How To Handle Foreign Terrorists (like ISIS)

ISIS (or IS or ISIL; why do they keep changing their name?) has beheaded two American journalists and continues to make gains in Syria and Iraq, effectively erasing the border between the two counties. They have openly declared America as their enemy. After two useless wars in Iraq, the US is back in Iraq for a third time, bombing people, because This Time It Will Work We Promise™.

This brings up an interesting question. What is the small government, libertarian answer to foreign terrorist groups like ISIS? We already know the right-wing and left-wing answers to threats like this:


Left-wing answer: Have some meetings. Analyze. Then have more meetings. Discuss. Check the polls. Discuss some more. Make some speeches that don’t say anything. Refuse to directly answer questions. Maybe bomb just a little bit but make it look like we’re doing it for “humanitarian reasons.” Fly around the world and check in with every other global leader to make sure no one gets mad at anything we might do. Shake everyone’s hand and discuss. Have more meetings. Make another speech and talk tough but don’t offer any specific solutions. Have some more meetings. Rinse and repeat.

So what would the libertarian answer be? Many libertarian, small government types disagree of course; I am but one voice among many. (Or not so many. Statistically speaking there aren’t very many real libertarians in the world.) Since I’m a solution-oriented guy, I’ll first cover what we should not do, then I’ll cover what we should do.

What We Should Stop Doing

1. Stop bombing other counties. Stop getting involved in other country’s civil wars. For over 20 years, Clinton/Bush/Obama have been bombing targets, including civilian targets, in Iraq, Afghanistan, Yemen, Pakistan, Somalia, the former Yugoslavia, Libya, and a few other places I’m forgetting. You don’t think that might make people upset? You don’t think that might create terrorists?

2. End the empire. Stop building military bases in other people’s countries. If China built military bases in our country, I don’t think we’d like it. Some of the more irrational folks among us would become terrorists.

We have somewhere around 1000 military bases all over the world in other people’s countries. Um, no. This just ticks everyone off and, by the way, we’re trillions of dollars in debt; we can’t afford this any more.

3. Stop torturing people. And yes, waterboarding is torture. Go watch The Railway Man if you don’t believe me. During WWII we actually played tennis and gave steak dinners to our Nazi prisoners. Why? Because they gave us tons of actionable intel when they stupidly thought we were their friends. There are many ways to get information from POWs without losing the moral high ground.

I’m not saying you can’t get rough with POWs. If we’re at war, please do. Get very rough; but there’s a difference between getting rough and torture.

4. Stop worrying about what other countries will think if we do or do not do something. I don’t think we Americans need Denmark’s permission to conduct foreign affairs as we see fit, nor vice versa. Of course we can and should play nice with other nations. It also doesn’t hurt to quickly, and I mean quickly solicit other opinions. But we don’t need to be spending weeks of our time and millions of taxpayer dollars checking in with everyone and their mother before we make a move. This is silly.

What We Should Do

1. Militarily strike, with great force and speed, any nation or group that attacks American citizens/targets on US soil. Just remember that “US soil” part.

There are two sides to this.

It was appropriate to attack Tailban and Al Qaeda targets within Afghanistan after the attack on 9/11. I was 100% for that action. I was 100% against staying in Afghanistan as long as we did; we should have attacked our targets, killed who we needed to, taken whatever prisoners we needed, and then packed up and went home. The point is I wasn’t against going over there in the first place.

Yes, we should attack any nation or group that attacks us. Period. We should do so swiftly and with minimal delay. Again, we don’t need any other country’s permission to do this.

Here’s the problem. I was very clear above to say that our attacks need to be limited to those who violate US soil. “US soil” means within US borders, territories, and embassies. That does not cover every American on planet Earth no matter where they choose to go. For example, those two journalists who were beheaded were not on US soil. They were in Syria. Syria is not US soil.

So what? They were Americans and they were beheaded on video by people sworn to destroy the US!

You’re right. Both those journalists were brave souls who I admire greatly. Both men are far more brave than I am. The men who killed them are animals and deserve to die. You’ll get no argument from me on any of that.

The problem is we’re not talking here about emotions, theory, or desires. We’re talking about what the United States should do as a nation with its military. The reality is that it is not the US military’s job to avenge the death of any American who gets murdered while travelling abroad.

I travel abroad myself, and this includes me. If I was murdered while in some foreign land, I would not expect the US to start invading or bombing that country. I chose to travel abroad of my own free will. I chose to incur the risks involved as an individual. If I was not wiling to take those risks, I would stay home. When I’m in China I’m not on US soil any more. Risk comes with the territory, especially if you’re purposely visiting a war zone. You take on those risks as part of the job.

It should be stated US policy (and maybe it already is; not sure) that anyone who visits a dangerous area of the world is taking their lives into their own hands when they do this. It’s not up to the American taxpayer to pay billions of dollars to mobilize the US military every time someone gets murdered in some distant land, which happens every day.

So if they attack us on our soil, then yes, hit back, and hit back fast and hard. If they attack a few Americans on foreign soil, that’s horrible, but that’s not what the US military is for. The purpose of the military is to defend the homeland, not police the world.

This goes for any terrorist army who is attacking foreign nations. If ISIS is attacking Iraq or Syria, well, that sucks, but that’s not our problem. It is not the US taxpayer’s job to spend billions of dollars to send in bombers or soldiers any time any group of jerks attacks another group of jerks anywhere on planet Earth. It’s not our responsibly, we can’t do it successfully anyway, we screw things up whenever we try, and we can’t afford it with our trillions of dollars of debt.

So we should not be attacking ISIS. They’re not attacking US soil. Yes, they’re saying bad things about us, but since the era of George W. Bush, everyone says bad things about America now. We need to suck it up (and refusing to vote for idiots like Bush and wimps like Obama would also help.) Verbal taunts to not equate to actual military/terrorist threat.

Does this mean we should be doing nothing about ISIS? No…

2. Provide the enemies of our enemies not with money, weapons, or troops, but with intel. Every time the US provides weapons, training, and other military support to the Enemy of My Enemy™, the Enemy of My Enemy™ a few years later turns on us and becomes our Enemy™. Arming the Shiites or Kurds in any way whatsoever virtually guarantees those same Shiites or Kurds will be killing Americans (or other Westerners) with those same weapons a few years down the road.

The Obama administration has been sending the current Shiite Iraqi army weapons since around January of this year to help fight ISIS. Jesus. You would think we would have learned by now. Apparently not.

Stop arming these people. Instead, feed them satellite, radar, and drone intel to assist them and make it more difficult for the terrorists. Telling the Enemy of my Enemy™ exactly where to attack your Enemy™ doesn’t arm anyone, but sure makes life difficult for your Enemy™. You can apply the same concept to the Ukrainians vis a vis Putin. Don’t arm anyone, but feed them all the military intel on the Enemy™ you like.

3. Assassinate and/or take out bounties on leaders who threaten America. Instead of spending trillions of dollars and thousands of American lives on miltary action when the two-bit ruler of a rogue state or group starts threatening the US, focus on taking out that leader instead.

When you bomb cities, you’re bombing the leader’s people for the decisions of that leader. Often the people don’t even like the leader and have no choice in the matter. So killing them or destroying their property for the decisions of their leader is grossly unfair, and in my view, evil. Instead, you should focus your efforts on the leader himself, as well as his inner circle.

I still remember reading about how Saddam Hussein’s inner circle consisted of 120 men. I always thought, “If this guy really is a threat to us (and I don’t even think he is) then why don’t we send in some Navy Seals and put a bullet in these guy’s heads, rather than spending trillions of dollars and invading the country with half a million troops?”

The same goes for ISIS. If they really are a threat to the US homeland (and they may or may not be), then send in Seal Team Six and kill everyone in the leadership. Yes, this takes a lot of time and money, but no where near as much time or money as military action. One Tomahawk missile, just one, costs $1.5 million. It costs $2 million in maintenance costs per week to run a single guided missile destroyer. Don’t even get me started on the costs of having the Air Force bomb things.

Another option is to take out a bounty on these guys. What if, back in 2001, George W. Bush simply got on TV and placed a bounty of $1 billion, tax-free, on Saddam Hussein’s head? When we do this, we need to make sure the bounty is payable to literally anyone, even the leader’s wives, girlfriends, and personal bodyguards. Someone would have killed that bastard in a just a few weeks, and it would only have only cost $1 billion; a far cry from the trillions it ended up costing us in all these stupid wars. Better yet, it results in zero American deaths.

Yes, I realize assassination is technically illegal according to US and international law. But hey, if assassinations prevent war, we should repeal that law immediately and start using it against real threats instead of war. And yes, I realize assassination brings up another new set of new problems. True, but are these problems as bad as the problems all these stupid wars create? Think about it.

4. Use creative ways to harass your enemies. Everyone knows Switzerland stayed out of WWII. You know how they did it? When the Nazis came threatening them, the Swiss were tough and clever. They said, “No problem. We’ve rigged all of our bridges with dynamite. If you attack us, we’re going to blow up all of our own bridges, all over the country. Good luck getting your tanks and troops anywhere. And all this technological know-how we have? We’re going to sell (or give) all of that to the Americans. Good luck with that. Or, you can just leave us alone and we can forget we ever had this conversation.”

The Nazis left them alone. The Swiss were creative, unlike the conservatives who just want to bomb/attack everything. The Swiss were tough and took decisive action, unlike the left-wingers who twiddle their thumbs and have meetings. We need to be more like the Swiss were. With a multi-trillion-dollar federal budget, our government could pay the finest minds in the world to come up with really creative solutions that I haven’t thought of in order to deal with threats from terrorists or rogue states.

5. Develop a nuclear missile shield to defend us against nuclear missiles. Almost 30 years ago, Ronald Reagan had a great idea: develop a shield around the United States that would protect us against any incoming nuclear missile. Fantastic idea! Why the hell, in the 21st century, do we Westerners quake in our boots anytime some idiot might have a nuclear missile? With today’s technology, doesn’t that strike you as odd?

Reagan’s problem is that he handed the idea over to Big Government to implement. So Big Government did what it always does. Left-liberals bashed the program as evil and the conservatives in the defense department spent billions of taxpayer dollars on the project, resulting in nothing. Like I said, we never learn.

The president of the United States should go on TV and announce that the government will pay $10 billion, tax free, to the first company able to demonstrate, via a working demonstration, a nuclear missile shield. If he did that, we’d have our shield in five years or less. The same goes for detecting nuclear material being smuggled in at our borders, though I realize that’s much more complicated. Regardless, technology can solve these problems as long as we’re creative enough.

Not that I expect the US federal government to suddenly get creative any time soon. 🙂

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  • David
    Posted at 07:32 pm, 15th September 2014

    Very insightful post and I have to say I agree whole heartedly with a lot of this.

    I’m fairly new to the libertarian way of thinking. I was raised right-wing conservative, but as I grew into my late twenties, realized many of the flaws that come with that group mindset. Granted, no way of procedure is perfect, but I have to say libertarianism has the most merit.

    While I’d imagine you have no aspirations for political office, you’d definitely have my vote for Sec. of Defense. I know our government is screwed, but maybe policies like this will work their way in sooner rather than later.

  • Caleb Jones
    Posted at 08:19 pm, 15th September 2014

    Libertarianism isn’t perfect, but it’s the least bad option. I too started life as a conservative until I started to realize (in my late 20s too) that conservatives love big government almost as much as left-wingers. So I completely relate to what you’re saying.

  • Steven C.
    Posted at 07:32 pm, 9th August 2020

    I think you need to add something about allies.  Alliances are useful, if they are with the right countries, and if the treaty obligations are carefully worded.  Thus during the Falklands War, the UK received no assistance (well, no official assistance) from its allies.

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