Ph.D. in national security policy from George Washington University. He has been Director of Defense Policy Studies at the Cato Institute, and he spent 15 years working for Congress on national security issues, including stints as an investigator for the House Foreign Affairs Committee and Principal Defense Analyst at the Congressional Budget Office. He is author of the books Partitioning for Peace: An Exit Strategy for Iraq, and Recarving Rushmore.
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