“Overblown”: The Terror Threat

Cross Posted From Article of Faith:

What a great way to mull over the events of five years ago. Forget all the crazed “docudramas” and weeping news footage and instead, check out Political Science professor John Mueller, who has a new book out called Overblown: How Politicians and the Terrorism Industry Inflate National Security Threats, and Why We Believe Them slated to be released in November.

Mueller excerpts his book in this month’s Foriegn Affairs, in what amounts to a damning indictment of the way 9/11/01 and al-Qaeda has been “overblown” to take the place of the “omnipresent enemy”:

Despite all the ominous warnings of wily terrorists and imminent attacks, there has been neither a successful strike nor a close call in the United States since 9/11. The reasonable — but rarely heard — explanation is that there are no terrorists within the United States, and few have the means or the inclination to strike from abroad.

“A fully credible explanation for the fact that the United States has suffered no terrorist attacks since 9/11 is that the threat posed by homegrown or imported terrorists — like that presented by Japanese Americans during World War II or by American Communists after it — has been massively exaggerated. Is it possible that the haystack is essentially free of needles?

“Although it remains heretical to say so, the evidence so far suggests that fears of the omnipotent terrorist — reminiscent of those inspired by images of the 20-foot-tall Japanese after Pearl Harbor or the 20-foot-tall Communists at various points in the Cold War (particularly after Sputnik) — may have been overblown, the threat presented within the United States by al Qaeda greatly exaggerated. The massive and expensive homeland security apparatus erected since 9/11 may be persecuting some, spying on many, inconveniencing most, and taxing all to defend the United States against an enemy that scarcely exists.”

America has a history of loving its “big, bad enemies”, don’t we? Read the rest of the article and order the book. Perhaps the “ideological struggle of the 21st century” is nothing more than a gnat on the world’s stage.

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27 Responses to “Overblown”: The Terror Threat

  1. Ginny in CO says:

    American war industries and financiers definitely have a history of loving enemies so much they have armed and financed them – to create reason for America to go to war and further enrich them. Europe perfected this little charade and the richest, most powerful Americans saw it as a great way to add to their nests. The geese that lay those golden eggs: all Americans. Through taxes AND inflation.

    The Foreign Affairs article is excellent and the book should be very worthwhile – and therefore will be ignored. The FA intro indicates it will be out in early ’07.

  2. Ron Chusid says:

    Both Foreign Affairs and The Atlantic came out with good articles on terrorism at about the same time. I quoted from both, but more extensively from The Atlantic.

    http://liberalvaluesblog.com/?p=132

  3. JoeG2006 says:

    Two suggestions:
    1. Never underestimate your enemy’s capabilities. It’s not only al-Qaeda, but a dangerous network of Islamic Fundamentalist organizations (and states) that are willing to die in the process of converting us or killing us.
    2. Please understand that the concept of TIME in Islam is totally different than yours. In the west we talk in terms of minutes, days, months (time is money); in Islam they talk in terms of decades, centuries and more. Just because in 5 years we haven’t had a major attack here doesn’t mean its because they haven’t been able to hit us. The timing may simply not be right.
    I strongly suggest you read the al-Jihad booklet analysis which can be found in The Terrorist’s Nightmare blog

  4. JoeG2006 writes: “Please understand that the concept of TIME in Islam is totally different than yours. In the west we talk in terms of minutes, days, months (time is money); in Islam they talk in terms of decades, centuries and more. Just because in 5 years we haven’t had a major attack here doesn’t mean its because they haven’t been able to hit us.”

    Talk about your circular reasoning. That’s like saying “Just because in 6 years we haven’t elected a Democrat president, doesn’t mean it’s because we haven’t been able to elect them”. Or in other words, huh?

    I can assume this much: it certainly isn’t because we’ve foiled plot after plot. According to a recent study, the number of “terrorist prosecutions” by the JD has dropped to almost zero in the past five years. Perhaps the main reason “they haven’t hit us” is, as Mueller argues, is because the threat just *isn’t there*.

  5. Ron Chusid says:

    Joe has a valid point. Waiting over five years is entirely consistent with the way they opperate.

    The arguments that Mueller makes that the threat has been overemphasized does not contradict this argument. While Republicans have used fear to promote their political agenda, 9/11 proves that we cannot ignore the threat of a new attack.

    When I posted the Fallows article I mention above, I also balanced it with a report from Christiane Amanpour on the possibility of the use of nuclear weapons by al Qaeda

    http://liberalvaluesblog.com/?p=127

    We need to respond sensibly, not based upon fear. We don’t need to give up civil liberties, or engage in irrational acts like invading Iraq, but there are things we can do to improve homeland security.

    John Kerry made suggestions for improving homeland security in two of the debates, but George Bush claimed they were “too expensive.” The ACLU has some recommendations consistent with preserviving civil liberties which I posted here:

    http://liberalvaluesblog.com/?p=278

  6. Ron writes: “Joe has a valid point. Waiting over five years is entirely consistent with the way they opperate.”

    Except that they haven’t waited over 5 years to strike again. The bombings in Madrid and London (and before that the Cole in ’00, the U.S. embassies in ’98 and in ’96, etc.) would indicate they rarely wait more than a couple of years to strike.

    “The arguments that Mueller makes that the threat has been overemphasized does not contradict this argument.”

    Mueller’s point is that al-Qaeda hasn’t hit the U.S. since 9/11 because they lack the organizational skills and resources to do it again. Of course we can’t ignore the possibility of another attack, but our response to said threat has been vastly “overblown”.

  7. Ron Chusid says:

    We’re speaking of attacks on the US, not Madrid and London. An attack on the US is a far bigger thing (partially due to the reasons discussed by Mueller, and partially due to it symbolically being a bigger target.)

    Mueller may be right but we can’t count on it either. Perhaps al Qaeda hasn’t had smaller scale attacks post 9/11 since they couldn’t, or perhaps they are waiting, as many believe, until they can do something even bigger than 9/11.

    No doubt that the response to 9/11 was overblown. Regardless of how much a threat al Qaeda represents, the responses by the Bush administration have made us less safe rather than more safe. We have paid a heavy cost in terms of reduced civil liberties, loss of life in Iraq, and loss of prestige for the United States with none of this making us any safer.

  8. I was under the impression that the London and Madrid attacks were in part because both countries are strong U.S. allies.

    And by the way, did anyone check the link provided by JoeG2006? He’s using his blog to sell his product: “Sponsored by the founder of Technon, LLC; creator of the Breath of Life Emergency Escape Mask: TechnonLLC”

  9. Ron Chusid says:

    They still weren’t attacks directly on the US. Their support for US policy on Iraq certainly played a part.

    Joe’s web site doesn’t really matter. He certainly has motivation for people to be scared, but that doesn’t change the validity of his comment.

    Basically, we don’t know for sure what al Qaeda plans and what their capatilities are. The Foreign Affairs article Todd quotes is a valid viewpoint. Joe’s argument that five years means little for al Qaeda is also valid.

    We don’t know for sure what will happen in terms of terrorism. Similarly, we didn’t know what would happen during the cold war when we had all those nukes pointed at us. The point is to have a rational policy which addresses the potential dangers, as opposed to playing politics with fear as the Republicans have.

  10. Ron

    Personally I think there is some significance in a drop in post from someone who has a new blog that is to openly promote a product to protect people from terrorism and disaster. Valid viewpoint or not, he’s openly marketing his product on his blog and unless he comes back and participates in further discussion, my opinion is he probably posting around on blogs to promote his wares.

    I didn’t see anywhere on his blog that the guy was a terrorism expert. Just my 2 cents… 🙂

  11. Ron Chusid says:

    Pamela,

    Joe is irrelevant. It’s not like this is his argument. In discussing al Qaeda’s time frame, he is quoting what many terrorism experts have said. This argument has often been used against Bush to argue that Bush’s argument that we haven’t been attacked since 9/11 is meaningless.

  12. Ron

    I’m not entering into any argument – I’m just noting why I think Joe dropped his opinion here, valid or not.

  13. LOL if you read through the blog, he has reason to want you to read the link he gave. Reads like a train wreck if you go through the whole thing. But then again, why would he not want you to be afraid when he stands to profit from it.

    Pimp that blog!! Sell more fear!! Sorry Joe, but I see right through that. As the resident former republican here, I can smell the fear you want people to feel. Not on my watch buddy! Those days are over now. Fear as a tool is wrong. Fear as a tool to sell your junk is evil!

  14. Ron Chusid says:

    Pamela,

    I agree with respect to Joe. I bet that if you track him back he came from a search engine search for a topic such as terrorism and is placing his posts all over to promote business.

    The validity of his second point and his motivation for posting this here are two separate things. His argument regarding the time scale on which al Qaeda works, regardless of his motivation for posting, and regardless of how much he might over emphasize the threat on his web site for profit, is widely held and is not a circular argument as Todd responded.

  15. Donnie

    “Fear as a tool to sell your junk is evil!”
    My sentiments exactly.

  16. Joe is a tool using that tool. Using part truths, does not make it right. The fact is he pimped his blog, and used partial truth to do it. He in no way cares if you agree with anything he said. As long as he gets his product sold, he is happy. Propaganda! Plain and simple. Now where have we seen partial truths before, to get something done?

  17. Ron writes: “We’re speaking of attacks on the US, not Madrid and London…They still weren’t attacks directly on the US.”

    Right, but if you’re only limiting it to attacks on the US, then how do we know what al-Qaeda’s “time frame” is, since they’ve only ever attacked us on 9/11? Joe’s initial point is still circular.

  18. Ginny in CO says:

    battlebob linked to a very excellent overview on this, Doing What Our Enemies Want by Victor O’Reilly, on the How Safe a World? post.

    Joe’s argument is accurate as far as it goes. The other two arguments,

    -They don’t need to attack us as long as we maintain our fear level enough to overreact and spend ourselves into economic disaster. (They want us disabled militarily and economically first. Either achilles is fine, both is their wildest dream).

    -They don’t have the resources or personnel to commit to a strike.

    The combination of the two is quite probably the larger explanation. As long as we are making such a mess of Iraq, our international reputation, our economy and overstraining our military, why should they spend money and effort here? They have so many other places to put it: Iraq, Sudan, Indonesia, Pakistan, just to mention a few.

    Kilcullen’s comparison (as quoted from the Atlantic article) of the terrorist killings and subsequent response, to the anarchist killings and the start of WWI is accurate as far as it goes. Steven Levitt made this point about the KKK in Freakonomics . The same was true for Saddam. After enough time has elapsed, you don’t have to kill as much as just rattle the sword, burn the cross, etc.

    The reality of almost every war for centuries is that it had economic fueling from the financiers with cooperation of some sort by the governments, in order to rally the citizens to support the increased taxes, loss of lives etc.. BushCo is no exception and is only the current example in a long line.

    The beauty of the WOT is the secrecy and mystery that surrounds ‘the enemy’. Since we don’t know their troop strength, locations, weapons or much about their leaders,
    there is more than wiggle room for ‘borrowing’ (read: creating) money to fight them.

    As long as we elect legislators who think we are willing to do this, are too afraid to consider another plan, and are themselves not strong enough to vote against it; our future will be fear, war expenses, inflation and an ever diminishing quality of life.

  19. Ron Chusid says:

    Not true. The World Trade Center was attacked twice–eight years apart. That gives a clue as to their time frame.

    Regardless of Joe’s motives for posting, his argument about the long time frame used by al Qaeda is a well accepted argument and is hardly circular.

  20. Ginny in CO says:

    Oh, the other significant point Mueller makes is the degree of risk.

    But while keeping such potential dangers in mind, it is worth remembering that the total number of people killed since 9/11 by al Qaeda or al Qaeda like operatives outside of Afghanistan and Iraq is not much higher than the number who drown in bathtubs in the United States in a single year, and that the lifetime chance of an American being killed by international terrorism is about one in 80,000 — about the same chance of being killed by a comet or a meteor. Even if there were a 9/11-scale attack every three months for the next five years, the likelihood that an individual American would number among the dead would be two hundredths of a percent (or one in 5,000).

    We could go on to find even higher threats to lives in this country. The health care system is high on that list. As are car accidents and numerous other problems that could use a fraction of the money we are spending on Iraq to improve.

    On the nuance debate;

    Ron Chusid Says:
    September 11th, 2006 at 7:32 am:

    “Joe has a valid point. Waiting over five years is entirely consistent with the way they opperate.

    The arguments that Mueller makes that the threat has been overemphasized does not contradict this argument.

    JoeG2006 Says:
    September 10th, 2006 at 8:35 pm:

    “Just because in 5 years we haven’t had a major attack here doesn’t mean its because they haven’t been able to hit us. “

    Mueller’s comment:

    “… there are no terrorists within the United States, and few have the means or the inclination to strike from abroad.”

    [I would not go so far as to think there are NO terrorists in the US. Not as many as we are harangued to fear, more than zero.]

    According to Roget’s Thesaurus, 6th Ed.

    means refers to: funds/assets, mode/tool
    as well as: expedience: suitability, appropriateness, opportunity, advantage, etc ~ inclination.
    Moreover the phrase ‘where there’s a will there’s a way’ is referenced.

    So I read Mueller’s point to be the terrorists have not been able to attack the US only partly because they had other places that promoted the ‘will’.

    To clarify my earlier statement, Joe’s comment about the time frame terrorists use is accurate, but using it to explain why they have not attacked us in five years is countered by Mueller and others who make a strong case for other reasons. In order not to overreact to terrorism, we need to keep the relative importance of the facts in mind, not to mention applying them properly.

    There is my circular reasoning for thinking that the relative risk factor of the terrorists vs globalized crime, natural disasters – from global warming or Mother Nature’s usual stuff, rebuilding the Katrina/Rita disaster areas, etc. are far more worthy of the money and effort.

  21. Ginny in CO says:

    Ron,

    Pamela mentioned you had taped “Path to 9/11”. Have you watched it yet? They portray the group that did the first WTC bombing as not having hooked up with OBL at the time.

    Somewhat different than what I had understood from other sources. It seems they were probably influenced by the “blind sheik” who was an OBL sympathiser and underscores the reality that the groups are not all connected to OBL – at least not consistently (they may make and break off connections).

    The ones not connected to OBL have to find their own financing – which may make a US attack far more difficult than Middle Eastern, Asian or European. Terrorists litterally want the biggest bang for their buck,

    A reasonable point I think P9/11 makes is that terrorists do not have as much scientific ability to create viable weapons as we tend to fear. It takes years to develop, get all the parts and make it both powerful and reliable enough to risk. The nuclear weapons option really requires that a sympathetic country – Pakistan after Musharef stops evading the assassins- would give them something. Maybe, they might also wonder if the idiots wouldn’t just use it on Afghanistan first and let the nuclear particles drift into the Pakistani air, water and soil. Israel would be another easier and more ideologically appropriate target.

  22. Ron Chusid says:

    Ginny,

    I recorded it but haven’t watched it. My plan is to burn it to DVD after it is over (and probably after cutting out the Bush speech) to have for reference if the topic of the show comes up in the future.

    I certainly wouldn’t use this show as a credible source with regards to what they say about al Qaeda groups considering that it couldn’t even get the facts right with regards to the US government.

    I’ll cross post a post from Liberal Values which links to multiple posts discussing the threat. Bottom line is that

    1) the Republicans are exaggerating the risk to play politics with fear

    2) nobody knows for sure what al Qaeda can or will do (and the point that they think over a longer time scale than us is a valid point)

    3) Regardless of the degree of threat, there are much smarter ways to deal with terrorism than is being done by the Republicans.

  23. Ron

    All stuff JK has been saying basically.

  24. Ron

    At little more before I had out the door –

    I guess we can all post a slew of opinions on this, bottom line is that we all know BushCo sucks at making us safer.

    Personally, I feel the best opinion offered around here on this subject is the one John Kerry gave in his speech on Saturday – http://blog.thedemocraticdaily.com/?p=4130

  25. Ginny in CO says:

    Ron,

    Obviously there is a lot of doubt involved in the content of the film, but it doesn’t rule out the possibility of some facts. After reading Peter Brock’s Media Cleansing: Dirty Reporting, I don’t trust Christiane Amanpour without serious supportive documentation either.

    The longer time frame they have is something that has been stressed extensively, Clarke had a lengthy discussion of it in Against All Enemies. There is no question that the incorporation of that framework is important.

    I think my background concern is that we seem to swing from under reacting to information or not even trying to get the information; to reacting frantically to what we have and trying to go into too many different directions.

    Charlie Gibson had a follow up program both nights. Tonight they were talking to Clarke and he raised the problem that the intell focus is becoming ‘too immaginative’ which wastes time and resources.

  26. Ron writes: “Not true. The World Trade Center was attacked twice–eight years apart. That gives a clue as to their time frame.”

    The ’93 WTC bombing was never linked to al-Qaeda. bin Laden’s fatwah of ’98 begins the so-called al-Qaeda threat, and only then, post hoc, did Ramzi Yousef get linked to the organization.

    “Regardless of Joe’s motives for posting, his argument about the long time frame used by al Qaeda is a well accepted argument and is hardly circular.”

    Claiming “just because in 5 years we haven’t had a major attack here doesn’t mean its because they haven’t been able to hit us” is not only redundant and circular, but silly. And it doesn’t fit the pattern of the organization in question, all things considered.

  27. Todd

    I would think that your education backgoround in criminology and sociology give you a good perspective on this.