There appear to be two schools of thought on the Right as to why terrorism happens. The first is opined by Hoover Institute’s Victor David Hanson in National Review. The second is given by Independent Institute’s Sheldon Richman in Reason. Both are quite interesting in how they show a major split between conservatives and libertarians (although Richman is probably closer to an anarcho-capitalist or an agorist) on foreign policy and what to do in the face of Islamic extremism.
Hanson’s view is simple: The West allows itself to be attacked because of its openness and willingness to accept whoever.
The West is obsessed with mandated equality. The Muslim immigrant — who often arrives without education, language facility, or money — easily learns how to blame his relative poverty on his hosts. He is rarely reminded that not being relatively well off in Frankfurt or Boston is still far better than being unsafe and poor in Yemen or Chechnya.
America asks little of its immigrants. U.S. policies allow illegal entry en masse. America does not insist that newcomers learn English, and it largely prefers the trendy multicultural salad bowl to the time-tested assimilationist melting pot. As a result, there are entire communities where recent immigrants and their families prefer to guilt-trip, rather than show affinity toward, their adopted countries.
The West is also lax. A jihadist knows that he has a good chance of reentering the U.S. or Europe from the Middle East without detection. If he’s caught, the penalties are far less severe than they would be if he tried to start a terrorist cell in China or Russia. Extenuating claims of multicultural victimhood would not work in either autocracy.
Hanson has a point, especially when Americans get bent out of shape about “safe spaces” or “cultural appropriation” of dreadlocks or American Indian headdresses. But Hanson needs to be very careful with his praise of China or Russia on how they crack down on terrorists. He’s forgetting how each also goes after Christians, with The Wall Street Journal noting last month how the government wants to keep it from spreading. Or how Russia is taking on American restaurants like McDonald’s, or going after the press for being willing to criticize the government. Hanson’s praise of China and Russia makes it seem like he’d be more willing to live in a “security state,” as long as the targets were Muslims. What might happen if someone else got in power and started cracking down on other areas? Is Hanson okay with the U.S. government’s decision to go after conservative or libertarian groups through the IRS? Would he be okay if the government started spying on churches or gun groups? This is the danger of wanting to see a specific group of people targeted because if “the other guys” get into power, they can start using it on you!
Richman’s view is also simple, but the complete opposite of Hanson: The West has caused plenty of problems within the Middle East and needs to stop.
It’s not hard to fathom why the full story of terrorism is not acknowledged by officials and pundits: it would draw attention to what the U.S. government and allied states have long been doing to people in the Muslim world. Nearly all Americans seem to think it’s a sheer coincidence that terrorism is most likely to be committed by people who profess some form of Islam and that the U.S. military has for decades been bombing, droning, occupying, torturing, etc. in multiple Islamic countries. Or perhaps they think U.S.-inflicted violence is just a defensive response to earlier terrorism. (I might be giving people too much credit by assuming they even know the U.S. government is doing any of this.) When the U.S. military isn’t wreaking havoc directly, the U.S. government is underwriting and arming tyrants like those in Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and elsewhere. And just to complete the picture, the U.S. government fully backs the Israeli state, which has oppressed Palestinians and occupied their land for many decades.
All this is what Islamist terrorists say they seek revenge for (more here), and the U.S. government acknowledges this. (That does not excuse violence against noncombatants, of course.) But telling the full story about the terrorists’ objectives might inadvertently prompt a fresh look—maybe even a reevaluation—of America’s atrocious foreign policy. The ruling elite and the military-industrial complex would not want that.
Richman also has a point, although his dislike of Israel is beyond disappointing. The West has been involved in the Middle East for ages, with the only real defensive war being the Battle of Tours, the First Crusade (depending on the source), and the Barbary War. For whatever reason, the West seems to have an obsession with the Middle East. Maybe it’s the oil, maybe it’s because almost every major religion has its origins between the Tigress and the Euphrates. Maybe it’s both. The West does seem willing to pick “winners and losers” in the Middle East, regardless if those “winners” may end up being worse than the guys they replaced (see the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and ISIS in Libya, Iraq, and Syria). But what about the alliances the West has made in the Middle East? Would Saudi Arabia accept no longer getting foreign and military aid, but having to trade with American companies instead? Would Israel accept this? Would Kuwait accept it? It’s a sticky situation, especially when one considers how grateful Kuwait was last month for its rescue 25 years ago from Saddam Hussein. Would an American power vacuum cause Russia or China to start flexing its military muscles even more? These are difficult questions to consider and answer, even if I tend to agree with Richman more than I do Hanson.
The debate is worth having as the U.S. considers what its next moves are in the future. I wrote earlier today how half-measures won’t work in war, and you have to decide whether to push “truly win” or just be stagnant. If the battle is going to be between encouraging truly free markets and military interventionism, I’m more than likely going to land of the side of free markets. But this doesn’t mean the U.S. shouldn’t be able to defend itself if it’s ever attacked again on home soil like September 11th. I’m just not sure going for autocracy is a good idea.