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Finding Safety from Terrorism

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Since September 11, safety, security, and liberty are at the forefront of every American’s mind. As in most crises, some Americans believe that a stronger and more powerful central government is the answer. But is it?

Responding to an increased demand for protection, the federal government has embraced a number of “solutions” to the terrorist threat, all of which expand the powers of the government. The federalization of airport security, increased immigration controls, expanded domestic law-enforcement powers, and the incarceration of American citizens without trial are just a few examples of the way our current political leadership is dealing with the danger of new terrorist attacks.

It is understandable that Americans would turn to government in the wake of an assault within our borders. After all, defending the citizenry here at home from aggression is the primary responsibility of the state.

But what if America is being attacked by foreign terrorists because of our government’s interventionist foreign policy, such as bombings and trade embargoes overseas, rather than for the freedom and openness of our culture, as many pundits and government officials would have us believe?

If that is the case, the American people ought to start asking themselves whether the inevitable loss of their freedom that accompanies every growth in government power is an effective or desirable way of making us safe from terrorists.

During the first hundred years of our nation’s history, Americans faced practically no foreign menace. The world was far from being a peaceful place, but the United States largely managed to escape Europe’s centuries-old conflicts by maintaining a position of neutrality. As John Quincy Adams put it, “Wherever the standard of freedom and Independence has been or shall be unfurled, there will [America’s] heart, her benedictions and her prayers be. But she goes not abroad in search of monsters to destroy.”

At the same time, the United States was enjoying a period of unprecedented economic prosperity. While European nations were trading blows with each other, individual Americans were trading their goods and services with people from all over the world, establishing lasting relationships and friendships that were built on goodwill and mutual gain.

Far from being seen as a potential threat, immigrants to America were welcomed and faced virtually no barriers to entering the country. The outcome was an increase in living standards unlike any in the history of civilization.

Today, by comparison, our political leaders insist on maintaining an overseas empire to police the world, keeping troops in more than a hundred countries and interfering in countless conflicts around the globe. America has strayed far from Thomas Jefferson’s wise council favoring “honest friendship with all nations” and “entangling alliances with none.”

The federal government also contributes to international discord by interfering with the economic freedom of the American people. Trade barriers and other political obstacles to the free movement of goods and labor create tensions with foreigners who wish to do business with Americans.

U.S. protectionist barriers also exacerbate conditions in economically stagnant nations, some of which harbor our nation’s bitterest enemies. Embargoes are imposed with the alleged purpose of unseating brutal dictators, but inevitably they end up preventing vital medicines and food supplies from reaching hospitals and hungry children. Meanwhile, resentment towards the United States grows.

In the 19th century, when the U.S. government limited itself to the role of a night watchman and left its citizens free to engage in global friendship and commerce, our nation was a shining beacon for the world. Our melting-pot society mirrored Voltaire’s view of the great capitalist societies of the 18th century, where “Jew, Mohammedan and Christian dealt with each other as though they were all of the same faith.”

Our history serves as a ready guide. Granting free rein to the federal government in foreign affairs, while eroding cherished liberties such as privacy, free movement, and due process of law, benefits no one and only endangers the American people. It is through the curtailment of government power overseas and the expansion of individual freedom and free trade that peace, prosperity, and international goodwill are nurtured.

Thus, the solution to the problem of terrorism is to bind our leaders down with “the chains of the Constitution” with respect to foreign policy and once again free the American people to extend a hand of friendship to the world.

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    Scott McPherson is policy adviser at The Future of Freedom Foundation. An advocate of the Free State Project, he lives in Portsmouth, New Hampshire.