Monday, January 11, 2010

How to Respond

Fareed Zakaria has an excellent article in the Washington Post. He summarized very well my outlook on how we ought to respond to terrorist attacks, as opposed to the way we have responded.
As he says, the consensus view in Washington seems to be that we'd rather overreact to an attack, such as the one on Christmas day, than underreact. But, as he says, this is quite wrong
The purpose of terrorism is to provoke an overreaction. Its real aim is not to kill the hundreds of people directly targeted but to sow fear in the rest of the population. Terrorism is an unusual military tactic in that it depends on the response of the onlookers. If we are not terrorized, then the attack didn't work. Alas, this one worked very well.
This is an important observation. The ability of al Qaeda, or any such group, to succeed at their objectives is almost entirely up to us. If we respond calmly and methodically, they fail.
Now this is not to say that we should ignore terrorist attacks. That would be absurd. It is, however, possible to respond, even to violent events, with calm determination, rather than panic. Consider our national response if the cause of an airline crash, with even massive loss of life, is due to mechanical failure.
When an airliner suffers an accident, major or minor, the National Transportation Safety Board
convenes a group of nonpartisan experts who methodically examine what went wrong and then issue recommendations to improve the situation.Currently we are in the perverse situation where a significant minority of the population seem to believe that if the crash is due instead to an organization which is trying to instill terror in the general population, that we need to accommodate them. Instead of going along with al Qaeda in their efforts to terrorize us, it would be preferable if we followed up on a terrorist attack in much the same way as we do for a non-terrorist attack.
A final note by Fareed is, I think, really valuable.
As for the calls to treat the would-be bomber as an enemy combatant, torture him and toss him into Guantanamo, God knows he deserves it. But keep in mind that the crucial intelligence we received was from the boy's father. If that father had believed that the United States was a rogue superpower that would torture and abuse his child without any sense of decency, would he have turned him in? To keep this country safe, we need many more fathers, uncles, friends and colleagues to have enough trust in America that they, too, would turn in the terrorist next door.

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