June 11, 2015 by Anders Ingemarson
[Editor’s note: As the NSA’s Prism program’s thrust into the limelight celebrated its second anniversary, and as our men and women in Washington replaced one Orwellian sounding act with another—the USA Patriot Act with the USA Freedom Act—it behooves us to take a step back and contemplate how the NSA and other domestic security efforts are slowly eroding our freedoms and our confidence in our ability to defend ourselves as a nation. Back by popular demand, here are our thoughts from two years ago, unfortunately no less timely today.]
It has been said about the inhabitants of ancient Rome that the first time they felt insecure was after they built a wall around the city. The wall kept them physically safe (at least for a while) but its constant presence served as a mental reminder of the looming threats of the barbarians.
Rome’s turning from dealing offensively with its enemies on the enemies’ own turf to taking defensive measures at home slowly eroded the confidence of its citizens in the strength of their empire and eventually contributed to its fall.
Whether you think the NSA’s Prism program is a flagrant violation of our individual rights or a necessity to keep America safe, or some of both, it is undeniably part of the virtual wall that we’ve tried to build around America since 9/11. The constant presence of the Department of Homeland Security and its affiliated agencies and programs serve as a mental reminder of the looming threats of the barbarians of our time, the Islamists of the fundamentalist kind. And it is slowly eroding our confidence in our ability to defend ourselves.
How did we get to this point? I’ve argued here and here that the cornerstone of a rational foreign policy is the self-interest of individual Americans. This includes consistently and confidently promoting the principle of individual rights—the rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness—our country was founded on in our relations with other countries, friends and foes.
Unfortunately, over the past 100 years, we’ve neither been consistent nor confident in promoting our founding principles abroad.
Here are a few of the more obvious violations:
- Allowing Middle Eastern countries to nationalize oil assets in the 1950s and 60s that had been developed by Western oil companies instead of defending the property rights of those companies. As a result, Arab and Iranian regimes have been awash in money for half a century. Funds that have been used to promote fundamentalist Islamic movements: Saudi Arabia’s support of Wahhabism, and Iran’s export of radical Shia Islam, both the intellectual fuel for terrorist activities against the U.S. and other Western countries.
- Arming the Taliban in the early 80’s as part of the Cold War effort to force the Soviet Union out of Afghanistan when it didn’t matter one iota to American self-interest who ruled that most backward corner on earth. The “unintended consequence” was to provide training for the kind of terrorists that eventually brought down the twin towers.
- But the Cold War would probably not have happened in the first place if FDR had taken a stand for America’s founding principles and refused Stalin Eastern Europe after WWII.
- And Stalin’s Soviet Union would most likely not have lasted long enough to be a power to reckon with during WWII if the U.S. hadn’t provided financial and material support after the Russian Revolution to a country that was the antithesis of everything American.
And it continues today with our refusal to deal decisively with our current main enemy, Iran.
As in Rome, the barbarians will only get to our gates if we allow them. It is only our unwillingness to assert our self-interest on the world-stage and our lack of confidence in our founding principles that will allow them to win.
We have to stand up for our self-interest and individual rights and advocate for a rational foreign policy that takes care of the enemy abroad. Then we won’t need virtual walls at home.