Mises Wire

How to Really Make America Safe Again

The Republican National Convention begins today in Cleveland, which many people see as a fitting location for the modern GOP. While many among the party base view Trump as a Lebron James-like figure who can lead the GOP back to victory, the Republican establishment has long cast the Donald more like Johnny Manziel: an immature, egotistical brat who doesn’t have the skills to manage on the big stage. While there is no way of knowing where the Trump-Pence ticket will end up in November, a big primetime television event seems to fit naturally with Trump’s pedigree as an entertainer.

As such, Team Trump has decided to give each one of the convention’s days with a specific theme playing off his now-iconic “Make America Great Again,” with tonight’s being “Make America Safe Again.” While there is no reason to expect any real solution from the day’s political theater, let’s consider what is truly needed to accomplish the night’s titular goal.

End the American Empire

For anyone who supported any of Ron Paul’s forays into presidential politics, the most obvious step is also the most important: ending America’s disastrous foreign policy. America has nearly 800 military bases in over 70 countries. David Vine puts that in proper perspective by noting that “Britain, France and Russia, by contrast, have about 30 foreign bases combined.” Not only is such an empire expensive, contributing to America’s military expenses costing $700 billion a year, but it has directly made Americans less safe at home.

America’s presence in the Middle East has long been a catalyst for terrorism against the West and the US in particular. The number of American bases in countries like Saudi Arabia serve as a recruiting tool, if not core motivation, of terrorist groups like Al Qaeda and was the stated reasoning for the September 11 attacks. 

Blowback is obviously not isolated to 9/11. ISIS, the terrorist organization considered the gravest security threat to America today, was a direct consequence of the Iraq War. ISIS originally began as Al Qaeda in Iraq, founded by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. Al-Zarqawi, himself from Jordan, went to Iraq due to the US invasion and was killed by an American airstrike in 2006. His terrorist organization did not die with him, sustaining itself even in the face of high casualties resulting from the US surge in 2007.

Key to ISIS’s eventual growth was that it was able to expand its reach beyond young Sunni jihadis that made up most of the larger Al Qaeda network. ISIS added to its ranks many former Ba’athist leaders from Saddam Hussein’s former government, who were barred from having a place in the new Iraqi government. In spite of these two factions being historically opposed to each other, the Iraq War gave both groups a common enemy in the United States and its allies. In fact, many future members of ISIS leadership served together in the same US prison, Camp Bucca, that Major General Doug Stone  described as a “jihadi university.”

ISIS was later able to take advantage of power vacuums caused by the US government’s take down of Muammar Gaddafi in Libya and the civil war that erupted in Syria, allowing it to build into what it is today. 

It’s important to note, however, that hostility to America’s military presence overseas isn’t limited to the Middle East. Tens of thousands of protesters took to the streets in Japan following the death of a Japanese woman at the hands of an American worker based on a US base in Okinawa. This was simply the latest in a string of violent incidents involving Americans on base and Japanese locals. This is the danger inherent in stationing thousands of Americans in foreign countries, where every violent crime runs the risk of becoming an international incident. 

End Government Subsidization of Immigration

In Omnipotent Government, Ludwig von Mises properly condemned the consequences of closed borders, arguing “[t]he closed-door policy is one of the root causes of our wars.”

Unfortunately many libertarians seem to view immigration as simply a binary choice between “open” and “closed” borders, which has led to broad endorsement of any and all attempts by government to subsidize immigration. Just as an endorsement of free trade doesn’t equate to an endorsement of government subsidization of exports, such as the support the Export-Import bank provides US companies like Boeing in the business they conduct internationally, opposing government restrictions on immigration does not mean supporting immigration efforts that are financed and pushed by the government.

This misunderstanding on immigration has security implications when combined with the environment fermented by America’s reckless foreign policy overseas.

For example, it was understandable last year when Americans, as well as state and local politicians, raised concerns about the Obama administration’s decree to bring thousands of Syrian refugees into the United States. Considering the pledges made by ISIS to infiltrate such programs, and the concerns voiced by high ranking security officials about their inability to properly vet refugees, the administration compounded the issue by refusing to work with state and local governments in the placement of immigrants. This is a small taste of the larger issues being faced in Europe, where their own state-controlled immigration programs have led to some small German towns taking in more refugees than there are native residents.

Along with the potential risk of terror, which is admittedly far less severe than that of the US government’s current visa program, there is obvious concern about social unrest from such a rapid change in demographics and culture.

That is not to say that there isn’t a libertarian approach to assist with the humanitarian crisis that has emerged from the conflict in Syria. As I highlighted last year, Canada provides a model by allowing for private organizations to pay for the resettlement of refugees in their country. While there are still concerns about the screening process, having the funding for immigration come from private donors and not government means that private groups would have their own additional level of scrutiny and those who came through this process would be invited by such groups — not imposed on a community via the Executive Branch.

Criminal Justice Reform

Given both the recent tragic shootings of civilians by law enforcement and deliberate retaliation against police, security on the streets today is obviously not limited simply to terrorism. Unfortunately the resulting rhetoric has largely been inflammatory and collectivist in nature. Criticism of current police tactics should not be construed as advocating a war on police, similarly the issues with law enforcement are rarely as simple as the always popular specter of simple racism.

An obvious step toward rebuilding trust between communities and law enforcement, and reducing incidents that can endanger the lives of both, is reducing the number of criminal laws in America. As Ryan McMaken recently noted, most arrests in America today have nothing to do with violent crime:

In 2014, out of 11,205,833 arrests made nationwide (in the US), 498,666 arrests were for violent crimes and 1,553,980 arrests were for property crime.

That means 82 percent of arrests were made for something other than violent crime or property crime.

Moreover, many of these non-violent offenses — such as drug use, liquor violations, carrying an illegal knife, or other infractions that should be regarded as small-time offenses can result in serious jail time or prison time, as well as steep fines and lost earnings.

Not only can enforcement of these “small time” offenses escalate into fatalities, as is the case with the highly publicized deaths of Eric Garner, Alton Sterling, and Philando Castile, but they also give citizens increased cause to be concerned about working with police. The more complex the legal code, the easier it is to break — knowingly or not. In the words of the ancient Chinese philosopher Lau Tzu, “the more laws one makes, the more criminals one creates.”

Returning the focus of law enforcement into the protection of life, liberty, and property, and away from larger focuses such as the war on drugs and enforcing government protectionism would go a long way in rebuilding trust between law enforcement and the public.

Hold Law Enforcement Accountable

Another key to rebuilding trust is to eliminate institutional barriers that prevent abusers with a badge from the same justice civilians would receive. State privilege is not limited to former Secretaries of State, allegations of police misconduct rarely result in charges, and violent cops are often protected from severe disciplinary action by public unions. While it’s safe to assume not every accusation was legitimate, there are too many instances of egregious damage being done to innocent people by law enforcement without any serious consequences.

Instead, the burden of restitution for police brutality are actually felt by the public. In 2014, the Baltimore Sun did a major feature on the $5.7 million dollars that had been paid out in police brutality settlements by the city of Baltimore over the previous three years. This matches the rise in police settlements in big cities across the country. The perception that violent police officers are held to a different standard than the public they protect is undoubtedly a major source of distrust in America today.

Make the Police Peace Officers Again

Highlighting the institutional issues that protect bad cops shouldn’t be seen as an indictment of all of law enforcement. A civil society requires the enforcement of laws and the important role they serve in protecting life and property. This is why it is so crucial to reverse the growing trend of a militarized police force and instead return law enforcement to the role of peace officers serving the community.

The best way to accomplish this task would be to increase the amount of private policing in the United States. As Tate Fegley noted last week, not only is private policing a common occurrence in America already, but it has proven to be both more responsive and effective than socialized policing. A great example can be found in Detroit, where the Threat Management Center doesn’t just fill the cracks of public law enforcement but provides programs and services aimed at crime deterrence. Since their relationship with the community is voluntary, instead of mandated by the state, they have an incentive to prevent crime and be responsive to those they serve, not isolated from the opinion of the community.

Make America Safe from Government

The common thread throughout all of these points is that the greatest threat to American safety is the actions of its own government. But don’t expect to hear politicians demand reductions in their own power any time soon. 

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Note: The views expressed on Mises.org are not necessarily those of the Mises Institute.
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