Author: U.S. action abroad has a price

by Charles Gardner | 3/4/03 6:00am

A "genuinely humble approach" to American foreign policy should replace widespread U.S. intervention abroad, according to Doug Bandow, author and senior fellow at the Cato Institute.

During a speech entitled "Republic or Empire: American Foreign Policy After September 11," Bandow emphasized that extensive U.S. involvement in foreign countries does not come without a cost.

"Terrorism tends to be part of ongoing political conflict" rather than a result of an abstract ideological clash, he said. "We have to recognize that the more the U.S. does, the more it is going to find itself the target of terrorism."

Costs of an interventionist foreign policy also include the huge price tag of a military capable of responding to crises across the globe, as well as the potential loss of life, the risk of provoking wider conflicts and the erosion of civil liberties, Bandow said.

Additionally, Bandow emphasized the United States' unprecedented dominance worldwide since the end of the Cold War, with the result that there is no country now or in the foreseeable future that could conceivably challenge American military might. Russia no longer poses a credible threat, according to Bandow, while China remains "a dramatically poor country." Even with North Korea, he said, "the danger lies not to us, but to our allies."

Iraq, he said, has been "contained and constrained" over the past decade, and an attack now would only create "all the wrong incentives" for Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein.

Under a policy of containment, Saddam has little reason to distribute weapons to terrorist groups, Bandow said, as any attacks committed by the same terrorist organizations would be traced to Iraq and result in U.S. military retaliation.

With a war seemingly imminent, however, Iraq is no longer deterred from giving chemical or biological weapons to Al Qaeda or other groups. "If we say we're going in, what does [Saddam] have to lose?" Bandow asked.

While the attacks of Sept. 11 demonstrated that the United States had been conducting an "outmoded" foreign policy, Bandow stressed that his vision for a sustainable approach to foreign affairs does not involve a complete withdrawal from the global scene.

The United States "will be a global leader irrespective of anything," Bandow said, "but if you want to be a leader, exercise some judgment and discernment."

Bandow said he envisioned the United States as "the distant balancer," rather than a direct arbitrator that becomes deeply entangled in regional struggles. Military intervention would not disappear, he said, but would be subject to more stringent and consistent criteria.

Nor is the need to pre-empt a developing threat necessarily a good justification for international intervention, he said, as nations such as Iran and others seek to develop nuclear weapons as a means to counter an American threat, whether real or imagined.

In response to a question from one member of the audience, Bandow said that the United Nations can only play a limited role in international affairs if America is to adhere to its proper role as a restrained republican nation, rather than an empire. It would be a mistake, Bandow said, "to let the U.N. Secretary General determine where U.S. forces are going to go."

Bandow, who addressed a crowd of around 80 in Filene Auditorium, served in the Reagan administration as special assistant to the president, and is a regular contributor to several national publications.