How Do You Deal With Terrorists?

As with most people, the events of September 11, 2001 are permanently etched into my memory.  A small group of religious zealots were so consumed with hatred for our country and our civilization that they were willing to commit suicide in the course of murdering thousands of people.  What defense and what deterrence are possible against that kind of irrationality and fanaticism?  What can be an effective response?  These were some of the questions which most worried me in the immediate aftermath of 9/11.


After ten years of the War On Terror, I think some answers have begun to emerge.  No, you can’t deter a fanatic who is willing to die, as evidenced not only by the 9/11 hijackers but also by the many suicide bombers who have blown up so many innocent victims in Israel and other places over the years.  But you can retaliate, and you can eliminate as many of them as possible.  It turns out that there is not an unlimited supply of such fanatics, and they cannot be all that effective if their organizational infrastructure is destroyed and their leaders are killed.


Although it has taken a long time, with many enormously expensive and wasteful digressions along the way, most of the Al Qaeda top leadership has been liquidated. Osama Bin Laden sleeps with the fishes.  The remnants of that terrorist organization are on the run or in hiding.  A measure of justice has been meted out on behalf of the three thousand people who were massacred on 9/11.  And while perfect safety can never be achieved, we have now gone ten years without another attack on the scale of that day.


As a libertarian who believes in the principles of self-defense and retributive justice, that’s a much better situation than what I feared was in store for us in the immediate aftermath of the 9/11 attack.


With that in mind, I think it’s worth going back and looking at the contemporaneous response of the Libertarian Party in reaction to 9/11.  The following statement was adopted by the Libertarian National Committee at its meeting in Atlanta, Georgia on October 14, 2001:


On Sunday, October 7, the United States launched military action against Osama bin Laden, the terrorist believed to be responsible for the September 11 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.  The U.S. military also struck military bases controlled by the Taliban regime of Afghanistan, which has sheltered and reportedly assisted bin Laden.


While the Libertarian Party has been a consistent voice against reckless foreign interventionism by the U.S. government, we support action against the perpetrators responsible for the terrorist attacks. The vicious and barbaric attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, which bin Laden allegedly masterminded, cost 5,000 innocent Americans their lives. Such horrific crimes cannot go unpunished.


A fundamental role of the United States government, as defined in the U.S. Constitution, is to protect American citizens against foreign attack. Therefore, it is proper for the government to take forceful action against terrorists who have already killed thousands of Americans, and who have threatened to kill more. Such criminals must be rooted out and destroyed before more innocent people die. Their training camps and weapons must be eliminated. Their supply infrastructure must be shattered.


At the same time, the United States’ response must be appropriate and measured. Every precaution must be taken to minimize injury or death to innocent civilians and non-combatants — in Afghanistan and in other nations. To do otherwise is not only a violation of America’s ideals, it would also create future enemies for our nation and continue the cycle of violence and revenge.


We also call on the United States government to publicly reveal the evidence that conclusively links bin Laden and his terrorist network to the September 11 terrorist attacks. While much circumstantial evidence is available, and while bin Laden has made statements condoning the September 11 attacks, the U.S. government has an obligation to conclusively demonstrate that he is guilty of mass murder. Such evidence would not only help swing world opinion firmly behind the United States’ actions, it would make a clear and compelling case that justice is being served by the recent military actions.


The Libertarian Party must take a more cautious stance about the military attacks on Afghanistan’s Taliban government. Yes, there is considerable evidence that this totalitarian regime has aided bin Laden, and, yes, it refuses to assist the U.S. government in bringing bin Laden to justice. But it is a sovereign nation, and a military strike against it is an act of war.


According to Article I, Section 8 of the U.S. Constitution, only the United States Congress has the power to declare war.


If military action against the government of Afghanistan is indeed appropriate, then the U.S. Congress should establish this by debating and passing an official declaration of war. Such an action would make the attack constitutionally legitimate, and protect the vital separation of powers upon which this nation’s government was founded.


The United States government should also announce clear, measurable, and finite goals for this War on Terrorism. Any military action must not be allowed to turn into an endless, global war against numberless, shadowy targets. America’s best interests will be served by decisive action that targets the guilty, spares the innocent, and ends as quickly as possible.


Finally, the United States has an obligation to consider a new, positive approach to foreign policy for the future.


Years ago, President Thomas Jefferson articulated a foreign policy that consisted of "peace, commerce, and honest friendship with all nations, entangling alliances with none." Such a foreign policy – deeply rooted in American tradition and principle — would reduce the chance that terrorists will ever again want to strike a bloody blow at America.


As our nation embarks on this new war, the words of Thomas Jefferson echo down the centuries, and point in the direction of an America that can be at peace with the world — and have less to fear from foreign enemies.


The above motion was passed by a voice vote of the LNC without objection.  While not perfect, I think it holds up pretty well with the passage of time.