American Empire Won’t Protect Americans

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A clear-headed foreign policy requires serious thought, not stale slogans. An op-ed by Representative Dan Crenshaw (R-Texas) and Mike Gallagher (R-Wis.) in the Wall Street Journal headlined “Troops in the Mideast Keep Terror Away” exemplifies why.

After $6 trillion, 6,000 American dead, and 17 largely fruitless years, Crenshaw and Gallagher argue that America must remain in the Middle East in order to “prevent another 9/11.” But how? How does the American military spending $45 billion a year to kill semi-literate Pashtun tribesmen in the Hindu Kush prevent another 9/11?

Crenshaw and Gallagher assert that America must remain in Afghanistan because “‘far-off lands’ no longer exist. An ISIS terrorist can reach America after a 12-hour flight.” Ideology, they argue, “travels even faster, weaponizing the internet to influence vulnerable Americans and resulting in attacks like San Bernardino in 2015 and Orlando in 2016. The world has become a small, interconnected place, and America ignores it at our peril.”

This is too abstract. The common noun “ideology” did not kill Americans on 9/11. And what does it mean for the Internet to be “weaponized?” Did Google Chrome open fire in a gay bar in Florida or blast its way through the streets of San Bernardino?

Crenshaw and Gallagher’s lack of precision in speech prevents clarity of thought. The attacks they mention were committed not by phantasms like “ideology” but by living, breathing human beings. These attackers were not random, either. They were Arab Muslims motivated to kill by the preaching of radical Sunni teachings.

And they came here legally.

Every last one of the 9/11 hijackers came into the United States on legitimate visas. Syed Rizwan Farook, who committed the 2015 San Bernardino shooting, was a citizen. His wife, Tashfeen Malik, came here on a K-1 fiancée visa.

Dzhokhar Tsarnaev of Boston Bombing infamy is an American citizen. His brother Tamerlan was a legal permanent resident. Muhammad Youssef Abdulazeez, who killed four Marines and one sailor in Chattanooga in 2015, was an American citizen. Omar Mateen, who killed 49 and wounded 53 others in the Pulse nightclub shooting, was a citizen.

Sayfullo Saipov, an Uzbek who rammed eight New Yorkers in a truck in 2017, came to America on a diversity lottery visa. Abdul Razak Ali Artan, who stabbed 13 at the Ohio State University in 2016, was a Somali refugee. Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the so-called “Underwear Bomber,” legally received a visa into the United States for his fateful flight. The infamous English-speaking Islamic cleric who inspired many of these attacks, Anwar al-Awlaki, was himself an American who taught for years in Falls Church, Virginia, of all places!

Crenshaw argued in December that Americans “go over there” to the Middle East so the terrorists can’t “come over here.” This logic does not work.

As long as our immigration policies remain what they are, the terrorists will keep coming over here—no matter what we do “over there.” It doesn’t matter how many thousands of bombs we dropped in Afghanistan—that didn’t stop Omar Mateen or Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab or Sayed Rizwan. Killing random jihadists a world away doesn’t prevent other Islamic holy warriors from boarding a “12-hour flight” to bring death to our shores.

The only thing that can prevent that is immigration control—which Crenshaw, in particular, dislikes. In 2015, he posted on Facebook that Trump’s “insane rhetoric is hateful,” and that Trump was an “idiot” for proposing restrictions on the legal flow of migrants from the Middle East.

Crenshaw was too severe. How can the terrorists get here if we don’t let them in? Is the 1st ISIS Camel Division going to stage an amphibious landing on the Potomac? Will the 101st Pashtun Parachute Brigade drop out of the sky onto Fort Benning?

No, of course not.

Crenshaw and Gallagher argue it is “dangerous” to bring the troops home. America must maintain a military presence in the Middle East forever, it seems. They call it an “insurance policy” against terror. And yet it was American forces stationed in the Middle East, and near the Islamic holy sites in Saudi Arabia in particular, that played an outsized role in fomenting the Islamists against us in the first place.

Why must America continually intervene in the affairs of Middle Eastern countries like Iraq, Syria, Libya, Afghanistan, and Israel? What good has any of this really done for American security? All the terrorists listed above attacked us after 9/11.

Crenshaw and Gallagher’s American empire will not keep us safe. It will only lead to more money and lives spent chasing a chimera. If we really wanted to stop the next 9/11, we would endorse a policy that prevents those most liable to commit such an attack from coming to the United States in the first place.

America is not an Islamic country. Prior to the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965, there were hardly any Muslims here at all. Their presence in large numbers in the United States is a matter of public policy. Deciding how many more people to let in is also a matter of public policy. There is nothing wrong with a people deciding to restrict immigration for the purposes of national security.

In a conflict against non-state actors, immigration restriction is one of the best tools the state can use to insulate itself from foreign-born violence. Borders, not bases, can keep America safe from overseas Islamic terror.

But arguing for such a policy is politically difficult. To raise objections to America’s current legal immigration policy status quo—endless immigration from the third world—is to risk political suicide. Support for the neoconservative project of endless American presence around the world carries no such risks.

Yet our national defense hinges on the triumph of common sense over slogans. Until that victory is won, America is in danger—no matter how many troops we station abroad.

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