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Jewish World Review Sept. 25, 2001 / 8 Tishrei, 5762

Doug Bandow

Doug Bandow
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The wrong solution to the wrong problem -- WITH the horror of the disastrous terrorist attack as a backdrop, debate over what to do fills the air. Policy makers must also carefully consider what not to do.

What must be done is deceptively easy: Dismantle the one or more international terrorist networks that planned the Sept. 11 assault. Kill the terrorists, ruin their infrastructure, seize their resources, and punish their supporters, especially foreign governments.

Yet righteous anger should not lead to carelessness. It is important to kill the right people and destroy the right property. There has been much loose talk about unleashing hell upon foreign states, irrespective of the consequences, even upon innocent civilians. But to slaughter the innocent is not just wrong, but foolish. It is foolish because it creates more grievances and enemies, and thus ultimately more terrorists. It is foolish because it gives undeserved credibility to the terrorists' criticism of America. And it is foolish because it leaves the terrorists free to strike another day.

The United States cannot be paralyzed by fear of unintended consequences and not act. But it must have a reasonable belief that it is hitting the right people and doing so in a way calculated to hurt the least number of innocents.

Another objective is to make America more secure, to forestall not only a similar assault, but any attack. That means better unearthing of terrorists and better minimizing the harm from any plots that succeed. But fundamental liberties should not be wantonly sacrificed, since they are what makes this nation so unique and so great. Government needs power to fight enemies of America, but that power must remain constrained, since it is easily abused by even the best intentioned.

In particular, Congress should wait for emotions to cool lest they needlessly sacrifice traditional legal safeguards. Lawmakers should address the serious threat of terrorism; in contrast, most of the measures adopted in the aftermath of the Oklahoma City bombing would do nothing to stop a repeat assault.

Standing up for America also requires a willingness to tolerate the risks that inevitably face a free and open society. To close off America from the world or abandon the liberties enjoyed by American citizens would result in an enormous victory for terrorists. An important symbol is Reagan National Airport; shuttering it would be an admission of surrender. The U.S. military must focus more on real threats to America, which today emanate less from traditional ideologies like communism and more from developing theologies like radical Islamism. That means more resources devoted to traditional defenses at home and unconventional capabilities abroad.

But such an effort does not require a massive military build-up. To the contrary, spending can shrink as resources are better deployed. For instance, fighters are not needed to guard Europe from the nonexistent Red Air Force; they are needed to police America's own airspace. Soldiers should not be patrolling the artificial state of Bosnia; they should be training to strike terrorist operations in isolated terrains. The silliest proposal of all is to restart conscription. Stanley Kurtz of the Hudson Institute worries that ""There may be no other way out."

Over the last three decades, the United States faced the Soviets. Won the Gulf War. Blasted Serbia. Invaded or deployed to a host of small states. All with a volunteer military. And unless one plans on attacking ... and occupying, for years ... Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq, Libya, and Syria simultaneously, today's force is far more than sufficient.

Indeed, the volunteer military is better trained and motivated than any draft force, which is why the Pentagon has no interest in returning to the agonies of conscription. In any case, it would take months to turn raw draftees into soldiers. Although recruiting was slow in 1999 and 2000, it has improved this year. More important, focus groups suggest that many potential recruits want to protect America, not engage in global social engineering.

No longer defending prosperous and populous allies, which face no serious security threats, and policing civil wars, which are irrelevant to U.S. security, would free up the forces necessary to protect America and respond to terrorism.

Finally, it is important to forge cooperative international relationships to destroy small, shadowy terrorist networks that span the globe. And to deny terrorists sanctuary. At the same time, the United States must beware of becoming ensnared in the volatile political problems of other states. Unfortunately, Washington has long seemed oblivious to how easy it is to make enemies, and how well able they are to cause grievous harm.

The United States must not create new terrorists while attempting to eliminate old ones. The world turned very ugly on Sept. 11. We must learn the right lessons lest it grow even uglier in the future.

JWR contributor Doug Bandow is a senior fellow at the Cato Institute. Comment by clicking here.


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05/04/00: How not to save the Constitution

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