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January 13, 2005

Terrorism: looking forward, looking back

This month's edition of The Atlantic has a pair of excellent articles which focus on terrorism and recent US policy about it. The first article, by former anti-terrorism chief Richard Clarke, is an imagined retrospective from the year 2011 on the decade that followed the declaration of the (ill-named) War on Terrorism. In it, he describes a nation which is only capable of reacting (poorly) to previously identified but largely ignored dangers of international terrorist strikes on US soil. Erring on the side of doom-sayer, Clarke paints a sobering yet compelling picture of how US domestic policy will slowly but surely reduce civil liberties and economic viability in favor of fortress-style security. The second, by long-time Atlantic correspondent James Fallows, describes in honest and uncomfortable detail the current head-in-the-sand security strategies being pursued by those in power. Drawing a strong analogy to the cautious and even-handed approach that Truman, Kennan and Marshall took toward preparing the nation for the long struggle with communism, Fallows points out that current policy is short-sighted and lopsided toward showy "feel good" measures that likely make civilian less secure than more. He closes with a discussion of the problem of "loose nukes" (primarily from Russia's poorly guarded and decaying stockpile, but also potentially from countries like Pakistan who have not signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty), and the lack of seriousness coming from Washington with regard to addressing this imminently approachable goal. Indeed, in 2002 bin Laden issued a fatwa authorizing the killing of four million Americans with half of them being children in retribution for US Middle East policy - achieving this number can only be done with something like a nuclear bomb.

My reaction to these thoughtful and well-measured articles is that they basically nail the problem with US policy on terrorism exactly. The US has not been serious about facing the changes that need to be made (the "Department of Homeland Security" is basically misnomer), and anti-terrorism funding has become a massive source of pork for congressmen. Matched with the hypocritical rhetoric of the government, and the continued US insistence on an oil-economy, we're basically significantly worse off now than we were pre-September 11th. Stealing from the popular college student adage, our current domestic security policy is like masturbation: it feels good right now, but ultimately, we're only fucking ourselves.

Ten Years Later, by Richard Clarke

Victory Without Success, James Fallows

If these weren't scathing enough, the award winning William Langewiesche writes a Letter from Baghdad concerning the depth and pervasiveness of the insurgency there. Langewiesche describes the deteriorating (that word doesn't do his account justice - "anarchic" is more apt) security situation there as having reached the point that a continued US presence will indeed only intensify the now endemic guerrilla warfare. An interesting contrast is between the Iraqi resistance and, for instance, the French Resistance of World War II. I strongly suspect, that ultimately, the US does not have the stomach to truly break the resistance, as that would essentially require using the same draconian measures that Saddam used to install the Baathist regime. Depressing, indeed.

posted January 13, 2005 03:24 PM in Political Wonk | permalink