by Patrick J. Buchanan – January 12, 1999
On the day after Pearl Harbor, ex-President Herbert Hoover sat down and wrote to friends: “You and I know that this continuous putting pins in rattlesnakes finally got this country bitten.”
Japan’s sneak attack was one of the great acts of state terror, but its motive was desperation. The United States had cut off Japan’s oil and sent Tokyo an ultimatum: Withdraw from Indochina and China, or we bring you to your knees. Japan decided to seize the oil of the East Indies and eliminate the one force that could stop her: the U.S. fleet.
Yet, after we crushed Japan, China fell to Mao and Indochina to Ho Chi Minh and the Khmer Rouge. Had we never intervened in East Asia, Japanese, not Americans, would likely have done the fighting and dying in Korea and Vietnam to contain Asian communism.
What calls to mind the phrase “putting pins in rattlesnakes” is an unsettling paper by the Cato Institute’s Ivan Eland: “Does U.S. Intervention Overseas Breed Terrorism? The Historical Record.”
Eland’s argument: Americans are the principal targets of terrorists because of our constant meddling in foreign wars. If we do not abandon our compulsive interventionism, we will one day be subjected to an act of cataclysmic terror, with a weapon of mass destruction, perhaps nuclear.
Already, we have come close. The World Trade Center bomb was designed to bring down one of those 110-story towers and kill perhaps 50,000 Americans. Had the terrorists used poison gas, they might have killed more than the 3,000 who died at Pearl Harbor. And Osama Bin Laden, the rich, U.S.-hating Saudi terrorist reportedly has long been in the market for a nuclear weapon.
Eland’s empirical evidence linking U.S. military interventions to retaliatory acts of terrorism is impressive. Consider:
U.S. Marines were sent into Lebanon to bolster a Christian regime in 1983. Result: Islamic terrorists bombed our embassy and Marine barracks, killing hundreds, and Ronald Reagan withdrew the Marines.
Before 1981, Libya’s Col. Qaddafi had not targeted Americans. But Reagan sent U.S. ships and planes across his “line of death” in the Gulf of Sidra, shot down his jets and sank his patrol boats. Result: Qaddafi blew up La Belle nightclub in Berlin, wounding dozens of GIs. Reagan answered with air strikes. Qaddafi retaliated with eight acts of terrorism, by Eland’s count, the most horrific being the downing of Pan Am 103.
In 1992, George Bush intervened in Somalia. Bin Laden trained the terrorists who lured U.S. Rangers into a trap, killed 18 and dragged the body of one through Mogadishu. Bill Clinton pulled out.
Bin Laden calls Somalia his greatest victory and is believed to have planned the 1998 bombings of our embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. What motivates him? Hatred of America because of our huge military presence on Islam’s sacred soil of Saudi Arabia.
Robert Kennedy was murdered by a West Bank Palestinian. George Bush was targeted for assassination by Iraqis. Filipino terrorists used to attack Americans until we withdrew from Subic Bay and Clark Air Force Base. Now, they don’t.
The seizure of the U.S. embassy in Tehran and other acts of state terror by the mullahs stem from U.S. military support of the shah until 1979. Today, there is a near-identical U.S. presence in Egypt and Saudi Arabia. Both regimes are despised by many of their own people, and Americans have been targets of terrorist attacks in both.
America is the only nation on Earth to claim a right to intervene militarily in every region of the world. But this foreign policy is not America’s tradition; it is an aberration. During our first 150 years, we renounced interventionism and threatened war on any foreign power that dared to intervene in our hemisphere. Can we, of all people, not understand why foreigners bitterly resent our intrusions?
With the Cold War over, why invite terrorist attacks on our citizens and country, ultimately with biological, chemical or nuclear weapons? No nation threatens us. But with the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, America will inevitably be targeted. And the cataclysmic terror weapon is more likely to come by Ryder truck or container ship than by ICBM. And no SDI will stop it.
Madeleine Albright describes terrorism as “the biggest threat to our country … as we enter the 21st century.” But battling terrorism must go beyond discovering and disrupting it before it happens and deterring it with retaliation. We need to remove the motivation for it by extricating the United States from ethnic, religious and historical quarrels that are not ours and which we cannot resolve with any finality.