Bush’s National Security Strategy Is a Misnomer

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The Constitution of the United States ofAmerica makes clear that one of the paramountresponsibilities of the federal government is to"provide for the common defense." In the past, theprimary threats to the United States and U.S.interests were hostile nation-states. Today, the realthreat to America is terrorist groups, specificallythe al Qaeda terrorist network. Therefore, alQaeda, not rogue states, should be the primaryfocus of U.S. national security strategy.

Many people mistakenly assume that al Qaedahates the United States for "who we are" as a country.But the reality is that hatred of America is fueledmore by "what we do," that is, our policies andactions, particularly in the Muslim world. Thatdoes not mean that the United States deserves to beattacked or that the attacks of September 11, 2001,were justified. But if the United States is to takeappropriate steps to minimize its exposure tofuture terrorism, it must correctly understand whatmotivates terrorists to attack America. The obviousconclusion to be drawn by American policymakersis that the United States needs to stop meddling inthe internal affairs of other countries and regions,except when they directly threaten the territorialintegrity, national sovereignty, or liberty of theUnited States.

Thus, 9/11 highlights the need for the UnitedStates to distance itself from problems that donot truly affect U.S. national security. Much ofthe anti-American resentment around the world,particularly in the Islamic world, is the result ofinterventionist U.S. foreign policy. Such resentmentbreeds hatred, which becomes a stepping-stoneto violence, including terrorism.

But the new National Security Strategy promulgatedby President Bush in September 2002 doesjust the opposite. It prescribes a global securitystrategy based on the false belief that the best andonly way to achieve U.S. security is by forcibly creatinga better and safer world in America's image.A better approach would be a less interventionistforeign policy.

It is too late to stop al Qaeda from targetingAmerica and Americans. The United States mustdo everything in its power to dismantle the alQaeda terrorist network worldwide, but theUnited States must also avoid needlessly makingnew terrorist enemies or fueling the flames of virulentanti-American hatred. In the 21st century,the less the United States meddles in the affairsof other countries, the less likely the prospectthat America and Americans will be targets forterrorism.

Charles V. Peña

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