By Alan Gilbert, from his Democratic Individuality blog
Jennifer is a student in security studies at the Korbel School and took a course with me in ethics and international affairs. She was an undergraduate at the University of North Texas. Her paper, which is worth reading every word of, is below.
In the seminar, I mentioned James Woolsey, the former CIA director under Clinton, and head of the Pentagon Review Board under Bush, the first public crusader for the Iraq War starting on September 20, 2001. Note that he is a “bi-partisan expert.”* “Admiral” Woolsey got $300,000 in anti-biological weapons contracts from the Bush administration in 2002 and went around speaking about “World War IV” and the need to preempt – that is commit aggression against – Iraq.
He is, in other words, a war criminal, technically, a leader – in an official role – in the violation of UN Charter Article 2, section 4 which bars aggression and in violation of Article 6, section 2, the Supremacy Clause of the American constitution, which makes treaties signed by the United States the highest law of the land. He is called “Admiral,” – he was under-Secretary of the Navy under Jimmy Carter from 1977-1979 – but never went to sea: “If you stick to your desk and never go to sea, you, too, can be the captain of the Queen’s navy”…as the Gilbert and Sullivan song goes.
But fantasies aside, the US government shot war criminals after the Tokyo trials for committing the crime of aggression…
And the United States, led by later Supreme Court Justice Robert L. Jackson, fought for Article 2, section 4 against aggression.
Woolsey had, sadly, been invited by Stephen Foster, the rabbi at Temple Emmanuel, to offer calculated lies – remember, he was Clinton’s director of the CIA and knew more about the “quality” of this information than even Cheney and Rice – about weapons of mass destruction and Saddam’s alleged ties to Al-Qaida. It was just at the start of the war so no big crowd turned out to protest. But 10 of us went to leaflet.
Among these 1,000 attendees, the war was unusually okay – this group was very pro-Israel’s leadership (none of these wars is in the interest of ordinary Jews) and were much less skeptical about it than most Americans. About 200 were fanatics. One woman refused to take a leaflet from me, walked 5 paces on, spun around, and screamed: “Go back to Saudi Arabia!”
That a Jew might be critical of the Iraq aggression and – she didn’t even know – of Israel’s domination of Palestinians apparently transmogrified me; ironically, the leadership in Saudi Arabia stirs the madrassas which build fanaticism against Israel, and at the same time, work with Israel and the United States against Iran.
While I was telling this story, Jennifer reacted to the mention of Woolsey – it is why I told the full story here – and told us the remarkable story below (without some of the details she has now added). She spoke as a student from North Texas, invited to the Naval Academy, as was her friend from Iraq, as an outsider but someone who had written well on Middle Eastern issues and might contribute to a discussion. But she was to be seen and not heard. Woolsey was sure he could intimidate her.
What she did is a paradigmatic act of courage and what a student might do in any field where the powerful feel free to lie and spout platitudes, and refuse to confront the dreadful consequences – for human beings – of their policies. In policy studies, particularly in academic institutions too closely associated with the US government, the need for this is, unfortunately, not unusual…
“Woolsey and The Art of Bullshit
In my senior year of college, the university selected me to serve as its official representative at the United States Naval Academy Foreign Affairs Conference being held in Annapolis, Maryland, in April 2010.
The Naval Academy Foreign Affairs Conference, or NAFAC (pronounced “NAY-fak”), which has been held every spring since 1960 at the U.S. Naval Academy, brings together 150 elite undergraduate delegates from around the world to discuss a particular theme in current global affairs.1 During the week-long conference, delegates participate in a series of roundtable panel discussions on a specific area of global affairs. These roundtable discussions include ten university delegates, two or three foreign delegates, two midshipmen delegates, a midshipman moderator and two senior advisors.2 Delegates are required to submit an original research paper prior to the conference and are assigned to specific panels based on their research interests. Delegates also attend speeches given by prominent individuals from the U.S. foreign policy community—past speakers include George H.W. Bush, Robert Gates, Hillary Clinton, John Huntsman, Joe Biden, Steven Hadley, Henry Kissinger, Madeleine Albright, and Condoleezza Rice. The distinguished guest speakers invited to the conference the year I attended included Robert Gates, who was the sitting U.S. Secretary of Defense at the time, and R. James Woolsey, former Director of Central Intelligence.
According to NAFAC’s official website,
“The conference provides an outstanding opportunity for the midshipmen to come to understand the global forces that may project them into duty in Afghanistan, the Middle East, Korea, North Africa or Latin America. Good officers need a sophisticated under- standing of current affairs; this conference puts them together for a week with their civilian counterparts as well as with young officers and civilian delegates from about two dozen countries for conversations in which they can develop that understanding. The conference also offers an excellent occasion for the midshipmen to show off the Academy and the Navy at its best. Each year they produce an impressive event, handling without a visible hitch the many logistical difficulties of transporting, housing, feeding and entertaining scores of guests, some of them of flag rank or international reputation.”3
Thus, the purpose of the conference is two-fold: 1) To expose midshipmen at the Naval Academy to points of view outside of the military establishment in order to help them develop a more “sophisticated” understanding of international affairs and 2) To display the power and prestige of the U.S. Naval Academy, and by extension, the U.S. military, to the foreign delegates in attendance (most of whom are military officers in training, like the midshipmen are, not civilian undergraduate students, like I was).
Each year’s conference is structured around a different theme in international affairs.
Past years’ themes include “A New Multilateralism” (1996), Terrorism” (2001), “Strangers in a Common Land: Preserving Israel and Palestine” (2003), and “Bridging the Gap: Combatting Global Poverty” (2009). The theme for the 2012 conference, held this past spring, was “The Eclipse of the West?” The year I attended the conference (2010), the theme was “National Security Beyond the Horizon: Changing Threats in a Changing World.” Under this heading, there were several sub-topics that made up the different roundtable discussion panels. These included “Terrorism: A New Dimension of National Security,” “The Rise of the BRICs,” “Cuba Conundrum,” “The End of Suburbia,” and “Conflict and Peace in the Middle East.”
As my research interests were focused heavily on terrorism, the roundtable discussion panel to which I was assigned was “Terrorism: A New Dimension of National Security.” Each day of the five-day conference, I and my fellow panelists sat around a big table in a conference room on the Naval Academy campus and discussed and debated issues related to terrorism, from the rise of “homegrown” terrorists to the roots of Islamic extremism to U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East. As the Iraq War was still very much on the minds of Americans in those days, the discussion often went into issues about the connection (or lack thereof) between the Iraq War and 9/11 and about the entire concept of a “Global War on Terror.”
Among the participants in my panel were several undergraduate students from various prestigious universities in the U.S.; a handsome and exceedingly polite young naval officer from the Australian navy; two young officers from the Saudi military who were also members of the Saudi royal family (and looked barely out of their teens), along with their incredibly stern minder, a high-ranking Saudi military official who never left their sides and monitored every single word they said; and a brilliant and hilarious young Iraqi man named Omar, a Rhodes scholar who was currently living in New York and working as a freelance journalist for Reuters and other respectable other news outlets. Omar had interviewed some of the most influential figures in the Middle East, including Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Omar had also lost his entire family, including his two-year-old daughter. They had all been killed in the chaos and violence that descended on Iraq following the 2003 U.S.-led invasion.
Omar and I immediately hit it off on the first day of the conference, due in large part to the fact that he and I shared almost identical views on just about everything, and the fact that these views almost always pitted the two of us against everyone else in our roundtable discussion panel. For instance, Omar and I both believed that U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East was at least partly to blame for the rise of violent Islamic extremism. The others in our group generally did not. Omar and I both saw the U.S. invasion and occupation of Iraq as fundamentally unjust and immoral. The others in our group did not. Omar and I believed that the fact that the U.S. claims to be a beacon of democracy and a defender of human rights while it props up vicious dictators is a bit ridiculous. The others did not.
The two young Saudi military officers defected to the Middle East roundtable after only two days. This was undoubtedly in response to a particularly lively discussion in which Omar and I pointed out that the government of Saudi Arabia was a bit repressive and that it bore some of the responsibility for the rise of Islamic extremism because of its extensive bankrolling of Wahhabi madrassas across the globe. Understandably, this did not sit well with the two Saudi royals, and they left. Miraculously, our roundtable panel survived the loss of these two young men, who were so unbelievably arrogant and removed from reality that in response to criticism regarding Saudi Arabia’s prohibition against women driving, one of them replied, with complete and utter sincerity, “But the women of Saudi Arabia do not need to drive! They all have drivers!” Evidently, the idea that there might be women in their country who were not extravagantly wealthy had never even occurred to them.
On the second day of the conference, R. James Woolsey, the former Director of Central Intelligence and head of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), came to give a speech. At the time, I did not really know who he was, as his tenure in office had taken place in the early- to mid-1990s (1993-1995), while I was still a child. I did not yet know the critical role he had played in selling the American people on an unjust and immoral war. Of course, I knew the names Wolfowitz, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Feith, etc., and I was quite familiar with figures such as Bernard Lewis and Fouad Ajami, but the name Woolsey meant little to me at the time. Thus when I sat down next to Omar in the huge auditorium, filled to capacity with all of the NAFAC participants and organizers, to hear Woolsey speak, I had no preconceived ideas about him. I did not yet know the full extent of his crimes against human decency and rational thought. To me, he was just some “distinguished” guest speaker they had paid to come talk to us about the wonderful world of foreign policy.
That all changed as soon as he opened his mouth. Woolsey talked about how the world had changed since the end of the Cold War and about the “new” security challenges facing the U.S. in the post-9/11 world. Woolsey, with a cocky swagger and a snide, flippant tone, reminisced about the “good old days” of the Cold War, when we at least had a “civilized” enemy (the Soviets). This was in contrast to today’s enemy (some ill-defined amalgam of Iran, al- Qaeda, and Muslim “fanatics”). Woolsey explained that back during the Cold War, you could sit down with your enemy over a bottle of wine and have a decent conversation like two human beings. Not so with these fanatics today. I do not have the exact transcript of what he said in his speech, but in an interview he gave in January 2009, Woolsey expressed almost the exact same sentiment:
“I have started talking about the great war of the 21st Century, or the long war of the 21st Century, because when people hear the phrase World War they think of Normandy and Iwo Jima and whereas the Cold War is probably a better analogy. But in the Cold War, our enemy, the Soviet Union, its ideology was effectively, by the 1950s pretty much dead. It was pretty live back in the ‘20s and ‘30s, but by the 1950s, I say slightly tongue in cheek there were probably more true believing communists in the bookstores in the upper west side of Manhattan than there were in the Kremlin. These were basically— Soviet leadership were thugs with a cover story. And they didn’t want to die for the principle of each according to his ability, to each according to his need. They wanted to keep their dachas. That’s not what we have now. Al Qaeda, Hezbollah, Ahmadinejad, a number of Wahhabi clerics in Saudi Arabia are fanatically in favor of the propagation of Jihad. They are in many ways theocratic, totalitarian, genocidal maniacs. They are not thuggish bureaucrats like most of our Soviet adversaries. So it’s a very different kind of war.”4
This is almost word-for-word what Woolsey said in his 2010 NAFAC speech. As Woolsey spoke, I grew more and more angry. His over-the-top caricature of “the enemy,” his glib portrayal of the Cold War (in which millions of people lived under the threat of nuclear annihilation and millions more in the so-called “Third World” suffered from the effects of U.S. and Soviet proxy wars fought in their homelands—apparently all while Woolsey and his Soviet counterparts sat around drinking wine), and his blatant arrogance and egotism made me shake with anger. He represented everything that was wrong about U.S. foreign policy.
After Woolsey was finished speaking, he remained on stage and took questions from the audience. I do not remember the questions that were asked by the audience members who went before me. I do know that they were all softball questions, because Woolsey was laughing and smiling. All I remember is looking at Omar, who was just as visibly upset as I was, hearing him whisper to me, “GO!,” and standing up and walking up to the microphone. Standing there in front of the microphone, hundreds of eyes fixed upon me, I suddenly got tunnel vision. The rest of the world dropped away, and it was just me and Woolsey, face to face.
I began: “Mr. Woolsey, I find your comments about the nature of our “enemy” to be incredibly condescending. You seem to lump al-Qaeda, Iran, Hezbollah, Hamas, and suicide bombers in Iraq together into one big category, when in reality they all have very different motivations. Do you think that lumping everyone together and calling them all ‘fanatics’ and ‘genocidal maniacs’ is the best way to approach the security issues currently facing the U.S. and the world?”
Then I went and sat down.
The auditorium was silent. Woolsey stood there on the stage, frozen in place, his face turning a fiery red. And then he unleashed a whirlwind of self-righteous indignation, accusing me of being naive and uninformed. He essentially said that anyone who does not think “these people” are pure evil and want to destroy everything the United States stands for is deluding themselves and insinuated that people like me were the real problem. I sat there watching this “distinguished” guest speaker lose all composure on stage in front of hundreds of people and I took Woolsey’s abuse. Several chuckles rippled through the audience at my expense. I really didn’t care. I had said what I needed to say.
Outside after the speech, as we all trekked across the campus to the cafeteria for lunch, a number of people came up to me and told me they liked what I had said and thanked me for saying it. Almost all of these people were Arabs. One was Pakistani. None were white. I am still friends with most of these people to this day. Most of the rest of the NAFAC participants generally avoided me for the rest of the conference. A few of the midshipmen offered me covert nods of appreciation when their superior officers were not looking.
Later that afternoon, I sat in my roundtable panel discussion talking about the rise of al- Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) and Anwar al-Awlaki (who was still alive back then), when all of a sudden the door opened and in walked Woolsey with a big smile on his face. That is, until he looked around the room and saw that I was there. Then his smile disappeared. However, not one to cede defeat to some 20-something college girl, Woolsey imperiously commandeered the seat at the head of the table and announced that he would take questions from the panel.
Of course, I couldn’t resist.
I asked him if, knowing what we know now, given all the American and Iraqi casualties, the billions of dollars spent on the war, the horrendous civil war that had decimated Iraq and destroyed almost all of its working infrastructure, and the fact that no weapons of mass destruction were ever found, he still thought the Iraq War was a good decision. He responded, “Yeah, you know, I think that if Iraq emerges as a stable democracy, it will have been worth the sacrifice.”
Next to me, I saw Omar start shaking with emotion.
I responded: “First of all, that is one hell of a big ‘if.’ Second, which sacrifices are you referring to? The over 100,000 Iraqi civilians who have been killed in the war or the 4,000 U.S. military deaths? Because maybe—maybe—you have the right to speak about the sacrifices made by the U.S. military, but who the hell gave you the authority to speak about the sacrifices of over 100,000 innocent Iraqis? ‘If’ Iraq emerges as a stable democracy—meaning one that is friendly to the U.S.—then the slaughter of over 100,000 innocent men, women, and children will have been ‘worth it’?”
Woolsey, visibly rattled, shot back: “Look! Saddam was a bad guy, okay? You mean to tell me that the Iraqi people aren’t better off now that he’s gone?”
Finally, Omar, who had been mostly silent up to this point, spoke up. With a shaking yet powerful voice thick with loss and suffering, he looked right into Woolsey’s eyes and said: “I am from Iraq. My entire family is dead. It was not your decision to make. Saddam was our problem. It should have been our decision to get rid of him, not yours. Yes, Saddam was a bad guy. Trust me, I know this better than you do. I lived under Saddam. But under Saddam, my family was alive. ”
Woolsey said nothing.
The Naval Academy midshipman in charge of moderating our panel quickly stepped in and changed the subject.
Over the next hour or so, Omar and I (and occasionally a few others on the panel) continued to debate Woolsey on U.S. foreign policy issues. None of the answers he provided or the arguments he offered were satisfactory. When trying to justify various U.S. policies, he would give one of three answers: 1) Because we support democracy and freedom! 2) Because they’re bad guys! or 3) Because that is how foreign policy works! (The answers always half- shouted in exasperation, as if they were so obvious that he was irritated to have to explain it to such mindless idiots.) All his arguments were a variation of these three answers. Asked why he thought a nuclear Iran was such a serious threat that the U.S. should go to war to prevent it:“Because they’re bad guys!” Asked why the U.S. should provide such massive military support to Israel? “Because we support democracy and freedom, and they’re a beacon of democracy in the Middle East!” and “Because Hamas and Hezbollah are really bad guys!” Asked why, if we support democracy and freedom and are against “bad guys,” do we support dictators and oppressive regimes in places like Egypt and Saudi Arabia? “Because that’s just how foreign policy works!”
All nuanced arguments, to be sure.
Woolsey flat refused to admit that U.S. policies in the Middle East helped create the problems we now face and absolutely would not accept that some of our “enemies” may actually have legitimate grievances. As far as Woolsey was concerned, all of America’s enemies “hate us for our freedom.” That is all there is to it.
When Woolsey finally left, he walked out the door just as arrogant and self-righteous as he had been when he walked in. I came out of the experience more horrified than ever about the level of ignorance, arrogance, and self-deception that exists among some of the top policymakers involved in the Iraq War and in U.S. foreign policy in general. Recent statements made by other senior figures in the Bush administration, especially Condoleezza Rice, regarding the decision to go to war in Iraq display this same arrogance and self-deception.
Coming to the realization that in 2010, nine years after 9/11 and seven years after the U.S. invaded Iraq, influential people at the top of the foreign policy establishment still believe we were attacked on 9/11 and were being attacked in Iraq because “they hate our freedom” was beyond disturbing. It simultaneously made me want to work for the government, with the idea that thoughtful, intelligent people like me would gradually replace the ignorant fools currently working there and eventually change the tide of U.S. foreign policy, and to run screaming in the other direction, with the thought that they would somehow turn me into one of them and that one day I would be as stubbornly deluded as Woolsey.
Today I graduate from graduate school. And I’m still not sure which direction I will go.
1 2012. “What is NAFAC?” U.S. Naval Academy. Online at www.usna.edu/NAFAC/about.html.
4 Woolsey, R. James. 2009, January 19. “Uncommon Knowledge with Peter M. Robinson” [Interview]. The Hoover Institution. Transcript online at http://media.hoover.org/sites/default/files/documents/ uk_woolsey_transcript.pdf.”
With the adoption of torture by the Bush administration and the Obama administration’s refusal to allow investigations, war crimes have become as American as apple pie and my student Condi is now the poster-child, mistakenly I think, for the University of Denver. See here<http://democratic-individuality.blogspot.com/2009/05/performer-lost-in-her-performance.html>, here<http://democratic-individuality.blogspot.com/2009/05/debate-is-condi-rice-war-criminal.html>, here<http://democratic-individuality.blogspot.com/2010/02/video-questions-about-condi-rice-and.html>, here<http://democratic-individuality.blogspot.com/2010/02/better-link-to-video-on-condi-and.html>and here<http://democratic-individuality.blogspot.com/2011/02/poem-er-in-ye-s.html>.
What can be said among powerful people (trustees of Universities, the bankrollers of the “Democratic” and “Republican” parties, rich investors in universities) is mostly platitudes. It is often the opposite the truth. And even diplomacy, when not aggressive, is notorious merely for smooth words…
But as in the case of Jennifer, some people have an affection for words and the truth.
Much is made in academia (see here<http://democratic-individuality.blogspot.com/2012/08/gandhi-socrates-and-satyagraha-pt-2_9.html>) of Weber’s ethic of responsibility – the idea that politicians take into account real circumstances, i.e. for him, great power rivalry – and estimate the consequences for human life of their actions. This contrasts with an ethic of intention or as it is sometimes translated, “ultimate aims,” which seems good on the surface – for Weber, legalism or a Christian nonviolence – promising to protect lives and decency, but letting the big killers roam free.
In foreign policy studies rather than foreign policy making, realism is a leading view and Weber often mentioned. In foreign policy making, an official realism, one pertaining to US elite interests, is commonly invoked, but policy-makers are in a bubble, unmoored from reality (see my Must Global Politics Constrain Democracy? for a contrast of sophisticated realisms and official realism). Woolsey’s excoriation of Jennifer for “being naive” is the cliche version of Weber’s ethic of responsibility.
But in Weber’s idiom, Woolsey has an extreme ethic of intention – his is a fantasy world in which the recent goals of US foreign policy, say conquering the Middle East and installing “democracies” at gun-point, articulated by ideologues like Bush and Cheney, are substituted for reality and any ability even to respond to reality, i.e. fact-based arguments. Ideologues emphasize the aim to protect Americans, so they say, against frightening, non-white and “hating us for our freedom” terrorist-fanatics. And they adopt increasingly police-state tactics domestically, i.e. the “Patriot” Act (I name this anti-democratic feedback in Must Global Politics Constrain Democracy?).
Now in reality, Woolsey receives a lot of prestige and money from proclaiming such “important” fantasies. But in Weber’s terms, he could not be more wantonly murderous and irresponsible.
With regard to Vietnam, Daniel Ellsberg, a former undersecretary of Defense, read through the documents that became The Pentagon Papersand was increasingly appalled. He had been a true believer in the War, gone on a patrol with the Special Forces and bragged, in a debate at Harvard with Stanley Hoffmann, about killing Vietnamese. But the scales fell from his eyes. He found no rationale for American funding of French colonialism against the Vietminh or for violating the Geneva accords, taking over from the French and escalating the aggression afterwards. No reasoned case based on evidence.
About Mr. Cheney and Mr. Bush and Ms. Rice, the lies about Iraq were comical and refuted in the back pages of the very newspapers like the New York Times that were blaring them, with Judith Miller and Michael Gordon, on the front. The basis for going after Saddam rather than Al-Qaida existed only in a silly fantasy world enforced in the government by the rather fearsome apparatus of Cheney. As Jane Mayer reports in theDark Side when Head of the Office of Legal Counsel Jack Goldsmith and Assistant Attorney General James Comey wanted to withdraw Yoo’s torture memoranda – still not available in the light of day because they are acts of criminality – they invented a special language to communicate in; they sought to elude their minders and if they were discovered, very likely enemies. Change the names and the idea that this was Saudi Arabia (as Jennifer’s letter describes), Russia or Germany, comes easily to mind; one might even say that this is the kind of “thoughtful” atmosphere encouraged by the Woolseys and Cheneys of this world, once one graduates to working for them, for places where they seek to commit aggression.
This is the real foreign policy “bubble.” Democratic foreign policy flacks also become “neo-neo cons” urging Obama to fire off drones and kill civilians – it is the only weapon “we” have against Al-Qaida; it’s better than large-scale aggression (no more troops to send; no more money to spend…); any young man in the area with a suspected terrorist is himself a terrorist (keeping the count of murders of civilians down). None of this will withstand questions.
Consider this “bubble” as generated by what I name the war complex – the military-industrial-
The effect of this elite in the world is to isolate America and breed enmity against what are often – as with drone killings of civilians or torture – crimes.
Through her questions, Jennifer shook a belligerent, “entitled” and powerful war criminal with some audience support – it was the naval academy, after all, though, of course, there are many good people in the navy, including those cadets who, when officers were not present, nodded at Jennifer, and some have contempt for Woolsey – but no substance.
*As Steve Walt reports, the current odds for each of us of being killed in a terrorist attack this year are estimated by two scholars at 1 in 3.5 million. For this, these scholars estimate, $1 trillion has been spent since 9/11 on the “terrorism” industry – Admiral Woolsey has made a killing, so to speak – and there are still two American occupations (though Iraq has been drawn down some), the firing of drones in another 3 sovereign countries with which the US is “not at war,” and the endless airport security:
“What terrorist threat?
Posted By Stephen M. Walt Monday, August 13, 2012 – 12:42 PM
Remember how the London Olympics were supposedly left vulnerable to terrorists after the security firm hired for the games admitted that it couldn’t supply enough manpower? This “humiliating shambles” forced the British government to call in 3,500 security personnel of its own, and led GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney to utter some tactless remarks about Britain’s alleged mismanagement during his official “Foot-in-Mouth” foreign tour last month.
Well, surprise, surprise. Not only was there no terrorist attack, the Games themselves came off rather well. There were the inevitable minor glitches, of course, but no disasters and some quite impressive organizational achievements. And of course, athletes from around the world delivered inspiring, impressive, heroic, and sometimes disappointing performances, which is what the Games are all about.
Two lessons might be drawn from this event. The first is that the head-long rush to privatize everything — including the provision of security — has some obvious downsides. When markets and private firms fail, it is the state that has to come to the rescue. It was true after the 2007-08 financial crisis, it’s true in the ongoing euro-mess, and it was true in the Olympics. Bear that in mind when Romney and new VP nominee Paul Ryan tout the virtues of shrinking government, especially the need to privatize Social Security and Medicare.
The second lesson is that we continue to over-react to the “terrorist threat.” Here I recommend you read John Mueller and Mark G. Stewart’s The Terrorism Delusion: America’s Overwrought Response to September 11, in the latest issue of International Security. Mueller and Stewart analyze 50 cases of supposed “Islamic terrorist plots” against the United States, and show how virtually all of the perpetrators were (in their words) “incompetent, ineffective, unintelligent, idiotic, ignorant, unorganized, misguided, muddled, amateurish, dopey, unrealistic, moronic, irrational and foolish.” They quote former Glenn Carle, former deputy national intelligence officer for transnational threats saying “we must see jihadists for the small, lethal, disjointed and miserable opponents that they are,” noting further that al Qaeda’s “capabilities are far inferior to its desires.”
Further, Mueller and Stewart estimate that expenditures on domestic homeland security (i.e., not counting the wars in Iraq or Afghanistan) have increased by more than $1 trillion since 9/11, even though the annual risk of dying in a domestic terrorist attack is about 1 in 3.5 million. Using conservative assumptions and conventional risk-assessment methodology, they estimate that for these expenditures to be cost-effective “they would have had to deter, prevent, foil or protect against 333 very large attacks that would otherwise have been successful every year.” Finally, they worry that this exaggerated sense of danger has now been “internalized”: even when politicians and “terrorism experts” aren’t hyping the danger, the public still sees the threat as large and imminent. As they conclude:
`… Americans seems to have internalized their anxiety about terrorism, and politicians and policymakers have come to believe that they can defy it only at their own peril. Concern about appearing to be soft on terrorism has replaced concern about seeming to be soft on communism, a phenomenon that lasted far longer than the dramatic that generated it … This extraordinarily exaggerated and essentially delusional response may prove to be perpetual.’
Which is another way of saying that you should be prepared to keep standing in those pleasant and efficient TSA lines for the rest of your life, and to keep paying for far-flung foreign interventions designed to ‘root out’ those nasty jihadis.”