Sunday, June 03, 2007

How to defeat Terrorism

By Libby

Fareed Zakaria in Newseek, looks beyond Bush and has some very sage advice for Americans. It's a long article but this is the money graf.
We will never be able to prevent a small group of misfits from planning some terrible act of terror. No matter how far-seeing and competent our intelligence and law-enforcement officials, people will always be able to slip through the cracks in a large, open and diverse country. The real test of American leadership is not whether we can make 100 percent sure we prevent the attack, but rather how we respond to it. Stephen Flynn, a homeland-security expert at the Council on Foreign Relations, argues that our goal should be resilience—how quickly can we bounce back from a disruption? In the materials sciences, he points out, resilience is the ability of a material to recover its original shape after a deformation. If one day bombs do go off, we must ensure that they cause as little disruption—economic, social, political—as possible. This would deprive the terrorist of his main objective. If we are not terrorized, then in a crucial sense we have defeated terrorism.
That last sentence really nails it. Terrorists can't really take over our country. They're outnumbered and outgunned. Their only advantage is psychological. To win, they only have to scare us into defeating ourselves and so far they've succeeded beyond their wildest dreams. Fear of terrorists has allowed the Bush administration to destroy our freedoms with barely a whisper of protest coming from the average American.

Bush has been allowed to dismantle our civil rights. Public dissent has been criminalized. He illegally spys on us. He can snatch any one of us off the street and hold us indefinitely without due process. He transformed the office of the presidency into a virtual dictatorship. He created a unitary executive that brooks no accountability and has shrouded his government in a cloak of secrecy so dark that not even the insiders can see what is happening right under their noses. And he has been allowed to get away with this, aided and abetted by a compliant press, in the name of an imaginary war against terror. Bush isn't fighting terror, he's creating it and then exploits the fear he relentlessly seeks to plant in the pubilc consciousness in order to further his own power.

By any objective metric the terrorists have already won their heart's desire. They don't have to invade us to take away our freedoms. We've already handed them over willingly and in doing so have lost the respect of the international community and with it our prestige as a world power.

Update: Kevin Hayden also posts on this piece and zeroes in on the same graf but brings up another relevant point.
The sole critique my cynical eye would add is he gives short shrift to the pernicious and corrosive influence of extreme capitalism on all our choices. War profits the powerful few. Profits buy elections. Materialism and consumerism waste our resources. And I fear money controls most of the possibilities with a chokehold.

What Zakaria portrays as a matter of wisdom and will looks to me like it can’t happen till we achieve clean elections publicly financed and temper the powers of the extremists of greed.
Kevin is right. The people won't be able to regain their influence on the decision-making process unless and until we wrest control of the electoral process from the big-money financiers of our politicians. It seems to me that the simplest way to do that is to start electing candidates who refuse to be bought. Now if only we could find some.

[cross-posted to The Reaction]

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think this is a very important post and certainly one of your best ever. Using fear as a tactic of control is not new, nor is it new that it is used by a government. What is surprising to me is how easily Americans can be terrified and how long Bush has been able to maintain it. I will be quoting parts of your post in the next day or two. Nice job.

7:09:00 PM  
Blogger Libby Spencer said...

Thanks for the encouragement Brian.

9:24:00 PM  
Blogger Capt. Fogg said...

There seemed to be a moment when Bush told us not to be afraid, but unlike FDR and his vastly more eloquent caution about having only fear to fear, he only told us to go to Disneyland.

But you know it's a strange world when Zakaria and George Will and I agree: it's only terrorism if you're terrorized.

11:08:00 PM  
Blogger Libby Spencer said...

The world has indeed become very strange Fogg.

11:34:00 PM  
Blogger Porthos said...

I seems rather obvious that we need to be resilient enough to "bounce back". And I think post-911 showed we certainly are. But why should response be a higher priority than prevention?

"The real test of American leadership is not whether we can make 100 percent sure we prevent the attack, but rather how we respond to it... our goal should be resilience—how quickly can we bounce back from a disruption?"

It's like saying we teach about vaccines and pregnancy counseling instead of birth control.

Assuming we have a fixed amount of energy and resources to deal with, I would much rather spend it trying to stop terrorist attacks from happening as opposed to honing our "resilience" (in some undefined way).

The more I think about it, these two things don't even seem really comparable. Stopping terrorists is a function mainly of action (intelligence, arrests, etc). Resilience is mostly a function of character. And I'm not comfortable with the government trying to improve my character.

I'll admit I have not read the whole article, so my critique may fall short of the whole piece.

But I think it seems pretty obvious that while how we respond is important, prevention is even better.

4:43:00 PM  
Blogger Libby Spencer said...

Porthos, the point is it can't be 100% prevented. It can only be dealt with. Caution makes sense. Abject fear doesn't.

7:49:00 PM  

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