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Breeding Terrorism

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If 2000 comes in with a terrorist’s bang, the blame must be squarely placed at the feet of our foreign-policy makers. Of course, the perpetrator is directly responsible for the deaths and injuries of innocent civilians, but that doesn’t alter the fact that the foreign-policy establishment, from President Clinton on down, are accessories. They created the indispensable conditions.

Too extreme a statement? Ponder this: someone recently asked when the last act of foreign terrorism was committed against Switzerland. Isn’t it interesting that countries that mind their own business aren’t targets of violence committed by citizens of other nations? Maybe there’s a lesson there somewhere.

Apologists for activist government never tire of telling us that the benevolent state is our protector and that without it we’d be at the mercy of monsters. It is about time that we understood that the U.S. government does more to endanger the American people than any imagined monsters around the world.

How so? By pursuing its Grand Foreign Policy of meddling anywhere and everywhere. It stands to reason that if you stick your nose in other people’s quarrels you will acquire enemies. Some of them will be unhappy about the interference and will retaliate. Tragically, they will not be so careful about discriminating between the offenders and innocent civilians. That’s wrong, but so is the meddling that brings the retaliation about.

The failure to avoid harming innocents isn’t something the U.S. government is in a position to pontificate about. Its perennial program of bombing and embargo-perfected by the Clinton administration-constitutes a handbook on how to punish people who have done you no wrong. The only thing that distinguishes terrorists from U.S. policymakers is that the terrorists don’t have bombers or the capacity to inflict an embargo on the American people.

At the moment, the United States has sanctions against Iraq, Iran, Cuba, and Serbia. We know that those sanctions are not achieving their stated objectives. The rulers of those countries are virtually unaffected. But that doesn’t mean the people aren’t suffering. They suffer from the lack of food, medicines, and vital services. An administration that claims to want to do so much “for the children” is starving children in other countries.

An economic embargo was once regarded as an act of war, and for good reason. It is slow-motion mass murder. We might have learned from history that inflicting mass starvation on a population can come back to haunt. During World War I the Allies inflicted a devastating hunger blockade on Germany that lasted for months after the armistice. The starving children that didn’t perish grew up to become Hitler’s soldiers.

Not all of America’s mass murder has been in slow motion. The bombers see to that. The United States has been responsible for the deaths of thousands, many civilians included. The survivors don’t forget.

Bombing and economic sanctions are not the only ways that the United States has inflicted harm on foreign populations. It has also done so by aiding client states that have oppressed people. For example, Turkey has subjugated Kurds, Israel has repressed Palestinians and bombed its neighbors, and U.S.-backed dictators have committed atrocities against their own people.

The upshot is that U.S. policymakers have done their best to make foreigners hate the United States. Conservatives seem to believe that terrorists hate us because we are capitalist and wealthy. But that’s implausible. Young men don’t risk their lives and become terrorists to exact retribution for abstract offenses. They seek revenge for real crimes, such as the murder of family members.

There is a way to make the United States terrorist-proof: pursue a foreign policy proper to a constitutional republic, the same policy proposed by George Washington and Thomas Jefferson. In a word: nonintervention. Let countries and populations work out their own disputes. Meddling simply widens and intensifies conflicts.

Nonintervention should not be mistaken for “isolationism,” or self-sufficiency. A policy of unconditional free trade-as opposed to managed trade-is not only consistent with political and military nonintervention: it also logically requires it. If government follows a policy of leaving its and other citizens alone, free trade is the default position.

As we enter the final year of the millennium, let’s hope New Year’s Eve is tranquil the world over. In any event, the United States should reverse its imperial policy of policing the world.

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    Sheldon Richman is vice president of The Future of Freedom Foundation and editor of FFF's monthly journal, Future of Freedom. For 15 years he was editor of The Freeman, published by the Foundation for Economic Education in Irvington, New York. He is the author of FFF's award-winning book Separating School & State: How to Liberate America's Families; Your Money or Your Life: Why We Must Abolish the Income Tax; and Tethered Citizens: Time to Repeal the Welfare State. Calling for the abolition, not the reform, of public schooling. Separating School & State has become a landmark book in both libertarian and educational circles. In his column in the Financial Times, Michael Prowse wrote: "I recommend a subversive tract, Separating School & State by Sheldon Richman of the Cato Institute, a Washington think tank... . I also think that Mr. Richman is right to fear that state education undermines personal responsibility..." Sheldon's articles on economic policy, education, civil liberties, American history, foreign policy, and the Middle East have appeared in the Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, American Scholar, Chicago Tribune, USA Today, Washington Times, The American Conservative, Insight, Cato Policy Report, Journal of Economic Development, The Freeman, The World & I, Reason, Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, Middle East Policy, Liberty magazine, and other publications. He is a contributor to the The Concise Encyclopedia of Economics. A former newspaper reporter and senior editor at the Cato Institute and the Institute for Humane Studies, Sheldon is a graduate of Temple University in Philadelphia. He blogs at Free Association. Send him e-mail.