Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Are we safer than we think?

How comparable is the current situation in regards to terrorist threats against the West to the threats of the Cold War?

During the Cold War there were seemingly non-stop low-level conflicts throughout the world, particularly in the Third World. In the background there was the constant threat of a high-level conflict of a nuclear exchange between NATO and the Warsaw Pact nations that would have ended civilization, as we knew it.

The 9-11 attacks were absolutely awful and the NATO invasion of Afghanistan in response absolutely necessary. Beyond that our civil liberties have been compromised, our armed forces and intelligence services have been given carte blanche in their treatment of those held in custody, we are mired in a war in Iraq as an indirect fight against terrorists, the “War on Terrorism” is used as a club in our domestic political conversations, and this “war” has skewed our relations with various members of the international community. Certainly, the gross incompetence of the Bush administration has succeeded in dividing our friends and uniting our enemies (just the opposite of what needs to be done) but aside from questions about how successful this effort is being prosecuted, is the overall reaction overblown? Not unnecessary, mind you, but overblown.

Compared to the threats of the Cold War, terrorists can wrack havoc and destruction on a small scale but cannot end civilization-as-we-know-it even though that may be their wish. We can be engaged in non-stop conflicts throughout the world but only if we unwisely fail to pick and choose our fights and allow the terrorists to bleed us to death. We have heard over and over again that the world changed on September 11th – but I dissent. We live in dangerous times and must respond appropriately to protect ourselves, as well as democratic nations around the world, but we have been through worse.

Here are some interesting thoughts from David Bell discussing John Mueller’s new book:
It's a pity that John Mueller's book Overblown isn't getting more attention. Its provocative--and certainly debatable--thesis is very simple: The threat to the United States from Islamic terrorism has been exaggerated, and may be close to non-existent. There is little evidence that Islamic terrorists have the capacity (as opposed to the desire) to carry out further attacks on the scale of 9/11 on U.S. soil, let alone anything more destructive. Anxieties about chemical, biological, and radiological weapons are particularly unjustified. There is little evidence that terrorists have access to such weapons, and in any case, they almost certainly could not use them in such a way as to kill large numbers of Americans. Nuclear weapons pose a much greater threat, but the difficulties involved in procuring and delivering them are far greater than most observers recognize. … He quotes endless "expert" predictions that terrorists would "definitely" strike the U.S. again in 2002,
2003, 2004 and 2005. He reminds us that even in the worst possible case--which is itself almost entirely unlikely--the terrorists do not pose anything like a threat to the existence of the United States, in the way the Soviet Union once did. And he concludes that our overreaction to 9/11 has done the U.S. far more harm than the terrorists themselves.

… at the present time it is clearly in the interest of almost everyone to maximize the threat that terrorism poses. It is in the interest of the administration, which can reap a political dividend, and is also desperate to cover its collective rear end, should another attack actually transpire. It is in the interest of what Mueller calls the "terrorism industry" of consultants, contractors and security companies. It is in the interest of the media, which thrives on fear. And it is in the interest of the terrorists themselves, whose reputation is thereby inflated, allowing them to recruit and raise money. Mueller does not dispute that there is an intense weight of hatred for America in much of the Muslim world. But how much does this hatred translate into an actual capacity to wreak harm?

… Might we actually be safer than we think? Is this something we can contemplate?

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