Cato Foreign Policy Briefing No. 69 December 18, 2001

Foreign Policy Briefing

Robust Response to 9/11 Is Needed
but Poking the Hornetsí Nest Is Ill-Advised

by Ivan Eland

Ivan Eland is director of defense policy studies at the Cato Institute.


Executive Summary

To date, the Bush administration has responded well to the terrorist attacks of September 11. The administration has wisely focused its military response against Osama bin Laden's al Qaeda terrorist network and al Qaeda's supporters in Afghanistan's Taliban regime. The administration's surgical approach, using air power, marines, and special forces to support the opposition Northern alliance, is the right technique.

However, the recent imposition of stringent financial sanctions against terrorist groups not affiliated with bin Laden's network and most likely not involved in the September 11 attacks should raise a warning flag. If that expansion of sanctions is the first step in a global war on terrorism that would eventually include covert or military action against all terrorist groups on the State Department's terrorism list, then it is cause for concern. Given the ability of terrorists to hide in the shadows and the erosion of U.S. human intelligence capabilities, conducting a worldwide war against terrorism would be difficult, might create more terrorists than it eradicated, and could unleash retaliatory strikes on U.S. targets from terrorist groups that have not previously been adversaries of the United States. Indeed, some of the groups designated for the tightened U.S. sanctions have never attacked American targets. By taking on such groups, the United States would unnecessarily be fighting the battles of other nations.

It is vital to show that the heinous attack on U.S. soil will not go unanswered and to eliminate the threat from al Qaeda and affiliated groups, but it is foolhardy to draw a bigger bull's-eye on the United States by taking up the fight against numerous other terrorist groups on behalf of other nations.

Full Text of Foreign Policy Brief No. 69 (PDF, 6 pgs, 35 Kb)

© 2001 The Cato Institute
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