Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Gideon Gets It Exactly Right!

Gideon Rachman of The Financial Times is one of the more percipient and incisive columnists in the journalistic universe. His head banner op-ed piece in yesterday's paper should be required reading for all the political cognoscenti of whatever stripe or persuasion. Basically, Mr. Rachman argues clearly and concisely that with Osama Bin Laden dead and deep-sixed it's time to declare victory and end the global war on terror.

Of course to hyper-militarists and security mavens this is anathema, since god forbid, they need a driving shtick to keep on pulling in federal dollars. Shut down all their anti-terror toys, surveillance and so on and what's left? Well, nothing to do but play golf every day and what fun is there in that? So, their response will naturally be to keep the fear pipes blaring, warning of this and that or now - after Bin Laden's killing- some kind of obscure retribution from the terror cells. But as Rachman implies, this game can go on forever, because no one is going to kill or eliminate every terrorist on the planet. They breed like rats from the poverty warrens of the Third World and short of billions in aid, they will keep breeding. And besides, is it such a big deal to just ignore them, as opposed to breaking the bank to try to protect ourselves? (See also previous blog, on Rachel Maddow's analysis that this is exactly what Bin Laden wanted us to do all along)

Of course, to defend this view one must invoke clear statistics, and Rachman doesn't disappoint and has bad news for the terror scare mongers. First of all, he observes that Bush's declaration of a "global war on terror" was a serious strategic error, which "distorted American Foreign Policy and led directly to two wars in Iran and Afghanistan." Worse, this "war on terror" has "guzzled billions of dollars in wasteful spending and spawned a huge and secret bureacracy in Washington, DC".

But it goes beyond all that waste in the service of fear, it also means putting the terrorist threat in perspective. Something ideologs and diehard security mongers never like to do because it dilutes their shtick. But they ought to take note of John Mueller, who Rachman cites, in noting that the number of Americans killed by terrorists since 1960 is "about the same as the number killed over the same period in deer accidents". For example, cars careening into a deer and being driven into a ditch.

Rachman then cites a report for the Rand Corporation by Brian Jenkens who makes a similar point:

"The average American has about a 1 in 9,000 chance of dying in an automobile accident and about a one in 18,000 chance of being murdered.".

Meanwhile, in the five years after 9/11 (including the people killed there) "the average American had only a one in 500,000 chance of being killed in a terrorist attack".

By way of comparison, the chance of dying in an airline crash is one in 346,000 and the chance of being annihilated by a monster asteroid (> 0.5 km dia.) in its collision with Earth, is the same, according to Sir Martin Rees ('Our Final Hour'). SO in other words, the chance of being killed in a terrorist attack is much much less than the chance of being wiped out in an asteroid collision. So why the fuck are people so obsessed over this essentially negligible fear? More obsessed than we (of the 60s) were when JFK erected the naval blockade to stop Soviet ships from entering port in Cuba, while 93 intermediate nuclear missiles were aimed at the U.S. At least in the latter case there was cause for real, palpable fear and also preparations. By contrast, all you have today is free-floating fear and its paralysis on millions, while keeping the national security state fat and happy at the rest of our expense.

Indeed, Rachman notes (as Rachel Maddow did in her analysis, see last blog) that the Washington Post's expose ('Top Secret America') pointed out that:

"In Washington and the surrounding area, 33 building complexes for top secret intelligence work are under construction or have been built since September, 2001. Together they occupy the equivalent of almost three Pentagons.. Adding - and "that is just the organizations created since 9/11, whle the CIA and NSA were hardly modest or under-resourced operations before the war on terror. Indeed, now - at least five counties within 150 miles of D.C. are the richest in the country, in terms of median income, and all are beneficiaries of this monstrous security state. One in which I used to live, Howard County, Maryland, is the 5th wealthiest and features the NSA headquarters, the subject of an extensive investigative piece when I lived in Columbia, MD ('No Such Agency: America's Fortress of Spies', by Scott Shane and Tom Bowman, The Baltimore Sun Special Section (Dec. 3-15, 1995)). Of course, NSA has vastly grown since then, with its budget more than quadrupled.

From all the evidence, then, there's tons of money to be made in "security" and "protecting us from terror threats" despite the fact most of those efforts amount to useless overkill and bury the spooks with so much detritus they'd be lucky to find their way out from the morass. For example, Rachman notes that no fewer then fifty one federal agencies are entrusted with monitoring the flow of money to terror networks. The NSA meanwhile intercepts 1.7 billion emails and phone calls every day - far more than could ever be properly analyzed. (And let us note that at the time of the Baltimore Sun piece, NSA could only intercept communications - phone call, fax, electronic mail, etc. as long as at least one end was in a foreign country. Since the "Patriot Act" this no longer applies, since the basic mandates of the (1978) Surveillance Act have been set aside).)

Rachman is right that we need to pull out now and just declare victory in Afghanistan. We don't have the money or time for nation building. As he also notes, apart from the Taliban there are essentially no al Qaeda to speak of there, barely 100 at a given time in a year. Things will not get any better for us, and indeed, our losses in blood and treasure can only increase. Both aspects that OBL wanted. Let's not play into his cold, dead and fiendish hands! Let's not let a false security suck up all our domestic and financial resources at the expense of useless, futile fear mongering. It's time to say 'enough is enough' and besides - the bond market dictators and China won't be patient with our reckless fiscal excesses much longer! No matter how many fear phantasms we try to dream up to justify spending the borrowed money.

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