Sunday, September 11, 2011

"Refuse to Be Terrorized"

That, in a nutshell, is the way to defeat terrorism, at least according to Spencer Ackerman at Wired. He argues that Al Qaeda was never as potent a threat as we imagined, and is by now reduced to the comparatively small-scale menace of car-bomb plots. From this, it follows that their lasting victory, so far as they have one, is the massive security state that the US has built up over the past decade. Setting aside the cost of the wars and the new bureaucracy and the spying and what-all else, consider (and this is us, not Ackerman) how much income is lost by the airlines, given the massive disincentives to travel now imposed at every airport.

Here, in short, is his diagnosis:
In case you haven’t noticed, hysteria is what the terrorists want. In fact, it’s the only win a decapitated, weakened al-Qaida can get these days. The only hope that these eschatological conspiracy theorists possess for success lies in compelling the U.S. to spend its way into oblivion and pursue ill-conceived wars. That’s how Osama bin Laden transforms from a cave-dwelling psycho into a world-historical figure — not because of what he was, but because of how we reacted to him.

So why don't we just quit ... reacting? Stop spending trillions and trillions of dollars to fight an enemy whose best remaining weapon is a car full of fertilizer? Here's why:

Former White House counterterrorism chief Richard Clarke has an answer. “There’s going to be a terrorist strike some day,” Clarke told Frontline for its “Top Secret America” documentary this week. “And when there is, if you’ve reduced the terrorism budget, the other party, whoever the other party is at the time, is going to say that you were responsible for the terrorist strike because you cut back the budget. And so it’s a very, very risky thing to do.”

The risk, in other words, is a political risk.

That's why it is, as Ackerman says, "a bipartisan race to the bottom."

There's a lot more to it. Ackerman makes an exception for nuclear terrorism, a means by which the bad guys can create truly massive casualties. This is the one area in which he says we have "shamefully underreacted." In other words, we can stop being afraid ... of most things.

We're not sure we agree with all of this, mind you. We at the Egg have always supported the war in Afghanistan, and frankly cheered on President Obama's liberal use of Predator drones, Hellfire missiles, and all the other scary weapons that we have and the enemy hasn't. The whole point to asymmetrical warfare is that it's asymmetric: one side has a lot more stuff to work with, and doesn't need to be devilishly creative when it can vaporize your leaders with robot planes from the stratosphere.

But still, we think Ackerman is onto something. America overreacted from the very beginning, and the overreaction has been costly. The bizarre, immoral, expensive and unnecessary invasion of Iraq is the most obvious instance, followed closely by the TSA lines and their ever-changing list of absurd restrictions. Add those to the rest of it -- the decay of our democratic institutions, the day-to-day anxiety promoted by politicians and the media -- and you've got a seriously high-ticket freakout.

So maybe ten years on is a suitable time to take a deep breath and control our panic. Get a grip on the loose nukes, not to mention the bacteria, but let some of the rest of it go. Agree that we won't blame each other for the one or two times that the bad guys score against us, in exchange for a chance to take back our country and our way of life.


Pastor Joelle said...

Maybe we should have spent money on schools in Afghanistan after Charlie's War.

James of the Tonsure said...

"The only hope that these eschatological conspiracy theorists possess for success lies in compelling the U.S. to spend its way into oblivion and pursue ill-conceived wars...."

Wasn't that how we won the cold war? We got the USSR to bankrupt itself pursuing a pointless arms race.

Father Anonymous said...

Yeah, I've thought about that. The old post-9/11 trope, "if you [do X, meaning basically overreact], then the terrorists win," isn't as silly as it sounds.