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Meddling overseas a dangerous proposition

7/17/2013

You pay taxes? You contributed to the $2 billion your government gave Egypt this year. And last year. And every year -- for 30 years. Most of it went to Egypt's military. How's that worked out?

You pay taxes? You contributed to the $2 billion your government gave Egypt this year. And last year. And every year -- for 30 years. Most of it went to Egypt's military. How's that worked out?

Now our government will "cautiously" support anti-government rebels in Syria, even though some are openly allied with al-Qaida.

Years before, we paid to arm and train the Mujahedeen, the Islamic holy warriors battling the Russians in Afghanistan. That conflict led to the rise of al-Qaida. One of the Mujahedeen factions went on to become the Taliban, with whom we now fight.

Advocates of foreign intervention argue that our government must aid friends and fight obvious foes, and that the world would be in worse shape had we not intervened. They say it's important that America send soldiers overseas to acquire "influence" in the world.

I don't buy it.

It's important to defend ourselves. We were right to retaliate after 9/11 and after the Japanese bombed Hawaii. But often politicians think: When in doubt, America must "lead." I wish they thought: When in doubt, stay out.

Political essayist Randolph Bourne famously wrote, "War is the health of the state." He was right. Whenever there is war, government grows in power, as he saw happening in the U.S. during World War I. The public longs to be led to safety. People will tolerate sacrifices and civil liberties violations in wartime that they never would tolerate in peacetime.

Once they acquire political power, even silly leftists embrace military action. After Sept. 11, Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., declared that the "era of a shrinking federal government is over." In fact, government had never shrunk. For politicians like Schumer, a terrorist attack was another excuse to spend more.

Most Americans didn't object -- anything to stop terror. Political and military leaders often exaggerate threats. Adm. Mike Mullen, a chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff under both George W. Bush and Barack Obama, said of the post-9/11 world, "This is the most dangerous time I've seen growing up the last four decades."

This the most dangerous time? More than when Soviet nuclear missiles were pointed at us? That's absurd.

Sept. 11, 2001, was horrible. But it was an unusually successful attack. Even if there were a similar attack every decade, that would kill far fewer Americans than house fires. Or stairs. Or bathtubs even. Of course, our brains are wired to react more strongly to the dramatic attack. But that fear leads us to spend big on things that don't add to our safety.

Some current Egyptian protesters are angry at America -- not because they are Islamists who support terrorism, but because they support secular, classical-liberal figures like the late Mohammed Noah, who encouraged free markets and outreach to Israel. They resent the U.S. government for backing people like former Egyptian president Mohammed Morsi.

The U.S. government does at least criticize leaders like Morsi, and Hosni Mubarak before him, when they behave in authoritarian ways -- but we don't stop selling them military hardware. Defense contractors don't have much incentive to obsess about what regimes will do later with the weapons sold to them now.

With power changing hands in Egypt once again, maybe it's time for us to butt out. Let them sort out their own politics -- instead of us helping train police and arm soldiers who beat up the protesters who may become the next generation of leaders.

Suggesting that will get me called an "isolationist." But there's nothing isolationist about it. America can have a huge impact on the rest of the world even without deploying the military or government-funded foreign aid. We already do.

Let our movies play in theaters across the world. Let our rock music alarm mullahs. And let neoconservatives fund overseas sales of books filled with ideas local autocrats consider dangerous. But the neocons should spend their own money -- not taxpayers' money.

John Stossel is host of "Stossel" on the Fox Business Network. He's the author of "No They Can't: Why Government Fails, but Individuals Succeed."

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