Sunday, September 18, 2011

Lessons Not Learned


[I slapped this together a week ago. Might as well get it off the books.]

Following up on my somewhat unfocused 9/11 post, here's an opinion piece that's pretty compelling, letting neither political party off the hook, while saying some stuff I've also pointed out:

Ten years ago today, 2,996 people were murdered, unleashing a pair of destructive, mutually reinforcing trends. To prove their relevance, terrorists keep trying to attack the United States at home. And the media and politicians react to it with hysteria, running in fear of getting blamed for a successful attack and perpetuating the gigantic, expensive, counterproductive National Security State. As awful as the snuffing of so many souls on 9/11 was, the second trend has often proved more dangerous than the first.

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.

[...]

There is only one kind of terrorism that actually is a major threat: nuclear terrorism. And there, the U.S. has shamefully underreacted. It’s a travesty that there’s unsecured nuclear material in this day and age, and the Obama administration’s efforts to secure it, however incomplete, deserve credit. But notice that’s a problem about unsecured nuke material, not al-Qaida. Lock up the loose nukes — and yes, that’s difficult — and there’s no nuclear terrorism.

[...]

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. The culture of fear: It’s a bipartisan race to the bottom. And it’s why the National Security State constructed by the George W. Bush administration has found a diligent steward in President Obama. Asked recently if the post-9/11 security apparatus might diminish soon now that al-Qaida looks weak, Janet Napolitano, the secretary of homeland security, replied, “No.”

[...]

It’s much harder to be the one to stand up and say the threat of terrorism is too minor for such expanded surveillance, and the government needs to stop. When libertarian Sen. Rand Paul (R-Kentucky) made precisely that case, Democratic Senate leader Harry Reid (D-Nevada) subjected him to cheap, hypocritical demagoguery.

The only way this changes is if citizens change the political incentives for politicians. Two-bit terrorists will always be around, sadly. But when the Harry Reids get major political blow-back for attacking the Rand Pauls, then — and only then — will the 9/11 Era be truly over.

[...]

Only when citizens make it acceptable for politicians to recognize that the threat of terrorism isn’t so significant can the country finally get what it really needs, 10 years later: closure.

The purpose of terrorists is to create terror. They succeeded on 9/11/01, and we've propagated it ever since, beyond their wildest dreams.

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