David R. Henderson  

My Pre 9/11 Column

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Various authors have posted what they wrote in the hours and days after that horrible morning of September 11, 2001. I've decided to post the last part of a column I wrote for Red Herring that was published on November 1, 1999.

Here's the excerpt:

BUNKER DOWN

The good news is that the probability of another major war in the next few years is very low -- I would put it at less than 5 percent. The biggest rival to the United States in the world today is China. Although U.S. government officials have actually given the Chinese government some of the technology necessary to attack us, it is unlikely the United States and China will come to blows. The wars in which the United States is likely to engage are skirmishes in small nations around the world, like Serbia and Kosovo. If a war costs the United States more than a few thousand lives, the political pressure to cut future losses and get out would be immense. Because the costs of Kosovo-scale skirmishes are small, they can be fought with only a slight increase in the defense budget and without major new regulation of the domestic economy.

But there is some bad news. Other governments, unable to compete with the United States in conventional wars, may instead use unconventional methods
like planting bombs (perhaps even nuclear devices) or spreading anthrax in major U.S. cities. The technology already exists, and all it would take to set that in motion is U.S. provocation against an aging dictator with little to lose. That dictator would surely be able to find a few zealots who would sacrifice their own lives to take out thousands of American citizens.

If a foreign government did use terrorist methods in U.S. cities, we would face a choice. One option would be to change our foreign policy by refraining from meddling in other countries' affairs. Why do people fear a bomb exploding in Washington, D.C., but not, say, in Ottawa? To ask the question is almost to answer it. Few nations in the world have much of a grudge against Canada's government because it rarely meddles in other nations' business. Not so with the U.S. government, which meddles constantly around the world and has yet to see a country that it does not consider a "vital U.S. interest."

The other choice would be to change the open nature of U.S. society completely. This would include increased restrictions on internal travel -- building on the precedent set by the Clinton administration for passengers on commercial airlines (who must show picture identification) -- and other restrictions on our freedoms that various bureaucracies in Washington probably have added to their wish list already.

If the second option were chosen, that would end the boom -- and a good deal more.


The column is titled "How Booming Cannons Hurt Booming Economies."


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CATEGORIES: Foreign Policy




COMMENTS (4 to date)
Jim Ancona writes:

While I agree with your point about the downsides of compromising our freedom in the name of preventing terrorist attacks, I must say that your comparison with Canada seems off the mark. A quick search finds a number of terrorist incidents over the last several years, including Parliament Hill, Aaron Driver and Rehab Dughmosh.

Perhaps terrorists aren't as discriminating as you thought?

AMW writes:

I miss the 90's.

BC writes:

What stands out to me in this column is how, in 1999, we still thought in terms of foreign governments and nations attacking us instead of stateless actors.

By the way, here is an alternative argument that, after 9/11 until present, more foreign engagement has corresponded to fewer terrorist attacks in the US: [ http://www.nationalreview.com/article/451247/steve-bannon-wrong-george-w-bush-foreign-policy-kept-america-safe-post-911 ]

Thaomas writes:

I do not think "engagement" is the right word to encompass US foreign policy. For those few ideologically committed to Extremist Islam, a powerful liberal democracy like the US will inevitably be an enemy, whatever our foreign policy. Foreign policy errors like invading Iraq and indiscriminate support for groups opposing the Soviets in Afghanistan can increase the risks.

Prudent measures to prevent attacks are reasonable. The US went hugely overboard (costs exceed benefits) on security around public buildings and airports and in electronic surveillance of citizens. Political leaders were remiss in not combating Islamophobia, which also increases risks.

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