Monday, May 02, 2011

What Osama's Death Has Accomplished

Matt Yglesias and Ross Douthat, agreeing with each other. First, Ross:

[The years since 9/11 have] taught us...that whatever blunders we make (and we have made many), however many advantages we squander (and there has been much squandering), and whatever quagmires we find ourselves lured into, our civilization is not fundamentally threatened by the utopian fantasy politics embodied by groups like Al Qaeda, or the mix of thugs, fools and pseudointellectuals who rally around their banner. They can strike us, they can wound us, they can kill us. They can goad us into tactical errors and strategic blunders. But they are not, and never will be, an existential threat...We learned the lesson in every day that passed without an attack, in every year that turned, and in the way our eyes turned, gradually but permanently, from the skies and the sky-scrapers back to the ordinary things of life.

Next, Matt:

The threat to the physical security of Americans posed by terrorists needs to be put alongside the threat to physical security posed by “ordinary” criminals, by car accidents, etc. And the foreign policy significance of violent Islamists needs to be put alongside the foreign policy significance of China and India emerging as great powers on the global stage. Homeland security investments ought to meet a plausible cost-benefit test and not just take it for granted that anything done in the name of terrorism-prevention is worth doing. The primary mechanism through which terrorism works as a tactic is fear and panic, and in an ideal world the emotional catharsis we saw around the country last night should be a chance to put things on a more sustainable footing.

Yes and yes. Those of us who tumbled down the rabbit-hole of fear and gave in to the temptation of ideological grand-standing were wrong. This would be a wonderful time for the legacy of those wrong decisions to begin to be slowly put right.


djredundant said...

Perhaps, but the quotations here may contain a logical fallacy: the "every day that there was no attack was a victory" is phrased in a way that makes it seem ex nihilo, or just the natural order of things. We know that isn't the case. We know that there are active agents, policemen, and (and admittedly oversized) security apparatus in place that diminishes the chance of those attacks.

Russell Arben Fox said...

David, I wouldn't call it a logical fallacy, but I see your point. The fact that we survived day to day, and were able to recognize that Al Qaeda wasn't a threat to our civilization, is in part because our civilization got together and started to defend itself more intelligently and vigorously against terrorism than it had in the 1990s. I think we're in agreement that many of those defenses have gotten out of hand, but you're right in recognizing that it's not as though 9/11 got us to depart some normative baseline, and now we're looking for a chance to get back to it; rather, 9/11 changed the baseline...though the new baseline allowed for a lot of normalcy all the same.

Jacob S. said...

My worry is that we continue to go down the road of violence begetting more violence. Obama and other politicians must surely look around and see all the jubilation in the country and the inevitable rising poll numbers and conclude that the way to stay in power is more violence like this. America may now be emboldened to fight even harder now that we have another taste of victory.

I hope you are right and we take this opportunity to step back and reconsider our general strategy, but I'll be convinced when I see it.

djredundant said...

Jacob, I share your concern about 'violence begetting more violence', but with a fundamentalist-based enemy who is willing to deploy suicide tactics, what other path is there than violent combat and elimination? I am not asking rhetorically-- I am really asking. Every time I run these problems through my decision tree analysis, I come up with the same answer: bomb the extremists, while incintivising the middle with roads/jobs/infra. The problem is that the carrot-half of this equation is usually done som ham-fistedly via corrupt elements, it makes the stick-part ineffective.

Jacob S. said...

I wish I was smart enough to answer that question. As I understand it, on some level, much Islamic extremism is in response to perceived American aggression in the Middle East coupled with crushing individual poverty. So what if America removed our troops from the region and did our best to normalize trade and support democratic movements?

Maybe I'm naive, but I wonder if we had done that to begin with if we'd have such a big problem on our hands today.