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Terrorism … or War?


As U.S. government officials never tire of telling us, we live in a dangerous world. Terrorism especially is an ever-constant threat, even on American soil.

But is it possible that the U.S. government itself is responsible in large part for making the world unsafe for the American people?

The Washington Post recently reported that during the past three years, U.S. bombers have killed 300 people in Iraq, including 200 civilians. Just one month ago, a 13-year-old Iraqi boy named Omran Harbi Jawair was tending his sheep when an exploding missile tore his head off.

The Pentagon justifies the bombing as part of its campaign to ensure “no-fly” zones in northern and southern Iraq. According to the Post, “More than 280,000 sorties have been flown in the near decade since the no-fly zones were imposed.” Today, “the sustained military operation results in bomb or missile attacks on an average of once every three days.”

Is the U.S. bombing of Iraq a legitimate act of war? Or is it an act of terrorism? How does one distinguish between war and terrorism?

Indeed, in what category – terrorism or war – does the embargo against Iraq fall, an embargo that has presumably caused the suffering and deaths of innocent Iraqi children?

Americans have grown so accustomed to U.S. government intervention in the affairs of other nations that very few pay any mind to the constitutional restriction on the power to do so. Under the U.S. Constitution, while the president has the power to wage war, the power to declare war is given to the Congress.

Why is this important? Because for the American people, the Constitution is the superior law that governs the actions of their public officials. By providing that Congress would have the power to declare war, our nation’s Founding Fathers were ensuring that the president could not wage war on his own.

Thus it was that President Polk asked Congress for a declaration of war against Mexico in 1846, and Presidents Wilson and Roosevelt asked Congress for declarations of war against Germany in 1917 and 1941.

Yet, all of us know that ever since World War II, U.S. presidents have ignored the declaration of war requirement and have sent tens of thousands of American men to their deaths in foreign wars. Equally important, U.S. troops have killed tens of thousands of foreigners in such interventions.

Consider another example. In the recent war against Yugoslavia, in which there was no congressional declaration of war, the U.S. government intentionally bombed a Yugoslavian television station that was manned by civilian employees. Legitimate war or terrorism?

If foreigners, both military and civilian, are considered legitimate military targets, then isn’t it logical to assume that these targets (or their survivors) might fight back? Isn’t that the nature of war?

For example, let’s consider the surviving family members of the people who were killed in the Yugoslavian television station. Or the relatives of the 13-year-old boy killed in Iraq. Wouldn’t they have a powerful incentive to counterattack against the United States? And if they did, would their actions be legitimate acts of war or terrorism?

Let’s assume that the father of the Iraqi child places a bomb at a U.S. military installation that ends up killing hundreds of U.S. military men. We would, of course, hear cries of ‘terrorism” from U.S. government officials. But why would the Iraqi’s bombing be considered “terrorism” while the U.S. government’s bombing of his son would be considered “war”?

In any war, one would hope that attacks and counterattacks would be limited, as much as possible, to military forces and not extend to the civilian population. Unfortunately, however, foreigners do not draw such fine distinctions, any more than the U.S. government does. If our government can target civilians in a television station for death, why shouldn’t foreigners feel free to target American civilians here in the United States? Again, what is terrorism and what is war?

It is indeed true that Americans live in an increasingly unsafe world. But why is it unsafe, and to what extent has the U.S. government made it unsafe? Should U.S. military forces be attacking and killing foreigners without a congressional declaration of war? Do the foreigners who are the victims of such attacks have the incentive to retaliate?

How can we make the world safer for Americans? The answer seems obvious.

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    Jacob G. Hornberger is founder and president of The Future of Freedom Foundation. He was born and raised in Laredo, Texas, and received his B.A. in economics from Virginia Military Institute and his law degree from the University of Texas. He was a trial attorney for twelve years in Texas. He also was an adjunct professor at the University of Dallas, where he taught law and economics. In 1987, Mr. Hornberger left the practice of law to become director of programs at the Foundation for Economic Education. He has advanced freedom and free markets on talk-radio stations all across the country as well as on Fox News’ Neil Cavuto and Greta van Susteren shows and he appeared as a regular commentator on Judge Andrew Napolitano’s show Freedom Watch. View these interviews at LewRockwell.com and from Full Context. Send him email.