David R. Henderson  

Brennan Admits Unintended Consequences of U.S. Intervention

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But will anyone listen?

In fact, as the pressure mounts on ISIL, we judge that it will intensify its global terror campaign to maintain its dominance of the global terrorism agenda.

This is a quote from CIA Director John Brennan in a Japan Times article titled "As Islamic State loses turf, it looks to send terrorists to the West: Brennan," June 16, 2016. According to the Japan Times, this is from testimony that Brennan was scheduled to deliver to a Congressional committee today. On the way in to work this morning, I heard that he had indeed said words to this effect.

In various Econlog posts and in articles on antiwar.com, I have argued that U.S. military intervention abroad leads to an increased probability of terrorist attacks at home. Many others have argued it also.

In the last decade, neoconservative Paul Wolfowitz agreed with that point as it related to Osama bid Laden. In a famous interview with Vanity Fair in 2003, he stated:

There are a lot of things that are different now, and one that has gone by almost unnoticed--but it's huge--is that by complete mutual agreement between the U.S. and the Saudi government we can now remove almost all of our forces from Saudi Arabia. Their presence there over the last 12 years has been a source of enormous difficulty for a friendly government. It's been a huge recruiting device for al Qaeda.

And now we see that John Brennan agrees, at least insofar at it relates to ISIS.


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COMMENTS (11 to date)
Mike W writes:

I don't think the Brennan quote translates into a conclusion that the US should never be involved in "military intervention abroad"...which is what you seem to be saying. Is your thinking that ISIS will not attack the West if we leave it to its bloody business in the Middle East?

In the Mar/Apr issue of Foreign Affairs in the article "ISIS Goes Global" Daniel Byman of Georgetown describes the threat from ISIS affiliates that Brennan alludes to.

Harold Cockerill writes:

Wait a second. Is this the Saudi government that underwrites Wahabism, builds mosques in America and sends clerics here to preach the need for Sharia Law in America? Just want to make sure which friends we're talking about.

There's an old line about pi$$ing down my back and telling me it's raining.

Weir writes:

Bad policies, good results.

Good policies, bad results.

Bad policies, bad results.

Good policies, good results.

Is that everything? Actually it doesn't matter whether we like the policy or not. Some of the results will be good and some will be bad.

In Saudia Arabia the policy is to stone people to death for having sex outside of marriage, or for the wrong kind of married sex, or for just being gay. This is what Omar Mateen saw as "good policy."

Let's draw up a list of everything Omar Mateen saw as bad policy and everything he saw as good policy. And then you can pick and choose your points of agreement. And then after that you say that when he kills people, this is an argument in support of those policies you support.

TMC writes:

It was also the the removal of troops from Iraq that led to the creation/success of ISIS. Occam's razor - don't simplify too much.

David R. Henderson writes:

@Weir,
Let's draw up a list of everything Omar Mateen saw as bad policy and everything he saw as good policy. And then you can pick and choose your points of agreement. And then after that you say that when he kills people, this is an argument in support of those policies you support.
I guess it’s understandable that you bought Mateen into the discussion, but I didn’t even have him in mind. We still don’t know his connection to ISIS. I’m making a simpler point: stick your hand in hornets’ nests and the odds are higher than you’ll be stung.
@TMC,
It was also the the removal of troops from Iraq that led to the creation/success of ISIS. Occam's razor - don't simplify too much.
That could be, but your’e starting halfway through the analysis. The troops were there to topple Saddam Hussein. Without that toppling, ISIS would have had very little traction.

Weir writes:

A lot of things offended Omar Mateen. If the point is to offend him as little as possible, then there's a lot of policies you'd want to change. But the point, apparently, isn't just to lower the odds. Adopt every last one of his preferred policies and you wouldn't get stung. Foreign policies, domestic policies, everything that made him upset.

Roger McKinney writes:

The level of understanding of Islam in DC is awful. The CIA is probably the most ignorant. They should read all of Bernard Lewis' works.

Muslims world-wide have been waiting for the caliphate since Turkey shut it down after WWII. As Lewis shows in "What Went Wrong," muslims hate the West because the Ottoman Empire used to be the world's hyper power but has not been since about the 18th century. That humiliates and angers muslims. They desperately want to be the dominant power in the world again. Most think that if they could implement a pure form of Islam then Allah would restore them to power over the West.

ISIS won the support of most muslims in the world when it announced the formation of a new caliphate. We're not fighting ISIS, but most muslims worldwide. We destroyed Afghanistan and Iraq, so the radicals simply moved to Syria and Somalia. They're now in Libya. Destroy Syria and they'll go somewhere else.

We can never win this militarily. This is a fight within Islam for control of Islam. The best we can do is be patient until a new generation arises that rejects terror.

David R. Henderson writes:

@Weir,
A lot of things offended Omar Mateen. If the point is to offend him as little as possible, then there's a lot of policies you'd want to change. But the point, apparently, isn't just to lower the odds. Adopt every last one of his preferred policies and you wouldn't get stung. Foreign policies, domestic policies, everything that made him upset.
You sound like a broken record. See my earlier response to you. My post had nothing to do with Omar Mateen.

Weir writes:

I could talk about terrorists in the abstract. But they all have names. They make specific statements.

Some of those statments are congenial to you. On foreign policy, yes? But other statements are, according to you, of no relevance whatsoever. Nothing follows from what the terrorists (including, but not limited to, Omar Mateen) keep saying about those domestic policies that don't personally offend you.

See the mistake you're making? You're saying that their opinions should be determinative, except when they shouldn't. To the extent that their opinions align with yours, they are of vast importance. Everything else that they believe in, not so much.

So the problem for you is: If their opinions on foreign policy are meant to be so important to the rest of us, why are their opinions on domestic policy of no importance at all?

This is a point about logic. Your own position can't be that simply lowering the odds is the be-all and end-all. Your own position isn't what you think it is.

David R. Henderson writes:

@Weir,
You keep thinking I’m writing about Mateen. I’m not. This post is about Brennan and his admission that interventions over there lead to more attacks over here. I would have written it the exact same way if the Orlando attack hadn’t happened. As I noted, I’m not even sure that Mateen is a good example of this. But even if he is, I’m not saying that we should determine our policies based on his views. We should determine our policies based on what makes sense. What makes sense is to quit poking hornets’ nests.

Weir writes:

I have never thought you were talking about Omar Mateen.

The point I've been making applies to him just as it does to generic, non-specific terrorists, or to the Platonic terrorist.

The point, because I'm a broken record: There are unintended consequences to any policy. Policies you don't like, policies you do.

Terrorists object to the foreign policies that you also object to. Terrorists object to domestic policies that you support.

But if bad results are an argument against the policies you don't like, aren't you compelled, logically, to argue that bad results are an argument against even those policies dearest to your heart, those policies you love and cherish?

No? Then what does that suggest about your real beliefs? Socrates would say that your lifelong commitment to a non-interventionist foreign policy is what really matters to you. Not terrorist attacks in themselves. Which, after all, are the result of both bad policies and good policies, foreign policies and domestic policies.

There's more than one cause at work. There's even an ideology, distinct from the simple physics of action and reaction. Terrorists have opinions on everything. British novels, Danish drawings.

Lots of things upset the terrorists. And yet you've never argued in support of making blasphemy illegal, even though it makes sense.

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