Cato Policy Analysis No. 496 October 30, 2003

Policy Analysis

Bush’s National Security Strategy
Is a Misnomer

by Charles V. Peña

Charles V. Peña is director of defense policy studies at the Cato Institute.


Executive Summary

The Constitution of the United States of America makes clear that one of the paramount responsibilities of the federal government is to "provide for the common defense." In the past, the primary threats to the United States and U.S. interests were hostile nation-states. Today, the real threat to America is terrorist groups, specifically the al Qaeda terrorist network. Therefore, al Qaeda, not rogue states, should be the primary focus of U.S. national security strategy.

Many people mistakenly assume that al Qaeda hates the United States for "who we are" as a country. But the reality is that hatred of America is fueled more by "what we do," that is, our policies and actions, particularly in the Muslim world. That does not mean that the United States deserves to be attacked or that the attacks of September 11, 2001, were justified. But if the United States is to take appropriate steps to minimize its exposure to future terrorism, it must correctly understand what motivates terrorists to attack America. The obvious conclusion to be drawn by American policymakers is that the United States needs to stop meddling in the internal affairs of other countries and regions, except when they directly threaten the territorial integrity, national sovereignty, or liberty of the United States.

Thus, 9/11 highlights the need for the United States to distance itself from problems that do not truly affect U.S. national security. Much of the anti-American resentment around the world, particularly in the Islamic world, is the result of interventionist U.S. foreign policy. Such resentment breeds hatred, which becomes a stepping-stone to violence, including terrorism.

But the new National Security Strategy promulgated by President Bush in September 2002 does just the opposite. It prescribes a global security strategy based on the false belief that the best and only way to achieve U.S. security is by forcibly creating a better and safer world in America's image. A better approach would be a less interventionist foreign policy.

It is too late to stop al Qaeda from targeting America and Americans. The United States must do everything in its power to dismantle the al Qaeda terrorist network worldwide, but the United States must also avoid needlessly making new terrorist enemies or fueling the flames of virulent anti-American hatred. In the 21st century, the less the United States meddles in the affairs of other countries, the less likely the prospect that America and Americans will be targets for terrorism.

Full Text of Policy Analysis No. 496 (PDF, 26 pgs, 152 Kb)

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