Wednesday, November 22, 2006

TAPPED: "Mueller's argument is basically off-message for just about everybody"

Boy, isn't that the truth. What message are we talking about? The one this blog has pushed for years: (and more recently here: 1 2 3)
The threat to the United States from Islamic terrorism has been exaggerated, and may be close to non-existent.
Here's the full TAPPED entry:
OVERBLOWN. David A. Bell wishes more people were discussing and debating John Mueller's new book Overblown, which makes the strong case against considering terrorism a genuinely dire, let alone existential, threat to the United States; I share Bell's wish. Mueller's argument is basically off-message for just about everybody, but has always stuck me as a truly useful contribution to debates over terrorism and American policy. Cato Unbound held an in-depth exchange with Mueller back in September that's worth a look, and so is this very strong New York Review of Books essay by Max Rodenbeck, reviewing (sympathetically) Mueller and a few other related books.
David A. Bell at TNR: (excerpts)
It's a pity that John Mueller's book Overblown isn't getting more attention. Its provocative--and certainly debatable--thesis is very simple: The threat to the United States from Islamic terrorism has been exaggerated, and may be close to non-existent. There is little evidence that Islamic terrorists have the capacity (as opposed to the desire) to carry out further attacks on the scale of 9/11 on U.S. soil, let alone anything more destructive. Anxieties about chemical, biological, and radiological weapons are particularly unjustified. There is little evidence that terrorists have access to such weapons, and in any case, they almost certainly could not use them in such a way as to kill large numbers of Americans. Nuclear weapons pose a much greater threat, but the difficulties involved in procuring and delivering them are far greater than most observers recognize.

He quotes endless "expert" predictions that terrorists would "definitely" strike the U.S. again in 2002, 2003, 2004 and 2005. He reminds us that even in the worst possible case--which is itself almost entirely unlikely--the terrorists do not pose anything like a threat to the existence of the United States, in the way the Soviet Union once did. And he concludes that our overreaction to 9/11 has done the U.S. far more harm than the terrorists themselves.

I'm no expert on terrorism, and would not presume to say whether Mueller's argument is ultimately sustainable. But the debate does seem worth having. For one thing, at the present time it is clearly in the interest of almost everyone to maximize the threat that terrorism poses. It is in the interest of the administration, which can reap a political dividend, and is also desperate to cover its collective rear end, should another attack actually transpire. It is in the interest of what Mueller calls the "terrorism industry" of consultants, contractors and security companies. It is in the interest of the media, which thrives on fear. And it is in the interest of the terrorists themselves, whose reputation is thereby inflated, allowing them to recruit and raise money.
Alas, Mueller's book seems to have shortcomings (more from David A. Bell):
Unfortunately, a great deal about Mueller's book is frustrating, and some of it is patently absurd. In particular, he places his argument about 9/11 in the context of a potted history of America since 1941 that sounds (unintentionally, I think) like the worst sort of Chomskyan rant. Before we overreacted hysterically to 9/11, he asserts, we overreacted hysterically to Soviet Communism, and to Soviet client states. And before that, we even overreacted to Pearl Harbor! Instead of responding to the Japanese attack with full-scale war, we should have tried containment! ... This section of the book comes close to discrediting the whole project.
Those are notions this blogger doesn't suscribe to. Also, Mueller engages in Rush Limbaugh-like argumentation ("the chance of an American dying in a terrorist attack is less than that of a bee sting") which ignores the scenario of murderous attacks on key facilities and personnel, which might be low in actual numbers killed but result in tremendous damage to the economy or infrastructure (e.g. blowing up Hoover Dam). So maybe he's not the best messenger. More Bell:
But the rest of it is still worth reading. Might we actually be safer than we think? Is this something we can contemplate?
Still, someone has to argue for making an analysis of the capabilities of terrorist groups, instead of running scared by their pronouncements. Remember that Fox News Channel pre-election special, Obsession, that quoted all sorts of al Qaeda grandiose visions? From the Fox News webpage on the documentary: (excerpt, emp add)
“Obsession” is filled with fiery speeches, from the Middle East to the streets of London and New York, in which Islamic extremists offer a stark choice for the world: either convert to a Taliban-like form of Islam or face death.
And many people were impressed with Obsession, even after five years without an attack on the U.S.   Is this country changing its view on the threat posed by terrorism? Apparently not. Witness the recent round-up of six Muslim religious leaders that were taken off a US Airways flight in Minneapolis. Many people are still fearful, and suscribe to the thinking of people like Annie Jacobson, author of Terror in the Skies: Why 9/11 Could Happen Again. That's right, "9/11 could happen again". So much for the notion that 9/11 was a one-time exploitation of a vulnerability which has now been closed (taking over a plane in order to use it as a missle).


"but result in tremendous damage to the economy or infrastructure (e.g. blowing up Hoover Dam)"

You mean like making it so difficult to enter the US that bright students get educated elsewhere, and foreign companies decide to list in London, not New York?

You mean like spending $1 trillion on a PR campaign to get the rest of the world to hate the US, when that money could have been spent, either at home or abroad, building homes, paying for basic healthcare etc.

Mueller may be a Chomskyite fascist theocratic communist deviationist abolitionist [or whatever insult you want to throw at him]. The point is that, regardless of his opinions he happens to be right.

It's hard to imagine anything terrorists could do to the US short of a nuclear weapon (a nuclear weapon that could easily be smuggled into the country because of the lack of interest in the administration in any sort of boring fire-works free security) that this administration has not already done.
I'd rather take the hypothetical low-level economics risks you posit than the DEFINITE economic blows the administration has already inflicted on the country.

By Blogger Maynard Handley, at 11/22/2006 4:54 PM


By Anonymous Anonymous, at 11/23/2006 8:14 PM  

The GOP reaction to terrorism is wholly unjustified. BUT ... picture one guy who hates us and has money to buy a Soviet nuke. Shipping container. US port city gone.

a reasonable Administration would not consider that a minor threat.

By Blogger brainhell, at 11/24/2006 8:20 PM  

Almost impossible to prevent even in a police state. What if the bomb is loaded on the way and exploded before unloading or smuggled over the border otherwise? And BushCo don't even try to prevent the common ways (bad for business probably).
Btw, even blowing up a major city is not the end the country.

By Anonymous Anonymous, at 11/25/2006 1:37 AM  

Actually, I had Mueller as a professor at OSU, and he's pretty far from being any kind of 'Chomskyist'; from his books and lectures I got the impression he's a Republican-leaning Libertarian. A very smart guy, but he has most of the delusions common to Libertarians (ie-anything the government does is bad, capitalism is the source of all progress, etc...)
Like many Libertarians, he's very anti-war; Mueller raised the 'we could have contained Japan in WWII' argument in class, and went on to make even more dubious counter-factual arguments in favor of this (no Mao, no Korean war, no Vietnam, etc...).

He's pretty convincing on dismissing the terrorist threat as overblown, although in an earlier article he raised the possibility that an attack on an LNG (liquid natural gas) tanker would be relatively simple and just as destructive as a nuclear bomb. Oddly, I think he left this out of the book, though I only skimmed it.

By Anonymous Anonymous, at 11/26/2006 4:33 AM  

"a reasonable Administration would not "

Experts say we WILL GET ATTACKED AGAIN. No matter what the size of the attack, why should even a single more American die?

a reasonable Administration would not continue the policies that guarantee that we get attacked again.

I really have to wonder about writers that would use the term "Chomskyite"

These people are in such denial about what the US government's polices are that they must invent stupid words in order to avoid facing reality? Chomsky happens to be right.

I have to wonder what is so damn difficult about realizing that when the US government screws people over it is possible that some of them will lash out.

We have devious people in the press like Thomas Friedman who work to deceive the American people about why it is we were attacked. Thomas Freidman LIES when he writes that bin Laden never mentioned Palestine until after 9/11. It is obvious why he lies to the American people, the same reason the President lies, in order to protect specific foreign policies, in this case US support of Israel. This is the same agenda that the 9/11 Commission served over the American people. 9/11 Commissioners betrayed the American people when they "rejected mentioning the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in the report." 9/11 Commissioners betrayed the American when they worried that "listing U.S. support for Israel as a root cause of al Qaeda's opposition to the United States indicated that the United States should reassess that policy." 9/11 Commissioners betrayed the American people when they omitted from the 9/11 Commission Report the key testimony in response to Lee Hamilton's question, "what have you found out about why these men did what they did? What motivated them to do it?" They serve special interests who don't want these policies changed so they have the audacity to lie and suppress why it is that the United States is being attacked.

By Blogger Tom, at 11/27/2006 4:33 AM  

i heard the book mentioned in passing on a couple of shows before the election...and then nothing. what happened to the usual book tour blitz?

By Anonymous jello, at 11/27/2006 8:52 AM  

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