Monday, April 29, 2013

Terrorists as Enablers

By Fred Reed

In recent years, I have seen terrorism denounced as a despicable crime. I wonder whether it shouldn’t be accepted frankly as a form of war. I am not sure why blowing up ten people in a restaurant in, say, London is more despicable than blowing up ten children in Afghanistan by a drone. (They are both despicable.) Some terrorists, such as the Unabomber, are merely freelance criminal psychopaths. Others, such as bin Laden, engage in terrorism for the same reason why militaries attack countries: to make the other side do what the attacker wants.

From the point of view of cost and benefit, terrorism is a brilliantly effective form of warfare, especially against heavily armed countries of the First World. The reasons are several. First, terrorism offers no target to the basically World War Two militaries of advanced countries. If five Saudis, two Pakis, a Russian and a disaffected American blow up a building in Chicago, against whom does the US seek revenge? Is it against Russia, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and the United States, none of whose governments had anything to do with the attack?

Second, the return on investment is phenomenal. For example, the attack on New York cost perhaps several hundred thousand dollars. Yet it drew the US into multiple drawn-out, losing wars costing hundreds of billions of dollars, and transformed America from a reasonably free country into a rapidly deepening Orwellian gloom. A tiny input, a stunningly large effect. If terrorism were a hedge fund, it would be the hottest buy on the planet.

It is truly slick. The terrorists don’t do serious damage to the attacked country. (The casualties in New York, unusually large for a terror attack, if folded into the year’s traffic casualties would hardly have been noticed.) They stimulate the victim society to damage itself. TSA, Homeland Security, militarized police, warrantless searches in train stations, ever-tightening electronic surveillance of citizens, neutering of the Constitution and the abrogation of civil rights: bin Laden didn’t do these things. He couldn’t possibly have done them. He stimulated us to do them to ourselves. Genius.

The remarkable return on investment characterizes terrorism. Some yoyo tries to put a bomb in his shoe, and for the rest of time Americans hop around barefoot in airports. On a guess, the shoe bomb cost fifty bucks. For the price of a meal for two in a reasonably decent restaurant, you change the behavior forever of a nation of over three hundred million. Such a deal. It is what the Pentagon calls a “force multiplier.”

Another way of putting this is that terrorists, in the United States at any rate, serve chiefly as enablers. Many entities in the country clearly want expanded, very greatly expanded, police powers: Congress, the FBI, NSA, DEA, BATF, CIA, the military, Homeland Security, TSA in particular, and the police in general. They want more power and fewer restrictions for differing reasons, some less malign than others, but none have any innate attachment to civil liberties. Terrorism gives them an ideal pretext for Sovietization, and there are no longer many safeguards. Tell the public it is in danger, that you will protect it if they just give up freedoms, and bingo.

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