Tuesday, March 18, 2003

What did we learn?

In the past several weeks we've been hearing about how September 11 "changed everything", that "we learned something important" on that day, and that Bush is taking "the lesson of September 11 to heart". However, nobody has said exactly what it was that had changed, or what we had learned. For the most part "September 11" was an empty slogan used to promote the notion of invading Iraq. But before dismissing it entirely, we took a hard look to see what, if anything, the attack taught us. As far as we can tell, there were two discoveries:
(1) That there is a non-state sponsored group out there that wants to kill many civilians (as opposed to government officials or a government's security apparatus),


(2) that - despite limited resources - somebody figured out a way to do it.
But that's all. Some analysts have made the mistake of equating an attack that caused mass destruction with actually having the means to inflict mass destruction (or being close to getting them). Al Qaeda doesn't have gunboats or bombers or missiles - even though that's what you'd normally need in order to bring down the twin towers. By confusing results with means, al Qaeda is perceived as being mightier than it really is.

We diagram the various flavors of terrorism, their resources and limitations, levels of threat, and approaches to contain them below:


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