America’s Maginot Line

by | Jun 10, 2002

The War on Terrorism is over. It ended when President Bush pushed to the top of his agenda the creation of a Cabinet-level Department of Homeland Security. This is the climax of a trend that has been building for the past month: the only action the U.S. government is now taking in response to terrorism […]

The War on Terrorism is over. It ended when President Bush pushed to the top of his agenda the creation of a Cabinet-level Department of Homeland Security. This is the climax of a trend that has been building for the past month: the only action the U.S. government is now taking in response to terrorism is purely defensive.

Rather than holding hearings on the nuclear weapons programs of Iraq, Iran and North Korea, Congress is holding hearings on the supposed failure of the FBI to prevent September 11. Rather than sending soldiers to invade hostile powers abroad, the administration is sending law enforcement agents to invade our privacy at home.

America, with the most powerful military in the world, has chosen to retreat into a bunker of expanded police powers and “homeland security” programs.

In the 1930s, the French constructed the ultimate monument to the folly of a purely defensive strategy: the Maginot Line, an impressive chain of fixed fortifications along its border with Germany. They thought this defensive line would eliminate the need for offensive action. So when Hitler militarized the Rhineland in 1936, breaking the Treaty of Versailles with a token force that was ordered to retreat if attacked, France did nothing.

When Hitler annexed Austria and seized Czechoslovakia in 1938, France acquiesced. When Hitler employed his whole army to invade Poland in 1939, leaving his Western border lightly defended, the French army remained in its bunkers. By 1940, it was too late. The massive armies Hitler had built during years of European inaction merely bypassed the Maginot Line. The French defenses proved useless.

The Department of Homeland Security is America’s Maginot Line.

No archipelago of law-enforcement agencies can keep America safe. They can only try to stop attacks that have already been conceived and planned by terrorists who have already been funded, armed, trained and dispatched to the United States. The best we can expect from this kind of defense is the result achieved by Israeli army and intelligence forces, which manage to stop about 80 percent of attempted suicide bombers (successes that are still dependent on the intelligence gathered from Israeli military incursions). Even this phenomenal success rate does not stop ordinary Israelis from being blown to bits in pizza restaurants, at bus stops and during religious celebrations.

The new efforts announced by the administration are likely to be less effective. A series of indiscriminate dragnets — like the proposal to register and track all foreign visitors to the United States — will merely take the manpower needed to focus on real, identified threats and waste it investigating the movements of ordinary students and tourists.

Indeed, if you want to know whether this defensive stance will stop terrorism, ask the very people who are in charge of our defense. FBI Director Robert Mueller has just told us his agency cannot stop every terrorist attack, a new attack is inevitable and we must get used to the threat of sudden mass death.

America is not going on the defensive because our leaders believe that a defensive stance will work. They are doing it because they do not have the moral courage to take the offensive. Faced with cowardly quavering from Europe, obstructionism from the United Nations and petulant posturing from Arab princes, they have given up. To oppose such forces would be denounced as uncompromising, “unilateral” and “imperialist.” It is better, they have apparently concluded, not to rock the diplomatic boat.

The only effective way to stop terrorism is to eliminate its sponsors, as we began to do in Afghanistan. But President Bush has just announced to Europe that he has no plans to invade Iraq. He protested weakly to Russia about its plans to supply Iran with a reactor capable of generating fuel for nuclear weapons — but was forced to admit that the United States is building just such a plant for North Korea. The United States remains an “ally” of terrorist sponsor Pakistan as it threatens India with a nuclear first strike. The Saudis continue to pump money to the families of Palestinian suicide bombers, the director of the CIA is helping to rebuild Yasser Arafat’s goon squads, and Syria, the patron of Hamas and Islamic Jihad, holds the presidency of the U.N.’s Security Council.

Far from being destroyed, the nations that sponsor terrorism have risen to unprecedented heights of importance and prestige.

America’s War on Terrorism is over — but the terrorists’ war on America is not. We must demand from our leaders the only real defense: a renewed offense.

Robert Tracinski was a senior writer for the Ayn Rand Institute from 2000 to 2004. The Institute promotes the philosophy of Ayn Rand, author of Atlas Shrugged and The Fountainhead. Mr. Tracinski is editor and publisher of The Intellectual Activist and TIADaily, which offer daily news and analysis from a pro-reason, pro-individualist perspective. To receive a free 30-day trial of the TIA Daily and a FREE pdf issue of the Intellectual Activist please go to and enter your email address.

The views expressed above represent those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the editors and publishers of Capitalism Magazine. Capitalism Magazine sometimes publishes articles we disagree with because we think the article provides information, or a contrasting point of view, that may be of value to our readers.

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