Monday, March 15, 2004

Homeland Insecurity


The subject of the Madrid bombings has been discussed at considerable length, both through the traditional news media and throughout the so-called blogosphere, but with so many unknowns the analysis hasn't seemed particularly helpful. The central issue for me is less that of whether Al Qaeda was behind the attack, and more a matter of how we prevent attacks of this type and magnitude from occurring. Unfortunately, here and in Spain, the answer so far has been, "We don't try very hard." Here, we step up security at airports, divert most anti-terrorist "homland security" money to rural states where attacks are far less likely, switch the "alert level" back and forth between orange and yellow, and hope that nothing will happen.

When an attack like this happens, some right-wing types invariably announce that it is our own fault for not living in constant fear, and recognizing that we are in a state of perpetual war (and don't forget to reelect George Bush). A more sane response is that, while terrorist incidents are frightening, the terrorists only "win" if we accede to being terrorized. The rationale of terrorism is that, when up against an enemy that is too large or formidable for traditional attack, you commit acts which create fear in the public and attempt to coerce concessions through that public fear. Granted, that particular set of right-wingers aren't arguing that we give concessions to terrorists - they are only asking that we give up our civil liberties (here and in the U.K.) - but in the sense that they ask us to give in to our fear they are asking us to let the terrorists "win". When they express contempt for those who refuse to be terrorized, they are simply revealing their own cluelessness (or, in some cases, duplicity).

It seems like the Madrid bombing is waking Europe up to the fact that a lot more must be done to prevent additional terrorist attacks. Politicians, surely, are also taking note of the fact that the Spanish people, apparently feeling betrayed and perhaps deceived by their Prime Minister in his support for Bush and the war in Iraq, have just implemented a regime change of their own, handing the socialist party an electoral victory. This may be followed by Spain's withdrawal from Iraq.

A question nobody is asking, perhaps because it seems tired, is why the Bush Administration took time out from the "war on terror" to invade Iraq. Oh, sure, there are the stock "answers" which are every bit as tired as the question - leaving aside the deception about Iraq's ties with Al Qaeda and its apocryphal WMD stockpiles, there's the idea that would-be terrorists will be drawn to Iraq instead of attacking western cities, that we will experience cascading democratization and liberalization throughout a corrupt and dictatorial Middle East, that terrorist states will be deterred by seeing the power of the U.S. military... are there others? But none of those answers really speak to the question, and perhaps the media can be faulted for letting the question become so tired without pointing out the fact that it has yet to actually be answered.

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