Friday, December 05, 2008

Our Ms. Brooks: No More Mr. Wussy

Judging from the comments appended to the online version of Rosa Brooks' latest column, she pushed a lot of hot buttons. Her subject, terrorism and our response to it, is an emotional one, especially in light of the Mumbai attacks, but her analysis and recommendations are based solidly in the one thing humans have going for them: rationality. It is that very quality which should be guiding our response to terrorism, she asserts, and I think she's right.

After reminding us of the terrorist attacks in our recent history (beginning with Timothy McVeigh and moving through the DC snipers to 9/11, London, and Madrid), Ms. Brooks also points to the more ancient history of the tactic used by groups with grievances, real or imagined. Terrorism is nothing new. Nor, unfortunately, have the responses to terrorism changed much over the centuries. It is precisely those responses which continue to make the tactic so effective.

Ironically, the Mumbai attacks came as the Congressional-appointed Commission on the Prevention of Weapons of Mass Destruction Proliferation and Terrorism issued its report predicting an attack involving the use of nuclear or biological weapons. As Ms. Brooks cannily points out, such attacks are a consideration, but at this point unlikely. Why would a terrorist group go to all that trouble when much cheaper and simpler devices (box cutters, sniper rifles, a few grenades, or a truck laden with a fertilizer bomb) appear to be working so well?

Her conclusion is a powerful one because it contains the seed of why terrorism was so completely successful in this country after 9/11:

Mumbai should remind us -- again -- of the folly of the Bush administration's "war on terror." Terror is an emotion, and terrorism is a tactic. You can't make "war" against it. Even if meant as mere metaphor, "the war on terror" foolishly enhanced the terrorist's status as prime boogeyman, arguably increasing the psychological effectiveness of terrorist tactics. Worse, it effectively lumped together many different organizations motivated by many different grievances -- a surefire route to strategic error.

Like crime, terrorism will always be with us, and terrorist attacks will increase as long as we succumb to the panic they're intended to inspire. But if we resist the temptation to lash out indiscriminately, we can take sober steps to reduce terrorism through improved intelligence, carefully targeted disruptions of specific terrorist organizations and efforts to address specific grievances (such as disputes over Kashmir). With a new U.S. administration about to take office, isn't it finally time to say goodbye to the "war on terror"? After all, we already have two real wars to worry about.

"Two real wars": both of which were started ostensibly as a reaction to 9/11, both of which consumed billions, even trillions of dollars of the national treasure, making the recent economic disaster deeper and more profound, both of which did nothing to make us any safer from future attacks but did enlarge the grievance pool.

And here at home, the panic and fear, constantly stoked by the current administration, made it possible for that administration to convince us to willingly give up rights we had nourished and cherished for over 200 years and to authorize such heinous and illegal behavior as governmental kidnapping and torture.

It's time to sober up and to respond more reasonably. Hopefully the next administration is prepared to lead us in that direction.



Post a Comment

<< Home