Terrorists Want Us to Overreact. Let's Not Give In, Mr. President.

Maybe it's time for America to stop taking the bait.



"Do you have a strategy now, Mr. President?" asked the cover of the Daily News next to a photo of the second American journalist to be beheaded by the terrorist group ISIS. The impulse to "do something" to counter such evil is strong. But why do we assume that government doing something is always an improvement over government doing nothing?

In domestic policy, encouraging government to act leads to nonsense like the "stimulus spending" that created boondoggles such as Cash for Clunkers. Our foreign policy record isn't much better, despite big successes such as stopping Hitler. Consider the unintended consequences of involving ourselves in other conflicts, such as Vietnam.

President Carter, now derided as a weakling, wasn't about to sit around and "do nothing" when Russians invaded Afghanistan. Carter armed Islamic fighters, the mujahidin. Bold move.

But later those fighters formed the Taliban.

President Clinton lobbed missiles at al-Qaida without doing much damage. Osama bin Laden mocked the U.S. as a "paper tiger" for such ineffectual tactics.

When President George W. Bush chose to go to war with Saddam Hussein, Vice President Cheney assured the world we'd be hailed as "liberators." After we weren't, hawks said the invasion still made the world safer, because Saddam harbored terrorists.

Well, Iraq is definitely a harbor for terrorists now.

Despite our frequent military interventions from Southeast Asia to Latin America, in the Wall Street Journal, Brookings Institution foreign policy analyst Robert Kagan warns about "America's dangerous aversion to conflict."

Aversion to conflict?

I too get frustrated watching evildoers abuse Americans overseas. Maybe the plan to "train and equip" certain tribes and eventually "destroy ISIS" that President Obama will speak about tonight will be a good thing. But I'm skeptical. After the toppling of Saddam, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice thought it was smart to support Sunni militants who wanted to fight al-Qaida. But now it's Sunni militants who lead ISIS.

Secretary of State Hilary Clinton thought it was smart to aid Islamist militias in Syria and Libya. In Libya, "A monstrous little dictator was removed," writes Peggy Noonan in the Wall Street Journal, but that "left an opening for people who were more monstrous still, who murdered our ambassador, burned our consulate in Benghazi and have now run us out of Tripoli."

We may soon do an about-face and help Bashir Assad against militias we had hoped would overthrow him (a few months ago, when he was the latest in a long line of foreign leaders who hawks likened to Hitler). We don't know what our interventions will bring. If we remove ISIS, we remove the biggest threat to terrorist cells like Hamas. Fighting these groups is like fighting Hydra, the monster from Greek mythology. Cut off one head, two more grow back.

The policy twists and turns come so fast that Americans may give up on following them all. I don't blame them: In Syria alone, there's conflict between Assad's government, the Free Syrian army, al-Qaida, Jabhat al-Nusra, the Islamic Front, Hezbollah, ISIS, and so on.

Remember hawkish Sen. John McCain appearing in a photo with some Syrian fighters who turned out to be terrorists? It's hard to keep track.

One of the terrorists' goals is to get us to overreact. They understand how much it costs us. In a piece titled "The Beheadings Are Bait," Matthew Hoh from the Center for International Policy reminds readers that Osama bin Laden said, "All that we have to do is to send two mujahidin to the furthest point east to raise a piece of cloth on which is written al-Qaida, in order to make the generals race there and cause America to suffer human, economic and political losses."

Maybe it's time for America to stop taking the bait. Islamic militants do monstrous things all over the world. We cannot stop it all.

There may be actions we can take. Thousands of people in Iraq were rescued by airdrops of food and water. Air strikes stopped the ISIS advance. But there is a big difference between that type of action and prolonged engagement.

The urge to "do something" is understandable. But government can't get domestic policy right. Don't assume it gets foreign policy right.

NEXT: Video: Stop Criminalizing Parenting: Free Range Kids' Lenore Skenazy on Our Irrational Fears over Child Safety

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  1. I keep reading that so many of the problems we create occur because we pick winner and losers and always end up arming the wrong people and deposing the wrong dictators. The Mujaheddin, Saddam Hussein, Qaddafi, whatever.

    I know the solution: Just kill everyone! If you kill them all you can be assured that you got rid of the right group. If there are no people, there’s no war.

    1. You can’t kill everyone, cause no more revenue. Killing, goood…. no revenues, baadddd…..

      1. If we kill everyone, who will we bomb/free?

        1. Oh I’m sorry, I meant just the people who don’t look or worship like us.

          1. But if we kill all those people, who will be left to kill!? You gotta let em breed for war season, man.

            1. Those fancy new drones aren’t going to drone themselves, you know?

              1. Wait… Drone Gladiator Tournaments!

                They could fight to the death for our amusement!

                1. But does anything ever really kill skynet?

    2. The US government knows exactly what it is doing. It wasn’t by happenstance that IS split off from a group that Obama heavily armed and helped fund. The point is destabilization.

      How convenient that today there was more talk about chemical weapons being used in Syria, the same day that Obama is announcing he will unilaterally bomb the place. Gotta whip up that support somehow!

      1. When the fever is hitting 103 is no time to lecture on the virtues of healthy living. Bloodlust is a sweet distraction from personal failure.

  2. But government can’t get domestic policy right. Don’t assume it gets foreign policy right.

    Quite possibly the most important line in the whole piece. Good job, JS.

    1. The government does exactly the same thing in foreign policy as it does in domestic policy. Namely, get involved in situations that they have no business being involved in and create unanticipated and unwanted consequences, which they then also try to solve and then create more damn problems.

      So why would we expect the results to be different when the policies are the same?

      1. So why would we expect the results to be different when the policies are the same?

        Personally, I don’t expect different results. I think the outcome will be less than optimal.

        IRL, most people I know and work with, are of the ‘I don’t pay attention and I don’t care’ school of politics. Disheartening, it is.

        1. It’s easy to become that way when you read the news on a daily basis. Ignorance is bliss.

      2. In particular with this administration, but at least somewhat true with all, our military actions and much of our foreign policy are driven largely by domestic politics. Some administrations take foreign policy seriously enough to not let it be totally subject to political concerns, but the current one appears to have no foreign policy strategy at all–just acts in whatever manner it thinks polls well. Which is very bad for the country.

    2. Anyone who listens to the news hears a lot about failed policies. But politicians who talk about failed policies are just blowing smoke. Government policies succeed in doing exactly what they are supposed to do: channeling resources bilked from the general public to politically organized and influential interest groups.

      When we take a realistic view of the political process, we see that so-called failed polices are nearly always spectacular successes. Otherwise, they wouldn’t last. It is politically convenient, of course, to speak of them as one might speak of a run of flu–as something terrible that has fallen upon us for which we have yet to find a cure.

      But show me a government policy that clashes with the interests of a substantial number of powerful government officials and their resourceful supporters in the private sector, and I’ll show you a policy that can be abandoned overnight.

      Robert Higgs

  3. The thing that really bothers me about all this, is that the USA is clearly not entirely innocent here. We have had our hands in arming these terrorist factions for decades now. And we constantly are killing peoples’ families with drone strikes, etc., and no one can be completely ignorant of the fact that is just going to create more extremists hell bent on doing the West harm.

    Maybe as a start, we could stop doing that now? Just throwing the idea out there.

    1. Oh come on! Muslims don’t care about there children and families like white people. Didn’t you know that?

      1. But no worries, this time when Obama starts bombing wedding parties, day care centers, and funerals, and arming various not so extreme Islamists to fight the other bad Islamists, it’s finally going to win them over and make them love us. The same old shit is going to work this time, cause the right people are in charge of same old shit.

        1. Well, I mean he is “uniquely qualified” to deal with the Islamic world…

          1. And yet he is still totally clueless or just willfully ignorant and dishonest.

            I’m going to say both.

        2. Relax. Only bombs deployed during Republican administrations hit wedding parties, daycare centers and funerals. Haven’t you been reading the news? Collateral damage stopped when Obama was inaugurated.

    2. but hitler!!!!11one


    3. Leading by example? Holding the moral high ground? What kind of maniac are you?

  4. Hail hydra!

    1. Put your arms down. You look like a West Texas cheerleader.

      1. Sever a couple heads and you can get the US to bomb the hell out of somewhere. Tempts you to set up the IRS.

  5. Have I mentioned I like Stossel?

    1. It’s only the stache. Without the stache, there is no Stossel.

      1. Someone else’s leather outerwear comes to mind.

        1. We’ll have to put it to a vote.

          What is more mysterious and all poweful:

          The Stache


          The Jacket

          Hey wait… what IF someone has BOTH a stache … and a jacket???

          1. My dad had both of those in the 80s, didn’t seem to do much for him.

            1. Maybe they cancel each other out.

  6. No, their goal is to take over the middle east and use it as a base to take over the rest of the world. It is an ambitious goal to be sure. But that is their goal. Us overreacting and killing them doesn’t really play into it much.

    To say that us overreacting plays into their hands is to assume that if we just leave them alone they will go away. I fail to see how that is true. If we leave them alone, maybe the people in the middle east defeat them on their own. Or maybe they don’t and they don’t.

    The heart of that assumption is the idea that people join ISIS or Al Quada because they hate the US. That is just not true. People join these organizations for a lot of reasons. But mostly they do so for the same reason people have always joined fascist movements; they want meaning in their lives and to be a part of something bigger and world changing. The US ignoring them isn’t going to make them less appealing. In fact, it is likely to make them more appealing if our ignoring them allows them to be successful.

    The west has been dealing with this sort of thing for a long time. Read about Chinese Gordan and the Mad Mahdi sometime. Going into the Sudan with a larger better equipped army and murdering the Mahdi and his followers didn’t cause the movement to grow stronger, it killed it as people realized it was a loser movement. There is no meaning in joining a loser movement. The meaning comes from joining the winning side.

    1. Wow, John; have you ever stopped to consider that just maybe if we quit bombing the shit out of them that just perhaps AQ/ISIL/whatever the fuck it’s called today won’t have a really good argument for attacking America/americans and might just change its agenda?

      It’s an honest question. I know the results of bombing them, because it’s been done over and over and over since WW1. I don’t know what happens from leaving them the fuck alone, because it’s never been done.

      1. If we stop fucking around with them all of the time, then they will turn their attention back to fighting against the other various factions among themselves, like they were already doing for thousands of years.

        What we are doing, is nothing more than giving them a common enemy to focus all their collective energy on.

        1. Why can’t they fight both? Yes, there is a long list of people these guys would like to kill. You are correct.

          It might be that the best course of action is to do nothing and see if the other people on the list kill these guys before they get around to killing us. That is entirely possible. But saying that is different than saying “if we just do nothing they will leave us alone”, which is what Stossel is saying.

        2. If we stop fucking around with them all of the time, then they will turn their attention back to fighting against the other various factions among themselves, like they were already doing for thousands of years.

          In the past, we at least had reason to interfere in the region…oil.

          Technology has eliminated our need for their oil. Why we fucking care what happens over there now is beyond my comprehension.

          This is easy. Get out. If John and the warmongers are right and they come over here and attack us because the hate our freedoms, fine, you can then claim the right to self defense and go kill them. You don’t get to kill them based upon what they might do.

          1. We’re there mostly to protect European interests, which is beneficial to us because they buy our stuff and are generally allies of ours. Allies that talk shit about us, but still allies.

            1. Don’t get me going on Europe.

              1. Is there any doubt that WWIII will start there?

            2. Are they completely helpless? Are their Prime Ministers going on TV to address their population about what they are about to do to protect their interests?

              1. Why bother when the U.S. will do it for you? European socialism is only possible because it is subsidized in several ways by the U.S., particularly when it comes to military spending. No U.S. military umbrella means all that becomes untenable.

                That’s one reason that our impending financial disaster seems to be likely to happen quicker than it has in Europe–we’ve got socialism and a huge military budget. Couple that with all of the regulatory, tax, and related spending insanity, and big problems are on the horizon.

              2. Europe doesn’t protect Europe…America protects Europe. They keep cutting their defense forces and we keep growing ours. Wouldn’t be a bad deal if they were actually paying for our protection.

                Anyone see a business model?

                1. Anyone see a business model?

                  I’m 110% down with this. Pay off that fucking 17 trillion in no time.

                2. I can haz all your hot Eastern European models?

                3. Yes. We should switch with Europe. They become our military for use in dealing with overseas crises.

              3. Meh, maybe the Brit PM…if he is finished crying about Scotland.

                1. So, will we sell arms to Scotland?

                2. Um, “British” PM? Not without Scotland. More English, Some Small Islands, and a Wee Bit of Ireland PM.

        3. If we stop fucking around with them all of the time, then they will turn their attention back to fighting against the other various factions among themselves, like they were already doing for thousands of years.

          I wonder how many on the Indian sub-continent said the same thing. Yeah, this could never, ever spread beyond Arabia.

      2. If bombing causes people to hate us, why are the Japanese and Germans not attacking us? We bombed them a hell of a lot more than we have ever bombed the middle east. What about the Vietnamese, why do they not hate us and launching terrorist attacks? We bombed them for 8 straight years.

        It is a nice fairy tale to tell yourself that they only hate us or want to do this because of what we have done. It makes you feel secure and safe because it gives you the certainty of controlling the situation. If they are only doing this in response to what we do, then all we have to do is stop doing that. It is appealing to think that. Sadly, it is just not true.

        Not every movement is fueled by a specific grudge. And not every person acts in reaction to our actions. We never once bombed Japan before world war II and were in fact Japan’s allies in the 1920s. That didn’t stop Japan from going fascist. Did the Habsburgs bomb the Turks and cause them to wage war on them? No.

        You guys try to equate reduce every world conflict down to the level of a bully taking some kid’s lunch money. The world isn’t that simple.

        1. If bombing causes people to hate us, why are the Japanese and Germans not attacking us?

          Because in those instances we fought a total war against an enemy who was fighting a total war. We made it very clear that we were willing to nuke them if they didn’t comply.

          We no longer have the stomach for total war and we attempt to wage limited war against an enemy willing to go to the mattresses. According to Clausewitz, who wins such a conflict? Huh?

          If you aren’t willing to annihilate your enemy (short of some very limited and specific objectives, like getting Iraq out of Kuwait), war probably isn’t the answer.

          1. If you aren’t willing to annihilate your enemy (short of some very limited and specific objectives, like getting Iraq out of Kuwait), war probably isn’t the answer.

            You are right. And that is exactly what we are going to end up having to do.

            And in case you missed it, we left Iraq. We stopped bombing them. Obama did exactly what you said he should do. And their response was to take over half the country, behead Americans and say they are not stopping until they got to Washington.

            We just followed the Ron Paul, just apologize and go home policy in Iraq. And yet, somehow they still hate us. Why didn’t leaving bring us peace?


              They haven’t done ANYTHING that threatens the security of the United States of America. A couple of thugs killed a couple of stupid journalists. Are you going to go to war with every country a US citizen gets killed in? Are you going to go to war with every crackpot dictator who threatens to topple the US government? Iran? N Korea? And probably a dozen others?

              Look at yourself. You are a warmonger. This doesn’t rise to level of “justifying” war. You want to kill a shitload of our own soldiers over two journalists? Because you can bet your ass more than two American soldiers will die in this, even if it’s just by accident. And you want to spend billions over this?

              ISIS does not have the capability to be a threat to the security of the United States of America, and it never will. You cannot stop terrorism with bombs and bullets!

        2. You guys try to equate reduce every world conflict down to the level of a bully taking some kid’s lunch money

          Ironic coming from you who thinks we can simply remove ISIS–and most importantly their ideology–from the face of the earth with a bombing campaign. It’s you who has oversimplified this conflict.

            1. Nice job w/ the Clausewitz reference, but alas not too widely read by the mouth-breathing Team America crowd.

              1. John is military. He should know Clausewitz.

                1. I know, just trying to see if he’s still in the thread…

            2. I know Clauswitz. The difference is I actually understand what he wrote. Unlike you guys. Let me give you a hint, Clauswitz did not think that aggression was the single cause of hatred and wars.

              1. I’m sorry, John, did somebody here claim Clausewitz thought “that aggression was the single cause of hatred and wars?”

                Please point to that.

              2. That isn’t why Clausewitz was brought into the discussion, but you’re too bloodthirsty to grasp it. Since you can’t comprehend the nature of this war you want us in, you have no idea how it should proceed beyond Day 1 of the air campaign. Genius. You should just go ahead and sign up to be the next Nat Sec Adv, you’re well qualified.

        3. It is comforting for people to believe that the USA causes the world’s problems because, if we just install the right people in our government, the problems will go away.

        4. There’s a huge difference between WW II bombings and any response to ISIS that is now imaginable. Huge.

          In WW II, the US and UK were totally down with brutal terrorism of the enemy civilian population. The Allies fire bombed German and Japanese cities with the intention of creating fire storms that would barbeque civilian children along with their parents. The US used atomic weapons on cities with the intention of terrorizing both civilians and warriors. The conduct of the war was so brutal and so intentionally directed at terrorizing civilian populations with death and destruction that Curtis LeMay acknowledged that he and his fellow warriors were war criminals.

          The objective was to utterly vanquish the enemy and to obliterate the ideologies that had propelled the enemy. National Socialism was forbidden under the strictest terms in defeated Germany. Shintoism was forbidden in Japan. The Allies successfully brought about the destruction of Germany’s secular religion and Japan’s religion by utterly demoralizing its inhabitants with widespread, unrestricted death and destruction.

          Nobody is proposing an anti-Islamic campaign of that sort of annihilation that would facilitate the end of Islam. Every tactic suggested outside of the world of talkradio is much more modest. That’s a good thing. But anything short of that probably isn’t going to work. At least, there’s no history of it working.

          1. Nobody is proposing an anti-Islamic campaign of that sort of annihilation that would facilitate the end of Islam. Every tactic suggested outside of the world of talkradio is much more modest. That’s a good thing. But anything short of that probably isn’t going to work. At least, there’s no history of it working.

            You are absolutely correct. And the Muslims are going to keep fucking around until that is exactly what we do.

    2. The meaning comes from joining the winning side

      Now you’re onto something. But, after 13 years, is there anyone here who thinks we are on the winning side in the middle east?
      You just don’t get it. We do this w/ airpower alone, we’re the cowards over the horizon; no one sides with us. We do this w/ adequate ground troops, we become occupiers again; no one sides with us.

    3. You mean Chinese Gordon, the guy who died a horrible death at the hands of Mahdists? Who’s leader, the Mahdi, died of disease, not anything to do with British policy. And who’s successor when on a cleansing spree, effectively turning a lot of the population against his regime, making it a lot more easy to overthrow? Yeah, your historical revisionism is shocking.

      1. I mean the follow on punitive expedition that followed the defeat of Gordon. The British came back and laid waste to Mahdi’s army.

        Your historical ignorance is shocking.

        1. “The British came back and laid waste to Mahdi’s army.”

          Don’t overestimate the military effort. Machine guns vs. spears gives you an idea of what was involved. The real British effort in Sudan was what we call nation building today. The defeat of the Mahdi army was followed up by a massive transfer of civil servants who did much the same then as today’s nation builders.

  7. The desire for TOP MEN to “do something” is tied into the dependence government naturally tries to create in the peons. The more the peons depend on the government to save them from terrorists, give them free shit, “protect” them from crime, provide health care, etc, the more people will tolerate in terms of the overreaching power and grasp of the government. It’s an obvious, self-serving thing for the government to foster in the people, and as we can see, governments around the world do it daily.

    We’re at a weird place where prosperity and advancement has allowed us to have a far bigger and overreaching government than ever before in history. What is going to happen? Is it too far advanced to roll it back? I guess we’re going to find out.

    1. “protect” them from crime,

      Fuck, does this mean dogs are the cause of all crime?

  8. Fighting these terrorist groups is like fighting Hydra, the monster from Greek mythology: Cut off one head, two more grow back.

    Another idiotic claim of “If you strike me down I will become more powerful than you can imagine”. Everyone loves the Hydra reference but seem unaware of the story of Hercules. If ISIS were this powerful, they would most surely be a fucking threat, because according to this line of argument they can never, ever be defeated, only induced into surrender through submission. Recent history proves it empirically untrue. How many terrorists have we killed since 9/11? By the logic above something similar should be happening on an almost daily basis we would have created so many terrorists.

    Why are terrorists or Islamists supposedly immune to negative incentives? It sounds exactly like my Leftard BiL telling me that guns do not deter crime because criminals do not fear death.

    There are plenty of good arguments for the US to not involve itself in the Middle East. The terrorists are invincible is NOT one of them. I agree with the gist of this article but the “hydra” line of argument is nonsensical.

  9. Yeah, because “doing nothing” worked out so well when Clinton tried it. All we had were a few USN ships being bombed, a couple of Army barracks being bombed, a truck exploding in the WTC and finally 9/11.

    Good plan, that whole “doing nothing”. Worked like a charm.

    Why don’t we just skip to the ending of this book? The ending everyone can see coming from miles away. The one that involves hermonuclear weapons on numerous Middle Eastern/SW Asian targets.

    1. Clinton did nothing?

      The US has been ass deep in the ME since WWII.

    2. Clinton launched repeated air strikes against Iraq enforcing a no fly zone, fought an odd half-assed engagement in Somalia, and maintained bases set up in Saudi Arabia (which a big complaint of OBL). Pretty sure he lobbed a few missiles at an asprin factory too.

      1. jmomls must have been in a coma for that stuff.

      2. Most people don’t know it, but the USAF has been at war in Iraq from 1991 until the end of the most recent conflict. 20 years.

        1. I used to bring this forgotten fact up all the time w/ people about OIF. Think what you want about WMD and/or ties to AQ, but the OSW/ONW stalemate needed to be resolved sooner or later. Of course, OIF screwed it up 6 ways to Sunday, but at least brought closure to that piece of it. … for a couple years (?)

    3. That’s a guaranteed outcome if we stay engaged and keep trying to shape the outcome. An alternate reality: without us meddling, the population, enabled by tech (not unlike Egypt) and no longer whipped into a froth by the fundamentalists, rises up to instill a more moderate government.

    4. when Clinton tried it

      Yeah, he did nothing. He did NOT remove US forces from the region, the primary reason those attacks occurred.

  10. Back to the big argument – is Islam a religion compatible with Western society?

    If yes – Try to get rid of the bad guys and bring them into the fold.

    If no – Isolate and contain like it is a contagious disease. Do not give them money. Do not allow Muslim immigrants.

    We fuck up because we are stuck on “yes”. Most of Europe accepted “No” as a fact from 711 AD until WWII.

    1. ^ THIS

      For some reason many Americans cannot comprehend that ISIL is a genuine expression of orthodox Islam.

      Wedded as they are to the ideal of multiculturalism, American elites cannot acknowledge that orthodox Islam is inherently incompatible with a liberal society. Of course, bad Muslims are fine as long as they don’t become good Muslims.

      1. Who says orthodox Islam gets any traction absent any foreign meddling?
        Without infidels on their soil, who’s their fight with? What’s their raison d’etre?

        1. Their raison d’etre:

          It is the duty & goal of Muslims to spread Islam worldwide. They do this both by being violent and aggressive, ISIS, Boka Haram, Al Shabab, etc. and less violently. They are making gains in Europe with Sharia courts, NOGO zones, being intimidating to the native population etc. One of the forms of this intimidation is cowing the native population into only having halal approved food in schools and restaurants (no pork, special rules for food preparation etc.) I have read estimates that up to 20-25% of Muslims believe in violent Jihad against non-Muslims. That is about 200,000,000 million people.

          Whether America gets involved in actually fighting them or not in this go around, their goal is not going to change. They don’t care who the infidels are. It just happens that America is the most capable of fighting them at this time. Five years from now, 10 years from now, 25 years from now, Islamic Jihadists will still be violently aggressive to anyone who is not Muslim. Until the world can convince enough Muslims that violence and aggression won’t work, they are going to continue.

          You can argue all you want about whether American bombing or having troops in the ME exacerbates the problem, but you are not going to change the underlying problem of Muslims initiating force against everyone else.

  11. . . . an improvement over government doing nothing?

    Plus, as the SC, Congress, and the President tell us, doing nothing *is* doing something.

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