Paul Andersen: Fair Game
July 4, 2010
If you were privy to any of The Aspen Institute’s Security Forum last week, you are looking at life in far different terms today. Rather than feeling the warm flush of reassurance for our national safety, we tremble in a state of homeland insecurity.
According to counterterrorist experts, the U.S. has been living on borrowed time thanks to the ineptitude and ignorance of terrorist plotters. One expert said that rather than staging shopping mall attacks with shooters and grenade throwers, the plotters are scheming grandiose designs ala 9/11. Still, no one can forecast the next target, or the means of delivering the mayhem, or what that mayhem will consist of.
Widespread, diverse and accessible global communications systems and ever more sophisticated bomb-building technologies combine to enable terrorist missions while disabling prevention. The only assurance we hear is that airplanes may be our safest public transportation because of heightened security measures that make it harder to board a flight than it is to crash a state dinner at the White House.
Meanwhile, on the ground, I traveled Amtrak recently and realized there is no security on the train. A savvy terrorist could pack enough explosives into an Amtrak baggage car to obliterate Omaha. It’s the same with busses and with ferries and with any American venue that draws more than a dozen people. It’s open season on America.
The ranks of willing operatives for terrorist missions are swelling as anti-American sentiments rise, so the number of terrorist strikes is bound to spread. Meanwhile, most of us live in a dire state of unpreparedness, including the besieged and befuddled counterterrorist agencies whose budgets are in the tens of billions of dollars.
Perhaps the most effective counterterrorism activity today is keeping most Americans in the dark about the likelihood of renewed attacks and how to prepare for them. Disclosure of risk through the red and orange alerts we learned to revile and discredit during the Bush administration is ineffective. What’s needed is truth telling by laying out the kinds of risks we face and forging psychological preparedness to ready Americans for the unthinkable.
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This sounds defeatist, but the Aspen forum made it obvious that thwarting terrorism is akin to plugging the BP oil gusher. America, despite its military bravado, does not control the world. There are brazen forces that can and will skirt American security gaps with shocking results.
Since counterterrorism is losing ground, it would seem appropriate to focus on the cause rather than the symptom. Terrorism is the symptom of dangerous political and ideological rifts which America has opened on many fronts – cultural, military, economic and religious. We live in a world of global instability in which gross inequities and divisive hostilities spawn anger, hatred and, finally, organized terrorism.
As an occupying force in the Middle East and a staunch supporter of Israel, America has put itself in the middle of a conflagration that is bound to singe us at home. Youth soccer leagues in developing nations may help, but boiling beneath the surface is a global insurgency that swarms like the Huns at the gates of Rome.
We need to move beyond the strained capabilities of counterterrorism risk analysts poring over computer syntheses into a studied evaluation of the impacts of American hegemony. Our nation’s unilateral, amplified will must be softened and nuanced to defuse affronts over challenges to dominion and autonomy.
If we are to take our security seriously, we need to advance security for everyone. A successful and secure U.S. foreign policy should act as an effective prophylactic, because once a seminal malignancy has taken root, there isn’t a scanner made or a software program designed that can ferret out another 9/11 or the next evolution of terrorism.
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