David R. Henderson  

McArdle on Foreign Intervention and Blowback

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About two weeks ago, I challenged the following brief statement by Arnold Kling:

We can also find this normative analysis among libertarians. Blaming terrorism on blowback for foreign intervention.

Arnold was claiming that many libertarians are finding government intervention in other countries' affairs to be one of the main factors in the terrorism directed against people in the countries whose governments are intervening, and that they were finding it because that's what they were looking for and were leaving out other plausible explanations.

Arnold replied here and I replied to him here.

Unfortunately, Arnold hasn't yet given any other plausible explanations for terrorism, of which there may be many. I must say that I'm skeptical of the "they hate us for our freedom" explanations because there haven't been many terrorist attacks on countries that are arguably freer, such as Switzerland.

So it was interesting to find Megan McArdle making the same point I made--namely that government intervention is a major factor in home-grown terrorist attacks on Americans--and not only doing so, but doing it so matter-of-factly.

In a June 30 article debunking the idea that right-wing terrorism is an important phenomenon in the United States, McArdle writes:

The other thing to ask is how we're defining a terror event and classifying the motivation. I took a little stroll through the underlying data, and on the "jihadist violence" side, the definition is pretty clear: with the exception of one case in which a Muslim who seemed fond of jihadist propaganda beheaded a coworker for reasons that are not entirely clear, the rest of the attacks involved someone with an ideological commitment to radical Islam trying to kill a bunch of people in a way that made it clear that this was about U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East.

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COMMENTS (8 to date)
Yaakov writes:

I agree that terrorism against US citizens is due to a large extent to US foreign policy. The question in my eyes is could the US reasonably have a foreign policy that would not anger the Muslim Jihadists. Another question is would these Jihadists just point their anger elsewhere or would they not be so angry and spend their lives instead doing something more constructive.

I do not have answers to these questions.

According to nativist conservatives, the US is being invaded by Mexicans. You can find similar rhetoric from opponents of free trade. If immigration or trade is an invasion and if invasions cause terrorism, it's not surprising that terrorism might be caused by activity that starts as peaceful.

In particular, I thought Osama bin Laden cited alleged underpricing of oil as a major reason.

David R. Henderson writes:

@Joseph Hertzlinger,
In particular, I thought Osama bin Laden cited alleged underpricing of oil as a major reason.
I couldn’t find that with a Google search. Do you have a cite or two?

Seth writes:

Alternative plausible explanation:

USA is a big fish. It's the leader of the free, non-Islam world. Its media can be played like a pawn.

Intervention is a convenient excuse. If they didn't have that, they would likely come up with others.

George writes:

I believe that the second most common educational background for terrorists is an engineering degree. Anecdotally, I've heard that there was an over saturation of engineers in Saudi Arabia and so many would be engineers became unemployed, frustrated and easily radicalized.

NZ writes:

Is there another example besides Switzerland? It'd be good to control for the Every Adult Required By Law To Own A Gun factor.

Foseti writes:

All you have to do to avoid terrorism is have a foreign policy unlike any of these countries.

No problem!

[url changed to the original chart from _The Economist._ --Econlib Ed.]

Roger McKinney writes:

If you want to understand Islamic terrorism you have to read anything you can find by Bat Ye'or and Bernard Lewis.

It's more complicated than any of the popular theories. Muslims are intensely devoted to conspiracy theories that defend Islam in the face of obvious inferiority in all aspects of civilization.

The Islamic world used to dominate Europe and Muslims credited their religion for their success. That domination began to wain in the 17th century and called into question the superiority of Islam. Muslims retreated behind conspiracy theories to explain what happened. (Rodney Stark explains that they never were as superior as they thought)

Until WWII, Great Britain was the great Satan that suppressed the Muslim world. Anything bad that happened, from plagues to sandstorms, was the fault of the Brits. After WWII, they dropped the UK and enthroned the US as their great Satan.

They blamed all of their failures to destroy Israel in four major wars on US support for Israel; they weren't fighting tiny inferior Jews but the omnipotent US. They suffered from brutal dictatorships because the US kept them in power. They were poor because the US stole their wealth. There is no end to the conspiracy theories developed over the past 70 years.

The recent wars in Iraq and Afghanistan merely add a teaspoon of support to their ocean of conspiracy theories, but had the US not invaded those countries, all Muslims would still see the US as the source of all of their problems. Their logic is unassailable in their minds: As good Muslims, they should be the world's wealthiest and most powerful people. Since they are clearly the weakest and poorest, it must be the fault of the leader, the US.

Of course, they also insist that Allah determines all things, so some, like Bin Laden and ISIS, have preached that Muslims need to be purer in their faith before Allah blesses them and brings down the Great Satan, the US.

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