Monday, July 14, 2008

The Terrorist Threat

I don't have much to say about this Post article now, but it's an interesting assessment of how threatening global terrorism really is. The author argues that it's not really as bad as a lot of people think. Al Qaeda is the only organization that is truly global and is interested in and capable of attacking the U.S. on it's own soil - and that capability is severely weakened. Most other groups we (rightly) label as "jihadists" have regional focuses and wouldn't think twice about striking our interests where they find them - but don't really pose a threat to U.S. soil.

I'd challenge the author on two points - first, while the threat of a nuclear attack by Al Qaeda using "loose nukes" from one of the former Soviet republics may be small, it would be so devastating that we can't dismiss it as easily as he does. I don't even mean devastating in terms of the loss of life or the cost - it would most likely be a "dirty bomb" attack that wouldn't have too catastrophic a casualty roster - I mean devastating in terms of what it would do to the American psyche. So I think he could have elaborated more about how serious a threat that really is.

I also wish he would take the next step... these terrorists don't just come out of nowhere. Although I hate the "blame America first" style rhetoric, I can still acknowledge that our actions sometimes contribute to the problem. For example - more Middle Eastern muslims can probably be legitimately labeled "terrorists" today because the U.S. invaded Iraq. In other words - the terrorist threat would be smaller today if we had not invaded Iraq. The same threat is looming for us if we invade Iran. We aren't responsible for terrorism or anything - that's not what I'm saying. These jihadists bear full responsibility for what they're doing. But we have to understand what makes sense strategically and how our actions influence the conditions that give rise to terrorism.

Still - it's refreshing for someone to say this. And I think the comparison the author makes to 19th century anarchists is apt. Terrorism is a real threat - the biggest security threat in the world right now. But long-term it will eventually be erradicated. We may have one failed state turn theocratic over the ordeal, and we'll have some bad national scars that will take a long time to heal - but terrorism will be erradicated. The trick is not to create more problems as we work to erradicate it over the next couple decades.

In other security news, this Union for the Mediterranean announced in Paris this weekend sounds interesting. It would be a shame, though, if the EU came out on top diplomatically in the Middle East because of it's willingness to be... well... more diplomatic than us.

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