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But Bush has nothing on at all!

How real is the war on terror?

Is Bush only 75% cynical about the "war on terror," or 100% cynical?

Sure, Bush hasn't protected the ports against loose nukes (they're Blue), butchered the Department of Homeland Security (thanks for that one, Joe), and turned "terror" funding into a pork barrel. But what did we ever expect from Republicans?

And sure, the Republican gaslighting tactic has politicized every terror alert. But what we ever expect from Republicans? And, give them credit, they were "firm," and "strong," and "stood up for America" [Down, Rush! Oh, you can't?]

And then there's the whole Iraq Clusterfuck. The Republicans have wanted to go to war in Iraq for years (Project for a New American Century), and when 9/11 gave them an excuse, they grabbed it (on the very same day).

So, I've always been prepared to believe that Bush was 75% cynical about the war on terror; after all, it has been working out very well for Him, as the Republican effort to replace our Constitutional system with authoritarian rule has been driven by the (putative) requirements of "a new kind of war."

But 100% cynical? Could the whole Fucking thing be a scam? Way, way too foily! They would never do that. Well, an establishment organ, Foreign Affairs, finally asks the unasked question:

Is There Still a Terrorist Threat?

Rarely it the question asked. What's the answer?

The Myth of the Omnipresent Enemy
For the past five years, Americans have been regularly regaled with dire predictions of another major al Qaeda attack in the United States.

But if it is so easy to pull off an attack and if terrorists are so demonically competent, why have they not done it? Why have they not been sniping at people in shopping centers, collapsing tunnels, poisoning the food supply, cutting electrical lines, derailing trains, blowing up oil pipelines, causing massive traffic jams, or exploiting the countless other vulnerabilities that, according to security experts, could so easily be exploited?

One reasonable explanation is that almost no terrorists exist in the United States and few have the means or the inclination to strike from abroad. But this explanation is rarely offered.

Ah, the Emperor's New Clothes all over again. (Hans Christian Anderson's supposed children's story is really a sophisticated fable about groupthink and small-group dynamics among officeholders whose self-image, and self-interest, demand that they remain deluded. Recommended reading.)

If there were a terrorist threat, they should be here by now (and not as result of an October surprise):

Instead, Americans are told -- often by the same people who had once predicted imminent attacks -- that the absence of international terrorist strikes in the United States is owed to the protective measures so hastily and expensively put in place after 9/11. But there is a problem with this argument. True, there have been no terrorist incidents in the United States in the last five years. But nor were there any in the five years before the 9/11 attacks, at a time when the United States was doing much less to protect itself. It would take only one or two guys with a gun or an explosive to terrorize vast numbers of people, as the sniper attacks around Washington, D.C., demonstrated in 2002. Accordingly, the government's protective measures would have to be nearly perfect to thwart all such plans. Given the monumental imperfection of the government's response to Hurricane Katrina, and the debacle of FBI and National Security Agency programs to upgrade their computers to better coordinate intelligence information, that explanation seems far-fetched. Moreover, Israel still experiences terrorism even with a far more extensive security apparatus.

If al Qaeda operatives are as determined and inventive as assumed, they should be here by now. If they are not yet here, they must not be trying very hard or must be far less dedicated, diabolical, and competent than the common image would suggest.

What about Afghanistan?

Another popular explanation for the fact that there have been no more attacks asserts that the invasion of Afghanistan in 2001, although it never managed to snag bin Laden, severely disrupted al Qaeda and its operations. But this claim is similarly unconvincing. The 2004 train bombings in Madrid were carried out by a tiny group of men who had never been to Afghanistan, much less to any of al Qaeda's training camps.

What about Iraq?

It is also sometimes suggested that the terrorists are now too busy killing Americans and others in Iraq to devote the time, manpower, or energy necessary to pull off similar deeds in the United States. But terrorists with al Qaeda sympathies or sensibilities have managed to carry out attacks in Egypt, Jordan, Morocco, Saudi Arabia, Spain, Turkey, the United Kingdom, and elsewhere in the past three years; not every single potential bomb thrower has joined the fray in Iraq.

Is Al Qaeda biding its time?

Another common explanation is that al Qaeda is craftily biding its time. But what for? The 9/11 attacks took only about two years to prepare. The carefully coordinated, very destructive, and politically productive terrorist attacks in Madrid in 2004 were conceived, planned from scratch, and then executed all within six months; the bombs were set off less than two months after the conspirators purchased their first supplies of dynamite, paid for with hashish. (Similarly, Timothy McVeigh's attack in Oklahoma City in 1995 took less than a year to plan.) Given the extreme provocation of the invasion of Iraq in 2003, one would think that terrorists might be inclined to shift their timetable into higher gear. And if they are so patient, why do they continually claim that another attack is just around the corner? It was in 2003 that al Qaeda's top leaders promised attacks in Australia, Bahrain, Egypt, Italy, Japan, Jordan, Kuwait, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, the United States, and Yemen. Three years later, some bombs had gone off in Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Yemen, and Jordan (as well as in the unlisted Turkey) but not in any other of the explicitly threatened countries. Those attacks were tragic, but their sparseness could be taken as evidence that it is not only American alarmists who are given to extravagant huffing and puffing.

gaslight So, why no attacks?

A fully credible explanation for the fact that the United States has suffered no terrorist attacks since 9/11 is that the threat posed by homegrown or imported terrorists -- like that presented by Japanese Americans during World War II or by American Communists after it -- has been massively exaggerated. Is it possible that the haystack is essentially free of needles?

This would certainly explain why we keep releasing arrested "terrorists" for lack of evidence. Look at the numbers:

Intelligence estimates in 2002 held that there were as many as 5,000 al Qaeda terrorists and supporters in the United States. However, a secret FBI report in 2005 wistfully noted that although the bureau had managed to arrest a few bad guys here and there after more than three years of intense and well-funded hunting, it had been unable to identify a single true al Qaeda sleeper cell anywhere in the country. Thousands of people in the United States have had their overseas communications monitored under a controversial warrantless surveillance program. Of these, fewer than ten U.S. citizens or residents per year have aroused enough suspicion to impel the agencies spying on them to seek warrants authorizing surveillance of their domestic communications as well; none of this activity, it appears, has led to an indictment on any charge whatever.

In addition to massive eavesdropping and detention programs, every year some 30,000 "national security letters" are issued without judicial review, forcing businesses and other institutions to disclose confidential information about their customers without telling anyone they have done so. That process has generated thousands of leads that, when pursued, have led nowhere. Some 80,000 Arab and Muslim immigrants have been subjected to fingerprinting and registration, another 8,000 have been called in for interviews with the FBI, and over 5,000 foreign nationals have been imprisoned in initiatives designed to prevent terrorism. This activity, notes the Georgetown University law professor David Cole, has not resulted in a single conviction for a terrorist crime. In fact, only a small number of people picked up on terrorism charges -- always to great official fanfare -- have been convicted at all, and almost all of these convictions have been for other infractions, particularly immigration violations. Some of those convicted have clearly been mental cases or simply flaunting jihadist bravado -- rattling on about taking down the Brooklyn Bridge with a blowtorch, blowing up the Sears Tower if only they could get to Chicago, beheading the prime minister of Canada, or flooding lower Manhattan by somehow doing something terrible to one of those tunnels.

So, why no second 9/11? Because 9/11 was bad for terrorists in Europe and Asia:

The FBI may not have uncovered much of anything within the United States since 9/11, but thousands of apparent terrorists have been rounded, or rolled, up overseas with U.S. aid and encouragement.

The post-9/11 willingness of governments around the world to take on international terrorists has been much reinforced and amplified by subsequent, if scattered, terrorist activity outside the United States. Thus, a terrorist bombing in Bali in 2002 galvanized the Indonesian government into action.

Of course, under the Republicans rule, we create our own reality, and that is exactly what is happening with the "war" on "terror":

The results of policing activity overseas suggest that the absence of results in the United States has less to do with terrorists' cleverness or with investigative incompetence than with the possibility that few, if any, terrorists exist in the country. It also suggests that al Qaeda's ubiquity and capacity to do damage may have, as with so many perceived threats, been exaggerated. Just because some terrorists may wish to do great harm does not mean that they are able to.

"Policing activity," eh? Turns out it's a law enforcement problem!

So, how dangerous is terrorism, really? (Absent the loose nukes scenario which, as we know, the administration has done nothing to protect us against.)

It is worth remembering that the total number of people killed since 9/11 by al Qaeda or al Qaeda­like operatives outside of Afghanistan and Iraq is not much higher than the number who drown in bathtubs in the United States in a single year, and that the lifetime chance of an American being killed by international terrorism is about one in 80,000 -- about the same chance of being killed by a comet or a meteor. Even if there were a 9/11-scale attack every three months for the next five years, the likelihood that an individual American would number among the dead would be two hundredths of a percent (or one in 5,000).

So, what's it all about? Well, we're dealing with Republicans, so... Give me a minute... Oh! It's all about the money!

The massive and expensive homeland security apparatus erected since 9/11 may be persecuting some, spying on many, inconveniencing most, and taxing all to defend the United States against an enemy that scarcely exists

Of course, no Beltway politician--Democratic or Republican--can say such things aloud.

To them, the Emperor must have clothes! On this, at least, there is a Bipartisan consensus.

NOTE on "Stay the Course"
Compare:

“But he has nothing on at all,” said a little child at last. “Good heavens! listen to the voice of an innocent child,” said the father, and one whispered to the other what the child had said. “But he has nothing on at all,” cried at last the whole people. That made a deep impression upon the emperor, for it seemed to him that they were right; but [the emperor] thought to himself, “Now I must bear up to the end.” And the chamberlains walked with still greater dignity, as if they carried the train which did not exist.

Ah, yes. "Dignity." We must always be Dignified, would never want to be Ungracious, and must always be Civil, and Moderate. In other words, we must never mention that "he has nothing on at all."

Even while we kill thousands and spend trillions in Iraq, and the Republicans cheerfully destroy our cherished Constitution in a "war" on "terror" that does not exist.

UPDATE Oh, wait. This morning, the administration seems to have changed the line. They've switched off "stay the course" ("more of the same) and switched "safer but not yet safe" back on. You can see how beautifully crafted this line is; one would expect being constantly told of threats with no evidence of threats would lead to cognitive dissonance, but no! The absence of evidence is converted into a feeling of safety, but the feeling of fear is converted to "not safe enough." Thus is the equilibrium maintained. Very ingenious.

Troll Prophylactic 1: I have no doubt the Rovian Gaslighting tactic will persist to the end, and here will be an October surprise of some sort. So?

Troll Prophylactic 2 (or not): 9/11 was very very bad. Evil people perpetrated it. Yes, I understand the threat: I'm from one of the Blue States your policies have put at risk. And what the Republicans have done to this country is far far worse than 9/11, both measured in blood and treasure, and measured in our destroyed system of Constitutional government for the sake of a manufactured myth designed to keep them in power forever. And the authoritarians that put these Republican policies in place, in haste and silence and secrecy, are themselves evil.

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