Saturday, April 18, 2009

Aim the State at Our Enemies Abroad

Safety in general and national security specifically are probably the two main justifications for the state reducing the liberty of its citizens -- especially here in the U.S. Much of the right accepts expanded state power in the interests of national security and protection against crime, while the left often supports it on the basis of economic safety & security. Times of crisis exacerbate these tendencies, as we saw after 9/11, and we are now seeing because of the economic meltdown. The problem with any expansion of state power, no matter how justified it seems at the time, is that the liberty lost is almost never regained. Many small things that seem almost trivial and certainly not worth worrying about, become taken for granted. This is particularly true of any measures taken in the name of safety and security. Regulations for airline passengers are an obvious example. 

Like most threats, the state has two main strategies for dealing with terrorism: offense and defense. If one of these strategies fails, it is almost axiomatic that the other one will gain increased precedence. Our defenses against terrorism failed on 9/11. That failure produced an unprecedented surge of offensive efforts to stamp out terrorism, to the point that we even engaged in a so-called "War On Terror." There were also increases in defensive measures of course, such as the Patriot Act, the creation of the Department of Homeland Security, and so forth. But an offensive strategy dominated.

Anyone that cares about freedom, and favors a minimum of state reduction of liberty in the name of security needs to ask one question: Which strategy is less damaging to to the rights and freedoms we enjoy here in the U.S.? In my opinion an offensive strategy that aims the power of the state at disrupting our enemies abroad, is far preferable to more defensive measures at home that invariably impact the liberty of Americans. This is a major reason why the blind legalism of the terrorist rights movement is so dangerous.

The anti-terrorist actions taken by the CIA and other arms of the U.S. government abroad, do not affect the rights of Americans here at home, and they may help prevent attacks on the U.S. But another successful attack on the U.S. will inevitably lead to defensive measures that reduce the liberty of our citizens. There will be more surveillance, more police powers, and more domestic security efforts of all types. Secret CIA torture of someone like Al-Nashiri at a secret location, has zero impact on the liberty of U.S. citizens. Zero. But the attempt to provide terrorists with rights, and to cripple the clandestine operations of the CIA with legal restrictions, is a direct assault on one of our main offensive weapons against terrorism. And if offense fails, increased defensive efforts are inevitable.

Military force is a clumsy, blunt instrument against terrorism, as our efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan demonstrate. Intelligence is the key to any offensive strategy that aims to disrupt terrorists abroad before they can attack. In order for intelligence efforts to be successful they need two things: secrecy & flexibility. Misguided attacks on the CIA which expose its cloak of secrecy and attempt to impose legalistic restrictions on its operations abroad have no benefit to American freedom and liberty, and may instead help undermine it by reducing our ability to prevent attacks.

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