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More airport security won’t do much to stop terrorists. Leaving the Middle East would.

Ending US interference, including military support for Israel, could significantly reduce the rationale for terrorist acts.

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Legalization of opium growing in Afghanistan, so that Afghan farmers can grow their crops in peace, would also do much to ease tensions.

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Ending US interference in the Middle East is a necessary condition for reducing terrorism against the US because Islamic resentment results directly from this interference. The fact that virtually all terrorist attacks against the US since 9/11 have targeted US forces in the Middle East, rather than targets on US soil, suggests the crucial objective is getting the US to leave. Of course, terminating US intrusions in the Middle East will not eliminate antipathy to the US.

Some Muslims, just like some non-Muslims, hate the US merely because it is rich and powerful. But ending US interference – which is not mild or occasional but pervasive and severe – would help achieve a significant reduction in the demand for terrorist acts against us. Numerous examples illustrate this view; terrorist attacks against Britain, for example, were concentrated historically against targets in the Middle East and India, but ceased when the British departed. US withdrawal from the Middle East must, of course, proceed slowly enough to safeguard US troops and equipment, and avoid putting locals in harm’s way. And this withdrawal may initially increase violence and instability, as the remaining factions attempt to consolidate power.

But the existing situation is already unstable and violent, and with continued US presence, this seems likely to persist. So US absence is a recipe for short-term pain but longer-term gain.

Some observers may view a US departure negatively because it appears to leave a mission undone. Many, however, will recognize that the US can no longer do any good – whatever one thinks about the original invasions – and therefore applaud the good sense in cutting losses.

None of this means that all antiterror tactics are ill-advised. Securing cockpit doors on airplanes, expanding the number of air marshals, or allowing security agencies to question terror suspects before handing them over to criminal justice can plausibly yield a good ratio of deterred terrorism to resentment and other costs. Yet these tactics can only do so much as long as the desire to attack the US remains strong.

The US must defend itself against terrorism, but it must do so using tactics that work. When one side of US policy is fanning the flames of anti-US hatred, the other side faces an unwinnable battle in trying to safeguard the country.

Jeffrey A. Miron is a senior lecturer and director of undergraduate studies at Harvard University and a senior fellow at the Cato Institute. He blogs here and is the author of the forthcoming “Libertarianism, from A to Z.”

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