U.S. Intervention Overseas
The Historical Record
The following document
explores the relationship between American Foreign Policy and acts of
terrorism committed against the United States. It corrects the distorted
perceptions that America has been the victim of terrorism, purely
hate our freedoms -- our freedom of religion, our freedom of speech, our
freedom to vote and assemble and disagree with each other, or simply
because they are evil!
Those juvenile and simplicity
theories put forward by our President, his administration and parroted
by commercial media are an attempt to dumb down the discussion and
prevent investigation as to the real cause of terrorism. Thereby catapulting
the American people into further foreign adventures, which can only
result in even more act of terror against our country and it's citizens.
document and it's conclusions are of the utmost importance. It points
out that our government, while been aware of the facts, chooses to
ignore them and lie to its citizens. These lies and simplifications
place our nation in great peril. The upcoming invasion of Iraq and
reordering of the Middle East according to Americas interests will cause
such blowback that future discussion on these points will not be able to
arise again for some time.
Reading this document
and understanding its conclusions will convince you of the depth of
disregard our government has for the welfare of its own people.
Does U.S. Intervention Overseas
The Historical Record
by Ivan Eland
Ivan Eland is director of defense
policy studies at the Cato Institute.
Here For The Original Document In PDF Format
No. 50 December 17, 1998
DOES U.S. INTERVENTION OVERSEAS BREED TERRORISM?
The Historical Record
by Ivan Eland
According to Secretary of State Madeleine Al-bright,
terrorism is the most important threat the
United States and the world face as the 21st century
begins. High-level U.S. officials have acknowledged
that terrorists are now more likely to be able to
obtain and use nuclear, chemical, and biological
weapons than ever before.
Yet most attention has been focused on combating
terrorism by deterring and disrupting it beforehand
and retaliating against it after the fact. Less
attention has been paid to what motivates terrorists
to launch attacks. According to the
Science Board, a strong correlation exists
between U.S. involvement in international situations
and an increase in terrorist attacks against the
United States. President Clinton has also acknowl-edged
that link. The board, however, has provided no
empirical data to support its conclusion. This
fills that gap by citing many examples of terrorist
attacks on the United States in retaliation for U.S.
intervention overseas. The numerous incidents cata-loged
suggest that the United States could reduce the
chances of such devastating--and potentially cata-strophic--
terrorist attacks by adopting a policy of
military restraint overseas.
Ivan Eland is director of defense policy studies at the
The terrorist bombings of U.S. embassies in Nairobi,
Kenya, and Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, and retaliation by the
United States with cruise missile strikes against Afghani-stan
and Sudan have once again focused international atten-tion
on the problem of terrorism. Secretary of State Made-leine
Albright noted the importance of the issue to the
Clinton administration: "We have said over and over again
that [terrorism] is the biggest threat to our country and
the world as we enter the 21st century."
Many analysts agree with Albright, especially in light of the
that terrorists may be able to buy, steal, or develop and
produce weapons of mass destruction (nuclear, chemical, or
Considerable attention, both in and out of government,
focuses on combating terrorism by deterring and disrupting
attacks before they occur or retaliating after the fact.
Less attention has been paid to investigating the motives of
terrorists or their backers. Charles
William Maynes, presi-dent
of the Eurasia Foundation and former editor of Foreign
Policy, advocates examining the motives of those who support
terrorism in order to lessen their grievances.
If more emphasis were placed on exploring why terrorists launch
attacks against the United States, innovative policy changes
might be made that would reduce the number of such attacks
and lower their cost--both in money and in lost lives.
Activist Foreign Policy and Terrorism
The Defense Science Board's 1997 Summer Study
Force on DoD Responses to Transnational Threats notes a
relationship between an activist American foreign policy and
terrorism against the United States:
As part of its global power position, the United
States is called upon frequently to respond to
international causes and deploy forces around the
world. America's position in the world invites
attack simply because of its presence. Historical
data show a strong correlation between U.S. in-volvement
in international situations and an in-crease
in terrorist attacks against the United States.
In an August 8, 1998, radio address justifying cruise
missile attacks on Afghanistan and Sudan in response to
terrorist bombings of two U.S. embassies, President Clinton
admitted as much but put a positive spin on it with politi-cal
Americans are targets of terrorism in part because
we have unique leadership responsibilities in the
world, because we act to advance peace and democ-racy,
and because we stand united against terror-ism.4
Richard Betts, an influential authority on American
foreign policy at the Council on Foreign Relations, has
written about the connection between U.S. activism overseas
and possible attacks on the United States with nuclear,
chemical, and biological weapons: "American activism to
guarantee international stability is, paradoxically, the
prime source of American vulnerability." Elaborating, he
notes, "Today, as the only nation acting to
outside its own region, the United States makes itself a
target for states or groups whose aspirations are frustrated
by U.S. power."
Attempts to Obfuscate the Link between
U.S. Foreign Policy and Terrorism
There are analysts who try to obfuscate the link be-tween
U.S. intervention and terrorism against American
targets by arguing that a multitude of factors leads to such
attacks. Rep. Frank Wolf (R-Va.), introducing legislation
that would establish a national commission on terrorism,
argued that "our military, industrial, and commercial pres-ence
around the world attracts frustration from many terror-ist
Other analysts include American "cultural
dominance" as a lightning rod for terrorist attacks against
the United States.
President Clinton, in a speech to the UN General Assem-bly,
also attempted to diffuse the link between U.S. foreign
policy and terrorist incidents:
Because we are blessed to be a wealthy nation with
a powerful military and a worldwide presence ac-tive
in promoting peace and security, we are often
a target. We love our country for its dedication
to political and religious freedom, to economic
opportunity, to respect for the rights of the
individual. But we know many people see us as a
symbol of a system and values they reject, and
often they find it expedient to blame us for prob-lems
with deep roots elsewhere.
Curiously, however, later in the same speech, President
Clinton seemed to reject the "clash of values" origin of
terrorism that he had propounded earlier:
Some people believe that terrorism's principal
fault line centers on what they see as an inevita-ble
clash of civilizations. . . . Specifically,
many believe there is an inevitable clash between
Western civilization and Western values, and Is-lamic
civilizations and values. I believe this
view is terribly wrong.
Yet the perception that the United States is
because of "what it is" rather than "what it
Gerald Seib, writing in the Wall Street Journal, admits that
Islamic militants see the United States as propping up the
secular government of Egypt and desecrating the Islamic holy
sites by the presence of its troops in Saudi Arabia. At the
same time, he observes that Islamic militants also see the
United States as a political and cultural enemy, standing
for everything they abhor--secularism, debauchery, and
liberty. He concludes, "The U.S. is a target not because of
something it has or hasn't done, but simply because it
Seib's conclusion underestimates the offense
caused by propping up undemocratic regimes with dubious
human rights records through aid or the presence of troops.
Logic and Empirical Data Support the Link
The logic behind the claim that there are other primary
causes for terrorism against the United States needs to be
examined. Many other Western nations are wealthy; have an
extensive industrial and commercial presence overseas;
export their culture along with their products and services;
and believe in religious freedom, economic opportunity, and
respect for the rights of the individual. Yet those na-tions--
Switzerland and Australia, for example--seem to have
much less of a problem with worldwide terrorism than does
the United States.
According to the U.S. State Department's Patterns of
Global Terrorism: 1997, one-third of all terrorist attacks
worldwide were perpetrated against U.S. targets.
percentage of terrorism targeted at the United States is
very high considering that the United States--unlike nations
such as Algeria, Turkey, and the United Kingdom--has no
internal civil war or quarrels with its neighbors that spawn
terrorism. The major difference between the United States
and other wealthy democratic nations is that it is an inter-
ventionist superpower. As Betts notes, the United States is
the only nation in the world that intervenes regularly
outside its own region.
The motives for some terrorist attacks are not easy to
discern. They may be protests against U.S. culture or
overseas business presence. Two incidents in 1995--the
deadly attack by two gunmen on a van from the U.S. consulate
in Karachi, Pakistan, and the bombing of a "Dunkin Donuts"
in Bogotá, Colombia--could fit into those categories. But
with no statement of motives by the terrorists, such attacks
could just as easily have been responses to the perceived
foreign policies of a global superpower.
Even if some terrorist attacks against the United
States are a reaction to "what it is" rather than
does," the list of incidents later in this paper shows how
many terrorist attacks can be traced back to an interven-tionist
American foreign policy. A conservative approach
was taken in cataloging those incidents. To be added to the
list, a planned or actual attack first had to be targeted
against U.S. citizens, property, or facilities--either at
home or abroad. Then there had to be either an indication
from the terrorist group that the attack was a response to
U.S. foreign policy or strong circumstantial evidence that
the location, timing, or target of the attack coincided with
a specific U.S. intervention overseas.
Although the Defense Science Board noted a historical
correlation between U.S. involvement in international situa-tions
and an increase in terrorist attacks against the
United States, the board apparently believed the conclusion
to be so obvious that it did not publish detailed data to
support it. Some analysts apparently remain unconvinced of
the relationship. The data in this paper provide the empir-ical
Recognizing the Link Is Even More Important Now
The large number of terrorist attacks that occurred in
retaliation for an interventionist American foreign policy
implicitly demonstrates that terrorism against U.S. targets
could be significantly reduced if the United States adopted
a policy of military restraint overseas. That policy change
has become even more critical now that ostensibly "weak"
terrorists--whether sponsored by states or operating inde-pendently--
might have both the means and the motive to
inflict enormous devastation on the U.S. homeland with
weapons of mass destruction.
In the post-Cold War world, rampant U.S. military
intervention overseas is no longer needed. A rival super-power
no longer exists to threaten vital U.S. interests by
taking advantage of "instability" in the world. The
majority of the conflicts in the post-Cold War
world--95 of 101 from 1989 to 1996--involved disputes be-tween
parties within states, the outcomes of which are far
less likely to be dangerous to U.S. security than are cross-border
wars between states. Yet it is those intrastate
wars, many of which are volatile ethnic or religious con-flicts,
that could spawn the terrorist groups that might
attack the United States with weapons of mass destruction.
Intervention in such conflicts does little to enhance U.S.
security, but it may have the opposite, catastrophic, ef-fect.
Betts, referring to the threat of terrorists' using
weapons of mass destruction, argues that the "danger is that
some angry group that blames the United States for its
problems may decide to coerce Americans, or simply exact
vengeance, by inflicting devastation on them where they
live." He continues:
If steps to deal with the problem in terms of
capabilities are limited, can anything be done to
address intentions--the incentives of any foreign
power or group to lash out at the United States?
There are few answers to this question that do not
compromise the fundamental strategic activism and
internationalist thrust of U.S. foreign policy
over the past half-century. That is because the
best way to keep people from believing that the
United States is responsible for their problems is
to avoid involvement in their conflicts.
If the U.S. government adopted a policy of military
restraint overseas, in the long term the number of devastat-ing,
and potentially catastrophic, terrorist attacks against
the United States--attacks like those described in this
paper--could be reduced significantly. Even if some remain-ing
terrorist incidents can be attributed to a hatred of
U.S. economic power, individual freedom, or culture, those
national attributes are much harder and more costly to
alter, and it would be undesirable to do so. It is much
easier (and after the Cold War, relatively painless) to
change U.S. foreign policy than it is to change the American
way of life. In fact, the interventionist foreign policy
currently pursued by the United States is an aberration in
its history. Adopting a policy of military restraint would
return the United States to the traditional foreign policy
it pursued for the first century and a half of its existence
before the Cold War distorted it. Such a foreign policy is
more compatible with the individual freedoms and economic
prosperity that define the American way of life.
Highlights of the List of Terrorist Incidents
Terrorism against American targets has changed over
time. As the Cold War ended and the influence of Islamic
radicalism grew, terrorism by leftist groups in the 1970s
and 1980s was eclipsed by terrorism by Muslim fundamental-ists
in the 1980s and 1990s. As state-sponsored terrorism
has declined, independent terrorist groups with loose ties
among members have arisen. Finally and most important,
terrorists now seem more willing to inflict mass casualties
and can more readily obtain the weapons of mass destruction
needed to do so.
Attempts at Catastrophic Terrorism
The Defense Science Board commented on the increased
capability and willingness of terrorists to inflict mass
There is a new and ominous trend to these threats:
a proclivity towards much greater levels of vio-lence.
Transnational groups have the means,
through access to weapons of mass destruction and
other instruments of terror and disruption, and
the motives to cause great harm to our society.
For example, the perpetrators of the World Trade
Center bombing and the Tokyo Subway nerve gas
attack were aiming for tens of thousands of casu-alties.13
Although the fundamentalist Islamic perpetrators of the
World Trade Center bombing in 1993 were unsuccessful at mass
slaughter, the mastermind of the plot said he was attempting
to kill 250,000 people by collapsing the towers to punish
the United States for its policies in the Middle East. (In
a follow-on attack, the group planned to blow up buildings
and key transportation nodes in New York City--UN headquar-ters,
a U.S. government building, two tunnels underneath the
Hudson River, and the George Washington Bridge--which would
have inflicted substantial casualties.)
Plans for another such catastrophic attack on the
United States were also uncovered. In a little-noticed
incident with potentially catastrophic ramifications, mem-bers
of the Aum Shinrikyo (Supreme Truth) religious cult--
the same group that released poison gas on the Tokyo
subway--planned a nerve gas attack at Disneyland when it was
most crowded, during a fireworks display. Fortunately, U.S.
law enforcement officials, tipped off by Japanese police,
apprehended members of the group before they could perpe-trate
the attack. Aum Shinrikyo believes in a final Arma-geddon
between the United States and Japan near the millen-nium
and that acts of mass terror will hasten it. It is
interesting that the cult perceived an allied nation--the
United States--as Japan's enemy rather than Japan's regional
neighbors that are now or are much more likely to become
rivals--for example, China, Russia, and North and South
Korea. The U.S. role as a global superpower and the U.S.
military presence in Japan most likely had something to do
with the group's choice of the United States as a target.
U.S. Military Presence Overseas: Lightning Rod for Terrorism
The U.S. military presence in Lebanon in the early
1980s and in Somalia and Saudi Arabia in the 1990s also
spawned terrorist attacks. Beginning in 1979, with the
takeover of the U.S. embassy in Tehran, Iranians or Iranian-sponsored
groups—-such as Hezbollah in Lebanon--perpetrated
many terrorist attacks against the United States. Two of
the best known incidents were the suicide bombings by Hez-bollah
of the U.S. embassy and the Marine barracks in Bei-rut.
Those Hezbollah attacks were launched in retaliation
for U.S. military support of the Lebanese Christian govern-ment
against the Muslim militias. The Iranians hated the
United States for its long-time support of the shah and
resented the U.S. presence in Lebanon.
In Somalia in 1993 the now-infamous Osama bin Laden
trained the Somali tribesmen who conducted ambushes of U.S.
peacekeeping forces in support of Somali clan leader Moham-med
Farah Aideed. The result of the attack was 18 dead U.S.
Army Rangers and U.S. withdrawal from Somalia. Osama bin
Laden, a Saudi, did not merely object to U.S. intervention
in Somalia. His main reason for attacking U.S. targets was
the American presence in Saudi Arabia and Washington's sup-port
for Israel. Bin Laden was allegedly linked to the 1996
truck bombing of the U.S. military apartment complex, Khobar
Towers, in Saudi Arabia that killed 19 U.S. airmen and
wounded 515 others. He was also allegedly linked to the
simultaneous bombings of U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanza-nia
in 1998 and other attacks.
Public Wars against Terrorism Have Been Tried Before
President Clinton is not the first president to launch
a public war against terrorism. In the summer of 1981
Ronald Reagan began a very public "war" against Moammar
Qaddafi, the ruler of Libya, shortly after taking office.
Reagan believed that Qaddafi was a Soviet agent and was
heavily involved in terrorism against the West. The Reagan
administration pursued ways of getting rid of Qaddafi or,
failing that, of isolating him politically and economically.
(Some analysts assert that Reagan inflated the threat posed
by Qaddafi to justify increased defense spending.)
The "war" began with an attempt by the Reagan
to provoke Qaddafi by entering claimed Libyan terri-torial
waters and air space during war games in the Mediter-ranean.
In August 1981 U.S. jets--to challenge Libya's
extension of its territorial waters and air space over the
Gulf of Sidra--entered the gulf and shot down two Libyan
aircraft that intercepted them. Reagan later accused Qad-dafi
of aiding the perpetrators of the bombings at the Rome
and Vienna airports. In March 1986 Reagan sent a naval
armada across the "line of death" that marked Libya's
claimed territorial waters in the gulf, and another military
altercation ensued. In April 1986 Qaddafi retaliated by
sponsoring the bombing of the La Belle disco in West Berlin,
which was frequented by U.S. servicemen. (Before 1986 there
was little evidence that Qaddafi was targeting Americans.
Reagan interpreted Qaddafi's terrorism as anti-American, but
Western European nations had been Libya's major target.)
The United States retaliated for the La Belle bombing with
air strikes against Tripoli and Benghazi that apparently
were meant to kill Qaddafi.
Contrary to popular belief, the air strikes did not
cause Qaddafi to desist from terrorist acts. In fact,
according to the Defense Science Board, over the next sever-al
years Qaddafi began a series of secret attacks on Ameri-can
targets in revenge for the air strikes.
famous attack was the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over
Lockerbie, Scotland, which killed 270 people (200 of whom
Reagan's public war on terrorism may have been effec-tive
in helping to garner an increase in U.S. defense spend-ing
but not in curbing Qaddafi's terrorist activities. In
fact, Qaddafi's secret activities seemed to accelerate in
retaliation for Reagan's public military actions.
Assassinations and Attempted Assassinations
Independent or state-sponsored terrorists have attempt-ed
to assassinate prominent U.S. citizens in retaliation for
perceived American meddling overseas. Sirhan Sirhan, Robert
Kennedy's assassin, had grown up on the West Bank and re-garded
Kennedy as a collaborator with Israel. U.S. support
for Israel and Kennedy's role in that policy were implicated
in the assassination.
In 1993, 17 Iraqis were arrested trying to infiltrate
Kuwait with a large car bomb and were accused of being part
of an Iraqi government plot to kill former president Bush on
his visit to Kuwait. According to the U.S. government,
Saddam Hussein tried to assassinate Bush in retaliation for
Bush's direction of the Gulf War (a threat Saddam had made
during the war).
Terrorist Incidents Caused by an Activist
U.S. Foreign Policy
· 1915: The Senate reception room in the U.S. Capitol was
damaged by a homemade bomb built by Erich Muenter, a former
Harvard professor who was upset by sales of U.S. munitions
to the Allies in World War I.
· June 5, 1968: Sen. Robert F. Kennedy, former attorney
general and senior policy adviser to President John F.
Kennedy, was assassinated by Sirhan Sirhan. Sirhan had
grown up on the West Bank and regarded Kennedy as a collabo-rator
· March 1971: A bomb exploded in a U.S. Senate restroom,
causing extensive damage. The bombing came at a time of
rising opposition to U.S. policies in Vietnam.
· November 4, 1979: Supporters of the Ayatollah Khomeini
seized the U.S. embassy in Teheran to protest long-time U.S.
support for the shah. The hostages were not freed until
· December 1979: Iranians sacked and burned the U.S. embassy
in Tripoli, Libya. Iranian-sponsored terrorism against the
United States was a result of U.S. support for the shah and
· July 22, 1980: Ali Akbar Tabatabai, a former press coun-selor
at the Iranian embassy in the United States during the
shah's reign, was assassinated by the Islamic Guerrillas of
America (IGA) at his home in Bethesda, Maryland. He had
supplied U.S. officials with a manifesto of the IGA that
advocated strategically planned terrorism on U.S. soil and
assassinations of U.S. officials and Iranian dissidents.
The manifesto stated, "Any American can be targeted . . . no
American is innocent . . . as long as U.S. foreign policies
are to the detriment of the Islamic community." The docu-ment
was especially critical of U.S. support for Israel.
Tabatabai knew that the IGA had 230 members operating in the
United States. Tabatabai's assassin fled to Iran and became
part of an Islamic assassination squad.
· April 8, 1983: The anti-American, Iranian-sponsored Hez-bollah
(some sources also implicate the Islamic Jihad)
bombed the U.S. embassy in Beirut, Lebanon. Information
gathered by the American, French, and Israeli intelligence
agencies indicated that the Iranian government funded and
provided the explosives for the attack that killed 17 Ameri-cans.
Intelligence information also showed that Syrian
military experts directed the assembly and emplacement of
the bombs that Hezbollah used. All attacks by Hezbollah in
Lebanon around that time were in retaliation for the U.S.
military presence there. The Americans were supporting the
Christian government against the Muslim militias by training
and arming the Lebanese National Army (LNA). Later, the
U.S. Marines even began patrolling with the Christian LNA,
and the Navy and Marines began shelling the Muslims to
support the LNA.
· October 23, 1983: A suicide truck bomber from Hezbollah
(some sources also implicate the Islamic Jihad) attacked the
U.S. embassy and destroyed the U.S. Marine barracks in
Beirut (killing 290 people and wounding 200 more). Intelli-gence
information gathered by the American, French, and
Israeli intelligence agencies indicated that Iran funded the
attack and provided the explosives used. Apparently, Syrian
military experts directed the assembly and emplacement of
the bombs that Hezbollah used. The U.S. Marines were later
withdrawn from Beirut. A terrorist spokesman bragged that
two "martyrs" had forced the Marines out of Lebanon: one
died to blow up the embassy and the other who drove the
truck that destroyed the Marine barracks.
· September 1984: Hezbollah (some sources also implicate the
Islamic Jihad) bombed the U.S. embassy annex in East Beirut.
Twenty-three people were killed and four Marine guards were
During the 1980s: Hezbollah kidnapped 19 American diplo-mats,
educators, businessmen, clergy, journalists, and mili-tary
personnel and killed at least 4.
· Mid-1980s: Lebanese Revolutionary Army Faction leader
Georges Ibrahim Abdallah was accused of complicity in the
deaths of American military attaché Lt. Col. Charles Ray and
Israeli diplomat Yacov Barsimantov. The suspect was held by
the French government. The most likely reason for the
attack was the U.S. military presence in Lebanon.
· April 5, 1986: Libyan leader Moammar Qaddafi sponsored the
bombing of the La Belle nightclub in West Berlin, which was
frequented by U.S. servicemen. The bombing killed an Ameri-can
soldier and a Turkish woman. The bombing seemed to be
in retaliation for two specific prior incidents: (1) Ronald
Reagan had accused Libya of aiding Palestinian Abu Nidal in
bombing the Rome and Vienna airports (those incidents did
not occur within the jurisdiction of the United States).
(2) In late March 1986 the largest peacetime American naval
armada ever had sailed across the "line of death" that,
to Qaddafi, marked Libyan territorial waters in the
Gulf of Sidra. Qaddafi had threatened to attack any invad-er.
Fulfilling the predictions of American defense ana-lysts,
he shot missiles at the armada. The U.S. forces
destroyed a missile site and three Libyan naval craft.
The La Belle bombing was part of a more general "war"
between the Reagan administration and Qaddafi that started
after a Reagan administration review of U.S. policy toward
Libya in the summer of 1981, shortly after Reagan took
office. The Reagan administration pursued ways to get rid
of Qaddafi or, failing that, to isolate him politically and
economically. Reagan believed Qaddafi acted as a Soviet
agent and was heavily involved in terrorism against the
West. Some analysts argue that the Reagan administration
inflated the threat that Qaddafi posed to gain support for
increased defense spending. The "war" began with an attempt
by the Reagan administration to provoke Qaddafi by entering
claimed Libyan territorial waters and air space during war
games in the Mediterranean. In August 1981 U.S. jets--to
challenge Libya's extension of its territorial waters and
air space over the Gulf of Sidra--entered the gulf and shot
down two Libyan aircraft that intercepted them.
On April 15, 1986 (two weeks after the "line of death"
incident in late March), the United States retaliated for
the La Belle bombing with air strikes--from air bases in the
United Kingdom and from U.S. aircraft carriers in the Medi-terranean--
against Tripoli and Benghazi, Libya. The air
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