Thursday, September 15, 2011

The Terrorists Won

I know that is not a popular position and this is not a popular time to take it. I expect to take some flack for saying it. I identify with the little boy that pointed out the naked emperor, but the emperor was not a danger and the little boy had no obligation to say anything.

I have had the Principle of Proportionality on the list to talk about for a while but something always trumped it. This weekend has elevated it.

Terrorism is defined as an attempt to effect political change through fear and intimidation, usually by attacking civilians. When an act of terror produces political change out of proportion to the act, by definition, the terrorists win.

For example, the Blitz was terrorism. Dresden was terrorism. Hiroshima and Nagasaki were terrorism. The IRA bombing of London was terrorism. 9/11, as terrible as it was, barely ranks with the least of these. The Blitz did not affect the intended political change. It did not turn the British people against the war. Dresden did not achieve the capitulation of Nazi Germany. The terrorists did not win.

In response to 9/11, we have fought two major wars at a cost of more than 100 thousand lives, $1T, and our reputation as a moderate and moderating influence in the world. We are locked in those wars to the tune of $2B per week with no honorable way to withdraw. That is called disproportionate. The terrorists won.

We have betrayed our own principles. We have engaged in torture, imprisoned people without charge or trial, and spied on our own citizens. We have denied Habeas Corpus, public trials, a jury of one's peers, and surrendered the Common Law principle of "innocent until proven guilty." That is called disproportionate. The terrorists won.

We are more divided than at any time in this century. We are so divided by party that good policy is no longer politically possible. We are divided by region, religion, and origin. The terrorists would delight.

We now spend $8B a year on TSA. Of all the bad things that can happen when one gets on an airplane, this addresses only the least of them. That is called disproportionate. The terrorists won.

We have created a huge, expensive, and secret bureaucracy. There are 1000 of them for every identifiable terrorist in the world. They have built themselves a headquarters second only to the Pentagon. We did not even notice. Speaking of the Emperor's suit, no politician has the courage to question this budget. We are no more than one election from having this monstrosity, in an excess of caution or zeal, turned against the citizen. That is called disproportionate. The terrorists won.

As I write this, CNN is reporting three stories. One is about a the catastrophic flooding of the Susquehanna River, a river that is awesome even when it is not in flood. The second is about the loss of electric power to 5M people in the southwest on a day when temperatures reached 115 degrees Fahrenheit. The third is about a "specific, credible, but uncorroborated," not to mention "secret," threat, linked to Al Qaeda, and involving three "terrorists." That is called disproportionate. The terrorists won.

We have become a fearful and timid people. We are incapacitated by fear. We behave as though terrorism were an existential threat, the equivalent of thermo-nuclear war. It is sad to see the tourist in the airport, justifying the removal of her diaper as "it makes us safe." This is called disproportionate. The terrorists won.

Even when their plots that fail they win. Can you say "No shoes, no belts, no suspenders, no diapers, no liquids, no nail files?" That is called "disproportionate" not to mention "locking the barn after the horse is stolen."

At their most ambitious, the terrorists never imagined that we would afford them such disproportionate leverage. They won big time.

Of course "security" has also won. There are at least ten of us today for every one of us a decade ago. Dozens of new security and intelligence businesses have sprung up along the beltway, mostly on contract to DHS.

Proportionality is the fundamental principle of security. "Do not spend more mitigating a risk than tolerating it will cost you." A fundamental principle of our professional ethics is that we must not give unwarranted comfort or unnecessary alarm to our constituents. While I understand how difficult that balance is, I suggest to you that we have not served our constituents well over the last decade. We have not deserved the right to be called professionals or to be paid the big bucks.

Yes, I did see the photo of Presidents Bush and Obama. I did hear Renee Fleming sing Amazing Grace and the New York Philharmonic play the Resurrection Symphony. I saw the Concert from the Kennedy Center. I know that New York's Bravest are still ready to go into harm's way to protect me. I am hopeful.

However, there will be other terrrorist attacks, some successful. Hopefully these will be at the limits of our abilities, but it is simply not possible even to identify, much less deter, all the crazies. Our leaders have already set us up to see these as "failures of security," as justification for even more drastic measures. That is what government does. If what they are doing does not work, they simply do it harder.

It is our professional responsibility to ensure that America sees these attacks as the inevitable price of freedom, as the price of our values, as the price of greatness. Then we will be professionals and deserve the big bucks.

1 comment:

  1. I am concerned that we are all so connected that isolated acts now have huge consequences, rightly or wrongly. Look at how the borrowing of Greeks can effect the rest of the world. Greece has a population of less than LA, but because their banks are connected to those in Europe, their spending habits can effect our US economy.

    Regarding terrorists, I'm not sure they won. The global economy is around 45T. I contend that successful terrorist acts can take a chunk out of this. So we are spending 0.1T per year on wars and 0.008T per year on TSA. Are those numbers not justified, i.e. security spend << risk?