Thursday, March 6, 2008

Bomb Goes Off in New York... and Nobody Blinks

I am not actually a big fan of how we are running the current War on Terror, particularly at home. We spend too much, scare too much, and infringe on rights too much. All that aside, the national security aspect of it all has some interesting quirks. Given yesterday's bombing, it seems I got some of these quirks wrong.

I have been terrified at the prospect of another terror attack in the United States since 9/11, mostly because I have been worried that the citizens of the United States would lose their better judgments and give in to an excursion into another country or into their civil liberties. History teaches us this happens all the time.

Yesterday's bomb attack was small, and nobody got hurt, but it is still significant. The United States populous and media have not only failed to freak out, but have mostly failed to bat an eye. The attack fell far below Democratic primary discussion in hits on Google News.


Does that mean the US will not snap at a larger attack? No. We have been blindingly fortunate that there have been no terror attacks since 9/11-- this is in large part due to the reorganization and re-focusing of the United States Intelligence Community. But no wall is perfect, and at some point, someone will get hurt by a bomb; maybe even one planted by an Islamic militant.

But ultimately, if the United States' citizenry can keep its head during these small attacks, then the ability to successfully wage psychological warfare against the population drops. With less fear--less terror--felt in the United States population, the damage done by sporadic bombs diminishes significantly.

There really is no way to keep a free society and prevent all terror attacks at the same time. Bomb-making is a surprisingly simple process, and even one or two determined fanatics could pull it off, given a few days and a few hundred dollars. The trick is not to stop these dead, but to minimize them, and stay calm when they happen. This recent bombing has surprised and impressed me; I think the people of the United States may in fact be capable of doing just that.

4 comments:

Anonymous said...

I agree completely that this is how things ought to work -- real terrorist activities should be rare, people should respond rationally, and that alone makes it relatively self-limiting.

What pisses me off, though, is this: the White House immediately made a statement that this "does not appear to be an act of terrorism."

On the other hand, if you put up physically harmless LED signs, or legitimately take photographs of public structures, or buy a lot of mobile phones, you get called a "suspected terrorist."

Of all the above things, the bomb is the only, by definition, that is actually a terrorist act! Which just makes me feel like this (completely correct) downplaying of the bomb is just another political ploy, and not a representation of change in policy. After all, I still have to take off my shoes, and can't take my deodorant through an airport checkpoint.

Charles said...

I think you are giving the American People(TM) too much credit here - it hardly made the news, which means it hardly registered with the People, but I think it was the media as gatekeeper more than the People who made the decision about how reaction was going to play out. If it had been a slow news day, you might have gotten something completely different.

I also think saying that we've been "blindingly lucky" since 9/11 is vastly overestimating the chance of terror attacks in the U.S. in general. It's not like they were occurring on a regular basis before 9/11. The only even remotely comparable successful attack I can remember was the Oklahoma city bombing in 1995, and most of the "War on Terror" security measures aren't looking to stop that sort of home-grown terror attack at all.

If you want to count attacks on U.S. targets overseas, sure, they've gone down, unless you count the attacks in Iraq, in which case they're way up. I don't think you can seriously prove that decrease is a function of increased intelligence as opposed to putting a giant flytrap in Iraq and watching the flies swarm it.

Erik Fogg said...

Charles:

After 9/11 and the beginning of the GWoT, support for terror skyrocketed. The US presence in Iraq is almost certainly contributing to that; I don't think comparing the number of attacks pre-9/11 to post-9/11, with no context, is a scientifically sound argument.

I am not trying to imply that there are hundreds of attacks being foiled, but there are attacks being foiled, and for a few years they were at least announced with some frequency (there is a conspiracy argument to be had here that I don't intend to indulge). This is certainly a better foil percentage than pre-9/11, and yes, I think it is due to the intelligence community refocusing and reorganizing, as opposed to the "flytrap" theory. The kinds of guys that executed 9/11 probably understand the increased benefit of attacking US citizens at home, and making them personally feel in danger.

Other interpretations remain vaild.

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